Meeting people’s pressing physical needs is a practical and impactful avenue for sharing the gospel – it’s precisely what Jesus did! Throughout the Gospels, we read account after account of Jesus healing a physical problem and then sharing the deeper spiritual healing that He also offers. Jesus actively sought out people and was committed to meeting people “where they were.” As those who have a desire to have an impact on people’s lives, we would be wise to imitate his example. Brentwood Baptist Church’s Medical Dental Unit (“MDU”) is a perfect example of what that can look like in our world today.
The Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28 concludes with, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” This verse can feel like a call to travel to foreign places and distant lands with needy people, but the reference to “all nations” includes our own nation as well! The need for the gospel in our backyard is every bit as great as the need in a country on the other side of the globe.
This was the mindset of Sharon Fairchild, Brentwood Baptist’s Mission Journey Minister, when she returned to Tennessee after many years on the mission field in Brazil. During her time there, she saw the power and necessity of a “hands-on” gospel approach. Upon returning to the states, Sharon desired to employ the same model of combined physical and spiritual care for the unreached here at home that she had helped implement in Brazil.
Sharon’s heart for this type of local ministry was the catalyst for the birth of Brentwood Baptist’s MDU. Sharon presented her idea for the MDU to the leadership at Brentwood Baptist Church, and from the very beginning, the plan received enthusiastic “green lights.” In the spring of 2013, the Medical Dental Unit was fully funded and ready for the mission field.
Described as a 40-foot evangelism tool, the Medical Dental Unit is “a mobile unit customized to provide free, limited medical and dental care to those in need all over Middle Tennessee.” Technology plays a vital role in the functioning of the MDU. X-rays, patient information and tracking, etc. are all supported by onboard laptops and a local network infrastructure. Engineers at Enable have been intimately involved with the MDU from its inception– from the original design, to maintenance, to ongoing machine upgrades. All of the MDU technology has been carefully designed to enable ministry while ensuring that the church stewards ministry funds well.
Amy Fairchild, the MDU Coordinator, and Gary Maddox, the MDU Operations Manager comprise the staff of the MDU. Volunteers operate everything else associated with the MDU, from medical and dental professionals to event personnel. As far as actual care goes, it is entirely free, available to anyone, and mostly consists of medical consultations and dental extractions. Patients can engage various partners and recommended providers for follow-up treatments. The mobile unit contains two full-service dental units – chairs, an x-ray machine, supplies, and software. The MDU has traveled all over the state of Tennessee, sharing Jesus Christ with people through the provision of medical and dental care.
The MDU staff is extremely passionate about being a catalyst for empowering and equipping the local church for long-term ministry. Therefore the MDU does no advertising of its own. They go where there is a need, and ask that the church commits to reaching out to their community for the event and following up afterwards. The MDU shows up to provide care, and positions the local church to do the actual reaching out to and follow-up with people. That way, relationships are built with the church itself, which will still be there after the one-day event is over and the MDU leaves.
This sustainable and long-term approach is what makes the MDU such an incredible partner of the local church – it acts as a TOOL to provide the means of physical care, while presenting an opportunity for the local church to reach out to its community, make connections, provide spiritual follow up, and build long term relationships!
The MDU has had a significant, measurable impact.
In 2018, there were…
- 779 patients
- 869 gospel conversations
- 81 decisions (1 decision for every 10 patients)
- 1143 teeth pulled
- $28,781 free dental service
- 597 volunteers
These statistics are not just abstract numbers—they represent real people. A few months ago, in North Nashville, a young man named Bradley heard about the ministry and brought a friend to the MDU to have a tooth pulled. Bradley did not have a need himself; he was merely looking after his friend. Nevertheless, after interacting with the MDU and local church staff, Bradley went to the church’s Sundy service the following morning, made a decision to follow Christ that day, and has since been coming regularly, has brought family members, and has been baptized! The MDU presented the opportunity for Bradley’s relationship with his local church, and ultimately a life-changing decision.
Amy describes the heart of the MDU perfectly: “It’s not about how many teeth we can pull or even how many people we serve. It’s about being Jesus to the communities and bringing healing to people. We are mobile and able to move around so that we can meet people where they are, meeting physical needs AND sharing the gospel – the two go hand in hand.”