The Heavy Black Box

“This, sir, is a portable dental clinic that we’ll be using to deliver free dental care in remote communities around your country.”

Dick Duerksen
The Heavy Black Box

What’s in the box?”

It’s a question every international traveler fears, especially when it comes from a customs officer who is pointing at your most treasured possession. You listen, rehearse your carefully planned answer, and speak with a smile.

“This, sir, is a portable dental clinic that we’ll be using to deliver free dental care in remote communities around your country.”

“A what?”

That’s the usual response. No one believes that their aching tooth can be cared for by whatever is in this black box.

“Open it.”

You’re ready for the request, and you carefully move the box to “right side up,” insert the key into the lock, twist to the right, lift the lid, and wait for words of amazement.

“Really? All the instruments are here? And a dental chair, too? Free dental care? How can this be? Why would you do this?”

It’s a conversation Randy and Marta Meyer have had with customs officials in Madagascar, Zambia, Mongolia, Peru, Micronesia, and now in Argentina. It’s a conversation they enjoy and pray about often. The men and women who work at the airport customs offices are serious about protecting their country, about keeping bad things out, and charging the right taxes on the good things people bring with them.

* * *

With the pandemic settling down a bit, this year Randy and Marta chose to go on a vacation to visit their son in Argentina. Manfred moved there several years ago, planning to complete his business degree at River Plate Adventist University. 

“He fell in love with the people and decided to stay forever!” Marta laughs. “After completing his degree, he got some experience working as general manager in a store. Later he decided to set up his own store, and he’s been very successful.”

Manfred is much more than a successful store owner. He’s also an evangelist who has learned how to use free dental clinics to share the gospel of God’s love. When his parents decided to come visit him in Argentina, he told them to be sure to bring one of the heavy black boxes, “like the ones we used in Africa.”

“Manfred has gone with us to Africa to serve people in Zambia and Malawi, so he’s familiar with our mission work,” says Randy. “What’s happening there is quite amazing. The clinic in Zambia now has three full-time dentists. One is from France, and the other two are from the Philippines. They have two of the heavy black boxes and are operating for six hours a day under mango trees in remote villages. One of the best things about it is the new power supply that comes from their Land Rover’s battery!”

The Zambian dental clinics are operated by the Riverside Farm Institute. Now that the Land Rover is designed to power their dental equipment, the dentists have been able to see several thousand patients under mango trees, even in the most remote regions of the country.

“We don’t do just dentistry,” adds Randy. “We’re also holding evangelistic meetings. We come here because our walk with God calls us to serve Him by serving others. Each of our providers—the dentists, assistants, drivers, everyone—must be able to love unconditionally and genuinely enjoy serving others. We’re not just pulling and filling teeth; we’re praying with the people, giving them Bibles, and introducing them to Jesus. It also means we must come with humility, where we can joyfully receive the love that they give us, whether it be in their gifts of fruit, vegetables from their garden, or just an appreciative hug.”

* * *

Talking with Randy and Marta is like going on a worldwide missionary adventure. They have dental clinic stories from Madagascar, tales from Mongolia, new friends in the Philippines, miracles in the South Pacific, cured cavities in Peru, and much more.

“Here’s the story from Argentina,” say Marta and Randy together. “Manfred plays soccer with a surgeon, and one day they got to talking about our heavy black boxes. Turns out that the doctor is interested in missions and wants to help us start free clinics in Misiones, a province in the northeast corner of Argentina.”

“River Plate Adventist University teaches dentistry,” Marta jumps into the story, “and they’re eager to team up with us and take the black boxes to Misiones!”

That’s the way God writes stories. One person accepts His challenge to minister in a special way, then He connects that person with another, and another, and another, and soon the mayor of a tiny village is welcoming dentists to serve his people.

“I don’t know why I am still surprised,” says Randy, “but it always surprises me how God is able to make these miracles happen. He’s done it for us in Peru. He’s done it in Mongolia and Africa. And now He’s doing it in Argentina. God is really going to have to work hard on this one. The province of Misiones is a 12-hour drive from the dentists at River Plate Adventist University. We’ll need to make a lot of new friends in the villages, and the team is going to need more heavy black boxes filled with portable dental equipment. But it’s a huge help that Manfred is there, eager to help make it happen.”

“I’ve never seen a box like this,” says the customs officer at the airport in Argentina. “And I’ve never met people who are willing to give free dental care to our people.”

He smiles, closes the box, and writes a very small amount on the custom tax form.

“Welcome to Argentina,” he says with a big smile. “God bless you and your work.”

“God hasn’t failed me yet,” smiles Randy. “We’ll get more materials and more units in so that the people here will be able to continue the work. You see, this isn’t about us coming and doing a two-week mission trip. It’s about us coming and establishing something that can be run locally and continued for years to come, even if we are never able to come back.”

Dick Duerksen