Former missionary to Pakistan, Iran dies

Published 9:42 pm Monday, November 11, 2013

A Suffolk man who spent much of his life in the mission field — first as a son of missionaries and later as one himself — died last week.

The Rev. George Richard Thompson was born in India in 1925 to missionary parents and later returned to that nation with his wife, Myrtle. But their marriage almost didn’t happen over a difference in mission callings, she said. While he wanted to return to the land of his birth, she — a Chesapeake native who didn’t have a missions background — felt the call to China.

“No man was going to keep me from doing what I felt was God’s will for me,” she said Monday after his funeral. “I said, ‘I’m not going to India.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to China,’ and I said, ‘Well, goodbye,’” she recalled.


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But around the same time, China closed to missionaries and India split into two countries, forming Pakistan. The couple compromised and decided to join the mission field in Pakistan. They arrived in January 1951 and settled in Abbottabad, which would hit the news many decades later for being the location of a raid by U.S. military forces that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

They spent nearly 18 years in Pakistan, where George Thompson ministered in the mountainous, rugged terrain to a population that was virtually 100 percent Muslim, son Jim Thompson said.

“His ministry was really one-on-one evangelism type ministry,” Jim Thompson said. “He made some very close relationships with the tribal chieftains.”

Because his father had grown up in that culture, the elder Thompson had access that other westerners may not have gotten, Jim Thompson said.

“He was able to teach other westerners the nuances of the culture and the language,” Jim Thompson said. “He was very willing to take these deep treks into areas where, even today, westerners aren’t welcome, because he had this background. This was his first culture in a lot of ways.”

He said his father often accompanied medical mission teams in the area to translate and help them do their work.

Another son, Bob Thompson, said growing up as a missionary kid is difficult, but their father understood it.

“We were all third-culture kids,” he said. “You’re not a citizen. You don’t belong there. When you come home, you don’t fit in with all the American kids either. It was a lot more unusual for Mom than it was for Dad, just in terms of their backgrounds. It was multi-generational for my father, while nobody in my mother’s family had been a missionary.”

After leaving Pakistan, the family returned to Virginia for eight years and then went to Iran for about three years and the United Arab Emirates for about seven years, giving them a total of about 28 years overseas. The Thompsons retired as missionaries in 1989 and moved to Suffolk in 1997.

Thompson died of health issues that came on suddenly while recovering from a broken hip and wrist, his wife said. In addition to his wife, he is survived by five children, 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We were sad to see him go, but we were able to say that was a life well lived,” Jim Thompson said. “He was certainly a terrific father, he loved life and he loved his work, and he had a real heart for trying to share the gospel with these people.”