A physician advised that eye and dental teams were those most needed on the mission field. So this year we turned to dental ministry. Despite being the second largest team that I’ve taken across the Atlantic—10, recruitment wasn’t a problem. I called Dr. Jon Spenn of ITEC (who recruited Dr. Craig Hunter, his wife Julie, and team coordinator Paul Emery from ITEC). Jon suggested that I call Dr. Bill Griffin, who joined with wife Linda, who then called Dr. Bob Meyer. Bob and his wife Diane were in, and called Dr. John Ley. Three hours earlier, his son Dr. Brian Ley, also a dentist, had asked him if he knew of any dental trips. Dr. Griffin also called Dr. Laxman Ranganathan, an Indian oral surgeon working in Jamaica, who ended up going, despite obstacles. So became the team of 10. The wives are skilled in sterilization and in providing the right instruments and supplies.
ITEC recruited their first African team of exodontia (tooth extraction) trainers, including dentist Dr. Edith Kyazike and 3 Ugandans who had already been trained. RMNI hired Dr. Okello, a S. Sudanese dentist, to tie into the local dental scene, so we fielded 15 dental workers, from 5 nations—none of whom I’d met before the trip. We could not have worked without the 25 or so S. Sudanese support personnel that we hired. Agape Mission, led by Michael Ojok, our partner in this work, recruited 8 extraction trainees, and handled myriad logistics in S. Sudan, starting last December.
Three Christian dental groups joined together for the first time on a dental mission: the Christian Dental Society (CDS), and the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) formed the Jebel team doing extractions and fillings at the Jebel UN refugee camp. Dr. Bob Meyer, who directs the CDS, is the global expert in portable dentistry, having written 3 books on the subject. He provided dental instruments and suitcases of equipment. Dr. Bill Griffin heads the dental section of CMDA.
ITEC, the third dental ministry, led the other team, training 8 S. Sudanese to do tooth extractions as a profession. Did we have enough S. Sudanese partners to handle both teams, initially at two different locations, simultaneously? The deciding factor was the partnership formed with the state Ministry of Health in Juba last year. The minister did all he could to facilitate, even sending one of his men to help us get through airport customs on Easter Sunday.
As we boarded the flight from Entebbe, Uganda to Juba, S. Sudan, the Jebel Camp leader and his wife discovered that their visas had expired just a few days earlier. We immediately appointed a temporary Jebel Camp leader, and arranged lodging and the process to get a new visa for the stranded couple.
The Jebel team of 6 dentists, each with a translator, set up in airplane hangar 5 inside the UN Jebel refugee camp. It’s without lights or electricity—fortunately it was the coolest week in 3 months—one of many mercies. A tired generator, started with a makeshift rope, struggled to power 3 of the 5 portable suction units at one time. Brian worked next to his Dad John. Our dentists saw an unbroken stream of patients, with only a break for lunch, wanting to serve as many as possible. Linda and Diane kept sterile instrument trays ready. Dr. Laxman was our deep backup. When the roots of a tooth curved around the jaw, he extracted it. When ITEC trainees got in over their heads, he came alongside, using just muscle and knowledge. Chaplain William not only kept the record of patients, but from time to time led in Christian hymns and in sharing the offer of Christ’s salvation with patients waiting to be seen.
Once we were down to 1 patient for the 6 dentists. The weekly food distributions took people away, so we sent out men with portable loudspeakers, and had such an overflow that we had to ask 18 to return the next day. People in the camp had not had dental care since at least 2013, when refugees fleeing for their lives were admitted by the UN. The general population cannot afford dental care, and must use public services, which is difficult and scary for those inside the camp. One young boy we treated had pus oozing around his teeth. David (left), one of the chaplains supported by Lookout Presbyterian Church, and an indefatigable translator, had a tooth hurt so badly that he could not even read, let alone drink or eat. Now he can do all three. We paid for another chaplain to have a root canal, which our portable facilities couldn’t handle. One lady who had an extraction, and whose children were also treated, stopped to pray over and over for Julie, who gave her follow-up care. Another patient asked where she could study the Bible, and was introduced to Chaplain Were.
Over the course of 5 days, the dental teams treated about 570 patients, mostly doing extractions. The dentists gave a smile back to some needing fillings. ITEC graduated 5 students, who now have their own profession. Dr. Okello, who has a private practice, plans to do outreaches with them, and to further train those who didn’t graduate. I’m struck by God’s love for those we served, putting together seasoned and godly dentists and staff, who fit so beautifully and almost effortlessly together. As one worker put it, “Working in very close proximity with one another allowed us to utilize the special skills each dentist and technician had to offer. We shared instruments, borrowed pressure pots, exchanged supplies, and ate together each day. It was like a well-run hospital/clinic in the middle of an all-to-recent war zone.” To God be thanks and praise!