Friday, March 15, 2013
As Lisa, Prema, and I head to Guatemala, I am excited to be a part of this Christian Dental Mission Trip. As we go out to serve as the body of Christ, it is really a great experience every time I have served in the capacity of giving away dentistry to people who are less privileged and otherwise would go without. There is really something to giving of yourself. For me it is not just the joy of a selfless act, as described, #2 of the “22 Things Happy People Do Differently”, but instead there is a deep and lasting fulfillment that comes from living your life with purpose.
I was teaching a class about missions recently to my 9th grade students. I separated out the key elements of how to go about mission work. Understanding that there are several elements: (Purpose, Who is Going, Supplies, Knowledge of the Subject, Knowledge of the Culture, and Goals). Ultimately, I tried to drive home the idea that having a purpose is the single most important piece of the puzzle. The Great Commission
Acts 1:8 (NIV)
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Once we understand the purpose, the other pieces start to fit as they are all supporting that greater cause. All of the other components arise as we try to fulfill the greater purpose. Let me explain by illustrating how this is true.
We may think that the people who are going are critical. In fact, many times we cheer who will be able to go with us and lament when we learn of those who will not go with us. I wish my assistants and my dentist friends could have joined us, but I am genuinely thrilled that my hygienists will be joining me on this trip. The difference between a secular charity and a Christian mission trip is that we believe God will use us to further His kingdom. So, even if one person we know that is really good at one aspect of dentistry or teaching cannot go, we believe that God will use the people who do go.
Supplies may seem critical, and when doing dental charity there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. I sought out donations and I have to thank Allan Day at Hewitt Dental and Michael Zuelke of Burkhart Dental for the generous donations of everything from composite (white filling material) to a Cavitron (for cleaning teeth) and 2 more boxes of stuff. Donations like this make trips like the one I am taking possible. But, even if we had none of these supplies, they still fall under purpose in importance in terms of dental mission work. I will strive to do the best dentistry on these small children, but I believe that their salvation is a greater good than a filling or an extraction. So, in many ways, as my young friend M. Hunter pointed out, the dentistry is just one of the supplies – a very valuable thing that some of them need desperately (if they have dental infections for instance), but that I do primarily to serve a higher purpose.
Knowledge of the Subject is a critical piece of the pie. You might think – ‘well, how can you teach the good news of the gospel if you don’t know it well?’ Certainly, understanding the redemptive power of forgiveness and justice being served in the same token is critical to sharing the story of Jesus Christ. But, Christ did not call us to speak the words of truth alone, rather he called us to live out those words through the way we act, serve, love, and care for one another. So, there is no greater teacher than teaching by the actions of caring for people and treating them well. Discipleship is about modeling the behavior you have learned.
Knowledge of the Culture is an important part of the relationship with the community you are entering, particularly with international mission work. It is fundamentally important that you connect with the existing community of believers who are there. When you are only there for a week, but others are there year-round, you want your efforts to go hand-in-hand with the work being done in that area. This cultural integration allows the work you do for that one week to play into the greater collage of all the work being done by the Body in that place. Furthermore, in the work of dentistry, you need a local body to help with follow-up so that more complex cases get the attention that they need and deserve.
Goals are the way we try to carry out our purpose. We go in with a clear idea of the type of work we are there to do, (in this case that is cleanings, fillings, extractions, teaching the Word, and caring for the children). We have more specific goals of seeing hundreds of patients over the course of the week in this rural part of Guatemala. Goals are convenient because they are very tangible. By our nature, it is easy to get caught up in the nuances of our goals and forget the nature of serving our purpose. When a specific goal begins to overshadow the higher purpose, the goal, in that moment, actually works against the purpose. Imagine a difficult filling, it is better to take a deep breath and relax. If you allow ambition to take over and it becomes a question of keeping a tally, I can assure you that your hope of sharing the Word and spreading the good news has been thrown on the floor.
So, it is with purpose that I go to the airport tomorrow, knowing that in working on this mission, I am made whole as I fulfill the purpose that has been put in my heart.