With searing pain and blood draining from a rotten tooth, a teenager in Owensboro, Ky., was taken home by his school nurse. The tooth had to come out, but the youth had no insurance. The local dentist would not take his state medical card for an extraction, because the reimbursement is too low. It was too costly to make the hour-and-a-half trip to the nearest dentist that would help him, so he took a pair of pliers and yanked it out himself.
Though the story sounds far-fetched, according to an article by the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro, it is all-too-common for people who lack access to dental care.
“Kentucky has the No. 1 dental needs in the United States,” said David Hinson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., a congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship working to model a faith-based response. Raising $80,000 from church members and donations from people in the dental profession, First Baptist opened the Mission Frankfort Clinic in October 2002.
From humble beginnings the clinic expanded in 2004 to include medical services for people with chronic health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis, and a free pharmacy that carries about 100 prescription medications.
“Mission Frankfort has given us the roadmap to focus attention on the poor, the hungry, the uninsured, the homeless and persons who need legitimate help in making ends meet,” Hinson wrote in a column in the church newsletter.
Every week, Hinson said, he hears testimonies that are both “heartwarming and heart-wrenching.” Recently a lady called who said she needed 16 of her teeth pulled, and the cheapest dentist she could find charged $100 a tooth. Two plates to replace extracted teeth would cost $1,800. She works, but doesn’t have that kind of money.
“Our Mission Frankfort Dental Clinic is now her only hope,” Hinson said.
Ironically, a decision to reach out to those in need turned out to be sort of a salvation for First Baptist Church. When Hinson came as pastor eight years ago, the church, which celebrates its 190th anniversary in 2006, was running $30,000 behind budget and had a mission goal of $35,000, about 7 percent of the total budget.
In 2006 their designated mission goal is $190,000. Out of a church ministry plan of $586,000, nearly one-third of the money is for missions.
Adopting a motto Hinson first heard from Ches Smith, then pastor of First Baptist Church in Tifton, Ga., “The Road is Up, We Must Keep Climbing, Looking Ever to Jesus, Who is Lord,” First Baptist developed a unified vision around four strategies of spiritual guidance, community ministry, ministerial training and a “new traditionalism” dedicated to exploring new traditions while remaining grounded in Baptist faith and principles. Intergenerational worship has also been a key component of the church’s strategy.
Recognizing Christian education and missions as two “unidentified” strengths, the church launched a new Hispanic ministry in May 1998, alongside an established and well-known clothes closet ministry that had been operating since the 1970s.
In 1999 First Baptist worked with the first interns from nearby Georgetown College. This February they celebrated arrival of their 43rd intern. At least 16 have moved on to seminary and/or full-time ministry positions.
In 2000 the church voted to end its relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention. It was the first major church in Kentucky to take such action, and it passed with a 99 percent vote.
They held a mission fair in September 2001, where the term Mission Frankfort was first used as a comprehensive umbrella term for the various mission projects. The Frankfort State Journal carried a full-page ad announcing inauguration of Mission Frankfort, the church’s plan to become a model for ministry in the 21st century.
In November 2001 a church-wide coat drive provided more than 325 articles of clothing for Owsley County, Ky., the second-poorest county in the United States, located 110 miles from Frankfort.
Working with the Owsley County Food Place, which was distributing food from the second story of a jail facility the county allowed them to use, deacons at First Baptist learned that the 10-room Goodman’s Motel, located in the center of Booneville a block from the courthouse, was for sale for $85,000.
Over the next three years, as First Baptist became more involved with persons in Owsley County, they learned that headwaters for the Kentucky River, which runs by their church, are not far from Booneville. Building on that connection of water and spirit, First Baptist purchased the motel in 2004 as a central care center and dedicated it in honor of a longtime church member and missions supporter.
Twenty-six church groups worked through the Emma Quire Mission Center in 2005. A total of 374 persons stayed at the center during the year, involved in Bible schools, cooking classes, sports camps, home and motel renovations, food distribution and other ministries.
In 2005 Olu Menjay, whom Hinson became acquainted with when he first came to America as a Liberian refugee from the Ivory Coast in the early 1990s, visited First Baptist and talked of a feeding program he needed to establish for 350 persons at Rick’s Institute, a K-12 school owned by the Liberia Baptist Convention. It wasn’t long before the church offered to begin the feeding program at a cost of $4,000 per semester.
The Mission Frankfort Clinic saw more than 250 patients in 2005. It has seen more than 100 patients and distributed $40,000 worth of medicines already this year. Most patients are referred through a partnership with the local hospital and the Franklin County Health Department. At times more than 200 people have been on the waiting list for dental care, and the wait for medical care is now three weeks to two months.
Staffed by volunteer dentists, the dental clinic was recently featured in KDA Today, a publication of the Kentucky Dental Association. A new clinic modeled after the Mission Frankfort operation just opened not far away in Lexington, Ky., a joint outreach effort of Calvary Baptist, Faith Lutheran and Maxwell Street Presbyterian churches.
Hinson will speak April 23 at Battell Chapel at Yale University about the church’s mission and future.
“Honesty demands that I sometimes wonder why God has given us–the people of God called the First Baptist Church of Frankfort–such great responsibilities,” Hinson wrote in the newsletter article. “But the truthful answer your pastor feels in his heart is that: ‘It is a wonderful privilege God has entrusted His ministry to us.”
“We are the people of God, and He has promised us He will provide for our needs, and our resources to be utilized to their maximum,” Hinson continued. “He will supply our every need through your lives and your service to others.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.