Retirement That Counts

by Tom Lutey

Don Roberts wasn’t sure what he was getting into when a nurse approached him about performing oral surgery in Tanzania.

The cause sounded worthy. In two weeks of work, Roberts, a Billings retiree, would be able to alleviate the pain of hundreds of impoverished people in Sakila, Tanzania. The enormity of the need couldn’t have been overestimated. Roberts pulled more than 800 teeth in his short visit. He did his work on the
tables fashioned from pews of a Sakila church partitioned by sheets and wire into operating rooms. And even though many of his patients had never before seen a dentist, let alone had a tooth pulled with the benefit of anesthetic or antibiotics, Roberts said he was the one who benefited most.

Don Roberts

Don Roberts

“It’s just very gratifying to have a skill that can make life a lot easier for somebody else,” Roberts said. “The trust that they give you, not knowing you, just based on one human being hoping that this person is there to truly help them because a lot of times in their life, because these people are poorest of the poor, a lot of people take advantage of these people.”

Roberts has made the trip twice and is sharing his experiences partly because at age 67, he isn’t sure he has another trip left. It takes two years to gear up for a mission. Roberts would be 69 next time around.

What the people of Sakila need, he said, is an oral surgeon closer to 50, someone good for a few round-trips to a part of the world with more need than most Americans can fathom.

The trip was put together by Life Covenant Church, a Helena evangelical congregation that has for more
than a decade sent medical professionals to Sakila, a village that is both rural in services and great in population because of surrounding communities.

Life Covenant pastor Keith Johnson offers a prayer every day at the Legislature. Roberts served in the
state House for four sessions.

Tanzania is a poor African country of 51 million people. Because of AIDS and other diseases, roughly
64 percent of the population is younger than 25, according U.S. data on Tanzania.

“A Tanzanian who lives to be 5 years old is a healthy Tanzanian,” Roberts said.

Sakila is a higher-elevation community at 3,500 feet. The elevation helps keep some insect-related
illnesses at bay. Mount Kilimanjaro towers on the horizon at 19,000 feet and Kenya is close enough that
machine guns come out and troops begin moving through this part of Tanzania when Islamic militant
activity flares up across the border.

Missionaries like Roberts pay their own way, said Sami Butler, a registered nurse and trip organizer who attends Life Covenant Church.

“All of the team members pay for their own trips, which end up being about $3,500 minimum, with
plane tickets and room and board,” Butler said.

“There’s some skin in the game for our folks. It’s not about us coming over and swooping in and
being saviors. It’s about using our expertise to come alongside the people there to help the villages in that area.”

The teams are sent out with a letter issued “to whom it may concern” explaining their destination
and that the medicine in their cargo is a gift to the International Evangelism Centre in Sakila and won’t be sold. The name of IEC’s founder, Tanzanian Eluidi Issangya, is included in the letter to help clear passage at checkpoints as they make their way on narrow dirt roads from the city of Arusha.
Bishop Eluidi Issangya carries a lot of respect in the nation because of IEC services, which include children’s schools, a medical center and an orphanage.

Life Covenant Church raises money to cover the costs of a full-time medical staff for the IEC clinic.

Issangya is also Sakila’s connection Life Covenant Church and other groups in the United States committed to helping IEC. Bishop Eluidi, as Issangya is known, will be in Billings in early February, hosted by Bethany Church. Bethany Pastor Jordan Work said Bishop Eluidi has been working with Montana churches for years.

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