From the age of seven, I was aware of a calling in my life. Whenever anyone asked, I would always say I wanted to be a dentist when I grew up. This dream persisted throughout primary school and secondary school, and when it came to UCAS applications I had no doubts in my mind as to what I would apply for. I didn’t even think about having a “back-up” choice as I couldn’t imagine any other plan for my life. I trusted that this was the path God had set out for me, and by his grace I was accepted into Glasgow University to study dentistry!
Three years later I was faced with the task of choosing a topic to base my elective project on. This was the first time in the course that I had the freedom to direct my own learning, and I desired to explore something I was genuinely interested in. I always knew that I wanted to use my skills and knowledge in dentistry for more than bog-standard teeth-pulling, drilling and filling. I wanted to somehow make a difference and to glorify God by being obedient to his will and trying to show his love through my work. I brainstormed a few ideas and found nothing that I felt very passionate about.
One day I scrolled past a news article on Facebook about the Refugee Crisis in Syria. I realised how little I had engaged in this global problem despite the extreme violence, poverty and suffering I knew they were facing. I realised how naive I was about the situation and felt a tug in my heart for this growing number of displaced people who experience uncertainty, violence and fear each day. That heart-tug was the first of God’s gentle nudges to set me in the right direction. I kept trying to think of more unique and interesting ideas for my project, but each time my mind came back to refugees and asylum seekers. I was aware that Glasgow was one of the main sites for the relocation of asylum seekers and refugees and decided that I wanted to know more about how they were supported by the healthcare system. I was unsure what this would involve, but I was aware that God was encouraging me to pick this for my elective project. This time the calling was less of a loud fog-horn, and more like a faint whisper. I was uncertain of what this would involve, but found comfort in the verses from Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.”
God’s calling often leads us out of our comfort zone. As part of my project I’ve been attending a drop-in evening for asylum seekers and refugees in a local church. I meet families from many different cultures and faiths, and try to communicate with those who don’t speak or understand English. The more I engage with and learn about these people, the more passionate I feel about showing them God’s love and tackling the health inequalities they face. Many refugees and asylum seekers arrive in the UK after being subjected to the poor living conditions in over-crowded and unsanitary camps with little access to clean water and nutritious food. Others have endured arduous and life-threatening journeys, torture and trauma. Subsequently, oral hygiene has become a forgotten luxury rather than a priority. Unlike most medical treatment, dental treatment is not always free. The process of applying for exemption from dental fees is complex and information may not be provided in all relevant languages. Other barriers to accessing oral health services include: a lack of information about how to register with a dentist, difficulty in communicating and booking interpreters, unclear processes for emergency dentistry and lack of training for local dental teams. I’m unsure what the future holds, but I’m excited to see how this project fits into the bigger picture of God’s calling for my life.
It can be easy to separate our work/university courses from our God-given desire to tackle local and global injustice. I’d love to encourage and challenge you to think about how you can best use the gifts and skills God has given you. How can you glorify him within your course or workplace? Our hearts are often hardened to the injustice we see on TV and in our cities, but as we ask God to direct our hearts, he will soften them and align our desires with his own.
It’s comforting to remember that God calls us to partner with Him in his work, rather than sending us out on our own. When we look at God’s calling in the lives of Noah, Daniel and Moses, we see that God was with them throughout the journey and they relied fully on his strength. However, in order to respond to our calling, we must be available and ready to listen. When Jesus called the disciples by name, they dropped everything and immediately followed him. Would you be prepared to do the same?
Words by Sarah Mathie