Healing the Family Tree: Dr. McAll’s strange ministry

Healing the Family Tree: Dr. McAll’s strange ministry

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One of the most significant figures in the development of pastoral theology and healing ministry in the last decades, Dr. Kenneth McAll, made the practice of praying for others across generations common. He discovered that praying and, especially celebrating Holy Communion, for the sins of long deceased ancestors often released living persons from mental and physical diseases. His main book on this ministry, Healing the Family Tree describes this ministry, and currently it is part of many healing missions and ministries throughout the world.[1]

Dr. McAll was born in 1910, in Hankow, China. His parents were third generation missionaries.[2] In 1918 his family went to Great Britain. In 1919 Kenneth’s parents moved back to China to resume their missionary work. His father, a doctor, went on to establish several hospitals there.[3] Kenneth and his siblings were left in England at a Christian boarding school for missionary parents. The school was austere, but the staff was kind and Kenneth strived to be a good student, as he knew early that the Lord called him to be a medical missionary like his father. Thankfully, the parents were able to return to England yearly to love and be with the children. Kenneth studied diligently, although not especially gifted in academics. After college he enrolled in medical school, and it was a sacrifice for his parents to put him through medical education. At medical school he met Frances, who became his wife and also became a doctor. She later wrote and important book on psychosomatic illness, For God’s Sake, Doctor.[4]

After his graduation, Kenneth served in a UK hospital for almost two years, specializing in surgery. He then went to China where he served in a provincial hospital as surgeon and administrator. Eric Liddell, of “Chariots of Fire” fame, served with him in the same hospital. By the time McAll reached China (1938) the Japanese has begun their war on China in an attempt to make it part of the Japanese Empire. They called their empire the “Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.” This was a great irony, as the Japanese were cruel masters of their empire. The war on China was an especially brutal conflict, with the Japanese having no regard for the lives of the Chinese civilians, and shot, burned, stole and raped at will.[5]

The hospital that McAll served at was in a part of China controlled by the Japanese in the daytime and the Communist insurgents at night. McAll and the medical staff were tolerated by both sides because they impartially served the wounded soldiers of both.  As part of his duties, McAll often had to leave the hospital compound for supplies, and those trips were especially dangerous. He learned what other Christian missionaries in China had learned, to totally trust on the Lord’s direction. Several times on these trips he was captured and interrogated by either the Japanese of Communist, but always miraculously released unharmed. McAll recounted one of his supernatural incidents of protection:

“I was carrying [medical] stuff on my back, and in the west on the horizon there was a village. I thought it would do as a place to stay for the night. I was tramping along as it was getting dusk, and a fellow came up alongside of me, just off my right shoulder and pointed to a village. He then drew my attention to him by saying, “Over there is a village that needs you tonight.”

I said, ‘Oh, all right. I’ll go over there because it’s a little bit nearer.’ So I turned right.

I saw that this man was white gowned. His dress was in contrast to that of the locals who never wore gowns. Still I thought, he’s just a farmer. I didn’t really look closely at him.[6]

He turned and attended to the sick. The villagers informed him they had seen McAll as he suddenly turned towards them, ten feet away from a Communist tank trap that would have killed him. They saw no one next to him. McAll realized it was the Lord because the man in white had spoken to him in English.[7]

McAll noticed, like, the Rev. John Nevius a generation before him, that Chinese Christians did exorcism on their countrymen while the missionaries avoided the issue due to their theology of cessationism.[8] Dr. McAll witnessed the exorcism of a “devil mad” person. As was the custom, he was chained to a wall and almost beaten to death by the villegers. He recounts:

The fact that he did not die quickly was interpreted as an indication that he could be cured, so a special sort of help was called for not from the mission priest or doctor, but from one of the many untrained Bible women who devoted their lives simply to spreading practical Christianity but who nevertheless believed in the Chinese superstitions of good and evil spirits. On this occasion, a fearless, pint-sized lady went up to the battered, bleeding creature and began to pray simple prayer of exorcism in the name of Jesus Christ. He slumped in his chains, unconscious. The primitive villagers took this as a sign of his release from the “devil madness” and washed, and cared for him until he was fit to take his place among them again.[9]

At the time McAll accepted the cessationist rationalization that such possessions were not possible in “civilized” countries, i.e., Europe and the U.S., and dismissed the incident from further thought.

At the same time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (December 1941) they also attacked British Malaya and Singapore. England and Japan were at war, McAll and his wife were interned by the Japanese as “enemy aliens.” They along with over 1200 other Europeans were dumped into an abandoned warehouse in Shanghai for the duration of the war. Conditions were awful. Japanese punishment for minor infringements of regulations, such as not standing with arms outstretched at rollcall, was often a brutal beating. The rations, the sweeping of leftovers from a local market, came to about 900 calories daily, with some days much less. By the war’s end and liberation, Dr. McAll was down to 85 lbs., as were most of the other adults in the camp.

The Japanese were not concerned with the internal governance of prisoners, and the situation was chaotic at first, and people fought over clothing and scant supplies. Dr. McAll and his wife were especially instrumental in helping to bring order and civility to the situation. For instance, early on there was a gang of young men who roamed the warehouse stealing and abusing others. McAll met with his prayer group and brought the problem to the Lord. Under the Lord’s prompting, they created an internal police force of the larger men in the camp equipped with official looking arm bands and armed with clubs. The gang members assumed these men had the backing of the Japanese, and disbanded. There was peace in the camp.[10]

Dr. McAll was the main doctor of the internment compound – one doctor refused to do any work because he would not be paid for it, and his wife had to care for her small children. McAll worked mightily to dispense medical attention to the community with very limited resources. For instance, he received a small supply of mosquito netting. This he cut into squares sufficient for every person to construct a face cage to sleep under. This drastically reduced the instances of malaria. McAll also built a tiny clinic at the camp and scrounged whatever medical herbs he could find, as in dandelions growing at the camp’s edge. On one occasion a person who was dying asked for prayers for two relatives in England who were in psychiatric hospital. McAll did so, and when he visited the patient the next day found him completely well. This impressed and puzzled him greatly.

After the war ended (1945) and the camp liberated, the McAlls were transported to England for convalescence. There Dr. McAll established a private practice and attempted to establish a normal life. But he was bothered with the memory of the exorcisms he saw in China, and wondered if such cases also happen in the United Kingdom. He had direction from the Lord to study psychiatry. He followed that and trained as a psychiatrist.

I learned all I could about mentally disturbed, sometimes violent people,….There had to be a manner to steer them out of their private way. My objective has always been the same: to help people get in touch with God and learn to live completely under his direction.[11]

In China Kenneth had noticed he had the gift of healing prayer. In England, while practicing as psychiatrist at several hospitals he would often pray for the patients.

[O]ne evening, on an impulse, I touched and prayed over a patient I did not even know and who was completely hidden under the bedclothes. The next morning, she greeted me in the corridor full of gratitude for her complete release and transformation – free from any further need for drugs. She gave up her career as a teacher to open a small house for Christian healing.[12]

Dr. Mcall continued to run across cases where upon the healing of one person healed another, often at a far distance. He recorded:

An elderly woman complained of “heart disease.” None was found after full investigation but she remained convinced of her handicap. At the moment when she in prayer cut the “umbilical cord” of her youngest child, her son, who, unknown to us was a “schizophrenic” in a hospital 400 miles away, was cured.[13]

Dr. McAll continued to encounter this strange pattern of healing occurring at a distance when persons were prayed over or led to repentance. He then made it into a regular procedure of his practice. He would routinely ask the patient to provide a “family tree” of his ancestors to find if there was any occult involvement, suicides or serious sins such as murder in the patient’s ancestors. Any discoveries along these lines would trigger ministering a Holy Communion service for the identified ancestor, asking the Lord to forgive and heal the situation. This invariably healed the living relative.

McAll was also doing what Anglican priests had done for several centuries, the “laying a ghosts” to peace by blessing a haunted building or place. This practice was reinforced under the influence of the Victorian scholars and their theology of the afterlife. These English (mostly) Anglican scholars had shown a serious gap in traditional theology of the afterlife which excluded the possibility of sheol/hades as continuing. They also noticed that traditional theology ignored the important revelation of 1 Peter 3-4. Negatively, the false gospel of Nicodemus influenced St. Augustine and others to believe that only heaven, hell, and purgatory existed, and sheol was vacated. It is important to understand that sheol is the possible domain of the unsaved before the final judgement. I explain this in detail in my blog posting, “More Mercy” and in my forthcoming book, “Battling the Demonic.”[14]

Dr. McAll regularly dealt with ghosts and hauntings. In this he followed the established tradition of Anglican clergy who had been doing such for over a century though he was ordained as a Congregational minister.[15] For instance, on one occasion he responded to a call to assist a family that had repeated sightings of a ghost walking through their home. The ghost seemed to be a farmer of an earlier period. McAll arrived at the house, and together with the family prayed for discernment. He received a vison of the farmer as happily engaged in the cultivation of his field and improving it with manure and much care. But the farmer became angry when his farm was sold to become a site for houses. With that information, McAll offered a communion service for the repose of that farmer and commended him to the presence of the Lord. The haunting stopped from that day.[16]

McAll himself recounts an incident about Manya, a Jewish convert, who attended a communion service for two of her deceased Jewish friends:

Sometimes, it seems that the Lord calls us to extend our prayers beyond our own family or friends. Manya began the Eucharist by praying for three of her Polish-Jewish relations. She was astonished to find that they brought with them [in a vision] hundreds of disheveled Polish Jews, heads lowered, filing out of concentration camps and shuffling towards the altar. When Manya was about to walk up the aisle to receive the Eucharist, she felt impeded because it seemed to her that all the aisles were jammed with these refugees. As she continued to pray, Manya saw Jesus standing at the altar waiting to welcome them. They approached and looked up at him and then started to dance and sing hallelujahs as the angels led them up into a bright light behind the altar.[17]

Evangelicals look suspiciously at this and most likely reject the vision as false and misleading, assuming that prayers for the dead are useless. But wait, note the mysterious statement by Paul in Romans 11: 25-26

 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way[a] all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.


What does Paul mean by all? A literal interpretation of this passage would include Jewish prisoners who died in Nazi concentration camps without having access to listen to or understand the Gospel.[18] So maybe…?

McAll spent considerable effort in attempting to explain this strange ministry to the dead in terms that Evangelicals might accept. He recounts biblical instances and the experience of the Early Church in this, just like the Victorian scholars.[19] The attempt to persuade Evangelical Christians that ministering to the dead was biblical and possible was expanded in a book by Michael Mitton and Russ Parker, Requiem Healing.[20] The Mitton-Parker work is more detailed about the issue, and today serves as the standard text for Anglican, Lutheran, Episcopal and other ministers interested in this ministry. Mittom and Parker seem to have been unaware of the fine work of the Victorian scholars I discussed in my blog posting, “More Mercy” (cited above). Certainly, a discussion of 1 Peter 3-4 as I did in “More Mercy” would have made a stronger argument for the Evangelical reader than citing, for example the instance in the book of 2 Maccabees where deceased Jewish heroes are prayed for, and Temple offerings made for their sins. The books of the Maccabees are not accepted as canon among evangelicals.

Hopefully, the ministry to the dead as suggested by the Victorian scholars, and carried out by McAll and his followers will spur Christians to take seriously the Church’s command to break the gates of Sheol and free its captives the way Jesus did. This aggressive view of the Church’ ministry to the dead has basis in one of the most widely known and quoted scriptures, Matthew 16:18. It is used by Roman Catholics as proof text for the establishment of the primacy of the Papacy. Protestants use it as proof text for the importance of faith in the individual believer. In all but the most recent translations its meaning has been seriously distorted by the use of the word hell instead of hades as in the Greek text. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not overcome it.”

A common mistake in interpreting this scripture, based on less accurate translations, is to assume that this is a defensive commission, that is, if demonic forces attack the church, it will have the power to stand. That is obviously incorrect. Matthew 16:18 is an offensive commission. In warfare the “gates” of a fortress do not move and attack – they are not like tanks, as in modern warfare. Rather, gates are designed to resist assault. This passage means that the best-fortified points of hades (including some part within Satan’s dominion) cannot withstand the assaults of the church. Further, what did an army do when they busted open the enemy’s gate? Did they sit there and cook a barbeque with the splintered wood? No. They went into the fortress and plundered the place, just like Jesus did in his ministry in hades as described in 1 Peter 3-4.

[1] Kenneth McAll, Healing the Family Tree (London: SPCK, 1982.

[2] There is a Kindle biography of Dr McAll compiled by Dr. William Wilson, Oh Taste and See: The Life of Kenneth McAll (Amazon: 2012). And several articles William Wilson “In Memory of a Friend – Dr. Kenneth McAll” Tom Haddigens’s Blog, (May 16, 2009). Important is Russ Parker’s “Generational Healing: The Undiscovered Country,” Christian Healing Ministries (Winter, 2016)



[3] When the Chinese Communists triumphed over the Nationalist forces in 1948, they inherited a splendid network of hospitals all throughout China, the fruit of Christian missionaries and their supporting agencies.


[4] Frances McAll For God’s Sake (London: Grosvenor, 1984). The work documents many healings- often through prayer and taking steps towards restoring right relationships that have gone wrong – an echo of Kenneth’s work.

May be downloaded: https://www.foranewworld.info/material/publications/gods-sake-doctor-0


[5] American readers are generally familiar with Nazi atrocities, but have little knowledge of what the Japanese did in China or other areas they invaded. Reading Oh Taste and See is an eye-popping revelation of the extent and consistency of the Japanese brutality towards the Chinese. The Communists were pretty good on that score too, and in their sectors carried out mass executions of the bourgeois (merchant) Chinese and others suspected of being “counter-revolutionary.” See especially chapter 2 of Oh Taste and See.

[6] Wilson, “In Memory”

[7] McAll Taste, loc 590.

[8] William L De Artega, “TheRev Lohn L.Nevius: The Holy Spirit Gives a Lesson in Chinese,” Pneuma Review, Posted May 10, 2014. http://pneumareview.com/the-rev-john-l-nevius-the-holy-spirit-gives-a-lesson-in-chinese/2/

[9] Kenneth MCall, Healing the Family Tree (London: SPCK, 1982) 3.

[10] Francis McAll, and Kenneth McAll, The Moon Looks Down (London: Darly Anderson, 1987) Page 139 has a picture of McAll’s painting of the prayer group huddled under the stairs. The book is a beautiful combination of Frances’ text and Kenneth’s talented drawings and paintings that he was able to do while interned.

[11]Annonymous, “Agents of Healing,” For A Change, Posted May 1, 1992. https://forachange.co.uk/browse/article/2458.html


[12] R. Kenneth McAll, “The Ministry of Deliverance,” Expository Times, Posted July 27, 2016.  https://journals.sagepub.com//doi/abs/10.1177/001452467508601003

[13] Ibid.

[14] “More Mercy: A More Biblical Theology of the Afterlife. Pentecostal Theology,” Posted Sept 22, 2022. www.pentecostaltheology.com/more-mercy-a-more-biblical-theology-of-the-afterlife/   Also “Battling the Demonic” (Amazon, 2023) chapter 13.

[15] Francis Young, A History of Anglican Exorcism (London: T&T Clark, 2018) 101.

[16] Kenneth McAll, Healing the Haunted (Santa Barbara: Queenship, 1996) 22-23.

[17] McAll, Family Tree, 39.

[18] The issue of Jews in post-biblical times in especially confused, as Christianity became, from the Third Century, bitterly anti-Semitic. The fact that a few Christians attempted to preach to the Jews while many others despised them, really negated the Gospel.


[19] McAll, Tree, chapter 8. There seems to beno direct influence of the Victorian scholars on MCAll’s work.

[20] Michael Mitton and Russ Parker, Requiem Healing: A Christian Understanding of the Dead (London: Daybreak, 1991).

William DeArteaga

William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations.


  • Reply April 21, 2023



  • Reply April 24, 2023


    He turned and attended to the sick. The villagers informed him they had seen McAll as he suddenly turned towards them, ten feet away from a Communist tank trap that would have killed him. They saw no one next to him. McAll realized it was the Lord because the man in white had spoken to him in English.

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