JOLIET – A zeal for mission work sneaked up on Joliet orthodontist Dr. Clarence J. Red, who had never imagined himself the leader of a mission team to Tanzania.
This is what happened: An Ohio colleague was planning a dental mission trip to Tanzania. When she told Red, he impulsively and offhandedly said, “If there’s anything I can do to help …,” assuming he’d be writing a check.
To Red’s surprise, the colleague responded, “You can help me treat patients.”
So Red went and extracted teeth and applied fillings in a “dental clinic” inside the partly built Gold Land Hotel. That was in 2007. Red didn’t seriously consider returning until his daughter, Summer Red, as part of her confirmation project at First Presbyterian Church in Joliet, created a poster and presentation based on Red’s experiences.
That led to a request from the church, Clarence Red said, to form a mission team. For the Feb. 20 to March 3 mission trip, the team consisted of seven people from the church, two from a local gym and three people from California: Red’s parents, Clarence Red II and Una Red, along with and one of their friends.
“The amazing thing about my dad [age 75] is that he worked so hard every day – painting and hauling bricks – that the people were shocked. He had so much energy,” Clarence Red said. “The death rate over there is about 58.12, so it was interesting. He worked from eight o’clock in the morning until six at night. I think he outworked all of us.”
In addition to performing dental service, some of the missionaries painted several new buildings for Angel House Orphanage and built a new kitchen, (as well as two stone ovens) for that same orphanage. This was done, Red said, by mortaring bricks on top of bricks.
Up until that point, the kitchen consisted of an outdoor camp stove. This provided lunch for 300 children each day – residents and local children that attended the orphanage school – and breakfast and dinner for 67 residents.
“We had a girl that lifted so much brick every day, the African men kept testing her by weighing her down with more and more bricks,” Red said, “but she outlasted them all. She grew up as a farm girl, so she was used to hard work.”
The work, Red said, was the easy part; the eight-hour bus ride on bumpy dirt and gravel roads to the Gold Land Hotel, now complete and where the missionaries would stay, was the hardest. Red called the hotel accommodations “decent.”
“Half the rooms had hot water half the time and the power did go out frequently,” Red said. “But it was much better that what most people living there had.”
On that bus with the missionaries were food and water, 40 crates of dental gear, donated supplies, blankets, towels and 50 soccer balls. Two of the missionaries donated the balls to a second school, one where the soccer balls were rolled up grocery bags fastened with rubber bands, Red said.
“We see the church as the servant-body of Christ on earth,” Red said. “We are to be his eyes, feet and hands in a world. It is our hope that we can spread the word of Christianity, as well as show our love, concern and commitment for all people.”
The children at Angel House Orphanage were so hungry for meaningful interaction that, in an “unnerving” manner, they “mobbed” the missionaries as they exited the bus by hugging every person and grabbing them to show off the school, Red said.
“One guy got two hugs from two kids at the same time,” Red said. “Some of the kids jumped onto the bus and said they were leaving.”
Many of the children had actually lost their parents. Others had been removed from their homes by local authorities, Red said.
One was a boy whose parents had disciplined him by dunking a hand into boiling oil. Two girls had a mother who was disabled who was pregnant as a result of rape. The fear was that the same might happen to the girls, Red said.
“Those kids need as much love and affection as they can get,” Red said.
The dental clinic was actually a large open classroom with lawn furniture for dental chairs. Red set up three portable generators and began evaluating the patients, all 900 of them over the course of the missionaries’ stay, as they arrived.
They treated all but 200 patients, Red said, either because they did not require it (the orphans had the best dental health as they receive preventative care every two years) or because their problems lay beyond the missionaries’ capabilities.
One young man, Red said, had a “draining” granulated jaw tumor. Red removed some of the growth tumor to reduce the pressure inside the man’s mouth. Unfortunately, Red added, what the patient really needed was in-hospital surgery, which the man could not obtain.
“He probably won’t make it another five years,” Red said.
As Red eagerly awaits his next missionary trip, and the outpouring of support that accompanies each one inspires him, he must now decide to either return as part of his colleague’s dental team or his church’s general missionary team. He can’t afford both.
“I like the idea of doing the dental work. That’s a skill I have,” Red said. “But when I’m doing the dental work, I miss out on the interaction with the kids. ... Even something as simple as holding the hand and playing with the orphans and school children can make a profound difference in those children’s lives.”
First Presbyterian church is working on a new project that will help Angel House Orphanage and Secondary School have access to satellite enabled WiFi, said Joliet orthodontist, Dr. Clarence Red III. Once the school has WiFi, donor will provide a computer lab. The church is also sponsoring three orphans to allow the school to accept more children. For more information, visit grassrootsangelhouse.org/orphanage/ and www.facebook.com/angelhouseorphanage