Missionaries feel the call

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 4, 2003

The dream to serve on the international mission field finally became a reality this past spring when she and 11 others traveled to Piedras Negras, Mexico, for a five-day mission trip.

The 12 missionaries included four Baptists, one Episcopalian, five Presbyterians, one Roman Catholic and one member of a non-denominational church. There were two dentists, one optometrist, two M.D.s, one vet and six others to provide staff support for the medical contingent.

Kendrick, a member of Elkdale Baptist Church, which has sponsored numerous mission trips in recent years, recalled that she first got the urge for mission service during her time as a veterinary student at Auburn. A Baptist group on campus was going on one and she told her parents that she knew that she was being led by God to be a missionary. Her dad replied that that would be fine, but please wait until she finished her education &045; and she did.

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Fast forward several years later, and the long-awaited call to the mission field finally came.

It came in the form of a phone call from Dr. Don Speed, a 20-year veteran in the project which she would be joining. The call came just one month before the prospective trip, scheduled the week before this past Memorial Day weekend. Kendrick asked her husband for his opinion on the invitation and he said go, she said.

So she went, on the five-day journey, leaving 5-year-old triplets, Will, Tommy and Walter, with husband Lacy.

The plan called for traveling on Wednesday and returning Sunday via San Antonio, and driving down to Eagle Pass, Texas, and then across the border to Piedras Negras, and back the same way by van.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday were workdays, 8-5, in blazing heat, in the clinic, including the veterinary unit located at the front of the building, and under a shed. That’s where she worked on the animals brought to her by residents.

The destination for the 12 missionaries from the Selma area was a mission project begun by Birmingham Presbyterian Dianne Davis, called &uot;CPC&uot;, Constructores Para Christos (Construction for Christ). She and her husband, Birmingham contractor Neal Davis, began using volunteer groups about 10 years ago to build three-room cinder block houses designed by Davis. The sturdy homes replace shacks fashioned out of cardboard and pallet wood standing on a dirt floor without running water or sanitation. The Davises’ goal has been to build at least one house per week, using the labor of volunteers. Some 370 have been constructed over the last decade, including one by another group during the same week as the Selmians’ service in the clinic.

About seven years ago, the Davises and their groups began

building the clinic, a simple medical center with a pharmacy near the housing units, which now includes medical, optometric and, most recently, a veterinary unit.

Which gets the story back to Dr. Kendrick, only one of three vets who have been served on the project in the past seven years, with the next one scheduled to come this fall.

Dr. Donnie Russell, a pediatric dentist and member of First Presbyterian who has himself been on about seven trips since the early ’90s, came up with the idea for a clinic in the early ’90s. Dianne Davis raised the need in his presence during a picnic on the banks of the Alabama River near Selma, and he replied, &uot;It is done.&uot; Since then he has been a major participant in planning and construction.

He spoke with joy of how the clinic became a reality through the work of so many hands and the many contributions of individuals and organizations, including a major dental supplier, Henry Schein & Co. Schein has donated thousands of dollars in equipment and supplies over the years through its representative, himself a participant on this trip, Jack Shalhoop.

The clinic began, he said, as a gravel bed covered with a tarpaulin, with no electricity, running water or sanitation. Nearly a decade later, he describes it as a first-rate medical-dental facility.

Of his own experience on the recent trip, he chuckled as he recalled a dog, who had been attended by Dr. Kendrick in the open-air vet unit, that had made his way, along with a number of others, into the corridors of the clinic where patients were being treated. &uot;There was that dog,&uot; he said, &uot;just standing there watching me extract a tooth. Incredibly funny,&uot; he said.

As with many Christians who participate in such journeys, Kendrick said that this one changed her life.

She was awed by the poverty and standard of living observed, yet amazed at the cleanliness of the children and their clothing and the care taken for the few possessions that the people had.

The residents’ animals, however, she described as pitiful. She saw all kinds, including a goat,

but mostly family pets.

The day before their work began, heralds went through the streets of the village, telling the inhabitants that the doctors were in. And the response on the next day was overwhelming, according to Kendrick.

On that first day, Thursday, when she arrived she said that she found two dogs tethered to each post in a fence surrounding her work area, and the same the next day. She and her sister,

Boo Phillips who assisted her, worked as quickly as they could during the three days to meet the needs of as many animals as possible.

Her goal was to promote public health by providing appropriate treatment, including drugs, to all animals. Each one got a rabies shot, along with treatments for worms and ticks, she said.

Occasionally she would engage in a non-essential service, such as shaving a poodle properly, and enjoyed a moment of fussing over &uot;Fifi,&uot; and sharing a laugh with the owner.

One poignant memory is the story of a woman whose four dogs were spayed by Kendrick and kept overnight for observation. The woman looked at them as if they were children, saying over and over, &uot;My babies are having surgery.&uot;

The woman’s heart, full of gratitude, returned the next day with a pot of soup that had taken four hours to prepare. Kendrick admitted that there were aspects of the dish that were not exactly appealing, but was deeply moved that this woman had offered this missionary the best her humble kitchen had to offer.

She also told how her sister Boots taught the children English numbers as they carefully removed ticks infesting the skin of small animals. Then the children taught Phillips the numbers in Spanish. She was deeply touched, according to Kendrick.

When asked if she would return to this mission, Kendrick, said she definitely would, if invited.

She observed: &uot;If all churches had mission groups like this going out, it would be such a moving experience for participants that the church would become much more vital.&uot;

Of Kendrick and her sister Boo’s participation in the most recent trip, Russell said, &uot;Boo and Frances added so much to the trip. They made it so much fun. I wouldn’t trade them for 500 missionaries.&uot;

Russell’s excitement has not diminished over the years in the least. He concluded his remarks, &uot;Going to CPC is more fun than Alabama beating Auburn! It just sends chills down my spine every time I think about it.&uot;

Participants on the trip, in addition to Drs. Kendrick and Speed, and Phillips and Schalhoop, were: Clayton Speed, Dr. Speed’s son; Gloria Carlson; Catherine Gilmer; Dr. Chad Green; Dr. Donnie Russell and his wife Cherry; and Meg and Roland Truman.

Funding for most of the participants’ expenses, including travel, was provided by First Presbyterian Church through the Mission Division.

For further information on how to participate in the building program, call Dianne Davis at (205) 979-8552; for information on the clinic, call Kent Woodruff, chair, Mission Division, First Presbyterian Church at 872-3449.