Written By Ben Bunt, Trip 72
At the end of the movie “Shawshank Redemption,travelled” Morgan Freeman’s character Red says, “I find myself so excited, I can hardly keep a thought in my head or sit still. I think it’s the kind of excitement only a free man can feel at the beginning of a journey whose conclusion is uncertain.” That pretty well described my state as the weeks became days, then hours, and then reality as I traveled with my two boys to Uganda along with 17 other men and women with Parental Care Ministries to (as my son sitting beside me is saying as I type) love on people.
I knew a few things about the schools and clinic in Uganda just because of my friendship with so many others who had traveled there. We were going as a result of my younger son, Grayson, praying to go for around a year and a half.
I knew little of the Kate Clinic. I knew that the facilities were lacking what would be considered ideal conditions by American standards.
The day traveling to Kate Clinic began with a longish drive along a well-maintained highway, then transitioned to a longerish journey along a primitive dirt road winding through a number of small villages- home to chickens, goats, and a curious bunch of people as a busload of white faces bumped along in the bus.
Upon our arrival to the clinic, we were met by Dr. Ambrose and his staff, who seemed eager to greet us and proudly offer a tour of the clinic where God has placed them. Their smiles evidencing pride in what they were accomplishing even in the midst of difficult surroundings. Imagine a clinic with no running water. No electricity. No advantage of access to modern diagnostic equipment. We toured the offices, exam rooms, and drug dispensary. Very quickly, my thoughts turned to “These people do a lot of good with very little”.
We made our way to the wards where Dr. Ambrose and his staff watch over patients with significant enough issues that they need to stay on the grounds of the clinic. Keep in mind that I am a dentist. My preparation for this trip has been comprised of gathering what I felt like would be necessary to extract whatever teeth I could, as well as give some direction to Dr. Ambrose on those extractions so he can more confidently treat his patients with dental needs.
My expectation as I toured the clinic with Dr. Ambrose and Dr. Hickerson was that I would only be observing the wards as that side of care is really outside of my sphere of knowledge.
My heart sunk as we walked into the men’s ward and the first bed had a patient with the top sheet pulled up over his head. A dead man was not what I anticipated I would be seeing. As Ambrose, Steve, and I talked, our limited understanding of each other allowed me to hear motorcycle accident, last night, and loose teeth. Loose teeth? I’m standing over a dead body and loose teeth is our conversation? Just about that moment, the body stirred, the sheet came off, and the swollen face of a 16 year old boy emerged. My dead body was a boy named Brian who was hurting and swollen, but very much alive. We talked more and moved the boy to the exam room where Dr. Hickerson and I together could try to determine what had happened to Brian.
As he sat down, and I only looked at the boy, a fractured mandible was becoming more of a suspect as to what was troubling this boy. The story became clearer as well. Around midnight the night before, Brian was traveling home and collided with a motorcycle with the rider of the motorcycle leaving the scene of the accident. Brian’s single mother was lingering back in the shadows of the office not coming in as we examined him. All signs and symptoms pointed to a fractured mandible, displaced, not allowing Brian to close his mouth completely together.
Now, imagine our surroundings. Many miles from any town, especially one having a maxilla-facial surgeon. A clinic with no water. No electricity. A dentist with no experience in treating this type of injury. A physician whose expertise is infectious diseases. And Ambrose. A poor boy. A single mom. And an injury that, left untreated, will affect this boy significantly for the rest of his life. Pain. Dysfunction. Life threatening possibly considering the possibility of infection. We were standing there with nothing to offer a 16 year old boy injured and looking to us for hope. His mother on the ground in front of him distraught as we tried to communicate the seriousness of his injury.
This boy in America would have already been on an operating room table and well on his way to recovery with no long lasting effects. Yet, here we stand in a remote part of an undeveloped country trying to make a decision about Brian’s broken jaw.
We determined that our best option was to try to have them travel to a nearby town to at least have an x-ray to determine the extent of the injury and maybe through some miracle he would receive the necessary treatment. We dismissed Brian not expecting to be able ever know the outcome of his situation.
We saw a number of other dental patients. During a brief break, I stood outside the clinic with my friend Justin Hayes. My exact words were this: “God wastes nothing. What is His purpose in having the first patient I see in a foreign land have an injury that I can do nothing about? Am I supposed to learn that I can’t fix everything? Everybody? Is this a lesson for me? Is this a lesson for Brian? A lesson for Ambrose? What should I learn? If I don’t do something, that boy’s face is going to haunt me.”
We finished out the day by doing a great deal of good for more than 20 patients who needed badly decayed teeth extracted. I was terribly impressed with Dr. Ambrose and Dr. Anthony’s ability to extract teeth. Maybe their anesthesia techniques needed a bit of tweaking, but overall, they were doing a tremendous good, not only for their medical patients, but for the dental ones as well.
Our plans included the possibility of returning to the clinic in 3 days. I felt like I could help the quality of care in the clinic for dental needs by making some recommendations to their anesthesia techniques so that the patients would be more comfortable as they performed the procedures. So we decided as a team to return.
Our team prayed for Brian. Justin had the American office of PCM pray for Brian. I asked my friends at home to pray. And I prayed. That he would receive the care he needed so that he could continue with his life as a complete boy.
We journeyed down that same highway and dirt road to the Kate Clinic 3 days later. Anticipating that we would be spending just a little while helping the staff in what ways we could, we again arrived at the clinic. Ambrose welcomed us again warmly. He spent time with Dr. Hickerson and then with me as we extracted a tooth on a young girl named Rose. We were successful in achieving adequate anesthesia so my day was made. We were joyful that we had done some good and made this corner of the world maybe just a bit better for our having been there. God had something even better.
As I stood there with a bottle of water talking to the men, Ambrose with a smile pointed behind me. Brian. Standing there in front of me. He smiled and the very obvious work of a surgeon was evident. His upper and lower jaws were wired together, his teeth were all the way together, and his jaw was back in proper alignment. Somehow he made it to where he needed to be. Somehow, the right people saw him and treated him. Somehow, he had the surgery he so desperately needed. Somehow. Somehow. Somehow. I don’t know the details. I couldn’t understand well. It doesn’t matter to me. God was the somehow.
I’m still processing what this has to teach me. Depend on God? Pray? God is in the midst of hopelessness? Trust? I’m not sure yet, but I’m elated. I may never see Brian again. Probably not. But the vision of his face will not haunt me. It will bring me joy and worship. And a great story of the faithfulness of our God.
The outcome of the journey is still not completely clear as I bounce through the streets of Kampala, Uganda, Africa trying to type this. Headed to a late dinner and a longish plane ride to Dubai and then a longerish plane ride to Texas. I don’t know the outcome of the journey, but the journey with men and women of God is good.