A project of the Denver Wesleyan Church, the Jamaica Dental Bus, was initiated in 2004.Nine years have elapsed, and the fully outfitted mobile dental lab has yet to reach its ultimate destination: the tiny and impoverished town of Savana-LaMar in the highlands of Jamaica.“We see this as a test of our faith,” said Pastor Johnny Houser. “The Book of James talks about persevering in our faith as a means of building our strength through our faith, and this has been a true test of that admonition.”The need for a dental clinic first came to the attention of long-time Denver Wesleyan member Paul Finch, 58, missions director for the North Carolina Wesleyan Church. Finch, a local contractor, had led mission teams to Jamaica for 14 years, repairing and rebuilding churches.Asked to refurbish a run-down building in Savana-LaMar to be used as a dental clinic, Finch determined that the structure was termite-infested and beyond repair.Volunteer U.S. dentists had been assisting with the dental needs of the local populace by performing extractions only, due to a lack of proper equipment. These services were performed in decidedly unhygienic conditions – in a church there with a dirt floor, with patients lying on benches.Several members of the mission team came to the conclusion that a mobile dental unit would be a better solution to the problem. “If we could have a mobile unit that could be converted to a dental bus, it would serve the local needs better,” recalls Denver Wesleyan trustee Hugh McKay, 74, trustee of Denver Wesleyan, on N.C. 16. “We have been told that people still die in Jamaica from dental infections.”And so began the quest to locate and equip a suitable bus.“We were unable to find a bus in Jamaica,” said McKay, “but even if we had, it would have to have been outfitted in the U.S.“So we returned to North Carolina, and in conversation with the president of Blue Bird Body Company in Fort Valley, Ga., we located a 1998 44-passenger motor coach, valued at $200,000, that had been donated by Blue Bird to World Gospel Mission in Marion, Ind.”Because World Gospel Mission was not using the bus, Denver Wesleyan Church offered World Gospel Mission $20,000 for title to the bus, on condition that the money be used to build a medical/dental clinic in Honduras.The congregation of Denver Wesleyan raised the money to purchase the bus through donations and fundraisers such as barbecues and yard sales. Then, with help from other Wesleyan churches, they raised an additional $50,000 to convert the bus to a dental clinic, with two treatment rooms and a restroom.Dental equipment was donated by several dentists, and a generator was purchased so the bus could be self-contained. Finally, in 2006, Paul Finch returned to Savana-LaMar to build a shelter for the bus.“We raised the money, acquired the bus, equipped it as a mobile dental clinic, built a garage and prepared to ship it to Jamaica, and then we hit the wall,” says Houser.“In order to get duty-free importation of the bus, we obtained a humanitarian waiver from the Jamaican government. However, the waiver expired while we were trying to obtain export permission from the U.S. Customs and Border Control.“The problem, as it was explained to us, was that even though we had the title of origin and a bill of sale, we were required to have a U.S. title of ownership – but the bus had never been legally titled because it had never been on the road,” Houser adds.“The bureaucratic process to obtain the title was so convoluted that we had to pay $1,000 to get an indemnity bond in order to obtain North Carolina title. That would insure that North Carolina would not be held legally responsible if the ownership were called into question.”Finally, a new waiver must be obtained from the Jamaican government before the dental bus can be shipped to its ultimate destination. “We hope to be able to have the bus shipped to Jamaica within the next six months,” says Finch.“In the meantime, we have been able to make the bus available for use in various dental clinics in the greater Denver area in the last year or two.”“We’re not asking for money or anything more than the prayers of folks in our community to see that the bus gets to its intended destination,” adds Houser. “We simply want it to be put to the use for which it was intended: to relieve the suffering of the people of Jamaica.”Interested individuals can reach Pastor Johnny Houser at the church: 704-913-5488.
Friday, Jan. 25, 2013
Denver Wesleyan mission project slowed by red tape
Denver Wesleyan’s mobile dental unit for Jamaicans sidetracked by bureaucracy
From left are Paul Finch, Pastor Johnny Houser and Hugh McKay. They hope to transport this medical/dental bus to Savana-LaMar in Jamaica this year. BRUCE DUNBRIDGE
Bruce Dunbridge is a freelance writer.
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