Tortured by Fire

feetDavid Thompson is a missionary surgeon and author who has served at Bongolo Hospital in Gabon, Africa, for the past 32 years. His wife, Becki, an RN, directs the hospital’s nursing school. The following is an adaptation of a recent special edition of the Thompson’s newsletter, On Call, which details the trial by fire of three local Christians and an urgent call to prayer.

Dear Friends,

Today, I wept with my old friend, Moukingui, a retired Gabonese Alliance pastor. We wept together as he told me the story about how people from his village, Bilengui (less than 20 miles east of Bongolo Hospital), poured kerosene on his feet-and the feet of two other Christian men-then lit them on fire.

I found Moukingui in the operating room this morning, so I put on a cap and mask, sat next to him, and wrote down the details of his ordeal as he described them to me. We talked while one of my surgery residents operated on his feet, cutting off the burned, dead skin, leaving a raw surface.

It will be a month, and will take numerous skin grafts, before my old friend will walk again.

Phantom of The Alliance

The trouble began one night in mid-September (2010) when 20 men and boys, ages 14-30, decided to undergo a spirit worship initiation by drinking diboga, a hallucinogenic drug made from the root of an indigenous plant. The next morning, several of the young men claimed that while under the influence of the drug, they had seen a phantom roaming through the village, causing people and children to become ill and die.

One of the group claimed that the phantom came from the local Alliance church.

Someone else said that he had seen a skull in “a deep hole” near a door of the church. This created a storm of alarm, and there was clamoring for the young men to dig it up. So the frenzied group crossed the road to the church and began digging around the front entrance, cutting down a palm tree and digging among its roots.

A Human Skull

When they found nothing, the group began to dig near the church’s side door. After tunneling down about a foot and finding a human skull, they stormed the 30 yards to Moukingui’s house, broke down the gate made of roofing tins, and dragged him outside. By this time it was late in the afternoon.

The men demanded that Moukingui explain how the skull had gotten where they found it. When he replied that he had no idea, they shouted, “That proves that you did it! Now tell us whose skull it is so we can stop the phantom!”

Bound for Burning

Moukingui continued to insist that he was completely innocent. When an elder, Jean Daniel Mayangui, and an older gentlemen who is a Catholic, Mbembo Nimi, tried to defend the pastor, the gang tied the hands and feet of all three of men with electrical wire and dragged them across the road. They sat them down in a cleared area, in front of several mud-brick houses where some of the ringleaders lived.

People from both ends of the village gathered to see what would happen. Some young women spoke up, saying that they had dreamed the night before that Pastor Moukingui was the person who had called the phantom to the village by burying the skull at the entrance to the church.

At about 8 p.m., one of the young men brought a plastic jerry can filled with kerosene and began sloshing it on the three men. Moukingui and the two others shouted with alarm, and some of the people urged the group not to pour the kerosene on their clothes. When they continued to do this, one young man grabbed the kerosene can and ran to the edge of the clearing, saying that he would not allow them to burn the three to death. The gang members threatened to beat the man before retrieving the can; in the end they sloshed kerosene only on the men’s feet, before lighting their feet on fire.

“Lord, Save Us!”

Moukingui began to weep as he told the story, and I wept with him. “I cried out as loud as I could, ‘Lord Jesus, save us! Please save us!'” he said. “We were crying and screaming in pain; they told us they would keep doing it until we confessed, but we hadn’t done it!”

For the next hour, the gang of young men and boys poured kerosene on their prisoners’ feet three times and burned them. When they ran out of kerosene they held burning torches to their feet. The three men screamed until they were exhausted.

Eventually, the crowd grew tired of its interrogation, untied the three, went to their homes, and closed their doors. Fearing they might be next, not one person from the Alliance church helped the men get back to their houses.

Meanwhile, Moukingui’s wife was crying and praying in their home because she didn’t know where he was. It took her husband an hour to crawl 50 yards across the road and up to his house.

About a week after they were burned, Moukingui and Jean Daniel managed to hire a pickup truck to deliver them to Bongolo Hospital late one night. Mbembo had no money to pay the driver, so he was left behind; the other two were hospitalized and received immediate care. Both underwent surgery on their feet the next morning.


When Moukingui told me in the operating room that Mbembo was still in Bilengui because he had no money to pay for his medical care, two of our chaplains and I immediately drove the nearly 20 miles through the mountains to Bilengui. I found him lying in his tiny wooden house. His wife had died some time ago, so he was alone, lying in bed with flies covering his feet, waiting to die.

Mbembo has now had surgery on both of his burned feet and is hospitalized with his two brothers in the faith. It seemed only right that the hospital treat all three of these courageous men for free-it is an honor for us to serve them.

The police were informed of the crime, but said they will wait until the men are healed and discharged from the hospital before carrying out an investigation.

Meanwhile, the Christians in the Miotsogo villages of Bilengui and Guevede are fearful of further attacks.  The pastors in Guevede, about six miles up the road from Bilengui, report that many Christians are afraid and have left the church. Most of the men in both villages are now involved in Bwiti worship.

Since their hospitalization, all three men have undergone multiple operations and skin grafting to their feet.

Until Jesus Comes,

Dr. David Thompson

“Please Pray,” Dr. Dave urges: “For Moukingui, Jean Daniel, and Mbembo-they face weeks, and possibly months, of hospitalization and multiple operations to recover the bottoms of their feet with skin.

“Pray also for God’s mercy for the people of Bilengui and Guevede (Epamboua). At one time, more than half of the villagers were Christians, but in the decades since their grandparents turned away from diboga and spirit worship to embrace Jesus, two generations have grown up and chosen to return to the old ways.”

Learn More

Read “The Rule of Faith“—a condensed excerpt from Dr. Dave’s new book, The Truest Mercy—in the April 2009 issue of alife.

Watch a video about Bongolo Hospital [duration, 2:46]


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