Angels in Dentures
We were approaching the end of our fourth and final day in Alianza, Honduras, and our team still had a lot of flippers (partial dentures) to make. We were particularly focused on a flipper for 16-year-old Maria. Her top two front teeth were extracted and the other two front teeth filled because of extensive decay.
by Emily Craft, DDS
We were approaching the end of our fourth and final day in Alianza, Honduras, and our team still had a lot of flippers (partial dentures) to make. We were particularly focused on a flipper for 16-year-old Maria. Her top two front teeth were extracted and the other two front teeth filled because of extensive decay. Unfortunately, soda is cheaper than bottled water in Honduras, and decay is rampant. The entire team was excited for her smile makeover, even though we were saddened by how many other girls shared the same need as Maria.
At some point during the afternoon, Dr. Dave Maddy, the trip’s team co-leader, came over and told me a young man was standing at the door who said he was waiting to get his teeth. Earlier in the day, this patient had three of his front teeth extracted. Dr. Maddy had already apologized and told him several times that our clinic was just too busy to do another flipper. But he would not leave. I reluctantly told Dr. Maddy that I just did not think we had time to do it.
About 10 minutes later, Ron Brown, our other co-leader, came over and said the young man was really upset, sort of crying and still standing at the door.
“Should I still tell him ‘no?’” he asked.
I paused for a moment and told Ron we would do it, trusting God would make a way. I was working with some really incredible dental students, and they got to work making impressions and picking out teeth that would be the right size and color for this young man. We worked late and finished all the dentures except the one for Maria, since we would have time the next day as Friday was reserved for clinic tear down and play time with the kids. We met up with the rest of the team at the local church that was hosting a fish fry for us, and we arrived just in time to hear Ron telling the entire group more about the young man who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
His name was Angel. He was abandoned at the age of five and had been living on the streets for 20 years. While he had been waiting for his denture earlier that afternoon, Ricardo, our national dentist, took the opportunity to sit with him and share the gospel. He told Angel of God’s love and how, even though he had been without family for so long, he had never truly been alone. God was there. And as he waited for his denture, Angel decided to accept Christ back into his life. As I sat in my chair and listened, tears came—first for Angel and second for the realization of just how human I am and how much I need God. We had told Angel “no,” not just once but several times. And yet he didn’t go away. He persisted. I know it was God. I know it was God keeping him there. God was saying, “Help my precious son. You just said ‘no,’ but I need you to help him. Say ‘yes’ this time.”
The next day, we finished Maria’s smile makeover with her new denture and everyone was around to rave over how beautiful she looked. And that she did. For the first time all week, we saw her smile. Not too long after, someone came up to me and said Angel was back. Back? There was no reason for him to come back. Angel said someone called him to say we needed him back at the clinic to check his denture. I was so confused. Who would call him?
There he was sitting with Ron. I pretended like I needed to check his denture, because I did not want him to think he had come all the way back to the clinic for nothing. Little did I know, I was seconds away from the reality that there was definitely a reason he needed to come back.
What I learned next completely blew me away. When Angel was five years old, he watched a woman shoot and kill his father. Then, his mom and siblings abandoned him. For 20 years, he had been alone. As he cried, Angel managed to tell us that he had traveled all over Honduras looking for his family. All attempts were unsuccessful. He had so much pain in his eyes and voice. Now I understood why Angel would not leave without teeth. Without his three front teeth, he told us, he did not see a reason to live. His missing front teeth would be the nail in his coffin. And God knew that.
Angel turned over his left arm. There they were; the scars from previous suicide attempts. As Angel sobbed, he told us of the time he was lying in a street bleeding to death and people just walked right by him. No one cared that he was dying. One person finally stopped to save him—a Honduran Good Samaritan.
And then Angel completely broke down. It was like he was releasing the pain and sadness that had been bottled up inside of him for 20 years. Had anyone ever cared to listen to his story until now? He and Ron locked into an embrace that was like that of a father and son. Over and over again, Ron reassured Angel of Psalm 27:10: “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (NLT). I’m too small to understand the scale at which God works, but Ron was just the person for Angel. It is no coincidence that Ron was born in Honduras to missionary parents and is fluent in Spanish. God orchestrated their meeting.
And then came healing. After we prayed for Angel, Ron stood up and called out to the group through his cracking, emotional voice, “Hey everyone, come over here and give this young man a hug. He has not felt the love of a mother’s hug in 20 years.” Every single member of our 45-person team gave Angel a hug. He was grinning from ear to ear. All of the dental students were giving him high-fives. Our team turned him into a celebrity. They showed him that he mattered, that he was cared for and that he was loved.
As Angel was getting his hugs, I broke down. I made a beeline for the back of the building as far from the scene as possible and cried. I was so sad. So, so sad. How was I going to pull it together and stop the tears?
But God sent me an angel too. Out of nowhere up walked sweet Maria, our morning denture patient. I was completely shocked that she knew I was hiding behind the building and had come to find me. She walked right over to me and stood silently at my side. I put my arm around her, and we continued to stand there for a few minutes until I gained my composure. And then, she walked me back to the group. Despite the language barrier, her actions spoke to me, “It’s going to be ok. Time to go back now.” She did not leave my side until it was time to get on the bus to leave to travel back to the U.S.
I will never forget the feeling of peace and comfort she brought to me in those few minutes we stood by each other. She truly was my guardian angel. My guardian angel in dentures.
As I reflect back on Angel and his story, I am struck by the similarities between Angel and Jesus. Isn’t what happened to Angel in the street exactly what happened to Christ? He died on the cross for us so we might be saved from our sins and know the love of God in its purest form. Angel was mocked and belittled as he lay dying in the street, just like Christ was mocked, spit on and belittled. How ironic it is that a young man who thought of himself as nothing, insignificant and unloved is the closest example of Christ that I have ever witnessed in this life. What a gift that Christ died so we all can live!
Never in a million years would I have dreamed that the people of Honduras would minister to me in the way they did. Didn’t I go there to serve them? It does not matter how much or how little you have, who you are or where you came from. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all the same.
I pray for Angel all the time. I pray God will comfort him, bring him peace and keep him safe. I pray Angel will continue to trust in God and find hope in Him. And I pray Angel will always know he is God’s child and he has a Father who has never and will never forsake him. Please join me in praying for Angel.