Volunteer dentist James S. McKenzie of Fuquay-Varina works with volunteer Bailey Stevens on patient Donald Sutton at a recent clinic in Coats, about 30 miles south of Raleigh. North Carolina Baptist Men operates the nation’s largest mobile medical dental ministry.
Donald Sutton, 34, made his way through Coats United Methodist Church’s parking lot, nursing a bad tooth.
As he entered the social hall of the church, Sutton looked over his shoulder at the two medical dental units idling along one side of the lot, a mobile clinic that would serve up to 50 people before the team called it a day.
The units could pass for RVs except for the colorful lettering on the side proclaiming the vehicles as Medical Dental Ministry. In 2012 the ministry will host free clinics in Rutherfordton, Greenville and Dublin and many other places.
For Sutton, this trip was his first time at the clinic. Sutton didn’t know what to expect, but his wife urged him to take advantage of the ministry of the North Carolina Baptist Men.
By early afternoon, volunteer dentist James S. McKenzie examined Sutton. Sutton learned he needed a cavity filled and that he suffered from gum disease. Still, he rejoiced.
He thanked the team, beaming his brilliant smile. He kept saying, “It’s a blessing.
“It’s a blessing for those who can’t see a dentist on a regular basis.”
McKenzie, one of the volunteer dentists, lowered his face mask and with a smile almost as wide as Sutton’s, said “Glad we could help.”
That’s the spirit behind a ministry that began 22 years ago when the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina initiated its first medical dental unit, a 1989 Bluebird bus fitted to provide free medical and dental care.
North Carolina Baptist Men operates its medical dental ministry with three units, making it the largest in the nation.
“No one had thought about that need,” recalls Richard Brunson, the executive director of N.C. Baptist Men in Cary.
“But God opened that door and we are able to help about 4,500 people each year.”
Baptist Men is best known for the yellow T-shirts that more than 12,000 trained volunteers wear as they assist in disaster relief. The medical dental units are a vital part of Baptist relief work.
In late 2011 the ministry unveiled a $400,000 state-of-the-art Lifeline Mobile unit stuffed with another $50,000 of medical/dental equipment to provide no-cost care for the poor of North Carolina.
Gifts from dentists and others, along with grants, paid for the 40-foot, diesel-powered unit.
While the engines of the unit chugged, Joanne Honeycutt, unit coordinator, adjusted her blue cloth face mask to hold the hand of Cara Cotchen, 25, who had to have a tooth removed.
Tears rolled gently down Cotchen’s face as Honeycutt encouraged her.
Earlier Cotchen, who attends both Clyde’s Chapel in Wendell, and Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, worked as a volunteer to help others find dental care at the unit.
She made the hour drive and received the no-cost care in Coats, too.
A member of the medical dental ministry for nearly eight years, Honeycutt helps the patients with medical care along with spiritual hope. As Honeycutt talked to Cotchen, “The Jesus Film” played nearby on a flat-screen TV.
“Not only do we provide dental care, we want to provide the gospel as well,” said volunteer Bailey Stevens, who hopes to someday be a dentist, as she assisted another patient.
“The film is part of our ministry.”
Volunteer David Braswell of Nashville, N.C., drove the bus to Coats from Cary while his wife, Rachel, met patients as the unit hostess.
Other volunteers helped with the screening, food service, child care and the other logistics needed to provide a day of medical and dental care.
Sporting a dark Campbell University baseball cap, Rick Wilkerson, pastor of Coats United Methodist Church, walked around the social hall greeting patients.
“We love to take care of folks in our community,” Wilkerson said. “We love the Baptists. It’s a very good relationship.”
Typically churches such as Coats United Methodist pay the expenses for the unit to come to the venue including the mileage and help with the appointments and screening.
Two years ago, about 150 patients took advantage of the old unit when it came, Wilkerson said.
This day both the old 2001 unit and the new unit hummed together in a full-scale medical and dental care marathon. The cost for a day of care usually runs an organization about $100 to $400, Honeycutt said.
By year’s end the 1989 unit will be housed at Truett Baptist Association near Murphy.
The new unit will be the workhorse and worthy of the challenge.
Honeycutt is proud of the equipment and praised Lifeline Mobile of Columbus, Ohio, for the way it fashioned the equipment.
The unit also features a digital x-ray system connected to a personal computer, comfortable chairs and more.
“I really like the trash can,” laughed Stevens as she showed off the dental work area.
“It seems kind of crazy but in the other unit, we had to have a little trash can and we’d have to kick it around. This one is built-in.”
As Sutton received treatment and he laughed about his face feeling numb, Pastor Wilkerson reported that five patients requested some spiritual help. Stevens also said she met a woman recovering from breast cancer.
“She was so thankful for what we could do for her,” Stevens said.
“It was a blessing to me. A lot of time I get blessed as much as they do.”
For more information contact Joanne Honeycutt of North Carolina Baptist Men at (800) 395-5102.