After Clinton orthodontist Michael Callan heard a missionary speak at his church several months ago, he had a very serious decision to make.

His father had died just a few months earlier after battling lung cancer; having lost his mother about five years earlier, Callan was not only sad but felt like a 43-year-old orphan.

So when the missionary made a visit to Callan’s church — Church of the Open Door in Clinton — and spoke of the needs of orphans in Cambodia, a predominantly Buddhist country, Callan’s ears perked up.

The missionary, Rev. Ted as Callan refers to him, was seeking volunteers to provide care to children living in orphanages in Cambodia. Although only about the size of Wisconsin, it is home to an estimated 42,000 orphans, Callan said. The number is attributed to the loss of parents to diseases, such as malaria and AIDS, as well as land mines, poverty, lack of medical care and war.

“Our church sponsors two orphanages in Cambodia,” he said, adding that the missionary put a call out for people to come to the country and help. “I thought, ‘Well, I could come.’ Here I was feeling like an orphan and these were real orphans. I thought ‘This is my opportunity to show my love for Christ. This is an opportunity to think of someone else, care for someone else who is less fortunate.’”

Callan had some concerns, however. He is an orthodontist, but had not practiced general dentistry for many years. No problem, he learned. There is not even a license requirement to be a dentist in Cambodia.

So he signed up.

He bought some new textbooks, learned Cambodian words and worked out so his body would be able to withstand the warm temperatures and rigorous activity he would face overseas.

On Oct. 6, he left with other dentists, assistants and lay workers, forming a team through Northwest Medical Teams International.

It was a 24-hour flight to a place where he would work five days, usually for 10 hours a day, in 100-degree heat with 90 percent humidity. The mosquitoes were testy and ever-present. He received shots to fight any diseases he would come into contact with.

When he arrived, he soon fell in love with the children of Cambodia, the little children in the orphanages. Although they had no possessions and no parents, they were clean, well-fed, happy children — cared for as one community by the many widows who are the orphans’ caretakers.

Callan’s work was to do extractions and place fillings. Children were brought to the medical center set up at the orphanage, some traveling for two hours on a trailer pulled by a motorcycle.

Callan said the orphans had pretty good teeth and had been seen by a dental team about two years ago. But, when the care was opened up to the neighbors of the orphanage, he said, those children had worse problems.

Callan said that trend wasn’t limited to just the children’s teeth.

Children in the 100 Christian orphanages overseen by Rev. Ted are learning how to take care of pigs and other important facets of agronomy, Callan said. In fact, the orphans are receiving such good life-skill training that they are being looked upon as the future of the country and will be relied upon to rebuild a nation that has so many young people.

“The orphanages are the hope of the nation,” he said.

While it was Callan’s first mission trip, it won’t be his last. He said he is eagerly looking forward to a return to Cambodia.

For now he has many photos and video clips of his trip, with those images bringing his mind back to the orphanage and the church services by portraying children sweetly singing for their visitors and giving hugs freely — always with smiles.

Callan is urging anyone who is interested in such a mission trip to consider it, because not only are the orphans given services they need, but those who go also are blessed.

“It’s a blessing to be a blessing,” he said — smiling.