Hope Smiles is a groundbreaking dental care and community development organization based in Nashville, Tennessee, providing emergency and comprehensive dental services in underserved communities locally, domestically, and internationally. The organization serves the uninsured, unemployed, oppressed, forgotten, and marginalized to not only rebuild teeth, but offer hope, love, and community. Hope Smiles is led by an innovative and collaborative team with big-hearted vision. Their passion, dedication, and compassion is the bedrock of this ministry.
We had the amazing opportunity recently to visit with the founder of Hope Smiles, Dr. Phillip Kemp, and discuss his purposeful passion, his heart, and his faith.
All Things Faithful Hope Smiles’ mission states that “as pioneers utilizing excellent, innovative, sustainable, and compassionate dental care, our mission is to bring physical, spiritual, economic, and social transformation to people and their communities in the name of Jesus Christ.” In your own words, what do Hope Smiles’ mission and vision personally mean to you?
Dr. Phillip Kemp It is about empowering, connecting, and helping people figure out what their calling is and where they can deliver hope. That is the essence of what it is. If you have ever read the book When Helping Hurts, it tells the story of the mission field. When Americans go with the sole intent to save the world and do good, they are doing all this work. However, there are local indigenous people who would love to work and get paid, but they aren’t getting paid. Typically, in Haiti, there is more dental work done by visiting missionaries than is done by local Haitian dentists. Around 65% of those trained in Haiti cannot practice because there isn’t an economic engine. Like organizations in microfinancing that help someone learn a vocation, our goal is to go to Haiti or Uganda and develop a way for those practitioners that have a skill to be able to use it and have a life and an income. A mentor of mine called it “businestry”, or taking business and using it to do ministry.
Without an economic engine, all you’re doing is handing people fish. We want to teach them to fish.
A lot of people in the United States ask us, “Why are you doing this?” We don’t know why we are called to go to the inner city and have a dental clinic, but it offers an opportunity to let people see Jesus in action. We see Hope Smiles as a mirroring organization. We can mirror Jesus. If they see something in our actions, then we’ve accomplished what we want to do. We want them to leave and say, “There is something different about these people.” If we accomplish that and plant the seed, then God will harvest that. Someday, these people will come to know Him.
When we go on mission trips or “vision trips”, we’re trying to take dentists and help them to catch the vision of what we’re doing. But really, it’s also to catch their calling. It’s not like having a seminar and getting them excited, but we’re helping them find what they are called to do. It’s a way to meet a need, but also meet a need about what’s empty in them. Dentistry can be an empty profession in the worldly sense, with a lot of material wealth. We feel like our mission has evolved to a “being” organization instead of “doing” organization. That’s extremely hard. It’s easy to “do,” it’s hard to “be.” Sometimes it seems unattainable, but it’s not if you are able to lay down your ego and agenda.
We feel like our mission has evolved to a ‘being’ organization instead of a ‘doing’ organization.
ATF Can you give us a little more detail in the idea of this ministry came upon your heart?
PK It was a journey. Sometimes you have to stump your toe to find the fridge at night, and we’ve stumped our toes a lot to figure out where we are. There have been so many incredible things about the journey and so many incredible people who have had a part in making it happen. Ten years ago, there was a dream about starting a ministry and thinking that it was more about doing. I tried to “do” and I learned you can never do enough. You can never get there. The struggle I’ve had is that’s easier to do than to be, but I’m seeing God work in so many ways. I see my calling is to build community, relationships, and a place where the dental profession can give their lives away and find their calling. We aren’t building a church or a ministry. We are building a collective group of people who are looking to find their purpose in calling and we do some teeth along the way.
ATF Hope Smiles has not only an inspiring mission and vision but also a great sense of what you stand for. Can you pick three of your core values and elaborate what they mean to you?
PK Three of Hope Smiles’ core values are hope, serve, and restore. It used to be love, serve, and restoration. Restoration is a dental term, like crown restoration, but restoration in this sense is more about doing. God restores our hearts, His people, and health. Restore has nothing to do with teeth…it’s our calling. We are called to love and serve those in need. The closer we get to laying down our self-centeredness, the closer we are to God’s intended relationship He created us for. That is what it’s about. We use dentistry to get to that point. We are still trying to get there. It’s not about denomination or religion, but it is how we should all live. I don’t care if you are Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, or worship snakes, just come and see what we do. My faith is in Jesus and I have hope in Him. I don’t have to worry about what happens today or what happens tomorrow. There is no other faith that can really hang their hat on the fact that the main person in this has defeated death. You have hope in a person that is here with us and has shown Himself in many ways.
ATF Faith in Jesus Christ is woven so seamlessly through your entire website. Can you give us a few examples of how faith has played in your practice?
PK We try to build an environment where I am a leader, but it’s inverted. My goal is to hold everyone else up and be an example. That is what we try to do here. We spend a lot of time in meetings that are technical but we also spend a lot of time meeting about the heart. We try to really get to know people and connect. We have a community here. My staff is amazing. We have a great environment and everyone is different in their faith. I want who God wants here. If God has somebody here that is not a Christian, but they are supposed to be here, then maybe we are supposed to learn from each other. We pray about who is here and we want that person to be called to be here.
What we do in our office is what we do in Hope Smiles. We do life well.
ATF As someone who has experienced a higher calling for His kingdom, what advice would give others who are feeling a call to lead a ministry of their own?
PK Over the last ten years, we’ve done a lot to get to where we are now. A lot of people are behind the scenes helping to create this sense of peace in where we are. We are going through a journey and God is opening doors and shutting doors, growing us, and doing things. We feel confident that we’re stepping into a calling that is His, not just something we want to do. I’ve been to several countries and to Haiti nearly 7 or 8 times. Locally we do a lot of outreach with healthcare companies and that’s how we connected with Austin. We’ve met with Compassion International and other organizations that are doing work all over the world. The need is greater than we can fulfill. Where do you even begin? We can’t solve the need but we can really have an impact. Our impact is evident because All Things Faithful is here and impacted, saying to others, “You’ve got to look at this organization.” We are here telling the story and drawing people into a transformational heart change. It’s not about doing teeth. It’s about people laying down their self-interests and just going, “How can I be used today?” I can look at a dentist and ask, “What are you doing to make the world better or to make your world better?” Hope Smiles’ calling is in the dental profession and the doors are opening to do a number of things.
The biggest advice I would tell someone is to figure out what your mission, calling, and purpose is. Find purpose first, then discover what’s calling you to that purpose. Use your mission and vision for how you are going to do it. Then, work like hell and live the rest of your life. Everybody living a Christian life as God intended has a calling. We are not put on this earth to just suck up air. If you study the happiest and joyful people in the world, they are in a passionate pursuit of something greater themselves. That’s what I want. I want to live my life. When that hourglass is done, I’m done. The gospel and Jesus changed the world with 12 people. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about your impact.
It’s not about doing teeth. It’s about people laying down their self interests and just going ‘How can I be used today?’
ATF We know prayer is key to having a truly intimate relationship with God. Our readers are always encouraged to hear about the prayer life of others. Can you tell us about yours?
PK Gosh, I pray every chance I get. When you talk about prayer, you talk about communication with the Father. Some view prayer a way to obtain but it’s a communication between two people who love each other. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing and I’d like to think I never stop praying. I’m private in my prayer but open in my prayer. My staff prays and I encourage them to come to me and we’ll pray. I pray with patients. I think prayer is used a lot to shine a light on ourselves. We shouldn’t do anything that brings attention to ourselves. God gives us exactly what we need. I think prayer is us giving God what he doesn’t need, but what He desires: a relationship.
ATF As you look into the future, what is the legacy you hope to leave behind?
PK The biggest thing we’re trying to do is to build sustainability so it doesn’t depend on us.Thinking about a legacy, you are talking about what you are leaving behind and the impact you had. The whole purpose of Hope Smiles is to build a community that is serving and loving. I really want this to be a movement in the dental community because people need to see and have real faith. Real faith keeps marriages together, real families together and communities together. We need to live with open hands. I’m really not trying to build a legacy. I was when we started. Now if this doesn’t go any further, but we keep serving in Uganda and Haiti, who would have thought I would have gotten here? It’s easy to sit here and say, “wow look at me”. What I hope is when I’m gone it isn’t so much about what I did, it’s about the life that He lived. I want to shine a light on Jesus so they see Jesus in me.
If you study the most happy and joyful people in the world, they are on a passionate pursuit of something greater than themselves.
ATF How do you feel this experience with Hope Smiles, your ministry, and your practice has changed you?
PK I don’t feel like I’m doing ministry work and I don’t feel like I’m doing mission work. I think we should all live missional, and we should all live with ministerial mindset. If you are a true minister of the Gospel, you are shining a light on what Jesus did for us, which is give up his life for us. We should be willing to die for others. I don’t think this has changed me, I think I’ve changed because of the journey I’ve been on and the struggles I’ve experienced. When you go through the fire, you become refined. I think a lot of these struggles have changed me but I still have a lot to change. In the end, I hope that people can see something in my life that they want to emulate. I’ve got a long way to go. I have amazing people around me, I’ve got a family that loves me and I’m healthy. I’ve got a little money to buy some chicken wings. Outside of that, I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I think that I can handle that.
All Things Faithful would like to thank Dr. Phillip Kemp and the team at Hope Smiles for the work they are doing to build a better community and a better world in His name. We are thrilled at the opportunity to share their calling with others and inspire others to pursue the purpose God is calling them to do.
Update December 21st, 2017: Hope Smiles has continued to do amazing things since the last time we sat down with Dr. Kemp! In November 2017 alone, Hope Smiles Uganda served 1195 patients with quality, compassionate, consistent dental care and worked to change lives. Hope Smiles also successfully raised $10,000 for two new transportable dental chairs and they are currently working in East Africa. Even more, Hope Smiles has partnered with an organization in Haiti to keep providing dental care, training new professionals, and equipping them with the resources they need.
In the season of giving, it’s so important to support the organizations, like Hope Smiles, who are working in His name to transform lives across the world. Here’s a message from Dr. Kemp about helping Hope Smiles continue its mission:
If you’d love to learn more about how to get involved with Hope Smiles, visit hopesmiles.org!
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