A little over 18 months ago, my Connection Group leader, a local dentist, shared with our class her desire to bring the 2-day Florida Dental Association’s (FDA) Mission of Mercy clinic to our community. The Mission of Mercy provides free dental care to the underserved and uninsured.
The class joined her in prayer. When the event was confirmed, and she was appointed as co-chair, we prayed about the logistics…and the thousands of small details that needed to be accomplished.
I’m not quite sure why I was hesitant to commit to volunteer. I knew I wanted to be a small part of something so big. Perhaps it was because I am not a fan of the dental chair. (I have an awesome dentist and hygienist, but that dental chair causes anxiety every single time!) The thought of being in the midst of hundreds of dental chairs caused my blood pressure to spike.
I was reluctant to interact directly with the patients; I finally decided to play it safe and work with volunteer registration. Well, don’t you know it, because I procrastinated, the only slot available was for patient ambassador.
As the day approached, I wrestled with anxious thoughts. I am a social butterfly…but within my comfort zone. I fretted about interacting with folks from vastly different walks of life. I asked myself if I had become a snob. What was I really afraid of? I thought of my foreign mission trip; that was a bigger step of faith than just driving across town. I prayed about my struggle. I decided to just show up with a willing heart and see how the Lord would use me.
On go-day, when my connection group sister-friends and I reported for service a few minutes after 0400, the campus was already buzzing with excitement. Hundreds of people were already lined up for dental care. Floodlights illuminated the dark. Aqua-shirted volunteers scurried about like ants.
My initial assignment was to direct the first groups of patients to registration. As I greeted the first patients walking down the darkened sidewalk, immediately I sensed their discomfort and insecurity. That’s when it happened: my God-given encouragement instinct kicked in. I knew my purpose. I needed to make every one I came in contact with to feel welcome and at ease.
A few minutes later, I was moved to my duty station for the shift: right smack in the middle of the dental clinic. Thankfully, I was oblivious to the sights and sounds of the dental-activity; I was fully engaged and focused on the patients.
As I escorted countless patients around the clinic, I had the privilege to listen to their stories. I held the hands of frail elderly ladies. I offered reassurance to first-time dental patients. I had the honor of pushing the wheelchair of an elderly man, truly wishing I had time to sit and listen to his wisdom. Tears welled in my eyes as a woman shared how excited she was to now have a beautiful smile. As I waited with a very tall gentleman, he and the check-out volunteer talked about basketball; when I jokingly made a comment about always being the last pick for P.E. basketball teams, he looked down at me and gently placed his hand on my shoulder and said “It’s not about the height; it’s always about the heart. And you got the heart.” Oh, my. His words blessed me and convicted me at the same time.
It is all about the heart. I must have an obedient, loving and willing heart. It is obedience to Jesus’ command for me to love my neighbors as myself. It’s about loving others without any expectation. It is willingness to step out of my of my comfort zone to use the gifts God has given me.
After the event, the FDA’s Facebook page posted about the 2017 Mission of Mercy:
Volunesia (noun): That moment when you forget you’re volunteering to help change lives, because it’s changing yours.
And that is exactly what happened to me.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:30-31