Author, On Call (1991,2006) and The Hand on My Scalpel(2001).
Graduate, Geneva College (Pre-Med)
M.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
General Surgery Residency at Mercy Hospitla, San Diego, CA and White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA
Three Children and Several Grandchildren
Dr. David Thompson: Changing Lives in Africa
The 700 Club
CBN.com -A CALL TO MISSIONS
“I was very young when I first felt God’s call to be a missionary doctor. I was 14 and I was traveling with my family—and my parents were missionaries—and I saw a man die,” says Dr. David Thompson. “He died for lack of basic medical care, and my father tried to talk to him about the Lord, and he said to my father, ‘Don’t tell me about your God, just help me.’ And from that moment on, I determined that I wanted to help people so that I could tell them about God.” Thompson is the son of martyred missionaries Ed and Ruth Thompson and the son-in-law of kidnapped missionary Archie Mitchell. His parents’ deaths further spurred his desire to become a missionary doctor in order to bring the gospel to the least-reached and hurting.
Thompson spent his childhood in Cambodia and attended missionary boarding school in Vietnam. During the 1968 Tet offensive, while his parents were serving as missionaries in Vietnam and he was a pre-med student at Geneva College in Pennsylvania, his mother and father were killed by North Vietnamese soldiers as they tried to surrender to the communist forces that had overrun the city of Banmethuot. A year later, Thompson graduated from Geneva College and entered the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In 1971, Thompson married Becki Mitchell, a girl he’d met in school in Vietnam and who had lost her father when Viet Cong forces kidnapped him from a Leprosy hospital near Banmethuot, Vietnam, where he was serving. Becki trained as a nurse and was also planning a career in medical missions. After graduating from medical school in 1973, Thompson trained for two years in general surgery at Mercy hospital in San Diego.
In 1977, Thompson and his wife accepted a call by the Christian & Missionary Alliance to establish a new medical work in south Gabon, in west-central Africa. In 1981, Thompson returned to a general surgery residency at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He completed his residency in 1984 and returned to work in Gabon the same year. In 1985, he qualified for certification by the American Board of Surgery.
When Thompson and his wife arrived in Gabon, Bongolo Hospital wasn’t much of a hospital, at all. “We found lots of sick people coming, no equipment, hardly any medicine—two Gabonese nurses that had been partially trained, and that’s what we started with,” he says. In the years since, Thompson, his wife, and a team of medical colleagues transformed a small dispensary into a 150 bed, full-service hospital where tens of thousands of patients from all over the country have been helped. In addition to medical care, his patients are sure to hear the gospel, too. “We try very early in this process to share Christ with our patients,” he says. “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.” To date, more than 7,000 people have prayed to receive Jesus Christ while at the hospital. “We pray with people, we talk to them be about Jesus Christ, about what he can do for them, and as much as possible we try to deflect people from saying, ‘Oh, you’re the one who is going to heal us.’ I see myself as the hands of Christ. I believe we are able to show people what Jesus is really like and help people to fall in love with him and give their hearts to Him.” The hospital team has also been directly involved in planting new churches.
While pleased with the work he and his collegues were doing, Thompson was the only surgeon at Bongolo Hospital, and he realized he needed to do something to change that. He faced the reality that if he died, or left the mission field, he would leave little legacy and would have made little impact on the great need for surgery in Africa. “Africa has so few surgeons, it’s unbelievable,” he says. “It’s something like one surgeon for somewhere between 250,000 people and 1 million people.” So, in 1996 at a continuing medical education conference in Kenya, he shared his vision with a group of missionary surgeons from several African mission hospitals. They responded with enthusiasm and formed a steering committee. Initially ten mission hospitals expressed interest, but then the realities of the magnitude of implementing this vision became evident - only three hospitals were able to start training residents. Sadly, for various reasons, two of the programs had to close shortly. The fledgling program at Bongolo limped on, graduating its first surgeon in 2002.
In 2003, Dr. Eugene "Pokey" Cleek closed his California practice and took over the surgery responsibilities at Banso Memorial Hospital in Kumbo, Cameroon. That same year, a partnership was formed with Loma Linda University and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations of the United States (CMDA) to establish a non-denominational Christian organization to train general surgeons in Africa. They called the organization the Pan-African College of Christian Surgeons (PACCS), which was later changed to the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons in 2004. PAACS is a commission of CMDA. Thompson currently serves as PAACS Director for Africa and assistant Program Director for the PAACS program at Bongolo hospital. PAACS has grown to seven programs at six hospitals. There have been a total of 19 graduates from the program working in various parts of Africa or are fellows in the pediatric surgical program, and 42 doctors are currently in training. Thompson says there is a real need for American doctors to volunteer in the mission field, whether short or long-term. “It’s about providing for their physical needs, but also taking the time to share the gospel,” he says. “We not working with people who have the possibility of living 70 years, we’re working with people who have the possibility of living eternally.” In November, PAACS celebrated its 15th anniversary at the PAACS Commission meeting in Chicago, IL.
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