Nick Saari may never forget the woman who traveled all day long to find his medical team in a Cameroonian village. She had a toothache, and an HIV-related growth on her eyelid required care.
Dr. Saari extracted the bad tooth and engaged in fellowship; a surgeon fixed her eyelid. Yet it was not the last time he would see the woman, who turned up at the medical team’s next village stop to extend her gratitude with two buckets of bananas.
Thinking back on the woman and their visit, the dentist was reminded of the bigger picture of his journey to Africa.
“There is no sacrifice too big … that Christ won’t give you strength,” he said. “I traveled half way across the world, and just to help her with a tooth and our fellowship was worth it.”
Saari, 30, of Hugo, a dentist at Soft Dental in Rush City, recently returned from a 17-day mission trip to Cameroon, Africa, where he provided free dental care with a team of 25 other health workers — including doctors, nurses, dentists, opticians and pharmacy workers — through Health Teams International. Health Teams is an Oklahoma-based ecumenical missionary organization that assists in the evangelization of unreached people across the world through the service of short-term Christian health care teams.
The trip marked the 18th annual medical/dental/optical outreach to the Republic of Cameroon for Health Teams, which partnered with the Rev. Dr. John Ngoh of Missions for Christ International Ministries in Limbe and director of Health Teams International for Africa.
The team’s arrival was met with the beginning of the rain season, so Saari and crew worked for the first six days under the eaves of a building.
“It was beautiful, tropical, unbelievable,” he recalled. “And with the weather at 90 degrees and humid, a massive thunderstorm came every day without fail at 1 p.m.”
Without electricity and with limited resources, he mainly pulled problem teeth for the people who lined up in the hundreds each morning to have their health needs met at no cost. Driven by bus and accompanied by the governor’s armed guards, assembled to keep everyone safe, the medical team visited three remote towns and villages.
According to Dr. Dan Wiklund, director of Health Teams International, in a letter he wrote to the political leadership of the outreach areas:
In the first town of Akum, the team saw 1,362 medical patients, dispensed 2,900 medications, pulled over 328 abscessed teeth and dispensed 580 glasses. Team members also did 11 minor surgeries including a hernia repair, painful ingrown toenails and removal of a large keloid on the chest.
In the second village of Baba II, the team met with 702 medical patients, dispensed 1,200 medications, pulled more than 160 abscessed teeth and gave out 248 glasses.
In the last village of Alahtining, team members did several minor skin surgeries including keloids and skin tumors. The team saw 722 medical patients, with 136 tooth extractions and more than 252 glasses dispensed.
The total value of these outreaches for medical supplies, glasses, medications and professional services: $121,200. Many cases of malaria, worm infestations and river blindness were treated.
“Several patients surely would have died during or shortly after this period if this medical care was not made available,” Wiklund said. “It was a rewarding outreach sharing our medical expertise plus the hope of the Christian Gospel. A total of 4,490 patients were seen in all outreach towns and villages not including 27 surgeries.”
‘Most rewarding experience’
Over the previous 17 missions, Health Teams International has been able to provide medical care to more than 106,000 villagers in remote locations in all 10 regions of Cameroon. The latest outreach came with the invitation of His Excellency Governor of the Far North Region Awa Fonka Augustine.
“I came back re-energized and ready to donate my life to missions,” Saari said. “It’s the most rewarding experience I’ve ever done in my profession. It’s amazing to use your talents and skills (in dentistry) and exercise your faith at the same time.
“I told people that while we’re alleviating physical pain, the reason we’re here is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and take it with you forever. That really resonated with people there. People were very receptive, very friendly. I would ask them if I could pray with or for them and their family,” he added.
When asked if the experience could be called a blessing for the people in Cameroon, Saari quickly corrected, “It was a blessing for us.”