“Aunty, tell us a ‘scady stody’.” A dozen boys sitting and laying on the cool cement floor surrounded me, the moonlight casting its silvery glow through the window. Homework done. Bucket showers taken. Teeth brushed. It was bedtime, which offered one of the favorite rituals of a volunteer’s day—story time.

“Oh I don’t like scary stories, I only like love stories.” I smiled.

“OK, tell us a love stody. And then tell us a scady stody!”

It’s true that I don’t like scary stories but since I’m from Texas I have plenty of stories about snakes and scorpions.  So I shared some of my personal favorites, which got so animated, I earned a reprimand from the house mom. 

Shhhh. Quiet again. 

Speaking in hushed tones, one of the boys told a story of his own. His brother, he said, walked down a dirt road and did not see a snake that was slithering right in his path. As he passed, the snake struck his leg, but his brother didn’t feel the bite. He continued to walk, unaware anything had happened, until suddenly he started feeling very dizzy. He stumbled ahead, zigzagging as he walked, and finally fell to the ground, unconscious.

I gasped. “Was your brother OK?”

“JES!” he exclaimed. “Of course he was OK. We prayed to God. Many times.”

Of course,” I thought to myself.

What better example is there of unshakable faith and infinite optimism? I wonder if that tiny, spirited, 10-year old Indian boy realized what a valuable life lesson he taught me that warm spring night? 

During our service at the March 2015 Dental Session, I learned many profound lessons—perhaps none greater than the fact that miracles surround us every day. It is our ability to recognize those miracles that give purpose and direction to our lives.

The dental clinic is a miracle in itself. Two years ago, during our first dental mission to Rising Star Outreach, we worked out of a tiny storage room with aged and unreliable equipment. We felt good about what we were able to accomplish but we knew there had to be a greater plan in store. 

Today there stands a beautiful new dental clinic housed within the newly built Kikindia Health Center for Rising Stars. The clinic is furnished with state of the art equipment. 232 children received dental care, more dental health professionals are asking to get involved, donors continue to give, and this is just the beginning.

Our family’s involvement with the dental clinic all started with it’s own miracle. Had we not recognized it, there is so much we would have missed. While miracles are usually the bi-product of work, true love is the bi-product of service, and since I like to tell love stories, here are a few of my favorites from this session. 

Two years ago I wrote about Marutha Rajamanikam. He was a frightened little boy who spoke almost no English. In an effort to distract him in the dental clinic, I blew up a glove and made him a “hand” balloon. He had no idea what to do with it.

This time he came bouncing into the clinic. The first thing he did is run up to me and exclaim, “Hello Aunty! I remember you.” Then we had a long conversation in English! Of course I made him another hand balloon. We both giggled as we talked about our time together two years before. After I cleaned his teeth, he got up from the chair, thanked me, stood there awkwardly for a moment, then impulsively gave me a giant bear hug. Even though this time we used words, it was evident that genuine love had transcended our former language barrier.  

Another student, Vasudevan, arrived at the clinic with his front teeth severely broken. Although he had no expectations of having them fixed, Dr. Collins had other plans. When Vasudevan saw his new teeth for the first time his face beamed with happiness and his thoughts went immediately to his mother. “My mom will be so happy!” I wish we could have seen her face when she saw her precious son’s new smile.

The night before Dr. Collins, aka “Adin” arrived, I was handed a few “love” letters to put on his pillow. The children counted days and then hours, waiting for him to come. Then more letters came. “Thank you for helping us by doing dental—you are so kind.” “We will miss your love and friendship…don’t forget me.” “I asked to Tara, did Erin know me so Tara said yes, Erin know you so I so happy.” “Thank you for being my best friend.” “Happy journey…I love you so, so, so, so, so, so much.”

There is a quote written in our home that reads,  “The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.” –William Shakespeare 

Our gift is dentistry so that’s what we give. 

But what we got in return holds no comparison. 

Each one of us has unique gifts. What a privilege it was to spend two amazing weeks at Rising Star Outreach witnessing volunteers sharing theirs: artists, musicians, writers, storytellers, dancers, photographers, healers, comforters, helpers, builders, teachers, singers, game players, and happiness spreaders. They each have their own stories to tell. But the key to it all, as this sign in the dental clinic reminds us, is giving the gift with love.

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