by Greg "Griff" Griffin, DMD
Today's Christian Doctor - Fall 2015
When I first started going on mission trips with Global Health Outreach (GHO), I had no idea it would so drastically change my perspective of my existence here on earth, especially my relationship with Christ. My first trip was in the summer of 1998, just weeks after I graduated from dental school, and at that time in my life, it was surely just about adventure and trying to repay the Lord for blessing me with a great profession and family. But I missed the point entirely.
We were in Ecuador less than 24 hours when we opened our makeshift clinic in the back of a half-built concrete block church in a field of waist-high thistle and weeds. I was the only dentist on our team and had what I thought was the complete anthology of dental knowledge in my head. I was ready to bring my dental “expertise” to bless and save as many poor mouths as my hands would allow. But in half an hour’s time, I was struck with the reality that I was completely and utterly sinking, and I spent that day desperately trying to get back to the surface...coughing and gasping for air.
After our evening devotions, I sat alone in the little camp we were staying in and cried uncontrollably. I cried because I was scared; I cried because I was so incredibly inept; I cried because of all the pain, all the problems and all the disease—I could not even come close to providing even an ounce of relief to the enormous weight of the need. A gracious and loving nurse serving on the team, who had been on many trips, saw me struggling and gave me some insight that has stuck with me to this day. She said, “Griff, sometimes God asks us to give just a half a glass of water.” And that was my first lesson on being obedient, serving and allowing our God to handle the curing, the relief and the miracle of His peace and presence.
Healthcare missions is so much more than providing healthcare to the needy. I don’t know how many trips it took me to start realizing this, but God is constantly changing my perspective. Here are just a few lessons I’ve learned through healthcare mission trips that have drastically altered my perception of living as a Christ follower.
Serving in missions always puts me in positions that make me see how desperately I need Christ to lead me every minute, of every day.
Several trips ago, a young man in Honduras brought his elderly, blind grandfather to see us at our dental clinic. The two of them rode a little motorbike six hours to get to us and were waiting in line by 8 a.m. His chief complaint was a partially impacted canine that was protruding, causing his lip to always have an open sore. The surrounding scar was about the size of a quarter. Back here in the U.S., this problem would have been x-rayed and sent straight to the oral surgeon for treatment. But in this little town, in the middle of nowhere, this man did not have the benefit of radiographs or an oral surgeon...all he had was me. I really wanted to help the man but was unsure if I could pull it off as a general dentist. So I asked him to hang around and let me pray about it. And boy did I pray! I enlisted some of our team members to pray also, all morning long. After lunch I felt confident that the Lord was leading me to do the procedure. When I told the man we would do it, we prayed together and got started. It was, by far, the easiest extraction of the week! It went perfect and the man was so thankful, and I was so thankful that the Lord led me to do it and saw us through it.
On short-term mission trips, I get a glimpse of Christ’s kingdom advancing across the globe, into all nations.
“Panta ta ethne”—to ALL nations. All nations should absolutely be on my heart, because ALL nations are on God’s heart. Here in my little hometown of Lincolnton, Georgia, I see the Lord working and moving in my church, in our local ministries and even right here in my little dental practice. But if I experience the Lord exclusively on a local level, I am missing out on one of the most magnificent, amazing and awesome characteristics of our God. And that is watching and being a part of His kingdom advancing all across our planet. The Lord is doing incredibly exciting things in other lands, and I want to see them and be a part of them if it is His will for me.
It’s all about disciple-making.
The last command Jesus gave to His disciples before He ascended to heaven is found in Matthew 28:18-20. It is the Great Commission. It is “great” because, if carried out properly, it ensures that the entire scope of humanity will get to know the one true gospel—that Christ died for us and made it possible for us to spend eternity with our Creator. It is a “co” mission because Jesus plainly tells us He will be with us as we go out and spread His Good News. We are not carrying out this task alone; we are “co” missioned with each other and more importantly with Christ Himself, through the Holy Spirit.
Disciple-making is a two-sided coin. On one side, I must be making disciples. (Keep in mind, this is not a calling, but a command.) One of the things GHO does so well is discipleship training for the local pastors of the towns we visit. We have partnered with Rev. Herb Hodges, Rev. Wade Trimmer and Downline Ministries, an organization based in Memphis, Tennessee. These folks are called by God to actively train Christ followers into being reproducers. As Christians, we are geared to go to church, help the needy and stand beside the broken, but we are called to so much more. We are commanded to MAKE disciples, and this is something that a lot of us just don’t know what that looks like day in and day out. In my dental career, my training has been the key to my abilities as a dentist. Likewise, the training I received from Downline, Herb and Wade have been the most important piece of the puzzle for me as I attempt to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19, ESV). The large majority of the pastors we partner with have little to no theological training (many do not even have a study Bible), so there is generally a strong component of pastoral discipleship training on the trips I lead with GHO. Joining together with these wonderful men and women of God is one of the major highlights of every trip.
On the other side of the coin, I must be “being” discipled, meaning someone must be discipling me. You cannot make disciples of Christ if you are not a disciple yourself! Healthcare missions is the vehicle by which I have participated in both sides of the disciple-making coin.
On my first GHO trip, I got to know two guys, each one much further along in their Christian walk. They both took an interest in me and began discipling me. One was Dr. Andy Sanders, an internal medicine physician who has led many trips all over the world and is passionate about God’s kingdom advancing to the ends of the earth. Throughout the years, Andy has taught me the Word, trained me to disciple others and challenged me to become a leader. He told me once that “a great leader is someone who leads people to places they would not be able to go on their own.” And that is just what he has done for me. There is no way I would have experienced all the awesome things I’ve seen God do on mission trips if Andy had not challenged and pushed me.
Another was Lloyd DeFoor. Lloyd is a realtor in Georgia and is so much a country boy that he makes the “Duck Dynasty” guys look like they’re from New Jersey. Lloyd says the Lord called him to tithe not only his money but also his time. Four or five weeks a year, you will find Lloyd on the mission field, passing out the love of Christ to everyone he encounters. He is also constantly serving locally. He taught me that every day is a mission trip and every place your feet go is a mission field.
On my third mission trip, I met Dr. Stanley Anderson, a fellow dentist from Georgia who has also discipled me. If you ever go on a trip with Stanley, you will absolutely NEVER forget him! He is a certifiable nut, but is definitely screwed onto the right bolt! He usually always has a rubber cockroach on him to make sure we are all on our toes, and he can carry off a practical joke better than any man I have ever met. He should have been an actor or standup comedian. But when it comes to making disciples of Jesus Christ, he is no joker! He probably has a thousand guys like me in his life he has taught, challenged and held accountable to being a dedicated man of God. Stanley is the man in my life who asks the hard questions to make sure I stay on course to being a godly father and devoted husband.
There is so much about being a disciple of Christ that I would have missed had it not been for missions. In fact, I am not sure I would even be someone who is trying to be a disciple and make disciples if it were not for missions.
Short-term healthcare mission trips are the perfect venue for God to press us, lead us and even squeeze us into uncomfortable situations, situations where we have to sacrifice our thoughts and ideas in order to carry out the tasks He lays before us. When we are in a remote area in the third world, we can’t get distracted by our cell phones or the “goings on” of everyday normal life. We are thrown off balance and begin to pray more, depend on the Lord more and, as a result, die to ourselves a little bit more. Sitting here in my comfortable chair in my living room, writing this article, makes me miss it so much. I am humbled at the thought of a small group far away praying right now for God to send a healthcare team to their village or little town to, as Jesus says in Luke 10:9, “…heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (NKJV).
Please don’t misunderstand, many saints who never leave home make countless powerful disciples of Jesus, but for me, foreign missions lit my fire. Have you found what lights your fire? I am solidly convinced that everyone should go on a mission trip. The perspective you gain and the lessons you learn is like finally getting glasses when your vision has been blurry every day of your life. Or like watching a pile of puzzle pieces start to land in place, revealing a beautiful, breathtaking, artistic masterpiece! And the portrait it reveals, that we now see more clearly, is that of our Master, our Savior, Jesus Christ.