By Carol Seeley
We don’t usually think of medical/dental personnel riding in the backs of pickup trucks, sleeping in cots and hammocks, and having no electricity or running water, but that’s exactly what the medical/dental missions team serving in Panama experienced on their recent trip to serve the Emberá people in a town called Cucunatí, in the Darien Province.
As part of the five-year partnership with the Panama Baptist Convention, Virginia Baptists often travel to remote areas to serve alongside our Panamanian brothers and sisters.
In January, a medical/dental team from churches in Richmond and Fredericksburg served with the Fundación Cristiana Médico Social, a Panamanian foundation/non-profit that makes regular monthly trips to rural areas of Panama to do healthcare ministry. Virginia Baptists try to help the foundation reach areas that require a multiple-day trip, are difficult to access, and have limited options for healthcare.
One of the members of the team, Dr. Andy Moore, DDS from Fredericksburg, was stretched a bit out of his comfort zone this year when he was the only dentist present.
On past trips, Andy was accompanied by Dr. Cleveland Cooper, a fellow dentist and also the foundation’s president. But Dr. Cooper was unable to travel due to illness this year, so only Andy, two second-year dental students from Panama who spoke little English, and some able volunteers comprised the dental team.
Working together, with Andy mentoring the students, they became a super team and God provided what they needed when they needed it, especially when team member, Jhonattan, treated a patient named Diego who has cerebral palsy.
Jhonattan showed much patience and care with Diego as Andy walked him through what needed to be done. God’s providence in this situation became evident when the team learned that Jhonattan has a brother with cerebral palsy, giving him special insight into how to help Diego.
Judy Collins, the team leader (a retired nurse practitioner and member of River Road Church, Baptist), formed a special bond with Dr. Lilia Jou, a recent graduate from medical school. Lilia made her first trip with the Foundation and Virginia Baptists several years ago, and she had worked alongside Judy then.
The hands-on practical experience Lilia gained while working with Judy helped her with her studies and got her “hooked” on providing medical care for the poor and underserved in her country. Lilia skipped some of her graduation events in order to serve, saying, “I’d rather be serving Christ through caring for people than celebrating my graduation. This is why I’m a doctor!”