Gretchen Roufs' portraitOne morning he woke up and saw a scorpion hovering over him. Another day it was a tarantula. He’s even had snakes lying in his bed.

Jimmy Thomas, a territorial consultant for Kenway Distributors, Louisville, Ky., is used to encounters with these frightening — and sometimes poisonous — creatures because he works as a mission volunteer in Central America.

Jimmy is a team captain for Baptist Medical & Dental Mission International, a group of volunteers that travels to help people in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Jimmy started as a volunteer approximately 15 years ago as a builder. These days, he serves as a medical team captain, managing a team of 30 to 70 people. Mission trips last for eight days: four days of medical service, two days of travel, one day of briefing and one “free” day.

“We usually have six to eight medical work stations, a couple of dentists, construction workers and people who run the pharmacy,” says Jimmy.

Pharmacy workers typically distribute about 25,000 packages of vitamins and aspirin tablets during their stay.

While on the mission, doctors see about 5,000 people and dentists pull from 600 to 1,000 teeth.

“The local people live on sugar cane, so the dentists stay busy pulling teeth,” Jimmy explained. “To be fair to all of those who need dental attention, we have to limit the number of teeth pulled to eight at a time.”

The team, according to Jimmy, goes to the places in which they can do the most good.

“I’ve been to villages of 5,000 people where there are only two cars in the whole village,” he said. “The average income of the people we serve is $1 per day. While we’re there, we serve three or four villages. People walk for up to eight days to come to us for medical treatment.”

His trips are by no means glamorous vacations. He travels with a suitcase that contains his bedding. The roads in most areas are less then accommodating.

“I’ve seen cow pastures at home that I’d rather drive on,” Jimmy said.

To help deal with the hardships, Jimmy finds appreciation in the little things.

“You can give a package of peanut butter crackers to a kid who is starving — so thin that you can count his ribs. Instead of grabbing and eating the food all by himself, the little guy will go off and find his friends, and will share the food,” Jimmy recalled.

That’s the kind of thing that keeps Jimmy going back to Central America twice a year.

Even though he is very humble about it, two buildings in Nicaragua have been built in Jimmy’s honor. One of the buildings is the “Jimmy Thomas Sports Complex,” and the other is a church.

He didn’t even know about the church until a plaque was unveiled at a ceremony that read: “This church was built with funds donated in honor of Jimmy Thomas.”

The one thing that Jimmy doesn’t like about his work in Central America? His answer was simple: “Leaving there.”

If Jimmy could choose to be anywhere in the world at any time, he most definitely would find himself back in Nicaragua.

Gretchen Roufs, an 18-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns a marketing and public relations company in San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “freetime,” contact her at