July 28, 1999

Dentists fill hearts with hope in Juárez clinic
___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___JUAREZ, Mexico--While several dozen children happily sing a song about Jesus, a team of Christian dentists works intently on three patients reclining in plastic chairs serving as low-tech substitutes for the high-powered chairs normally found in dental clinics.
___But there's nothing high-tech about this makeshift dental clinic, housed in the unfinished shell of a community nutrition center which sits on a sand-swept lot in the Rancho Anapra colonia of Juárez.
___On this Friday morning, children and adults alike have come to the clinic from the surrounding shacks built of cardboard, wooden pallets and other scrap materials. Many have walked the unpaved roads of the colonia on bare feet.
WHILE SHE WAITS to see a dentist, a Mexican woman reads Christian literature given to her by volunteers at the clinic.
___Under the rough-hewn rafters of the nutrition center's roof, rows of worn metal folding chairs create a waiting room for apprehensive children and their parents, many of whom are seeing a dentist for the first time. Volunteers from Hands of Luke, a Christian ministry that runs the nutrition center, entertain the children with songs while they wait for their turn or for a parent to be treated.
___The songs, like the overall message at the clinic, emphasize God's love.
___That's a message the dental team hopes to convey through both word and deed. For most, this is their third mission trip to Mexico this year.
___Though the clinic is sponsored by First Baptist Church of Midland and its affiliate Border Ministries, the dental team came from various churches in the Arlington area. They are brought together for various mission enterprises by Dr. Robert Whitmore and his wife, Rhonda.
___The team includes two dentists, several trained dental assistants, several children and friends who help sterilize equipment and coordinate traffic, and an attorney who doubles as the Spanish-language interpreter for the dentists.
DR. ROBERT WHITMORE works on a patient with assistance from his wife, Rhonda.
___One young girl seeing Dr. Dan Ferrarro needs three teeth extracted. A mother brings her baby for examination because she's afraid the child's teeth aren't coming in soon enough. Others bring a variety of dental problems, each unique and each handled as best as possible under the circumstances.
___Members of the medical team have taken time off from their jobs at home--or in the case of the two dentists, closed their offices to paying customers in order to give their services free at the mission clinic. They have paid their own way to get to Juárez, provided their own equipment and supplies.
___The day started early for part of the team, leaving an El Paso hotel around 4:30 a.m. in order to get their medical equipment through the border checkpoint in time to begin seeing patients by early morning. That's after working a full day in Arlington the previous day and arriving in El Paso by plane after 10 p.m.
___They'll work a full day at the clinic, rest that night and then work another full day on Saturday, before returning home on Sunday.
___The volunteer missionaries do it because the experience "changes lives," explains Rhonda Whitmore. "They can see compassion, just like Christ showed compassion. He was a servant. And like Jesus, we hope they will see the love we have."
YOUNGER MEMBERS of the team sterlize equipment in the makeshift clinic.
The experience also changes the lives of the volunteers, she said, explaining that she and her husband first experienced medical missions through a trip with Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington several years ago. Then they were hooked.
___Though Rhonda Whitmore lives with a life-threatening heart condition herself, she thrives on the mission trips.
___The enthusiasm she and her husband share for missions has now extended to their friends and colleagues in the Arlington area. This team, for example, includes members of Tate Springs Baptist Church, Harvest Baptist Church in Watauga, Grace Vineyard Church, Church on the Rock and Fielder Road Baptist Church.
___This month's trip especially changed the lives of the Whitmores' own children, Mark and Jeffrey. After spending two days working among the barefooted children coming into the medical clinics, they each took off their pairs of new name-brand athletic shoes, gave them to children their same sizes and left barefooted themselves.
___The Whitmores made this trip because someone else they know read an article in the Baptist Standard about the forthcoming project sponsored by First Baptist Church of Midland, which operates an extensive missions effort along the border year-round and was seeking a medical team for this special project in July.
___The July projects are all part of a strategy to reach some of the poorest sections of Juárez with the gospel. While the dentists worked on teeth by day, scores of other volunteers from dozens of evangelical churches in Juárez worked on souls by night.
A TYPICAL RESIDENCE in the colonia of Juárez where the dental clinic was held is built of cardboard and scrap materials.
___The dental clinic was one component of a larger evangelistic emphasis occurring throughout the city of Juárez in July, with 70 to 100 showings of the "Jesus" film every night.
___The goal is to lead people to faith in Christ, start new Bible study groups and ultimately new churches. And that brings things full circle, back to Rancho Anapra, the dusty satellite of Juárez where Mexicans have moved from the country's interior in hopes of finding better jobs.
___Just up the road from the dental clinic, a new cinder-block church building is rising from the dust, a mission project of First Baptist Church of Midland.
___Three years ago, a few members of the Midland church stood on a hill overlooking the growing city of squatters descending upon Rancho Anapra and prayed that God would grow a church there.
___Today, their prayers are becoming reality.
___ For information about mission partnerships with First Baptist Church of Midland, contact Dale Pond at (915) 683-0600.

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