The bus crashed and a passenger lay bleeding beside the road in Cambodia. A missionary and his young son bent over the dying man. He refused the Gospel saying, “Don’t tell me about your God, just help me.” There was nothing they could do for him – medically or spiritually. The man faced ETERNITY ALONE - WITHOUT JESUS.
That event greatly affected that young man, and he decided that he wanted to help people in a way that he could also tell them about God. It was then that he decided to become a medical missionary. So begins David Thompson’s story.
A MEDICAL MINISTRY FOR ALL AFRICA
David’s early years were spent in Cambodia, and he attended a missionary boarding school in Vietnam. His parents were missionaries Ed and Ruth Thompson. While a pre-med student in 1968 at Geneva College in Philadelphia, David received a telephone call that his parents had been murdered by North Vietnamese soldiers.
When all foreign missionaries were forced out of Cambodia in 1965, his parents had moved to a mission compound in Vietnam where they were translating the Bible into the local language. They worked with lepers, ran a hospital and taught the Word of God to the people. Soon Vietnam also became unsafe as the Vietnam War raged around them. When Viet Cong soldiers moved into their area, the missionaries tried to surrender with white flags, but the soldiers fired on them and killed them.
David asked, “Why God, did You let this happen?” As he wept alone in his college dorm room, he heard God speak to him for the first time in his life.
Thompson said, “Although I did not hear a voice or audible words, I knew and understood what He was saying to me. The words were: ‘David, do you trust Me?’” David answered that he did!
David finished medical school. He and Becki Mitchell, a girl he knew from the missionary boarding school in Vietnam, were married in 1971. Becky’s parents were also missionaries in Vietnam. Her father, Archie Mitchell, was kidnapped in Vietnam from a hospital that treated leprosey patients and was also killed by the Viet Cong. Becky was trained as a nurse and also planned on a career in medical missions. After graduating from med school in 1973 David trained for two years in general surgery at a hospital in San Diego.
In 1977 the couple accepted a call from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to establish a new medical work in the hot and humid country of south Gabon in west-central Africa. This organization is a worldwide family of Christians mobilized to fulfill the Great Commission by serving Jesus Christ personally in order to build His church world-wide. Today there are more than 2,000 Alliance churches in the United States and more than 20,000 fellowships in 81 countries around the world. Nearly five million Christians call themselves “Alliance” church members. They are united by an insatiable desire to reach their communities for Christ and provide access to the Gospel where no access yet exists.
David returned to the States in 1981 to complete his surgical residency requirements and received his certification by the American Board of Surgery in 1985. The couple then returned to Gabon where they undertook their mission work at Bongolo Hospital in the small town of Lebamba in southern Gabon.
The country is about the size of Colorado and is on the equator surrounded by the Congo, the Atlantic ocean, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. It is rich in natural resources like petroleum, natural gas, diamonds, niobium (used in stainless steel alloys), manganese, uranium, gold, timber, iron ore, and hydropower. Yet the country severely lacked access to good medical care and facilities.
The Thompsons left the life and security of a surgeon and nurse in America. They gave up drinkable water, air-conditioning, grocery stores, and nice restaurants. Their life in Gabon meant living in the heat and the humidity of the African jungle, bugs, tolerating snakes, bumpy dirt roads and endless hours of hard work, but they welcomed the commitment to serve the Lord.
They started out with no equipment, hardly any medicine and two somewhat trained nurses. Before their arrival, Bongolo Hospital had been little more than a dispensary. Located in Lebamba, Gabon, the hospital was estimated to have served one-third of the entire population of Gabon. It is impossible to know for sure how many it did serve when the Thompsons first arrived in 1977, but an estimate of the population of the entire country of Gabon at that time was around 675,000.
The population, the number of doctors, and the number of hospital beds keeps changing, but the estimate today is that the population has doubled, as has its medical needs. Gabon was severely under-served medically when the Thompsons arrived. It had about one physician (not surgeons) for every 3,000 people and only 6.3 hospital beds per 1,000 population.
People came to the Bongola Hospital for treatment with all kinds of ailments--broken bones, rabies, diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, HIV/AIDS, malaria, dengue fever, diseases caused by parasites and other ailments.
Over the years the Thompsons helped transform what was this small medical dispensary into a 150 bed, full-service hospital with a laboratory, an AIDS clinic, a dental clinic, an eye clinic, a vaccination clinic, a surgical school, a nursing school and a midwife school. The hospital team has also been directly involved in planting new churches.
The people come for medical care, but as David Thompson says: “We try very early in this process to share Christ with our patients, and that’s because we know that’s their only hope. People who put their faith in Christ and grab onto that hope live longer.” Their physical needs are tended to, but time is always taken to share the Gospel with each patient. Often that is the key turning point in their lives. In recent years thousands have trusted in Christ.” Thompson adds, “We are not working with people who have the possibility of living seventy years; we’re working with people who have the possibility of living eternally.” His heart-felt concern for the lost is evident in the ministries he has established.
Thompson was the only surgeon at the hospital. The workload was heavy and the hours were long and hard. He was not getting any younger, and he realized that if something happened to him—his death, or if he left the mission field—there would be no one readily available to replace him. If he did not find a way to replace himself, all he and others had accomplished would be for nought, and the great need for surgery in Africa would not be answered. It is hard to believe that the ratio between surgeons and patients in Africa was like one surgeon for somewhere between 250,000 people and one million people! He had been thinking about the problem for several years.
In 1996 Thompson went to a medical conference of missionary surgeons in Kenya. He told them of his vision to switch from performing surgery to teaching it. His vision was to train a United States board-certified surgeon at each Christian hospital in Africa and to augment the teaching by bringing a dozen or so other Christian surgeons in each year to visit the hospital for short-term teaching stints.
Though there was enthusiasm for the idea, the magnitude of bringing the plan to reality was formidable. He began a pilot program, and it was hard at first to get it going. There were some successes and many failures, but David’s vision persevered. As other hospitals saw the program was working, the idea spread.
Today, Thompson's organization, the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS) is a reality! It trains African surgeons at Christian hospitals throughout the continent. Besides training just surgeons it also disciples the African Christian surgeons. In so doing, David and others have raised up a team of Christian surgeons, doctors and nurses in Africa who are also missionaries!
PAACS African training programs in general surgery are presently active in Gabon, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Niger, Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi.
They raise up the name of Jesus Christ in places that would have never heard the Gospel. They pray for every person they treat. They share Christ with all they serve and heal and love in Jesus’ name. The organization celebrated its 20th anniversary in February, 2016.
David and Becki have built churches with their own hands; evangelized young people who have become pastors and missionaries; and, they have raised a family of three children who have given them six grandchildren. After more than thirty years in Central Africa, Professor Thompson has transitioned to the Harpur Memorial Hospital Menouf near Cairo, where he serves as the PAACS Program Director for the hospital. He is also the PAACS Director for Africa. Thompson strives to instill into the doctors-in-training the desire to show everyone the mercy and love that is contained in the Gospel and life of Jesus.
The Harpur Memorial Hospital Menouf was founded more than a hundred years ago by Dr. Frank Harpur, an Irish medical doctor. He was motivated by the love of God and the desire to serve others in need by providing treatment and care to the needy Egyptians. Dr. Harpur sailed in his sailboat to villages along the Nile and used it as a floating hospital as he provided medical care.
Nearly 95% of the over 100,000 patients treated each year at Harpur Memorial Hospital are Muslim. They trust the care they receive at this Christian hospital. In 1950 Africa accounted for only nine per cent of the world’s population, but by 2100 it is projected that nearly half of the world’s children and forty per cent of all humans will be African. To put it another way, the population of all Africa today is approximately one billion people. By the end of this century the total African population will nearly quadruple to around 4.2 billion. This means there is a real need for surgeons and the medically trained.
David Thompson’s remarkable life story is told in books he has written:
The Hand on My Scalpel
Beyond the Mist
In these books you will read how God is working in His OTHER WAYS© in the life and ministry of a young boy who was raised by missionary parents in Cambodia, became a surgeon/missionary in a remote village in Gabon, West Africa, and created the PAACS organization to carry his passion for Christ forward.
POST-NOTE: Not until 2010 were David and Becki Thompson finally allowed to visit the site in Southeast Asia where their missionary parents were murdered. David said, “When my wife and I returned to the place where our parents were killed, we were stunned to learn that half of all the tribal people in that area are today followers of Christ.” The day the Communists took over Vietnam, there were 60,000 evangelical Christians in the country. In 2013 there were more than one million. A Vietnamese pastor explained that when the people saw the missionaries lay down their lives for Jesus, they knew that the Gospel was true.
A Vietnam veteran, Hugh Catron, was with a group of soldiers who volunteered after the fatal attack to check on the missionaries in their compound. He was stunned to find so many bodies, two of whom were Ed and Ruth Thompson. They were found holding onto one another and clutching a Bible. After a proper burial, Catron retrieved the Bible with the intention of giving it to the family. Life intervened and Catron had difficulty finding the children of the Thompsons. Around Christmas in 2010 he gave the Bible to the Christian and Missionary Alliance organization who then presented it to the David Thompsons. A plaque placed at the gravesite bears this verse: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12:24 NLT