RUINED FOR THE ORDINARY
Written by Jenna Quentin
How often have you gone to a concert thinking it will change your life? Eighteen year-old Melissa Ruebke was just excited about hearing Andrew Peterson live. However, it was what she heard at a booth outside the concert that captivated her.
Dentist Keith Chapman was sharing his dream of “modeling Christ’s love through dental outreaches.” With Dr. Frieda Schmidt, he was about to open Trinity Dental Clinic in Liberia, West Africa. Melissa was in training as a dental assistant and stopped to talk.
“It was kind of a light bulb moment,” she said. “Africa needed doctors and nurses, pastors and uber Christian leaders, not a little eighteen year-old dental assistant, right? It was a new thought for me to use my job, whatever it is, to serve others wherever there’s a need.”
Going and Gone
Melissa was planning to go visit her Compassion child in Burkina Faso the next summer, July 2009. While she was so close, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend a week volunteering at TDC. One of Melissa’s first cases there showed her the desperate need; a woman was literally suffocating from the huge pus pocket caused by her toothache. After fourteen years of civil war, Liberia has only a handful of dentists provide care for over three million people.
“It’s crisis management all the time,” Dr Chapman shares. “We aim to do more and more prevention and comprehensive care, but almost every patient comes to us with a toothache and every day we see eighteen to twenty new patients in pain.”
How Can I Help?
Since Melissa was there only a short time, she had to figure out where she was really needed. She helped to mentor the Liberian assistants and do further training, as well as getting instruments, sterilizing and being a “rover” to get things.
“Mel didn’t have any trouble staying busy because she was always looking for a way to help,” Dr. Chapman said. “She even stayed with my family and always pitched in a hand around the house washing dishes, etc. She was great!”
Melissa’s volunteer work “ruined me for ordinary dentistry”. She went back home with a deeper relationship with the Lord, a new gratitude for her life and a different view of her American patients. “(In Liberia) everyone is so grateful and calm… I can’t sympathize with a minor cavity when I know the kids here have endured abscesses and horribly rotten teeth, not being able to do anything about it.”
Melissa is currently volunteering with Mercy Ships in Togo, before going back to TDC for four months. When asked why she’d give up her safe well-paid job, located minutes away from home, she said, “I have the ability to go do what I can to help those in desperate need. God brought everything together to make it possible financially and physically. The money I could be earning is of very little value in the big picture of my life, because the rewards I receive here far, far outweigh any pay check and the material comforts that it could provide me at home.”
TDC was founded through SIM (Serving In Mission), in partnership with Mercy Ships. The clinic includes portable dental units and a learning lab with the objective to train Liberians to become the country’s future dental professionals. “Every time Mercy Ships left, I could see this massive gap it was leaving,” said Dr. Chapman. “I knew there was a way to close that gap, even if it’s just for one country.” To learn more about Trinity Dental Clinic, see their website at www.trinitydental.org/Home.html