Dentistry, Not Medicine
While studying for my Master’s degree in Pharmacology, my supervisor approached me at one of our bi-weekly meetings and asked, “Gordon, what are your future plans?” I replied that I would like to continue on for my PhD. He immediately replied, “There are no positions for PhDs, but I looked at your marks and they’re not good enough for Medicine. I think you should consider Dentistry.” Frankly, I had never even considered applying for Dentistry until he had put the thought in my mind. A very high score in manual dexterity on the Dental Aptitude Test seemed to reaffirm this. On applying to Dental School, I received an interview and was accepted. It was in my 3rd year that I had a conversion experience and accepted the Lord Jesus into my heart. The Master Engineer had already been engineering circumstances in my life even before I knew Him, and that would eventually lead to a personal relationship with Him.
Always Be Prepared
After completing dental school at the University of Toronto in 1981, I was accepted into a dental internship at the Hospital for Sick Children. While there, we were given a half day off each week for independent study. During one of my free afternoons, I had a chance meeting with one of my oral surgery instructors. On inquiring what I was up to, he suggested using my time to visit his hospital, which was a small community hospital called Doctors Hospital on Brunswick Avenue. While there, I met the oral surgery residents and was able to observe oral and maxillofacial surgery being performed first hand. I also met Dr. Weinberg, who was a professor at the dental school. One afternoon, as I was changing in the locker room to leave, Dr. Weinberg was having a smoke by the open window (in those days smoking was allowed in hospitals) and he asked me, “Gordie, what are you planning to do?” I told him I was planning to get a job eventually. He said, “If you go out there, you’re not coming back in here. So if you plan to apply for surgery, do it now.” It had never occurred to me to apply for surgery. So I decided to discuss the matter with the chairman of the department, Dr. Symington. After two failed attempts to get an interview with him, he finally allowed me two minutes of his time. He told me outright, “Dr. Wong, if you’re not in the top 5% of your class, don’t even bother applying.” Well, I was not in the top 5% of my class, but I applied anyway and was granted an interview. 11 candidates were being interviewed for 2 positions. Because of my last name, I was interviewed at the end of the day. I could see that the interview committee was tired. After the usual questions, “Why do you want to study surgery? etc.”, there was a lull and I thought that the interview was over. However, Dr. Symington was seated to my left side and, staring at me, he said, “Wait a minute, Dr. Wong! I haven’t asked my question. You are at the pearly gates of heaven. What are you going to say to St. Peter, to let you into heaven?” I had only been a Christian for under two years, but the question did not rattle me. I believe the Holy Spirit gave me the words to speak. I said, “I can answer that question in a secular way or a religious way.” I was then told, “Alright, start with the secular way.” So I described all that I had seen at Doctors Hospital and that I would bring these new surgical procedures to serve my community. Another lull and I thought the interview was over. Then I was told, “Wait a minute, Dr. Wong! I want to hear the religious way.” I proceeded to give my testimony just as I had learned at Campus Crusade for Christ: “I have just come into my faith and I have asked the Lord Jesus to come into my heart. I am going to follow His will for my life. I’m going to tell that to St. Peter and he is going to let me into heaven!” I was given 1 of those 2 positions to study surgery. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
Don’t Give Up! Don’t Give Up!
As the surgical residency neared its end in 1985, the Lord led me to go to Sault Ste. Marie since this community of 81,000 had never had an oral surgeon. I took a week off from the residency at the end of June to look for a new practice site and a home to bring my young family. I drove up to the Sault with my wife’s uncle, a Hungarian architect. We found the city was booming and the main industry, Algoma Steel, was running at maximum capacity, employing 13,000 men. There were no vacancies to lease. I hired a realtor, and along with one of the dental representatives, we scoured the town and looked everywhere without success. On Friday of that week, we went back to the hotel room at about 4:00pm empty-handed, knowing that we had to return to Toronto the next day. I had not done my devotional that day, and decided that I would read that day’s devotional from Oswald Chambers’ book, My Utmost for His Highest. As I read through the devotional and came to the ending, I distinctly remember reading the words, “Don’t give up! Don’t give up!” This must have been a clear word from the Lord speaking to me, because to this day, whenever I return to Oswald Chambers’ book, I cannot find those words in any of the days of the month of June.
At about 4:10pm, the realtor called me, saying that he was not able to find anything else and could not help me anymore. I said to him, “You see the space on Queen Street that was asking Toronto rates to lease, I want you to bypass the property management and speak directly to the landlord. You know who he is!” He called back 5 minutes later, and said that the landlord is offering me $3 per square foot less that what was initially asked. I offered $4 per square foot less, but he would not budge and so the agreement on the practice site was settled. Little did I know that my new landlord would turned out to be a fine Christian man and I would stay with him for 26 years. At every 5 year renewal, we would go out for lunch and fellowship in the Lord and then settle the new rates in the last 5 minutes of our talk.
At about 4:30pm, I received a call in the hotel room from a professor at the local university. I had spoken to him earlier in the week when I heard that he was going on sabbatical for a year and was looking to rent his home. However, when I called him, he had already rented his home to someone else. He said to me, “Gordon, we did a credit check on our renters and it was not favourable. Would you be still interested in coming over to see our home?” We drove over to a little bungalow, and his wife answered the door. It turned out that his wife was Hungarian and my wife’s uncle, who was also Hungarian, were so thrilled to get to know each other. The little bungalow was just what we needed and the rental agreement was settled.
In the last hour of the week, the practice site and a home to live were both provided. The Lord showed his faithfulness to His call to Sault Ste. Marie. I drove back to Toronto on Saturday morning praising God the whole way. Isaiah 40:31 says, “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Perfect in Christ Jesus
The daily clinical practice of oral and maxillofacial surgery brings you into contact with many different people of varied temperaments, and sometimes many difficult interpersonal situations. The Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – is the character of Jesus expressed to other people. Our inner purity is given to us by God through His sovereign grace. However, this can be tarnished when we come in contact with other people and with other points of view. I have found that a practical way of keeping personal purity as described by Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, March 26, p. 86), is to say to myself: That patient, that man, that woman, perfect in Christ Jesus! That friend, that relative, perfect in Christ Jesus! We now begin to see our patients, friends and family as God would see them.
If we react to our patients’ demands, the old sinful nature has its way again and
fellowship is broken. However, if we respond to our patients’ demands, the Holy Spirit within us responds and the character of Jesus is expressed. The daily, commonplace things of clinical dental practice can be dull and boring drudgery unless the Lord touches it. Then the work always becomes transfigured and holy. Drudgery is one of the finest measures of character there is.
My wife and I have participated on dental teams to China, Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America. We have found the following to be true: The key to the missionary is the authority of Jesus Christ, not the needs of men: “All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to me.” (Matt 28:18) The key to the missionary message is the propitiation of Jesus Christ for our sins: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:2) The key to the Master’s orders is prayer: “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.” (Matt 9:38) The key to the missionary devotion is our absolute attachment to Our Lord Jesus Christ: “For they have gone out for the sake of the name.” (3 Jn 7). The method of missions is that the missionary remains faithful to the call of God, with one purpose to disciple men and women to Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt 28:19)
The challenge of the missionary is to maintain a personal relationship to Jesus. When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in a person’s heart, the evidence of spiritual life is spiritual appetite. When we have spiritual appetite, we look for spiritual food. Our spiritual appetite can only be satisfied when we feed our minds and nourish our souls with the daily reading of the Word of God. The daily immersion in Holy Scripture is the spiritual discipline for building truth into my life.