By Dr. Monica Oliveira
“The One who had chosen to love had created one who could love in return. Now it’s our choice” Max Lucado
I have always looked to give meaning to my existence and live a life that could make a difference in others. That is why I choose to be a Dentist, then a Pediatric Dentist, and finally an Oral Surgeon: “Meaning and Difference”
Since I was very young, I have had the deep need that my career choice would count for something special. I sought the feeling that my life would touch other lives in some small, but significant way: Not only one more Dentist in town, but also one that would influence their patients’ lives. I decided then, to equip myself with the best practices, technology, dental supplies, instruments and techniques. I researched the best ways to treat the relationship between pain, fear and psychological traumas in a dental environment, to become an effective professional of a pain free practice. I also became a “holistic” Dentist: I did not only see “the tooth problem” that my patient complained about, but all that could be causing it.
In addition, I developed a very “inclusive” practice. No matter how much money my patients had, or where they came from, I always took care of them. Several days, I would take many checks to deposit in the bank, other days some cash and even coins. Some days, I needed help to take home cakes, cookies, handicrafts and even a cage with a singing bird, which I had received as a treatment payment.
Yes, I was a popular Dentist in town. All patients referred more and more patients to me. An appointment would take three to four weeks to be scheduled. Then, I decided to expand my schedule, working longer hours, nights, early mornings and Saturdays. Instead of being tired, I was more energized and content. My patients were giving me more than money or reputation; they were redirecting my career and my life.
I made countless amounts of money. I had more than I could handle. I accomplished more than my classmates did in a few years of practice. I had a new car, almost my weight in gold and silver, and a condo, all owned free and clear. I had no debts, no payments pending and an ideal credit score!
My staff called me Dr. Smile, because I radiated that aura of realization and accomplishment. Nevertheless, suddenly, one day this all changed. I start feeling that my office was not my place to work anymore. God was trying to talk to my heart and I could not understand what he meant. What was happening?
I tithed faithfully, gave good offerings and supported missionaries all by myself. I helped my parents, by complementing their retirement income. I was the only Dentist who treated all pastors, missionaries, and seminary students free of charge. I just charged them A PRAYER FOR ME. I took care of the rich and the poor, the disabled and special needs children and even reconstructed several palates of children suffering from cleft palates for free. What else did He want from me?
Therefore, I decided to give more money on Sundays to my church ministries. The plan was to give all that I made on Saturdays, even when patients just came on a Saturday to pay for the treatment they received during the week. I placed all the money from my Saturday income in the offering plate on Sundays. God blessed me more by tripling my income, but my heart was still unsatisfied. Then I decided to ask all my patients, which I considered as “good Christians”, to kneel with me at a special chair, I had placed in a corner of the office and pray with me. I needed to understand why my heart was so puzzled. What was I doing wrong? -“Never ask that question because He will answer, and you might not like it”- a friend told me. That is exactly what happened.
Finally, God spoke to me loud and clear that He did not want my money, or my good deeds, but my life. He would take me far from Brazil, my parents, my friends, my church, my office, my staff, and from my patients, to serve his people in need around the world. How could I live so far from all my beloved people and country? Indeed, I did not like that answer.
Not long after that, I married a Pastor/RN who had the same call. We had two children. I sold my practice, and we were commissioned career missionaries to Peru. We became the first Medical /Dental Missionaries from the Brazilian Baptist Convention Foreign Mission Board. We had no idea what that really meant. We were so young! We had no role models to follow, no books to read about medical/dental missions, no internet to research, just the healing ministry of Jesus we could find in the Bible.
In Peru, our third child was born. We planted four churches through the medical/dental ministry and opened several clinics with native Dentists. Then we went to Costa Rica, and planted another church and worked with several Nicaragua war refugees’ churches. Later, we also opened a church in Chicago among the Hispanic population, while we were taking our Masters’ and Doctor Degrees in Missions and Pastoral Care.
Next, our mission board sent us to Mexico to open churches and clinics in very resistant areas where there were no churches and to teach missions to the Mexican aspiring missionaries. Mexico was our last mission field as career missionaries.
We retired and moved to Dallas, so our three children could continue their education. They have or are in the process of obtaining the following degrees: MD, DO MPH, MA, MS and PHD. They also have a love for learning and serving the Lord with their skills and they may become missionaries some day. We always joke that we are the “Drs. Oliveira Family”, because we all have a doctor degree.
If I look back over what I have accomplished in my life, I do not rely on the size of my bank account to measure my worth as a professional or a good Christian. I choose rather to have the feeling that if I had never lived, the world would have been deprived somehow of someone valuable and significant. I heard one day an old popular proverb that says that –“A man to have a significant and complete life, needs to have a child, write a book and plant a tree”. I think I did all these and a little more, but I am not complete yet.
I am so glad that 30 years ago I surrendered to the call and I finally said, - “Here I am, send me wherever You want and I will go.” I have no regrets because I sold my practice and made the choice to become a career missionary. I did not accumulate any wealth, just a fortune of memories, life experiences and friends.
At this time, my mission with my children is done, therefore I want to use the freedom of my “empty nest” to give more time to my call (my mission call did not retire). I want to go on more mission trips than I have been gone during my “retirement”. To be out of the country for long periods, was not an option when my children still needed me around. Now that they have graduated and all got married, they can survive without me around. I guess they could have survived without me before, but I believed I needed to stay around to help them as much as possible, so they could accomplish their educational goals. I felt in debt to them because we dragged them around in our moves to 17 different towns, in five countries, with different schools, educational systems, churches and friends. Regardless this unusual family life, they are very proud of the exciting life we had, and they have done very well, so far, in their career and marriage choices. I am very swollen with pride of them.
Jesus has been always my role model of a servant leader and team player. He never thought of himself first, but of God’s plan for all of us. He took the role of a servant to serve the needy, in both body and soul, showing us the example of what our life should be all about.
Now, 30 years later, I cannot imagine my life different from what it has been. However, I miss working in the mission field, and the realization that I am not there anymore, makes me very unsatisfied and depressed. A similar feeling to the one I had when I was young and I had my private practice.
I have been praying and asking God what he wants from me now. Praise the Lord, He heard my pleas and spoke to me again. The time to go is back!!
I am very excited with all the new possibilities to serve as a Dentist in many places in the world. 2009 was an thrilling year with the trips to Mexico, Brazil, Africa and China. We are attending Lake Point Church because they have a great missionary vision. They do a dental ministry on the Boarder of Mexico and they fly Dentists in 14 small planes during the weekends. It is an amazing and adventurous ministry. I love to participate with them as much as I can. I get very tired with all the trip preparation, field work, and long flights, but I am ready to get in another trip soon. Now I am 53 years old, but I still have the same passion, energy and desire to reach the unreached and break the resistance to the Gospel, through the Dental Ministry.
I am certain the knowledge I gained during those 25 years of work in dental foreign missions will be an asset to the ministry of the Missions I will be involved with. I also plan to learn lots from these experiences. Life is a continuous learning process. We never know enough and we never graduate. Here, in Texas, I am just one more Christian, retired Dentist and a businessperson. There, in the mission field, I am all they might have, to help to heal their pain, break the resistance, touch their hearts, and be able to show the true meaning of salvation, that we can obtain only through Jesus’ sacrifice.
That is what I always wanted for my life, since the beginning, and I hope up to the end of it:
“Meaning and Difference”.
“You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you”