By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
"I sure hope he's good with cowards," an older woman nervously laughed as she filled out a form and waited for her turn to see the dentist.
This woman and about 15 additional patients didn't wait in a typical dental reception area on May 6. Instead, they chatted among themselves or browsed through magazines or Spanish-language newspapers in the fellowship hall at First Baptist Church, Monett, where members sponsor a twice-monthly dental clinic.
Five years ago, Dr. Eric Kean moved his family to Monett from Oklahoma. "I had been in the service, and I wanted to live in a small town to raise our kids," Kean said. "I like to think that the Lord put me here."
The Lord apparently led Kean to Monett to minister. A graduate of the dental school at the University of Oklahoma, he set up his practice across town from First Baptist.
As the number of his patients grew, he noticed many Hispanics moving into Monett. Several area manufacturing companies, such as Tyson and others, attract workers, including Hispanics.
"I could tell that many [of his patients] were scraping their last few bucks together" for treatment, he said. "There was no place for them to go, especially the Spanish folks."
A member of First Baptist, he approached the church about setting up a clinic in the building and asked Sunday School class members to consider volunteering.
The congregation designated a large room in the church's educational building. In October 2003, Kean set up two dental chairs and a limited amount of other equipment. He trained 12 volunteers to assist with setting up, taking health histories and visiting with patients. "This is really a team effort," he said.
Kean pointed out that one church member, Jane Stotts, already had experience as a dental assistant. And member Yvonne Kerr speaks Spanish and translates whenever needed. "When God puts something together, He doesn't fool around," Kean said.
Kean and his team primarily provide pain management and tooth extraction. They refer patients for other dental needs.
Kean and his volunteers have treated about 400 patients since the clinic opened. And the Monett Chamber of Commerce recently honored Kean with its Pride and Progress Award.
Although they use a low-key approach, dental team members witness whenever God provides an opportunity, and they often have given gospel tracts. They always send a postcard to each patient after every clinic session to thank the individuals and to offer to minister to them in other ways.
Other needs surface during each session. Immigrants often need information about other services available from state and local government and other resources. Sometimes adults who cannot read or write seek dental care.
Freedom Christian Center, a nondenominational church in the area, recently started Step of Faith Freedom House for women who abuse drugs or alcohol or who have been sexually abused. Director Alice Rycraft takes advantage of the dental program for women in her care.
First Baptist plans to begin exploring other ways to expand their ministry and help people in the community. "The community sees that we care about people," Kerr said. "We're giving to the community. That's the whole idea." (05-19-05)