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FBC Gadsden holds free dental clinic monthly, sees it as ‘missions field’comment (0)

October 2, 2008

By Leigh Pritchett

Rain or shine, even in the bitter cold, they line up as early as 3:30 a.m., waiting to receive dental care.

It is the scene each time First Baptist Church, Gadsden, in Etowah Baptist Association holds its free dental clinic.

One Friday a month, individuals from Etowah County and surrounding counties gather outside the church, waiting for the screening process to begin at 7:30 a.m.

During the clinic, “we can see about 20” patients, said Pastor Bryan Blass.

Sadly there are always many more seeking treatment, so a number of them have to be turned away.

When it is necessary to turn away people, however, ministry volunteers try to tell them where they may be able to find assistance, Blass said.

The church’s clinic has seen 1,012 patients since it opened in January 2005.

The people of First, Gadsden, felt a great burden on their hearts to start a free dental clinic.

For an example of how to establish and operate such a clinic, they looked to First Baptist Church, Albertville, in neighboring Marshall Baptist Association.

Blass believes his church’s clinic is a good counterpart to the free medical clinic Etowah Association helped establish in Etowah County several years ago.

During the dental clinic of First, Gadsden, two church members who are dentists — Clay Ellis and Noah Dean Miller — volunteer their time and offices and pay their staff members to help, too.

In addition, two nurses volunteer to screen patients and take medical histories to see if there are health problems that would preclude individuals from certain dental treatment, such as pulling a tooth.

Extraction is the primary service the dentists provide through the clinic, Blass said, but they do try to spare teeth whenever possible.

A number of other volunteers from First, Gadsden, give their time to drive the shuttles that transport people from the screening area at the church to the dentists’ offices for treatment and then back to the church.

They also hand out packets containing toiletries, the plan of salvation and information about the church.

And the ministerial staff is always available to talk and pray with people as they wait to be screened, Blass said.

Holding the clinic is not an effort to gain church members but to ease the physical pain people are experiencing, he said.

“Our primary objective is to show the love of Jesus Christ in a practical way,” Blass said. “We’re trying to say to this community that we do care.”

Of course, meeting an immediate physical need does open the door for addressing people’s spiritual need.

As a result of the dental clinic ministry, some patients have asked Jesus to come into their heart and be their Savior, Blass said.

One patient joined First, Gadsden, in August, saying it was the loving care she received at the clinic and the invitation of the nurses that persuaded her to come to the church.

Miller noted that the clinic serves as evidence that it is not always necessary to leave the country in order to serve on the missions field.

“This is a missions field here,” he said.

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