How Albert Schweitzer Inspired a Young Man's Journey

Against the Current

"The memory of Mark Higgins is always in our hearts." - Albert Schweitzer 


<> I am a scholar on Albert Schweitzer at the McGill School of Religious Studied in Montreal, and I wanted to thank you for writing this wonderful book about Mark's remarkable life.  From a scholarly perspective, it is quite the treasure.  You capture what daily life was like at Schweitzer's hospital that few other resources can give.  I've had the McGill University library add your book to its permanent collection.  Thank you again for writing such a wonderful, and valuable book! -- Dr. David K. Goodin, author "The New Rationalism: Albert Schweitzer’s Philosophy of Reverence for Life", McGill-Queens University Press: Montreal, Canada (2013).

<​​​>  . . . a gripping story written from a deeply personal perspective about one of the nearly 200 people who worked at the Schweitzer Hospital during Albert Schweitzer’s lifetime.  Against the Current is a tribute to the ideals of the Schweitzer legacy as well as to the ideals of volunteer service and the brief life of the co-author's cousin Mark Higgins. This dramatic story also serves as a reminder of how very difficult it is to "do good" in a foreign culture when unpredictable political forces are at play---as we see in our world today.

Schweitzer accomplished a lot in Africa in part because he was patiently persistent in his goals. Given his wisdom gained over decades of living and working in Africa, to say nothing of bearing witness to two world wars, it comes as no surprise that he tried to dissuade Mark Higgins from venturing into the Belgian Congo in the summer of 1960. For despite his youth, this young man from a privileged American family had already exhibited an unusual sort of courage and made an important contribution to medical science: thanks to the careful nutrition data he collected while living among the Fang, one of the most prevalent tribes in the region of the Schweitzer Hospital, doctors gained a better understanding of factors involved in the Fang’s low rate of coronary disease.

Higgins and Armstrong are unflinching in describing the gruesome reality of their cousin’s last moments. Their physical and psychological journey to retrace his steps can only inspire families everywhere to get to the bottom of painful mysteries. And their account of an event mourned by friends and family, many of whom are listed at the end of the book, is made all the more remarkable by the testimony of an extraordinary Greek-African named Lambros Passialis whose devotion to Schweitzer is beautifully entwined with Mark Higgins’s death.

For those who read this book, the loss at the center of it will linger as it did for Albert Schweitzer himself. “The memory of Mark Higgins is always in our hearts,” he wrote. With this book, many more hearts will be touched.

-- Patti M. Marxsen (Thun, Switzerland), author, Helene Schweitzer: A Life of Her Own (Syracuse University Press, April 2015).

<> When I was reading the first part of your book so many memories returned that I often could not sleep at night.
The description of Mark's journey through the Congo made me feel anxious again. -- Jo Munz (Switzerland), co-author with Dr. Walter Munz, Albert Schweitzer's Lambarene (Penobscott Press, 2010)

<>  Against the Current is one of the most inspirational books I have ever read.  I am so glad for your scholarship, your devotion to preserve and share Mark, and for the masterly way you tell his story. 

I see so many parallels in Mark’s story to the life of Christ: born into circumstances not of their calling, a scary journey into their interior wildernesses, coming out of it with a vision of their calling, venturing forth on not much more than faith to be a difference to others in need, marching into the face of danger, and yielding their mortal lives at the hands of those who mistakenly did not know who they were.  There are so many instances in Mark’s story where could have just given up (as he almost did) or have wound up a drifter (think “hippie” back in the late 1950s-early 1960s).  But he didn’t.  His is a story of extraordinary courage in taking control of his life and living it in its fullest sense.  It is no wonder the Washington Daily News named Mark as one of the top people who exemplified the spirit of Christmas during 1960.

Thank you for your generosity in sharing this awesome book.  I will recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading his story.  I am sure that they will come away profoundly moved by it, as am I. -- John Green, Altadena, California

<> The book has been a very positive surprise, well written, informative and has given me a vicarious sense of being in Africa with Schweitzer and his group of physicians and helpers along with Mark. Your exploration of Mark’s character and the difficulty he had breaking free from the expectations of his privileged background was well done, and I got a strong sense of him throughout the book, whether reading to the natives or hacking through the jungle with his machete. I see how this mysterious cousin of yours became his own man from age 18 on.  The book is a veritable who’s who of visitors, dignitaries, celebrities and highly accomplished people all interested in the doctor’s grand experiment. It shed light on Schweitzer’s life and since I only knew of him, but not anything more directly, the account of his personality and traits was rich and  rewarding. -- Mark Fins, author, Imagine That (Old Farm Press, 2016), Newton Center, Mass.

<> It was an absolute delight listening to both of you speak about Mark and his incredible life. Although his life was short it was not without meaning and purpose. With your book you give life to Mark's memory and you give a message of good will to all who read your inspiring book. Your perseverance in putting the pieces together of his long-hidden story was well worth the effort as you continue to give many hours of enjoyable reading. -- Lucy (on behalf of Delta Kappa Gamma), (Bedford, New York)

<> I just finished reading "Against the Current." It was very well written and amazing how much detail you were able to piece together to solve your family mystery - and tragedy - from when you were so young. I was very deeply moved by your cousin Mark's life and learning about Albert Schweitzer, who I'd heard of long ago but never knew much about him. I'm glad  you were able to bring some closure on Mark's disappearance and death, by discovering what had happened. It is an amazing, though sad, story. -- Margery (Connecticut)

 <> . . . an insightful story about families and the history of Africa during the time of independence. For those who wish to serve the under served countries of the world, this book demonstrates that anyone can pursue this dream. I applaud those that have continued in Mark's footsteps through Vista Corps, the Peace Corps, Doctors without Borders and many more organizations that give all to others. Clarinda has done a wonderful job of making me feel like I was actually walking beside her cousin through life. – Hester Jacobs (Melstone, Montana)

<> The beautifully told chronicle  of a young man's journey to find meaning in his unsettled life while working in Dr. Albert Schweitzer's jungle hospital in Gabon, West Africa. Set in the tumultuous year of 1960 when much of Africa was moving from colonial rule to independence. The author recounts the young man's work with the great Dr. Schweitzer as well as his travels across the African continent as it is sliding into a dystopian chaos.… a great read that you won't be able to put down.  I felt I was right alongside with Mark as the Congo was collapsing all around him. The  description of the events taking place was incredibleMike McCann (Dayton, Ohio)

<> A fast-paced narrative with historical facts and insight into The Dark Continent … a world few of us can imagine. – Carolyn Dietrich (Columbus, Ohio)

​<> I really enjoyed this story. A true story of self discovery and global political events and how one man's journey has affected so many. Interesting on many levels, at the finale I felt close to Mark Higgins and was touched by the kindness of those around him. A perfect example of how one person's life can change the world. -- Cynthia (Sandy Hook, Connecticut)

<> I have it, and I read it right through. You should feel very proud, for all sorts of reasons. The writing is fine, intensely personal but also highly professional, not an easy combination to achieve, and you evoke Mark, and honor his memory, in a way I have to think would please him. The whole package is well-written, well-edited and well-designed -- and incredibly poignant too. -- Peter Jay, former Washington Post reporter, Baltimore Sun columnist, and small town publisher  (Churchville, Maryland) 

<> Thoroughly enjoyed it. An exciting and fascinating tale about the life of an incredible young man who accomplished so much in his all-too-short life. I am truly impressed by your passion, commitment and the work you pursued uncovering all these long-held 'secrets' about Mark's life. We can all learn from his story. -- Dr. Bruce Auerbach (Attleboro, Massachusetts).

<> . . . excellent, gripping and bittersweet . . .  -- Maida (McLean, Virginia)

<> I find it very hard to close this book . . .  the author(s) have the unique gift to put the reader right there in that world and African jungle setting of 1959-60. It is captivating. – Dana Reed (Spencer, Massachusetts)

<> It’s a page-turner. – Karen MacDonald (Bridgeport, Connecticut)

<> . . . made me feel how individuals can affect others and be far reaching in influence.  What a masterful job! -- John Harman (Maiden, North Carolina)

<> I finished your book last weekend and must tell you I found it fascinating. The way you told not just the story of this young man, but the history leading up to his adventure and the world events that shaped and eventually impacted his journey really made the story.  It must not have been easy for Rindy to explore this area of her family's history and put it on paper especially with such a sad ending. A great read!  -- Steve (Columbus, Ohio)

​<>   I started reading it soon after it arrived, and couldn't put it down, as it was so compelling. What a labor of love and what an amazing tribute to the life of Mark!  You very much brought Mark’s life back into full view, and I empathized with his difficulties trying to figure out where he fitted in after graduating from Milton. Your book was important reading on many levels: family background, Dr. Schweitzer’s history and that of his leprosy hospital in Lambarene, and Congo and Gabon history. There were also lots of interesting details of the many people who Mark knew in Africa, as well as of family members and friends here in the U.S.  All in all, it was fascinating reading.  --  Nanny (Arlington, Massachusetts)

<> Awesome reading .....thumbs up. – Bonnie Adams (Stamford, Connecticut)

<> You did a wonderful job of presenting the details of his trip interleaved with day-to-day events in the Congo, creating a tension that developed and increased with the turn of each page. -- Randal Whitman (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

​<> I just love your book. Had to let you know. Only half way through but can't put it down. It is beautifully written and you really bring Mark alive in ways he never would have been known had he lived.  -- Serena Moss (Coral Cables, Florida)

<>  I came home last night to find the book at my door. I read it all last night … not intending to but I simply could not stop … I was spell bound. I finally finished it at 1 am with tears pouring down my cheek as you brought Mark back to life. -- Alex Doman (Atlanta, Georgia)

<>​ An incredible job of telling a difficult, inspiring, heartbreaking and captivating story ... The honesty and research really showed.  It is so good when anyone takes the time, pain and persistence to write about things this close to the heart.  I learned so much about Albert Schweitzer, Africa and Mark.  I want my gal to read this next, then my friend Dave and many more.  Thank you for putting this story in print. It is a classic. -- Ernie Daruka(Monroe, Connecticut)

<> A wonderful book that will stick in my mind for a long time. -- Marilyn (Connecticut)

<> The impact of Albert Schweitzer on Mark's life would have had such a long-lasting effect. You did a terrific job blending personal recollections and letters as well as media reports into a riveting narrative. Congratulations!            -- Georgia Barnhill (Amherst, Massachusetts)

<> So engrossing, I literally couldn't put it down. -- David Riley (Providence, Rhode Island)

<> I could have finished it in a day but I didn't want it to end. The book is a worthy tribute to Mark.  In an astonishingly succinct way, you have included important pieces of history that we all need to brush up on and remember.  Many of the problems of modern day African nations had their malignant beginnings in the rocky and violent years surrounding independence.  I wish I had known Mark but thanks to you he lives in the pages of this book.  His story will encourage people, young and old, to follow their dreams.  It is our dreams after all, that make life worth living.   – Roslyn Abrams (Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.)

<>  Had trouble putting it down. Really interesting stuff. Great job. -- Rick Graham (Dennis, Massachusetts)

<> Thank you so very much for sending me "Against the Current" about Mark. Once I started reading, I could not put it down.The book is well written and very informative. The research and information concerning what was occurring in the Congo at that moment is valuable for all those interested in Africa.  Thank you and your husband for writing this wonderful tribute to Mark. It is an important book and one I will cherish. -- Adriana Williams (California)