To paraphrase the classic government recruiting poster, the Georgia Baptist Mobile Health Ministry is looking for a few good men … and women.
For the past 20 years the ministry has traveled the back roads and interstates of Georgia, bringing free dental and related medical care to underinsured residents. Its volunteers and part-time workers preside over bad teeth, poor eyes and upset stomachs as they share spiritual healing along with the physical.
Ted Kandler, as “chief recruiting agent,” assumed the ministry’s leadership position in January that was vacated by the retirement of longtime administrator Diana Brown. But he’s no stranger to Georgia Baptists.
He and his wife, Diane, both from Augusta, have long been active in Georgia Baptist churches. The couple, who are members of First Baptist Church of Thomaston, have three married children and six grandchildren.
For 14 years he served as a state missionary for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, beginning in 2002 and concluding with his retirement last year. He changed his fulltime role with the Board for a part-time position though, like his predecessor, he jokingly admits he rarely works part-time hours.
From 2002 through 2010 he served as one of the state’s Ministry Resource Coordinators, based out of Savannah. Then he moved over to serve as area missionary for the South Central Area Missions Program, working out of Fitzgerald, from 2010 until his retirement in late January 2017.
The following month he qualified as a driver for the ministry’s two mobile units, anticipating a part-time role after full-time employment. In the coming months Brown approached him, inquiring if he would be interested in filling her shoes.
One conversation led to another and before long they agreed it would be a good match and Brown began the mentoring process in November.
In his new role and as the ministry continues to expand, Kandler is always seeking part-time employees and volunteers statewide to keep the wheels turning on its mobile units.
People, for example, like Laura and Nelson Goddard of Suches.
The couple were attending a Basic Life Support class in CPR training at the Missions and Ministry Center on Tuesday of this week and spoke to The Index about their new commitment.
Nelson Goddard, pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, and his wife were first introduced to the ministry while they served at First Baptist Church of Rochelle. That’s when the church hosted a visit from a mobile unit to meet the needs of those who could not afford health and dental care.
“It was so encouraging to see the people from our community who otherwise would never have come to our church facility who were being serving in the name of Christ,” he says.
The church, located about 20 miles east of Cordele, is home to a large immigrant and migrant population that exists at or below the poverty level. Medical care for the adults and their children is just not an option, Goddard explained. But Anglos as well need medical assistance due to the low wages and no healthcare benefits from many employers.
The couple were being ministered to, themselves, last fall at the Pastors Wellness Retreat at Toccoa. The annual benefit is funded by the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation to provide ministers and their families with a free wellness checkup.
That gave Brown, the outgoing administrator, an opportunity to talk about the need for more volunteers and part-time staff.
“We made it a matter of prayer and then felt led to join the ministry,” Laura Goddard explains. “Nelson and I were already looking for additional avenues of ministry and this seemed a good fit.”
Nelson Goddard readily agreed.
“Since we had already experienced it from the church side, we knew what a great opportunity it is to interact with those coming for medical assistance. It’s a very natural time to have a conversation about Christ and to share our faith. Evangelism is Laura and my primary interests in serving,” he explained.
The pastor, who already has a CDL license, will be a driver/coordinator for Unit 2, a 40-foot long mobile unit. His wife, as a unit coordinator, will be responsible for the unit for the days it is assigned to a church or association, help sterilize instruments, be sure the dentist has the tools he needs, schedule patients, and assist the church in its evangelistic outreach.
“When the unit was at our church in Rochelle I was able to share the gospel with a single mother who was shaking with fear of having a tooth extraction. She had most likely never had a tooth pulled and did not know what to expect. That’s not an uncommon experience so I comforted her and assured her she would be OK and would feel much better after the short procedure.
“During that time I was able to share Christ with her and she accepted Him as her Savior. If I never see another person come to Christ that I will feel like I have made a difference in someone’s life … but I certainly pray that she will be the first of many,” Laura Nelson added.
With volunteers like the Goddards, Kandler is ready to bein rolling the two units throughout the state to new locations. And as the ministry expands and adds more churches and associations, he will need more volunteers and part-time employees to share the workload.
“We are always looking for new sites to host projects; we never go without an invitation from a church or association,” he explained.
The majority of projects are held over weekends, usually Thursday through Saturday; some begin on Friday. Weeklong projects are focused around migrant ministry where larger numbers of people are served over several days.
The dental units roll throughout the state from March 1-November 15, trying to avoid the early spring months with heavy storms and tornadoes.
At this point it appears that this year 41 sites will be visited, about the same as last year. But there are still some open dates at the end of the ministry season from September through November.
Kandler says it takes about six months to schedule and train local hosts to sponsor the unit and provide evangelistic outreach. On most occasions the host will recruit local dentists and support staff from churches or the community, who donate their services.
Groups wanting more information about hosting a dental clinic should call Laura Gray at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board at (770) 936-5215 or Kandler at (912) 656-5129. Individuals are also encouraged to visit the ministry’s website here.