Published Mar 02, 2014
FRESNO – There’s Meals on Wheels. Then there’s Medicine on Wheels. Either way, somebody has to drive.
For the last five years, the primary man at the wheel has been Wayne Aranaz, a member of Woodward Park Baptist Church in Fresno. Along with his wife Paula and a handful of volunteers, he drives California Southern Baptist Convention Mobile Medical and Dental Clinics to outreach sites all over the state, chiefly in conjunction with CSBC’s “Feeding Those Who Feed Us” ministry.
On the surface, his task is as unglamorous as any trucker’s. But stashed in the converted cab section of these two vehicles is large pieces of medical and dental equipment and stacks of medical and dental supplies, all awaiting hundreds of patients, of all ages, at a dozen migrant centers throughout California.
“I think it’s what God wants our hands to be doing,” said Paula Aranaz, who accompanies her husband to the sites and helps the doctors, dentists and other volunteers in their ministry. “It’s not a big deal, in one way. But it makes such a difference to people. It’s just such a blessing to get to do.”
Each summer California Southern Baptist churches minister to thousands of migrant families at migrant centers throughout the state. Ministry, usually a week long, includes some combination of Vacation Bible School, day camps, worship services, distribution of Bibles, food, clothing and school supplies, and, if volunteers can be secured, medical and/or dental clinics.
“That seems to be the hardest thing, finding doctors and dentists to serve at the clinics,” Paula observed. “But those who serve are just amazing.”
The dental unit is a large recreational vehicle that’s been renovated to include two dental chairs, an x-ray machine and developer, and all the requisite drills, bits, suctions and other dental equipment. Dentists can do extractions, fillings and cleanings, and each patient receives a new toothbrush, toothpaste, evangelistic tract, and, if they do not have one, a New Testament in their preference of English or Spanish. Paula noted some patients request an English New Testament to help improve their English language skills.
“Some people are in their 30s and have never had their teeth cleaned,” she added. “They are so grateful. They just say ‘God bless you, thank you’ over and over and over again.”
Oscar Sanchez, CSBC’s field specialist for migrant ministries, estimates 8,000 patients have been seen by the medical and dental teams in the 12 years they’ve been offered through Feeding Those Who Feed Us.
The medical unit is much larger and requires a special driver’s license to operate. It has three partitioned areas, two examination beds, basic general medical equipment, and basic general medications. Most doctors bring their own prescription pads; on a few occasions Kaiser hospital system has part-nered with churches conducting clinics in the Sacramento and Stockton areas, offering assistance with medicine. Many individuals who come to the medical clinics have diabetes or blood pressure issues.
“We’re normally there until after 8 p.m., after the men come out of the fields after daylight,” Paula explained. “It opens the door even more to sharing the gospel. If you hurt – if your tooth aches or your leg hurts – and we can take care of those basic needs, how much more willing are you to hear about Christ? If we reach out, people will listen because we have cared for them.”
Of course there’s more to the mobile units than just getting behind the steering wheel. Wayne takes care of all ongoing maintenance – oil changes, tire rotations, regular service checks and a thorough cleaning after every use.
Said Sanchez, “These two fine people have a passion for serving migrant people, and doing so with the very best California Southern Baptists can offer, with love and care. And they themselves are more than willing to go the extra mile in serving. When other volunteers have gone home, these two faithful servants are still working on closing up the unit, sometimes staying till the late hours of the day. The work that goes into setting up and tearing down the units is quite exhausting.”
Occasionally the medical or dental units will be used for community outreach events unrelated to migrant ministry. Sometimes other evangelical churches use the units for similar community outreach. Churches coordinating the ministries – whether migrant-related or not – cover the costs of fuel, lodging and meals of the drivers, in addition to providing all the volunteer labor for the event.
There are plans to take the medical and dental units to at least 15 locations this summer.
Says Paula, “How can you go home and not be impressed with the love that’s shown? Our only frustration is, we wish the units were used more.”