While serving an LDS mission in Guatemala from 1995-1997 I had the opportunity to be assigned to the Kek’chi, the native people who lived in the mountains north of Guatemala City. It was a choice opportunity to learn another language and culture that differed from my own. Many of the Kek’chi are farmers and live in huts with thatched roofs. Those living in towns enjoyed running water and electricity, but those in outlying communities went without these privileges. I spent 7 months in Seritquiche which literally translates to “in the butt of the woods”. It was a remote community in the mountains. We obtained our drinking, bathing and dish water from a local canal that funneled water from a stream to a holding tank that was used to turn a turbine to dry coffee beans. It was the only canal in the area and when it was dry, we went to the river. Our bathroom was a lean-to and hole in the ground. We lived in an old 1920’s cement German building that we found unoccupied and nearly in ruins. The missionaries built doors and windows with locks to secure our items – the roof was recently added tin. We traveled by foot to our destinations. The local market was a 90 minute walk. The congregations we worked with lived in a 3-hour-hike radius. Many of them lived in extreme poverty with only 1 or 2 sets of clothes. We wore rubber boots due to the plentiful mud that would ruin leather shoes quickly. Physically it was a daunting assignment, but as with most things that are hard it became my most rewarding and beloved assignment of my mission.
I grew to love the people, their language and the culture. It is true that you learn to love those whom you serve. While my service there blessed me and those I served, the experiences also helped me eventually choose my profession. On one occasion, two dentists from Guatemala City came to Seritquiche to offer free dental services to the people. We translated for them while they provided desperately needed care for a people that had little to no access to dentistry. These two dentists were like angels. They were generous with their time and talents. I looked up to them and admired their desire to give to others. They rewarded us for our translation services by taking us out to dinner. As I watched them I couldn’t help but be drawn to a profession that would enable someone to go and serve others.
Fast forward 16 years to where I am today. I am a dentist in Emporia, KS. I own a solo practice and thoroughly enjoy dentistry. In 2008 I spent 2 weeks in Pimienta, Honduras doing dentistry to some of the most impoverished citizens of Honduras. In 2012 my wife and several other family members went with other dentists from the Kansas City area to Roatan, Honduras to run a free dental clinic for a week. It was a memorable and rewarding experience. I will be returning to Roatan with my wife and our oldest daughter in 2014. In addition to these outreach experiences, our office participates in the Teddy Bear clinic in Emporia on a yearly basis, and gives out dental hygiene kits every year at the Emporia Shopping Mall Halloween event. We help support the Coffey County “OK Kids” event every fall. In 2012 our dental office worked with Colgate to provide screenings to the entire student body at a local emporia elementary school. Additionally Dr. Laudie participates in the yearly Kansas Mission of Mercy event – a 3-day dental services event helping those who need dental care but don’t have the necessary finances.
After all these years, I’m honored to be able to serve as I saw those two dentists serve so long ago in the mountains of Guatemala. My staff and family and I are grateful for the opportunities to serve. It is a privilege to give back to our community in meaningful ways.