about me, i am a christian, i am a dentist, i am a mission dentist, in my opinion, my country: the philippines, my travels, this is life

The Heart of Service

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.”
Ephesians 4:1


One day, during morning devotion in the ARMS mission trip to Tacloban, we woke up to find memory verses on the table. I found Ephesians 4:1 on my side of the table and upon seeing it, I realized that it defines my life’s mission.

Let Me Tell You the Heart of Service

The best way for me to describe the heart of service is to tell you about the opposite of it… the kind that frustrates and painfully disappoints. I tell this, not with malice, but with the desire to open your eyes to the truth.

During some of my first days in the mission field I encountered the PNP. I roll with the Army (they are our partners) but the police usually love to make an appearance in the missions–and that’s fine, really. But they come in, take some photos, then exit. One time I was in the middle of a case and I turned to find my Army assistant, gone, and was replaced by a police officer. I was going to make a comment to say that I’d rather they did not switch mid-patient, but when I turned back again, my Army assistant was back. They wanted to take a photo, pretending to assist in the Dental, and that’s all they did. Now if that seems awful, just imagine, one time we found the local police posting about the event and claiming it as their own.

Why do they do that? Well, by passing a few photos they can declare it as an official event and collect funding for it. Now it makes more sense, huh?

An outreach program where I saw about 40 patients on my own. This is the queue for warm soup. After the meal they were given slippers and the children came home with toys.

Now let’s talk about the local health department units. Of course, this is not a generalization, for I know of local health officers whose hearts are really focused on the truest meaning of service. But sadly, some have different motivations.  They love to tag along, and that is delightful for the team because our solo doctor will have much needed help, but they leave abruptly–leaving patients behind, forcing the load on the solo doctor. Much worse, they leave with the medicines that they “supposedly donated” to their own constituents.

Last April, during the ARMS mission in Tacloban, the LGUs only requirement from us was to allow them to conduct “operation tule” with the team. They committed to performing 300 circumcisions, demanded a list of supplies, but on the day of the mission, they left abruptly after finishing just 85 cases. To make matters worse, they left and took with them some of the supplies. As a Filipino, I felt quite embarrassed that this is how we operate because our head pastor (a foreigner) merely shrugged and said, “I was expecting it.”

Isn’t that painful to hear? He was expecting it? We’re swindlers. We’re selfish. It’s just awful. Over 100 children were turned down after patiently awaiting service that did not come. It was promised… but I don’t know why they had to leave. I don’t know how they can do that to the people–they’re hired to serve. Let me remind you that they are from the local health department, so these people are their constituents.

Summer is known as the “TULE TIME”. During summer time, many boys get their right of passage, by  going under the knife and facing the dreaded circumcision.

A Life of Service

A week ago I was in Bicol for a mission and we traveled to the Aetas. They were such a delight to treat–tribe people are kind, grateful souls. We expected a great number of them, but despite the invitation, many did not come. Those in attendance explained that some of their neighbors chose not to come because they thought they would be charged for the medicines. In fact when we were giving them prescriptions and instructions to go to Pharmacy they had to ask many times, “Sigurado po bang wala kaming babayaran?” (Are you sure we’re not supposed to pay anything?). They had to ask repeatedly. They wanted to make sure it was free–and couldn’t believe that our medicines come with no charge. When we asked further, they said that they were often asked to pay for medicines. Nothing is free for the poor–and it’s sad because they hardly have anything to spare.

It is a pain to hear these things. At the end of the mission we were exchanging stories and during dinner that night we made it our mission to go back to that final place we served–and we will, I know that for certain.

This is Team Jesus. Front and center is our team leader, our solo doctor. A hero. Some days she sees 300 patients on her own.

When I took oath more than 11 years ago, I made the vow to serve and devote myself to the needs of people. In the long years that I’ve been working in private practice, I made sure to take that vow to heart, and put service in the front and center of all things. A dentist–not a businesswoman, I thought that was enough, but I always felt this void that I could not explain. And more than a year ago I discovered that I could be more and do more. It is in the mission field that I truly learned to embrace what service is. It is in the field that I truly felt my hands being used for what it’s meant to do…

Since I started travelling with different people to the mission field, I have learned so much. I have met many people, patients and volunteers, and discovered how magnificent each and every life is. I have learned so much about the Filipino and their needs–and realized that city girls like myself, KNOW NOTHING. Here in Manila we love to complain about little stuff, not realizing how lucky we truly are. You want to know what Filipinos need, ask the those who are truly in need. You want to know how it feels to be poor, see how it is for those who literally have nothing.

I dream to develop a true heart for service. And as a Filipino I wish better lives for all my brothers and sisters. I have seen how it is and the truth about our health system is truly disappointing. Public Health Service is a noble job but the quality of work that is provided taints the word “service” altogether. I don’t know why things are this way–and I can only wish for conditions to be better. I see efforts from Judy Taguiwalo’s DSWD and Dr Ubial’s DOH, but I don’t think their reach stretches down to the smallest unit of government. Frankly, I don’t know if it is ever going to change–but yes, of course, I will continue to hope.

This is a makeshift bridge.  The team had to cross this bridge because our boat could not cross that area of the lake.


And in the least that I could do, every once in a while, I will pack my bags and travel far with my team, so that I could help bridge gaps. I will walk through unstable bridges, such as that on the picture, and conquer my own fears because somewhere out there, people need our help. It is what is… I have been called to serve. And I do all this, for the glory of God (the one who gives me strength)…

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2 thoughts on “The Heart of Service”

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