Giving His Life Away

When I graduated from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in 2010, there were a few things of which I was certain. One thing I knew was this simple truth: God had given me this education and put me in this position to build His Kingdom using the talents and gifts He had given me, not to build my own.

In April 2012, I made my first dental outreach trip to Jinja, Uganda. I led a team of my assistants from Just Kids Dental in Baton Rouge to serve the kids in the sponsorship program of Amazima Ministries. Our trip was incredible, life-changing, and we definitely helped a lot of kids. But it was like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. It would only be a short-term fix.

Two weeks of service in Uganda was a good thing, but wouldn’t do for affecting long-term change in the lives of those we served. Something more had to be done. People needed long-term access to quality, compassionate dental care.

Returning back to life in Louisiana meant jumping back into a life I loved, but I also felt God moving in my heart to use what He has given me to make quality, compassionate dental care a possibility in Uganda. I started to look into what it would take to start a not for profit dental clinic in Uganda. I made another trip to Jinja In January 2013, this time we would focus on restorative work rather than emergency dentistry. This trip also was a significant milestone in my journey as it was a time to “check” this recent calling I had felt in my heart to establish sustainable dental care in Uganda. I asked God for wisdom and guidance.

Then one morning during that trip to Uganda, God gave me His answer, confirming my call to launch this work in Uganda. After an especially intense night of prayer, I went to sleep and woke up to a message from a dentist from Nashville, Tennesee named Phillip Kemp. Having heard about me through the organization I had served with my first trip to Uganda, he simply asked if I wanted to talk about our service in Uganda and see if we could work together to bring sustainable dental care to the Ugandan people.

That’s when I knew God was calling me to take the leap. On July 24, 2013…I packed 10 bags full of of dental equipment and some basic necessities (some clothes, a football, and a basketball) and flew to Uganda. Once I obtained my dental license, I started seeing patients — who heard about me through word of mouth — out of my garage. I used the friends I had made on my previous trips to find our initial staff — a sterilization technician and an assistant. We laid the foundation so that our team could deliver quality, compassionate dental care in Uganda. And we slowly built trust in the community, one patient at a time.

In November 2013 I was approached about a potential partnership with Dr. Charles Kalumuna, a respected physician in Jinja. It was another instant connection, and we moved our operations in Uganda to his clinic space. More progress. We were becoming a trusted part of the community.

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Each day in Uganda our team has a simple focus — make the lives of each of our patients better than they were before they met us.  We do this by showing that we love them. Tangibly. Through the tone of our voice. Through the words that we speak. Through the time we take to educate about the cause of their problems. By encouraging and inspiring our patients to take control of their oral health. By letting them know a better life is possible. And obviously by delivering first-class dental services.

We have continued to build trusted relationships in the community. We continue to go on more outreaches. We take local dentists with us offering additional training to Ugandan dental professionals. We have traveled to remote islands in Lake Victoria and all over Uganda. For the vast majority of our patients, their visit to our clinic or outreach was the first time they had visited a dentist. Our work is simple, but by no means easy.

We continue to make new connections throughout Uganda on a daily basis. We are becoming a trusted face, working alongside health care professionals to fill this gigantic hole in the health care needs of Ugandans. I am proud to say we transform lives each and everyday.


Yet through it all, I know this is the life God has called me to. This is the fight He has given me. I have no doubt of that. So we push on, one patient at a time, looking for people who want to join this fight.

Gradi Ellis