A Good and Perfect Gift - A Toothbrush

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There was a sign in my dentist’s office that always made me chuckle, even the thought of it. It read –

 
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I was reminded of that sign, but without its humor, when I was privileged to be part of an medical mission event while recently in Uganda. I was assigned to provide “exit” conversations to the hundreds of village folks who had just been seen and treated at the EWT “Clinic” – actually transformed classrooms at EWT's village school.

As “counselor,” it was my assignment to spend a little time with each patient after they were treated but before they left the “clinic,” asking them a series of 10 questions. The first 9 questions were about how the patient and his or her family managed the affairs of their household that impacted their health. The questions were simple, but the answers were mind blowing. Like this one about dental hygiene, Question # 4: Please tell me how you and your family take care of your teeth. Big African smiles revealed the sad answers before words were ever spoken. There were large gaps where teeth should have been, discolorations, misalignments, overbites… Dental care is sorely unavailable in these African villages.

Encouragingly, some people answered that they had a toothbrush (previously supplied by EWT) and proudly shared that they brush once a day, sometimes more often. Many said, though, that if they were fortunate enough to get some toothbrushes, they usually gave the brushes to children in the family to use. And, if they were really fortunate, they would even use toothpaste while brushing as well!

But I had to ask Dickens, who was interpreting for me, to explain to me the most frequent answer given - which was – “I go to the bush and get a stick.” That answer made little sense to me. But Dickens explained that’s exactly what they do - they go out to the bush that surrounds their huts, break off a stick, and bring it to use to pick and “brush” their teeth. Person after person shared that is how they clean their teeth! I couldn’t grasp that idea! I found myself focusing with discomfort on how a stick was going to get rid of the chicken and rice bits left in my teeth from lunch. Without clean running water, brushing would have to wait till I got back to my room that night – as well as flossing. But there was no point to asking if they floss. That didn’t translate. (Please note that we did counsel the people to brush after every meal; and we especially counseled them to never share their toothbrush devices with anyone else.)

With one really sweet older lady, however, I had to alter my question. She only had 2 teeth - one on the upper left next to where a front tooth should have been, and one on the lower right next to where there should have been lower front teeth. When I sheepishly asked her how she cares for her teeth, she replied she takes a cloth and washes them… And with her big, grateful smile, she proudly revealed those two washed teeth…

I guess the sign in my dentist’s office was true; or even worse, what my Dad used to love to say when we balked as kids to brushing our teeth – “Be true to your teeth and they won’t be false to you.” Groan…

But the tragedy in Uganda is that they don’t have the tools and opportunities that we have and take for granted in our culture to do dental hygiene so that they can save their teeth and improve their health. However, thanks to what was learned in the medical mission event and thanks to the ongoing efforts of EWT and to the generous support of so many God-honoring donors, health issues like basic dental hygiene and more will be addressed and provided for in the future in these villages!

The life lessons I learned in Uganda don’t begin to fit on this page. But my simple takeaway about the answers to that simple medical mission dental hygiene question is this:

James 1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift is from above. A good and perfect gift can be as little as a toothbrush and toothpaste. I am one most blessed, especially because of my toothbrush!! Not only do I appreciate my toothbrush and toothpaste even more, I dearly value the clean, safe water that flows freely from my faucet that rinses my toothbrush and my mouth after brushing. God truly does meet all my needs, with even a toothbrush, according to His riches in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:19)

PS. Question Number 10 was What do you think or feel when you hear the name “Jesus”?

To a person, that question brought light to their dried, tired eyes; filled their faces with broad African smiles; and spontaneously prompted deeply personal answers that would inspire even an atheist. Their answers redeemed the heaviness and sorrow of the responses to the first 9 questions. Jesus is the light of their world. For some, their faith in Him is about all they have. But for them, He is all they need….

Written by Penny Dunovsky


Betty McLelland