Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mandarin church makes medical mission of revival

By Dan Scanlan Staff writer

Alan Vinson's day job is as a custom clothier.

But during a two-week period in late May, the 34-year-old Mandarin resident helped local dentists treat children undergoing dental surgery in Brazilian villages and slept in a hammock on the deck of a ship on the Amazon River.

Vinson and 18 other Mandarin Christian Church members also helped hundreds of poor children and their families during the Central Brazilian Mission Amazon Boat Ministry trip in mid-May. Two dentists, plus nurses, doctors and eight construction experts visited communities near Manaus on the Amazon to build churches, improve the health and teeth of residents and bring God to the jungle.

Mandarin dentist Jeff Bilotti (in mask) and Alan Vinson treat the teeth of a child during a mission trip.

Vinson said he made the trip because he wanted to help and is fluent in Portuguese, the language of Brazil. "I had read a book that really got me to thinking that in my personal growth, a mission trip would give me the chance to do something that really got me to be less selfish," Vinson said. "Everything just fell into place and it felt like, hey, I am really supposed to do this."

Church pastor Dennis Bratton, who helped build a small church in the village of Livramento, said it was like a "personal revival" to be there. It was also a chance to ensure that one of the many missions his church has funded for 26 years was a good steward of that money. He said church members annually pledge about $750,000 to mission programs, the newest an Ashram, or refuge, for hundreds of poor people in India.

"The language barrier was there, but we were able to connect," Bratton said. "It was very rewarding. They are very sweet, and the kids are delightful. The very first church service, we laughed a lot and it was refreshing. It was hard work, but the connection with people different than us but receiving the same message of hope as we do is very rewarding."

The Central Brazilian Mission was founded by Earl and Ruth Anne Haubner, who started performing missionary work in Brazil 35 years ago. They live in Goiania just south of Brasilia, the country's capital. Their ministry helps 36 churches and more than 6,000 members in Brazil and the Amazon Regions with programs like Project Grow, which works with underprivileged children through soccer. Monthly Amazon Boat Ministry visits from U.S. churches like Bratton's bring medical care, construction expertise and religion.

Haubner visited Mandarin Christian Church recently to speak about his mission's work and received a big enough donation to buy a medical boat, Bratton said. The May mission trip was a natural follow-up and a first for his church, he said.

"Earl and I have been friends, and I had told him before Sept. 11, 2001, that I would go there," Bratton said. "When I got there it was incredible to see what we supported and see how productive he has been. The people are very emotional and expressive, and our group got attached with some deep and lasting relationships."

Vinson said the missionaries decided his language skills would be better used on the medical boat, which had only one translator. His six-page journal of the trip, which can be viewed at, keyword: Brazil tells of the beauty he saw as his boat cleaved a muddy wake down the Amazon River.

"The sunset I just witnessed was perhaps the most virgin I have ever seen -- spectacular. The cool wind off the water is keeping me quite comfortable," he wrote from a hammock hung at the front of the boat. "The front of the boat is the best place to be on one of these boats, as both the bathrooms, and the engine are at the back of the boat, so needless to say the air is a little sweeter-smelling toward the front."

The ship visited the village of Sao Sebatio before heading to smaller villages, where Vinson's job became more complex on the deck, where the dentists worked on children's teeth, one deck above the eye doctors.

"I went from being a guy who is in the clothing business to a dental assistant overnight. I was gloved and masked, and running the suction for two dentists at one time. It was pretty neat," he said Monday. "On the bottom deck, they would see 60 to 70 [patients]. In the dental area, we would see 12 to 15 at each village. We would go to two villages a day."

The journal of Pam Keller, a Mandarin dentist who made the trip, relates the treatment of a 12-year-old girl named Ana in the town of Sao Joao Batista. She wrote that the work was "strenuous" sometimes, but when they saw the huge decayed holes in Ana's four front teeth, they knew a lot of time would be needed to fix them.

Ana has a bright smile after more than an hour and a half of dental work to remove decay from four of her front teeth.

"So Ana spent over an hour and a half on an un-cushioned hard dental chair in the heat of the Amazon patiently enduring some rather uncomfortable treatment," Keller wrote. "She once again had a beautiful smile. . . . Just like in the states, when I can make an impact on someone's life, by the work I do, I am most blessed by the opportunity God has given me to be a dentist."

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