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The Need for Dental Training

By Steve Saint

"If you don't help us show the people that we care about them and want to help them, they are going to start killing us." Was this group of pastors really under threat of death?

I was on my first trip to India. It was right after the "Christmas tsunami" that devastated countries around the Indian Ocean in late 2004. We had just toured the coast of Sri Lanka and the eastern coast of India. The devastation was mind-boggling, incredible, unbelievable. We visited one community that was wiped off the face of the earth.

Trying to comprehend the devastation one afternoon, I absentmindedly kicked at the sand and unearthed a human skull. Our guide in India was a man named Caleb who had started Harvest Ministries to plant Christian churches in staunchly and frequently militant Hindu communities.

In a meeting with the group of church planting pastors Caleb had assembled, one of the pastors asked me point blank - "Will ITEC train us to relieve people's suffering from the pain of rotten teeth? We heard that ITEC trained some pastors in West Africa to fix teeth for Muslims and now those pastors are well-received in many communities that once hated them and refused to have any dealings with them. We even heard that ITEC has taught people in the Amazon jungle who can't even read and write to fix their teeth. If you could teach tribal people to fix teeth, and if Muslims invite Christians who can fix teeth into their communities, then the Hindus who are threatening us might welcome us too."

By the time I reached home in Central Florida, there was an email waiting for me from Hyderabad. One of the pastors, 22-year-old Daniel, had been attacked and killed by angry Hindus. I also heard of this attack on the news. They said the mob had poured battery acid down the victim's throat and then left his body out in the open as a warning to other Christians. The need for Caleb's pastors to have a "Door Opener" into Hindu communities was urgent.

Charlie, our lead training dentist put together a training team. The pastors in India had specifically asked me to include "Grandfather" Mincaye. Miraculously he was here in the US during that time and the Indian Embassy in Houston gave him a visa for India. Mincaye had thought the 4-hour flight from Ecuador to Miami was long. I can only imagine where he thought we were going on a 13-hour flight. Mincaye was surprised when he realized that Ginny's and my son Jaime Nate Mincaye, was with the training team.

My surprise came when Caleb told me that our first clinic was going to be held in the same general area where Pastor Daniel had been killed just several months earlier. My surprise turned to incredulity when the community held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to welcome the same Christian pastors that they had so recently been persecuting and threatening.

There was another surprise in store for us that day. Two of the pastors attempted to extract a woman's abscessed tooth. They asked our training dentist for help. I think he thought this would be a great opportunity to get Mincaye in on the training. Our trainer told me to ask Mincaye what Mincaye would do to extract the woman's tooth. As soon as I put gloves on his hands Mincaye went to work. The outcome of this story really puts a heart into ITEC's Dental Training program. Rather than tell the rest of the story, I prefer that you see it as it happened. It is recorded in the short video we titled, "Those Same Hands."

Charlie, our lead training dentist, after going back to train Caleb's pastor group several more times, called me and said, "I'm not going to do any more training in Hyderabad." For an instant, I thought maybe something had gone wrong. Happily, he wasn't going back because it had gone "right". Charlie explained that several of the pastors had become so proficient that they could actually train new I-Dent students better than he could. This is the way mission discipleship is supposed to work!
Give Where Needed Most