Do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to serve others by going into the healthcare profession? What defines that moment for you: a caring nurse when you were sick? A doctor that took the time to heal you? Someone in your community that you saw making a difference? For me, that person was and still is my dad. My dad decided while he was in dental school that he wanted to build his practice in a town that truly needed his services, even if it wasn’t the most profitable location. After spending a few weekends in interviews and looking at prospects, my newly-married parents settled in the sleepy, rural community of Lexington, Missouri. My dad has practiced in Lexington for almost 40 years, and he has stayed true to his mission to offer his services to those that need it most, whether in my tiny hometown or halfway around the world.
Lexington was surrounded by apple orchards, which meant an inflow of seasonal workers and their families to pick produce every fall. Each Thursday night in September, after seeing a full day of patients, my dad would welcome these seasonal workers into his dental practice for much needed free dental care. My mom, brother and I would do our best to work through the language barrier to determine the symptoms of each patient. After 3 semesters of Spanish in college, the only phrases I remember are the ones I learned in my dad’s office: “open your mouth,” “close your mouth,” and “spit here.” Dad didn’t stop at serving the seasonal members of our community. He has never turned away someone in our small community that truly needed his healing, often knowing that he would not see payment for his services.
Dad’s mission wasn’t limited to people in our community. My father has provided dental treatment to people in Mexico, Haiti, St. Lucia, Jamaica, El Salvador, and I am probably forgetting a few countries. He has donated his time and talent to one or two medical mission trips every year since I can remember. He has used these opportunities to bring the hardships of life in extreme poverty back to educate the comfortable congregations here in the United States. As a little girl, I remember watching my dad devote hours to loading Kodak slides into projector trays. We would spend weekends traveling to churches in small towns and large cities, some in my home state of Missouri and to the surrounding states of Illinois and Kansas. During the service I would usually sing a solo, sometimes mom would play the piano, my brother would help haul the equipment and dad would present his slides and talk about poverty and the need for help in countries that had absolutely no resources. We were like the Von Trapp family for foreign mission education, only with fewer kids and no whistles.
The images of the people on the slides, my dad’s description of the relief of the patients when they received help, the complete honor they bestowed upon the guests to their towns…it stuck with me. Dad’s message was always the same: WE ARE CONNECTED. WE NEED EACH OTHER. EVERYONE HAS VALUE. EVERYONE CAN DO SOMETHING. Phrases running like an electronic banner through my mind from the time I could remember.
It doesn’t surprise me that at the end of my senior year of college, after graduating with two degrees in the Arts, I would take a sharp turn after walking across the stage and enroll in a Master’s program in therapy. Healthcare was in my blood. After graduating with an additional degree in Speech Pathology I took a position at a safety-net hospital in Kansas City—a hospital whose mission is to provide service regardless of the ability to pay. It was in my blood. And after a decade providing services to those living in poverty in my community, the urge to help people around the world became a natural progression. I began thinking about ways that, instead of just individuals on medical trips, the entire healthcare community could rally together to do more for those who need it most. Not just to treat the symptoms of poverty, such as poor healthcare and little access to services, but to treat the cause and provide economic opportunity and stability.
And now I am asking all of you to come along on this journey with me by being a part of the Catalyst community. We are connected. We need each other. Everyone has value. Everyone can do something. If you believe, come with us. Let’s heal the world together.
Thanks, dad—I was listening the whole time.
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