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Living a Missional Life

by Jennifer Matkin Grant, DDS
Today's Christian Doctor - Summer 2009

“Jenn,

It has always been a privilege to be your dad, and I am glad that what I have done with my life had a part in your doing what you are doing with yours.

With love and affection,
Dad”


Anyone with a beating heart would probably get choked up with those amazing words, but they were especially meaningful to me. My friend who works with college students had asked me to write my testimony for a talk she was preparing about living a missional life. I had asked my dad to read it and this was his response. As is often the case, my friend had asked me for the favor to contribute to her talk, but I was the one to reap the most rewards as I put down on paper a culmination of my childhood, upbringing, education, and calling.

I became a dentist as a result of going on mission trips as a child and teenager. My father has been a minister to college, medical, and dental students for forty years. Literally every year of my life my father has led five to ten mission trips along the border and in the interior of Mexico. We began going as a family on these trips and participating as we were able early on in my childhood. It was on one of these trips as a 13-year-old girl that I worked with the dentist holding the flashlight and spit bucket and fell in love with dentistry. The very fact that I use the word “love” in reference to blood and spit tells me that God has put all of us in this world with different gifts and passions. How many other people can say that they love extracting teeth and doing root canals?

As I assisted the dentist as a young teenager, I watched hurting people come to him to have their pain relieved, smiles restored, and anxiety dissolved. Dentistry is a very tangible science and creative art, so my friend and I watched as the dentists drained abscesses, fixed broken teeth, and gave people a reason to smile. I was intrigued and hooked from the beginning, while the teenage girl next to me had to go sit down before she passed out or threw up!

I eventually went to dental school in San Antonio where my parents live and fully expected to continue going on these trips with my father as one of the dentists, like the people who were my mentors growing up. However my husband, Jonathan, was attending Truett Seminary when we married, so we moved to Waco after I graduated from dental school and completed my residency.

It soon became obvious to me that going on mission trips (more than seven hours away) was not going to be quite as “easy” as it had been when I lived three hours from the Texas-Mexico border, was a single student, and didn’t have a full-time job. Then add growing debt, as I began my own practice, and starting a family to the equation. As all this was happening, I had this cloud of guilt and regret following me that I should be going on trips to Mexico like those that had brought me to this point.

I have always lived my life with two basic mantras: “To whom much has been given, much is required” and “If there, not but for the grace of God, go I.” I don’t believe that God determines whose life is blessed and whose is not – and I think all of that is beyond human comprehension as Ecclesiastes 3:11 states. What I do believe, though, is that God created each one of us with the desire to know Him and fully experience the life He has given us. I just happen to have been born to upper middle class Christian parents who valued education and dreaming dreams. I had the opportunity to become absolutely anything I wanted to. Many do not have that option in life.

And my seven-year-old daughter, Libby, seems intent on becoming a dentist like her mommy. She is at the office at every opportunity and loves to put on pink gloves and clean the operatories.

So how lucky am I to be able to do what I love and to help people? It has become increasingly obvious to me how much dental need surrounds me right here in Waco. Mission Waco, the Family Practice Clinic, and Christian Women’s Job Corp send patients to my dental office on a regular basis. In some cases, the work is free. However, sometimes for the sake of a patient’s pride and personal responsibility we charge a small fee.

I have found that once a person’s physical pain or illness is treated, there are other equally important needs to be addressed. Certainly, the homeless and poor deserve a chance to get out of pain. But how can we (at my dental office) help them to get beyond just surviving, to a life marked by independence, pride, and joy? We look at the whole person and help them to achieve health and improve their self-esteem with a nice smile. Going to school or applying for a job is a lot harder with a mouth full of rotten or missing teeth.

And so it has become my privilege to take on several patients a month and help them better themselves. It almost seems too easy to be able to incorporate this missional opportunity into my practice. I had always envisioned doing dental missions on an occasional weekend trip out of town, but God has dropped it right into my lap so that I can do what I love every day. This past year it was my privilege to give away to those needing help in my community approximately 10 percent of my gross annual income in pro bono services.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Matkin Grant, DDS, and her husband, Jonathan, live in Waco, Texas with their two children, Libby Kate and Luke. Jennifer graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio Dental School in 1997. After completing a General Practice residency at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC, she completed a fellowship in Hospital Dentistry. Jennifer’s father, Roger Matkin, DMin, currently is the Executive Director for the San Antonio Area CMDA ministry.