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Felt Need

By David Campbell | October 04, 2016

by David Campbell, DDS

What is a felt need? It’s an interesting concept that was developed in missiology to help missionaries develop sensitivity for the needs of the communities they are called to serve. The opposite of felt need is selling snow to Eskimos.

But within public health dentistry, the concept is much more practical and physical. We know most people in the majority world lack clean water and simple public health practices. Yet, when we ask the individual sitting with us, usually in fellowship or at a meal, what the single most important problem in their life is, extraction is often the solution. That’s our forte in missions. Whether you are on skid row or in a remote village up the Amazon, dentistry has a simple, amazing tool for relieving severe suffering for a majority of their population. They may lack Vitamin C, have too much sugar in their diet or have all sorts of odd causes for their ailments, but the solution for the immediate pain can be provided with a duffle bag of supplies.

Later, as we look back through the public health resources every community needs to develop, we will want to provide the toothbrushes, fluoride paste, clean fluoridated water and good diet options. We can start from our perspective of deep scientific knowledge to help provide long-term solutions, but the immediate need is often addressed by simple extractions.

The process of serving in missions can often become bogged down in legalities and accessibility. We often squirm at the simplicity and yearn to get to deeper solutions and more complex long-term solutions. These are healthy feelings and worthy of prayer and development. Yet, at the table in fellowship or at a meal, often times their hearts yearn for the immediate solution. The movie Castaway with Tom Hanks captured the obsessions with the need, the complexity of overcoming the problem without resources. The extraction in the film, deep in the dark cave with all the isolation, brings Wilson to life as a companion helping and providing imaginary solace and companionship. His modest insanity is understandable and relatable as we go through the terror of self-extraction with both of them. That’s his great felt need. Tom is not thinking about rescue and his lostness, because the persistence of the pain is so great.

We hold this rescue in our hands. The profession and our education and our disciplined commitment of the arts of caring provide this absolution for so many. Saved from long suffering by a miraculously simplistic service. Do not overthink our capabilities and our services. The help we provide is as close to miraculous as many will know in their lifetime. Allow the Lord to use our mini “miracle” wherever He leads. Go...

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