The summer before her junior year of high school, Marin Young (’17) traveled to El Salvador with Dr. Stacy Johnson and a team of medical professionals, medical students, and members of the congregation at Johnson’s church, Grace Assembly of God in Greenwood. Johnson and Marin’s father, Dr. Randy Young, practice dentistry at Stacy D. Johnson & Associates in Greenwood, and travel to Latin America at least once a year for medical missions trips. “I can’t imagine not doing medical missions at some point in my career,” says Marin (’17), who is studying pre-med biology. Marin will be leaving for Ecuador on August 1 with Dr. Johnson and his team for her second medical missions trip.
Johnson was in the midst of packing when I called to ask about his trips. His wife, Jeanine (’84), who will also be traveling to Ecuador with the team, was about to run to the store to buy extension cords and other last-minute items for the trip. Team members pack all the supplies for the clinic they will be setting up, including medicine, glasses, arm and leg braces, dental and surgical tools, and vitamins. “[In El Salvador] we had to use lawn chairs and flashlights,” Marin says. “But God always provides what we need.” Clinics, which are often set up near churches, are composed of three areas: dental, medical, and optical, as well as a pharmacy that disseminates antibiotics and pain medicine, and a spiritual counseling area. “Six months after we leave, our patients may get a toothache again,” says Johnson. “We want them to have something eternal.
Johnson went on his first medical missions trip in 1995, to Haiti, where his mentor taught him how to lead trips. “Growing up, I had the mentality that we have enough problems here [in the U. S.],” he says, but when he began to get involved with medical missions, he broadened the scope of his practice to include those in third-world regions. Johnson now leads at least one medical trip per year, and may go on several others that focus on construction or evangelism. Johnson’s son, Jon (’17), has gone on several trips to Latin America, and will also be traveling to Ecuador on August 1. Like Marin, Jon is studying pre-med biology, and says that these trips have changed his perspective on life in America. “You’ll never complain about being hungry or hot after you visit a third world country,” he says.
From her El Salvador trip, Marin recalls a girl who couldn’t hear because of blockage in her ears, and many people who couldn’t see because they didn’t have glasses. Jon talks about the lack of preventative care and medical education in many areas of Latin America. “A lot of people have fragments for teeth from sucking on sugar cane and just don’t know that their teeth can be taken care of,” he says, “so we do a lot of extractions and hand out toothpaste and toothbrushes.” Johnson also does cleanings, which he was initially reluctant to perform because of the demand for more drastic procedures. Yet after a couple of trips, he felt convicted for his attitude toward his Latin American patients: “If people can walk into my office in Indiana for a cleaning, I should offer the same service to people wherever I’m at.”
While Johnson earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Indiana Wesleyan and his DDS from Indiana University, not everyone on his medical missions teams has a medical background or goes home to a career in the medical field. “About a third of the team is non-professionals,” Johnson says. Students like Marin and Jon can take vitals, help with blood tests, sterilize medical instruments, and pray for patients, many of whom must walk several miles to the clinic. Johnson says that spiritual support is vital to the trip’s success, and asks for prayer for the team and for the patients they will be serving. The Alumni Office encourages the alumni network to pray throughout Johnson’s Ecuador trip, which will run from August 1st to the 9th.
“Everyone should go on a missions trip,” says Jon, who has been able to return to several locations in Latin America on medical, construction, and evangelism trips. “You’ll realize how much you take for granted.”
This article is written by Hannah Combs who is a student writer for the Alumni Office. She is a senior student of Writing and Humanities through the John Wesley Honors College.