Fifteen years ago, President and Chief Executive Officer and preventive medicine physician at Cooper Clinic, Camron E. Nelson, MD, received a phone call while on vacation from the president of ServingHIM ministries, Kevin Seidler, DDS. “Dr. Kenneth Cooper was supposed to go with the team that year to Romania to help out with the health fair that they put on but had to cancel due to a speaking engagement, so he suggested Dr. Seidler give me a call,” Nelson explained. “I asked him who was in charge of the health fair and he answered, ‘Well you are and you better hurry because the team is leaving for Romania in six weeks!’”
After meeting with Dr. Seidler the following week, Nelson was sold and agreed to coordinate the health fair that year. Almost two decades later, he now serves as the Medical Director for ServingHIM ministries, providing oversight of the medical and dentistry teams that come alongside the churches in each of the countries to serve as a beacon to the community, with Brăila, Romania, being the longest operational ministry site.
The first year Nelson volunteered he was overwhelmed by the immense medical needs of the Romanian community and the lack of proper equipment needed for the team. Volunteers conducted dental work in lawn chairs and had to get a bit creative, hooking up a Shop-Vac to dental suction tools. He saw numerous patients with hypertension for which he was only able to prescribe a 30-60 day medication regimen with no way of providing long-term treatment. “I was discouraged beyond belief thinking, what am I even doing here to make a difference if these people can’t afford to have this prescription refilled,” recalled Nelson. “Then I realized that God wasn’t asking me to just go and practice medicine but to go share the hope of the gospel with these people and that is where true healing is found.”
The ministry team put together adequate donations in the following years to purchase state-of-the-art equipment in order to provide state-of-the-art care to community members in need. Today, you walk into the dental clinic and see the same set-up as you would see in Dallas. “God has been so good to provide exactly what the team needed each step of the way to care for the community”.
June of this year, after a full 24 hours of travel, the team settled in for a 10-day endeavor with volunteers ranging from 15 to 82 years old. The week began with a two-day pastors’ conference with one pastor from Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and another from Houston in tow to help equip and encourage the local Romanian pastors in the area. The health fair followed, helping educate the community on proper dental and medical care we often take for granted such as the importance of brushing your teeth and flossing.
The 35-person team included three dentists, three dental hygienists, Cooper Clinic’s own dermatologist Rick Wilson, MD, FASDS, FABVLM, a gynecologist, breast radiologist and internal medical physician. Nelson went right to work opening the clinic’s doors with the team seeing 110 patients per day Monday through Friday. Through the course of the trip, two cases of breast cancer and a severe case of melanoma skin cancer were detected and the patients were directed to receive proper care and treatment at the local medical school.
The dental team performed many teeth filling and extraction procedures, which Nelson helped support by monitoring patients with high blood pressures or abnormal blood sugar levels before the procedure. The doctors spent roughly an hour and a half with each patient due to the extent of the dental work required, with some patients having gone without ever brushing their teeth before. “We don’t come to bring American ideology, just American expertise,” said Nelson.
Outside the clinic, the team helped the Romanian church pastors identify people in poverty in the villages by providing food baskets and even goats to be used for breeding along with milk and cheese. Vacation Bible Schools were hosted in four villages located 15-30 miles outside of town. From ministering to the poor in health to the poor in society, all these avenues of ministry had one common goal—to meet the community’s physical needs in order to build relationships and open the door to discuss their spiritual needs.
Nelson recalls a special encounter he had with a 13-year-old boy who came in for tooth extractions. “He had the most beautiful smile and as our dental team worked on his teeth, we shared the message of the gospel with him—that Jesus loved him and came to die on the cross for him to offer the free gift of eternal salvation and forgiveness through believing that Christ’s payment for his sins was sufficient. He could be free from paying the debt off himself in eternity separated from God.” The boy excitedly replied “Da! Da!” (“Yes! Yes!” in Romanian) and prayed to accept Christ into his heart as his savior. With lots of tears and hugs, the boy ran out into the waiting room, grabbing his mother and sister and dragging them back in the room begging the team to tell them the good news of the gospel too! That day, an entire family received Jesus and started their lifelong relationship with God.
“Romania is steeped in a works-based mentality from Eastern Orthodox teaching,” explained Nelson. “If you were to ask them if they were to die tonight, would they go to heaven? They’d answer no, they need more time to work harder and do more good things to earn God’s favor and entrance into heaven.” For this community, the powerful and freeing truth of the gospel is a breath of fresh air.
The most challenging part of the week for Nelson along with the rest of his team was the physical exhaustion. “I learned that I may have limitations but God has bigger plans,” said Nelson. “The most rewarding thing is knowing that we have been used by the Lord in both the physical and spiritual realm.”
God has proved His faithfulness yet another year, providing exactly what the team needed each step along the way and graciously opening people’s hearts to see Him for who He truly is – a loving Father who knows and meets our physical needs and ultimately wants to meet our greatest spiritual need with a relationship with Himself.