THOMSON, Ga. — Some have been miserable for days because of aching teeth. Others have cavities in need of immediate attention.
But Ron Belcher is convinced the people gathered for appointments at a mobile dental clinic parked outside Washington Heights Baptist Church have an even greater need, a spiritual need.
So the deacon tells them about Jesus as they wait their turns with one of the volunteer dentists who help to care for Georgia’s 1.3 million uninsured residents.
Last week, Belcher’s gospel presentations led 30 of them to surrender their hearts and lives to Christ.
“He cuts straight to chase with them,” Pastor Gary Caudill said of Belcher. “He gets real with them.”
Georgia Baptists provide about $250,000 a year to keep a mobile dental clinic and mobile medical clinic on the road, crisscrossing the state to help people who don’t qualify for government medical benefits but who can’t afford to pay for care out of pocket.
The clinics are housed in what from the outside look like RVs that families might take on summer vacations. But on the inside, they’re the typical dentist’s or doctor’s office, fully equipped with the latest tools.
Some 2,400 Georgia Baptist churches kick in financially to cover the cost of the mobile clinics, which have proven to be incredibly effective evangelistically.
Tom Crites, who oversees the Baptist Mobile Health Ministry, said the goal is to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people.
“We’ve had a good year as far as outreach,” Crites said. “We’ve been able to help lots of people with their dental and medical needs, and we’ve seen many people turn to Christ.”
Georgia Baptists, known as an evangelistic-minded group of believers, are always on the lookout for ways to reach the state’s unchurched residents. And it’s working. The state’s largest religious group, with 1.4 million members, reported a 47% increase in baptisms last year.
Crites was especially complimentary of the Washington Heights congregation and the dental teams that took part, especially the students from the nearby Augusta University Dental School who extracted teeth and filled cavities for patients, some of whom were dealing with severe dental issues.
Working under the oversight of one of their professors and a couple of volunteer dentists, up to 30 dental students have shown up to care for patients.
“Some are in pain,” Caudill said. “Some have sensitivity issues. More extreme cases are swollen, and we’ll prescribe them antibiotics.”
Washington Heights typically invites Baptist Mobile Health in once a year but, based on the need, is considering scheduled the clinics more often.
Typically, Caudill said, Baptist Mobile Health arrives at his church on a Thursday to do dental screenings and spends a Friday and Saturday performing dental procedures.
In the past three years, the pastor said, some 64 dental patients have become Christian believers as a result.
“God is stirring the waters around here,” Caudill said. “It’s amazing.”