Our Lead Advocates: Dr. David Thompson
by Jess Luoma
For over forty years, Dr. David Thompson was a missionary surgeon in the remote coastal forests of Gabon, Africa, and in Egypt. Death, disease and extreme poverty have been no stranger to him and in the same breath, neither have miraculous healings and abundant provision as he has witnessed medicine collide with the supernatural.
Thompson grew up in the jungles of Cambodia with his missionary parents learning a lifestyle of radical love, church planting and service to the world's most needy. When he was fourteen, the trajectory of his life would forever change. Thompson was riding along with his parents when they arrived at the scene of a terrible accident: a truck and a bus had collided leaving injured people all over the road. The driver of the truck was badly injured. He was taken from his truck and propped against a tree. His chest was crushed and he was barely breathing. Thompson and his father brought him water but gasping for air, he could not swallow.
"My father started talking to him in Cambodian and telling him about Jesus and the love of God for him, but he just shook his head and said, 'don’t tell me about your God, please just help me.' Shortly after that, he died and I was just crushed. I thought, 'if only we could have just helped him and given him a chance to hear the story.' For me, that was the beginning of my call to medical missions," Thompson recalls.
It was at that moment that Thompson understood the gravity and the urgency to care for the sick and share the gospel before it is too late. Forty years later, he is doing just that for the poor of our city.
"After my wife and I retired and came to Redding, I saw the situation here with the homeless and my heart really went out to these folks. I started to see if I could help out medically in small ways but really what they need most are friends– it’s really friendship & love they need, so that’s what I’ve been involved with," Thompson explains.
Over the past few years, Thompson has observed the number of services and non-profits that seek to serve the homeless with housing and social services, but what he believes the biggest need is friendship and genuine love.
"Shortly after I came to the camp with Paul Abbott, I met a young man who had been homeless for 3 years. He’s got a criminal history but he was really trying to rebuild his life and turn away from violence and crime. He had already given up on drugs and was really trying to do good. I befriended him, started spending time with him, visiting him a couple of times a week, encouraging him, praying with him, and then as time went on we were able to talk about his life and spiritual things and about the needs that he had. For the past year and a half, I’ve seen him grow as a person. He’s shown compassion to other people, and there’s been real progress in his life," Thompson says smiling.
Thompson hopes that the young man will be one of the first residents of the developing Micro-Shelter Communities and will continue to grow in holistic health and his long-term purpose.
"One of the things that I had not expected was the joy that comes when helping people who are suffering and sharing their burdens— what joy to a heart like mine that God could still use me at this age," Thompson says.
Another surprise reward from saying yes to this work was a beautiful change of heart, one that many of us can relate to.
"I was really judgmental at the beginning and harsh in my thinking and I felt sorry for them, but I felt that I was better than them, that I deserve what I have. God showed me the attitude that He wanted me to have was 'there but for the grace of God goes me,' It could’ve been me, it could be me tomorrow," Thompson confessed.
For so many of the homeless friends we meet, a catastrophic loss or sudden change in their circumstances is why they find themselves homeless. Yes, there are some who choose that lifestyle, but the majority do not.
Though Thompson treasures his time as a long-term missionary, he realizes that churches can often neglect the mission field in their own front yards.
"Who is supposed to go to the people in our own community? It's us. It's the people in our churches. Churches so often have this feeling that it's not our job and that the city or a non-profit should take care of this. This is the job of God's people," Thompson says.
He continues by explaining, "we have tremendous amounts of land in the city of Redding and at our churches. We've got around fifty churches-- if every church did a little bit, we could have a huge impact. That's something I dream about."
Now that the city of Redding has given us the green light to build Micro-Shelter Communities on church properties, we are seeking to awaken the local church to grasp the vision of changing the narrative for our homeless citizens. We hope to not only build these restorative communities of small shelters but to also invite our homeless friends into health through new friendships and reintegration into society. The addicted will find freedom, the barely surviving will find safety, the hopeless will find purpose.
"The kind of work that God had to do in my heart has to happen in the hearts of our church people. When I think about the number of homeless people there are in Redding, about 800 who are living like out here in the bushes and are living in tents, and then if you take 40-50 churches in Redding and every one of us had 10-20 volunteers, we would be able to befriend every homeless person. What would God do with that? That’s what gets me really excited," Thompson dreams.
Little by little, we are seeing Thompson's dream become a reality. We continue to dream of what could be if more of the Church decided to show compassion and take action. Businesses could participate in the joy of giving second chances through mentorship and hiring folks from our growing MSCs. New jobs could be created based on the needs of our community and the many talents of those we meet every day. The possibilities are endless. Like Thompson says, this is our job. Let's do it together.