Dental Missions: Following Jesus

Posted Sep 15, 2019

Cheryl Wiebe

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Hymn: The Summons by John L. Bell & Graham Maule

Early in my career, I was blessed to have the opportunity to work in a Christian led dental office and it enriched my life in so many ways. The owner of the clinic and his wife started a non-profit organization, Shine the Light Initiative, in 2010, which organized and led three mission trips per year from Winnipeg to the Dominican Republic (DR). At that time, it was a partnership between pastors and doctors in the DR, the locals in the villages that were served, and the volunteers from Canada that went on the trips. In addition to providing dental care, the group held medical clinics, led prayer groups, held life skills workshops, helped at a feeding program for children, and distributed donations brought from Canada.

I participated in my first of four trips in 2012. The length varied from 7-10 days and consisted of a variety of schedules. The volunteers would split into groups: some would help a group of local contractors build a cinder block house from the ground up, others would join in sorting and distributing donations, some would participate in community outreach, while anyone qualified or willing would join the medical and dental team at the makeshift clinics. One or two families each trip would be chosen to receive a new house either because of loss or poor living conditions in their existing  house. Community outreach teams would make connections with villagers by providing education, playing with children, discussing with villagers what programs could be started to benefit the community. For example, this could include purse making and selling, teaching gardening, etc. For the medical and dental teams sometimes we would travel clinics and sometimes we would stay all week in one village. Although travelling to a different village every day provides a larger number of people with care over a greater area, I preferred staying in one village. I found that during the week, in seeing the same people every day and meeting family members and friends, closer relationships were formed with those in the community. I value this human connection very much and believe that spiritual gift had more lasting impact than the specific dental work I performed on the patient. 

A typical day in the dental clinic consisted of lots of teamwork! Everyone would help in any way they could. It was very different from a private practice setting. Instead of people working in their one role (reception, assistant, sterilization, anesthetic injections), it was a constant flow of whoever was available jumping in and performing whatever task was required to keep the patients flowing through the clinic. For example, two dentists might be assessing and treating patients, while two hygienists would be providing scaling. If one was waiting for anesthetic he or she might jump into sterilizing instruments, or helping someone hold a flash light because their headlamp had run out of battery. One to two assistants would float around to help where they were most needed. The volume on my first trip overwhelmed me. There were often 20 to 100 people lined up waiting for assessment. Some had travelled from far away, others had been waiting since the night before. The whole tone of the day was busy, but not frantic or stressful as that pace and volume would seem back in Canada. The Domincans taught me a lot about letting go and letting God! Unlike conditions I was familiar with, no one there was worried about deadlines (or even being on time!), they were so grateful that strangers would travel from afar to care for and connect with them. The feeling was that we would get through the amount of patients we would get through and that to practice Spanish with a local, to smile and try to connect and communicate love, were just as important as pulling a tooth or filling a cavity. 

I have been keen on volunteering from an early age. After graduating from dental school I thought many times about going to volunteer overseas but kept putting it off for one reason or another. When I finally took the plunge, I had no idea that it would change me at a very deep level. Every night the whole group of volunteers would meet to debrief about the day and it was so uplifting to see people’s hearts and minds opened by this act of working together to show love and care to the villagers. Those in the group, many whom had never met before, felt close, banded together under one common goal. 

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you  and never be the same. In Your company I’ll go  where Your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

To put my faith in action by attending this trip was such a blessing and surprised me in so many ways. What I expected was that a group of people would go and provide shelter, medical and dental care, and spiritual support to those less fortunate. This was true; for example, all the positive results in one of the villages led them to change their name from Agua Negra (Black Water) to Nuevo Renacer (New Rebirth). But what astounded me was that I felt blessed, I was the one who had received! When volunteering there, I experienced such acceptance and love from the locals. They would run to give us water if we were thirsty or encourage us to take breaks or insist they carry a heavy load for us. There, I daily witnessed what it is truly like to live a life where God is first in thoughts and decisions and the peace and humility that comes from letting God lead. Matthew 5:3 says “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. It was humbling to see that when you can’t rely on your own resources to thrive,  can you trust God fully and experience certainty in all the chaos. I am ever grateful for this experience.

To find out more about this wonderful organization, visit