In 1995, Zondervan Publishing launched Bob Buford’s book entitled Half Time, a non-fiction work exploring the idea of using the second half of one’s life to transition from professional success to the something bigger. In the book, the author opines each of us carries a box and in it are the things we value most in life … the things for which we live.
Dr. Bill Sasser read the book and, having reached a sort of half time in a successful dentistry career, found the message compelling. He looked into his own box and what he found was faith in God, a desire to help others and the blessing of dentistry skills.
The Lord then used Bill’s membership in the Christian Dental Society and Global Health Outreach to begin a quiet tapping on his heart. Bill went on his first medical dental trip to Central America about 20 years ago and God put the proverbial hooks in him. He discovered the purpose for his second half.
“I don’t view this work as some great sacrifice,” he says. “It’s just obedience to God. He blessed me and I’m sharing those blessings with others.”
The pace and volume of the mission work undertaken by Bill and his wife Susalee is almost unbelievable. For the past 20 years Bill has led eight mission trips a year, with Susalee along on at least half. The missions last from one to three weeks and have taken them to Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe — all told, they’ve been to 30 different countries.
“The poverty and the need we see is inconceivable to Americans,” said Susalee. “In Africa our team will work for 10 days and we usually see around 2500 people. Hundreds of them walk for days to get there and sleep on the ground at night waiting their turn. One can only imagine the pain they’re in to undertake that journey. But that’s who Bill feels called to serve. The desperately poor, in the middle of nowhere.”
To put the need in perspective, the U.S. has about one dentist for every 2,000 residents. In Africa, the ratio is more along the lines of one dentist for every 1,000,000 residents.
On one earlier mission trip to Central America, Bill found himself traveling with a group of dental students all the way from the University of Oregon. It occurred to him that if students were willing to travel from Oregon, surely there would be students from MUSC who would go.
“I knew taking groups of students would make the trips far more complex,” he said, “but if they don’t receive training to practice mission-type dentistry, how will they learn? It was either that, or the things I’d learned would follow me to the grave.”
Bill and Susalee began organizing and leading dental student mission trips in a big way. During the past 20 years, hundreds of students have learned mission dentistry from Bill, with trips over spring break hosting up to 30 students.
“We used to purchase group rate tickets and all fly on the same flight,” laughs Bill. “With today’s technology and frequent flyer points and buying strategies, we have students arriving from airports all over the states. It’s chaos, but God sorts it out.”
Because there are several countries they visit frequently, they have capitalized on the number of students traveling and require each student to carry a bag filled with dental supplies. As a result these areas have accumulated tools and dental necessities unknown in the region.
When asked if the dental students continue their mission work, Bill responds, “We’re in the seed sowing business. Our team teaches them the skills, then we release them back to their lives and budding careers. We leave the long-term plans to the Lord.”
As a retired flight attendant, it goes without saying that Susalee’s professional work didn’t prepare her for the dentistry work they do. When asked if she assists Bill with his procedures, Susalee said, “On the first trip 20 years ago I did. I held a flashlight while Bill worked. After that? Let’s just say I don’t do blood. I’m better suited to pray for the patients.”
Working as team, Bill and Susalee have motivated not just students to volunteer but other dentists as well. Together, this team of hundreds has provided pain-free dentistry to tens of thousands of people who might otherwise be in pain for years.
“Additional dentists are always welcome, because this kind of work always needs more M&Ms,” Bill said. “Money and Mentors.”
There is a humorous old saying that goes along the lines of, “Lord, I’ll do whatever you want … but please don’t call me to mission work in Africa.” For Bill and Susalee Sasser, that call came and off they went into the deepest parts of the Vineyard — and they love it.
God has a funny way of ensuring that’s always the case.
Susalee Sasser sends out an email requesting specific prayers for the team and providing updates on the team’s prayer needs. Prayer Warriors wishing to be added to that list can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.