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Eighteen month mission brings life changing experiences


Scott and Cathy Hansen leave comforts of Gresham for an island in the Philippines

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: SCOTT HANSEN - Cathy Hansen, right, displays childrens books she collected from Gresham friends to give to a school on the island of Leyte, The Philippines. Much of the area has been battered by hurricanes for two years, damaging schools and libraries.

A year ago, Scott Hansen left his longtime Gresham dental practice and with his wife, Cathy, embarked on an 18-month mission for their church.

They gave up the comforts of their home, large family, many friends, his business and their community to live and work in a small town on a remote, poverty-stricken island in the Philippines.

Hansen was born and raised in Gresham, son of an another longtime local dentist. He graduated from Brigham Young University and the OHSU School of Dentistry before serving in the Navy. He returned to Gresham in 1990, opening his own practice. He got involved in school, community and dental association activities, then bought his father’s practice in 1997.

Scott, 56, and Cathy Hansen, 53, left Gresham in February 2015 for their mission. And while they communicate off-and-on with their family and relatives, The Outlook thought it would be interesting to check in with them and have them tell of their experiences. What follows is a question-and-answer session conducted via email during the past two months. It has been edited for brevity.

The Outlook: Your mission in the Philippines has its roots in an unsuccessful run in 2012 for the Oregon Senate against incumbent Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham. Let’s start there.

Hansen: I was involved with the Oregon Dental Association and attended several lobby days down in Salem to talk to our local legislators about issues important to dentists. The chair of the Senate Health Committee was pushing for legislation that we were not in favor of as a profession. They kept saying not nice things about this senator. I finally had to say, “Hey, I know her real well. She is a friend of mine. She is my senator.” Our association president and our paid lobbyist looked at me and said, “You need to run against her.” Months later, I got a call from Senators Larry George and Chuck Thomson asking if I would meet with them. We had a good conversation and I got a call a few days later saying they would like me to run. With my wife’s grudging support, I did.

Outlook: What happened?

Hansen: I truly thought I could win that election. I felt more qualified, better at listening and understanding than my opponent, better able to see the long term consequences of actions taken or not taken, and more in touch with the world outside of government. I thought I had a good shot at unseating an incumbent. But it was not to be. That is life. I had a great job, a great family, a great life. I was just fine. I am not sorry even a little that I ran. It cost me a ton of money. I sold my practice because I thought I was going to win and because I thought it would be fairer to my associate of seven years if I worked for her.

Outlook: What about your faith and church?

Hansen: Besides my family, my job and my community, the only thing I'm more passionate about is my faith. I was raised by two great parents who were devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormons. Even as a teenager, when I rebelled against my parents and some of the practices of my religion, it was always part of who I was. At 19 I left my family, my girlfriend, my job and school to serve two years as a missionary in Japan. It was hard work, knocking on doors all day long trying to find people who want to hear what you had to share. Much more rejection than acceptance. But it was a great experience that taught me how to care about others and think less of myself.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: SCOTT HANSEN - Scott and Cathy HansenOutlook: So what spurred your mission 35 years later?

Hansen: When I sold my practice I told Dr. Summer Archibald that I would work two years for her. After a year we decided to serve a mission. The young, single missionaries have no say where they go. For adult couples, the application asked all kinds of questions as to our skills, our desire to serve in hot or cold climates, our willingness to serve overseas, or if we could handle the conditions in developing nations. They only send you outside the country if you are willing to serve 18 months or more. They had a need for a dentist in Tonga that Cathy thought would be a good fit. We decided to go wherever they wanted us to serve — and were very surprised and excited to be called to the Philippines. It had not been on either of our minds.

Outlook: So, what happened next?

Hansen: Cathy worried about leaving her aging mother and grandchildren. I, as is my style in most aspects of life, didn’t worry or prepare. When I showed up for work on my last day, all the patients asked me when I was leaving. I told them our flight was at 5:30 the next morning. They couldn’t believe that I was going to be gone for 18 months and not spend weeks getting ready. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I hadn’t packed yet. I had bought all my shirts — eight white, short sleeved shirts, all identical — on the internet the week before. All I had to pack were socks and ties.

Outlook: Where are you now?

Hansen: We are in Tacloban, on the island of Leyte. Our mission includes the islands of Leyte, Samar and Biliran in the Visayas area of the Philippines. It is the poorest region of all the Philippines. It is an area that was hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013. Another powerful typhoon, Ruby, hit in December 2014. The region was already the poorest, but it was devastated in the hardest-hit areas.

Outlook: What generally are you doing?

Hansen: We are serving under a mission president. Our duty really isn’t to knock on doors or contact people in the street like young missionaries. Our primary responsibility is to help train local leaders to help them run the church in an organized and efficient manner.

Outlook: How are you treated?

Hansen: Everyone shows respect. Not just at church, but at stores and in public, people treat us like we are special. This is the island that General MacArthur returned to to begin the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese. Most speak English and love America. And they are so friendly and happy as a people. It makes being here and working with them a pleasure.

Outlook: What is Cathy doing?CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: SCOTT HANSEN - In addition to instructing church leaders, Cathy Hansen has been teaching members how to play a piano so they can help with church services.

Hansen: Cathy has also been teaching piano lessons to members who will progress to the point where they can play in church and then teach others to play. As a nurse, Cathy also has been helping the wife of the mission president take care of the medical concerns of our missionaries.

Outlook: So you have local church members go on missions?

Hansen: We have young people serving missions from our church. Most of them go to another area in the Philippines. Some do go overseas to Korea, New Zealand or Australia. In our mission, about 130 out of 190 of our missionaries are Filipinos. The rest are American, Samoan, Tongan, New Zealanders, Australians or from several small South Pacific Islands

Outlook: What else are you doing?

Hansen: Seeing how the recent typhoons left schools destroyed, Cathy asked friends back home to send books she could distribute. With the help of friends, the Gresham Rotary Club, some Boy Scouts and people we don’t even know, she received 15 boxes of books. Most were children’s books that kids here had never seen anything like. No one in our area has books at home, so to have books with pictures and beautiful artwork was like something out of a movie for them.

Outlook: Are you doing any dentistry?

Hansen: In November, a church member from Idaho brought a team here to do dentistry for nine days. We treated close to 1,000 patients. I pulled and filled more teeth during that time than I would in months at home. I also had arranged to have a dental lab tech come to make some false teeth. It was amazing to see people come in with rotted teeth and leave with a smile. We have enjoyed doing those small things that make a big difference in individual’s lives here.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: SCOTT HANSEN - Scott Hansen, left, and his son, Kyle, extract teeth during a special nine-day dental mission last November in Tacloban, The Philippines. Kyle Hansen is a student at the OHSU School of Dentistry. Scott Hansen has practiced in Gresham since 1990.Outlook: How is the poverty and the living conditions?

Hansen: It opens your eyes to see a people who really have nothing. Poverty is a way of life for the vast majority. Just last month, another typhoon hit the north part of our mission. It destroyed many “homes” — but really they are like the forts I used to build as a kid. A group of church members loaded up tarps and ropes to take to these people to give them some shelter. And what they could build with those limited supplies is basically what they were living in before. In the small villages there is no indoor plumbing. You see people hauling jugs from a community well or spring. People are bathing on the side of the road where they get their water. Their beds are just frames with slats of wood. And yet, they are happy.

Outlook: Happy? Why do you think that is?

Hansen: I love our country and am proud to be an American, but we could still learn a lot from these people about what is and what is not important in life. Despite the corruption, the poverty, the heat and humidity, the Filipinos are a resilient, happy and good people. We are both better having served here.

Outlook: What happens when you return in August?

Hansen: I plan to go back to work in Gresham. Hopefully, Dr. Archibald will hire me back and I can keep working with all my old patients. We still want to be involved in the community and church. But we will see what life brings. I know something good will work out.