Dentists with a Gospel Heart

by Paul and Beth Brind

 

Tanzania has been greatly impacted by the gospel since the beginning of the modern missionary movement more than 200 years ago. As faithful servants of God proclaimed the good news, many people in this vast country believed and became followers of Jesus. Dr David Livingstone, the pioneer missionary, travelled throughout the country in the 1860s. On his travels he visited Mwanza, a large town on the southern shore of Lake Victoria. Almost 150 years later Mwanza became our home, as we followed God's call to serve and build His Kingdom in this part of Tanzania.  

 

For many years, mission workers have served in Tanzania: preaching and teaching, planting churches, setting up Bible schools, training local church leaders and bringing the message of the gospel to many people. The church has grown steadily and today around 50% of Tanzanians are affiliated to a Christian denomination (according toOperation World). The majority of churches are led by local believers, many of whom are passionate about Jesus and reaching others for Him.

 

Admittedly the situation in the coastal regions is very different, with Islam holding significant sway. However, in the Lake Zone where we were working, there isn't such an obvious need for overseas mission workers to preach the good news to the indigenous people. The local believers are already doing a reasonably good job.

 

God called us to go to Tanzania to advance His Kingdom, through justice, mercy and walking humbly with Him, to make a real, lasting and sustainable difference to individuals and communities, and to be able to give the reason for our actions. To be involved in transforming communities, both spiritually and physically, using our dental skills as a springboard for the gospel.

 

DENTAL WORK

Our dental work in Tanzania began as part of a group that focused on providing basic dental services for those who would otherwise have no access to such treatment. In many parts of rural Tanzania if a villager develops toothache there is very little they can do. If they can't afford to travel 80 km to the nearest dental clinic, they either live with the toothache day after day or visit a local healer, who tries to remove the tooth with a screwdriver or some other home-made tool.

 

We trained local health care workers in basic and safe tooth-extraction techniques, and in the sterilisation of instruments, so that for every community there would be reasonable access to someone who can take out a painful tooth and teach people how to avoid future dental problems. We also ran a clinic in Mwanza, providing dental care for the local population, including many expatriates and mission workers.

 

Working closely with the Tanzanian government, in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the training programmes, we managed to gain the respect and friendship of those in office. We also worked directly with a large number of UK dental volunteers, who visited Tanzania on a regular basis to help run the clinic and the training programmes. Many of these volunteers experienced God in the process.

 

Showing God's love in a practical way succeeded in opening many doors, reaching out to the business community, expatriates and visiting dentists. It was the dental work that essentially gave us the opportunity to speak gospel truths into the many lives we came across on a day-to-day basis.

 

GOSPEL WORK

We worked among the Christian community, running Bible studies and prayer groups, acting as mentors, and supporting Christian and humanitarian workers in Tanzania. Every week a group of ladies met with Beth at our home to read and study the Bible. Every fortnight Paul met with a group of men for prayer and study, as well as the opportunity to support each other in the work we were doing. Also, as our children grew, we became more involved in a children's Bible club, where quite a number of those attending were introduced to Jesus for the first time.

 

We also supported a number of Tanzanian leaders, encouraging them at their churches to continue in their ministry and partnering with them in their work. We discovered that our role was often one of empowering others to reach out for Jesus, helping them to realise the potential they had for God.

 

CULTURAL CHALLENGES

When we arrived in Tanzania with Isaac, aged two, and Hannah, six weeks old, we were immediately faced with cultural issues. We also discovered some of the real problems that we, as 'white mission workers', have created over the decades. For example, many churches would invite us to come to speak but with a hidden agenda - they wanted to have a mission worker to run and fund their church! It often required a lot of wisdom to navigate through this minefield and we weren't always successful.

 

Another cultural frustration was the length of time it takes to get anything done in Tanzania. Government red tape, relaxed attitudes, community decision-making or an unwillingness to change, often made our life and work difficult. And yet, through this we learned one of the most valuable lessons of our time in Africa, that, if we were going to see lasting, sustainable change, and if God's kingdom was going to be built and communities impacted, it would best be achieved by empowering local people to transform their own culture and society.

 

However, we also benefited from the richness of living in a different culture and rubbing shoulders with people from many different backgrounds. As a family, we immersed ourselves in the community and built relationships with many neighbours and colleagues.

 

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE

After three years, we were able to help take the dental work from a position of being dependent on overseas dentists, to being self-sufficient. Trained and faithful colleagues have taken over the responsibility of continuing the training programmes and clinic work. Having helped build the ministry of some of our Tanzanian brothers and sisters, it was time to move back to the UK and to continue to support them from afar.

 

More than anything, our experiences have taught us of the need to be culturally aware as we help to build God's Kingdom. That doesn't mean we always blend into the culture. At times being countercultural is what's needed, both in Tanzania and here in the UK. But it is having the willingness to humbly walk with God, to love and serve others unconditionally, to seek justice, and to give of ourselves which enables others to grow and develop into the fullness of what God has for them.

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