"One of the main reasons I wanted to become a dentist was so I could serve as a missionary in other countries, helping the needy and showing them God's love."
Dr. Merlino travels around the world, sharing her dental skills with those in need. She has always wanted to be a missionary, and becoming a dentist has enabled her to live out this dream. Dr. Merlino takes about three mission trips each year, for one to two weeks each. She works through various Christian mission groups and most times serves along side established missionaries, supporting their work and witness. At times, her own office patients have joined her, doing a variety of things from building a schoolhouse to teaching vacation bible school to dental assisting. Dr. Merlino's associates take care of our patients while she is away.
"Soon after I recieved my license, I went to Kenya for four months. I served at a mission hospital in Kijabi, outside of Nairobi, the capital. People traveled for many miles by foot or jitney for medical and dental service. I served in a dental clinic there and also went on 'dental safaris' to serve the Masaai tribe in the Rift Valley and the Turkana, a nomadic tribe in the desert further north.
They say that once you've been to Africa, it stays in your heart and I can attest to that. Kenya is one of the most beautiful countries in the world! The animals, mountains, savannahs, beaches - all breathtaking!
Since that life-changing experiece, I have returned to Africa several times. My husband and I went to the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) for two months in 1995. Tom is very skilled as a handyman and was able to take a room of donated, ancient dental equipment and build a functioning dental unit and chair so that I could do dentistry. My assistant was an undertaker from Philadelphia who was also serving as the missionary school nurse. (Yes, some patients were very scared!) It's sad to know that all was destroyed when civil war broke out just months after we left. We have been so blessed in our country to live in peace that many times we do not realize how unstable other countries are.
A few years ago, we returned for vacation and to visit friends and work a bit at the hospital in Kenya. While I was there, I befriended a man who had a large swelling on his face. Inquiring if it was tooth related, he sadly told me that it was a tumor and that he had it for years because he lacked the funds for an operation. I was able to watch the long surgery and from what I understand, the Kenyan surgeon and a plastic surgeon missionary were able to remove it fully. The tumor was malignant and my young pastor friend with three kids would not have much longer to live. I still pray for his family.
There are many happier stories I can share with you. Just ask me while I'm working on your teeth!"
These photos are from Dr. Merlino's last trip to Ghana with mPower
Dr. Merlino is planning another mission trip to Belize! In January, she and her team are headed to the town of Corozal to spend the week doing dentistry at the clinic. In order to help both here and abroad, and help to raise the near $1800 per person needed to cover transportation and ground costs, she has decided to host more discounted dental days! On these cash only days, the staff members volunteer their time, the practice donates the needed materials, and our services are offered at about half off. 100% of the proceeds go to the mission fund. “This will help those around us who can not afford dentistry to help those even less fortunate in another country,” said the dentist. “Normally I do not fundraise if I am just going by myself, but my staff does not have the ability to do this without local support.” Please call 724-845-2400 to find out if we have any discouted days currently scheduled.
Mission to the World believes that God's grace, demonstrated to us in the radical love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, has the power to transform our world. Their mission is to build church-planting movements, whose energy continues to grow far into the future, long after they may be gone. Vibrant, nationally-led churches around the world will grow and multiply, transforming the culture around them.
"One day at the office as I was working on her mom, Erica, a Spanish major and I conversed in Español. I suggested she could really practice her language skills by coming with me on a mission trip. I recently was invited by missionaries, with whom I had worked in Honduras, to visit them in Chile, their new field of service. I trained Erica to be my dental assistant and we were off!
After a long, overnight flight, we arrived in Osorno, Chile. We spent the first three days working at an orphanage for girls. Unfortunately, many of these sweet little girls are unadoptable because of the laws of the country, so they spend most of their lives here. The orphanage is run by an American missionary family. I brought mobile dental equipment and my missionary friends fashioned a reclining lounge chair into a “dental” chair, which worked great!
We worked a few days at the church where the missionaries serve, treating many of the blind people who meet at their church regularly, and also some of the poor parishioners. We ate a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with our missionary friends and their family. The next day we worked at a school offering dentistry to the at-risk teens and youth. I was excited to work with an older, local dentist. He practiced standing up! AND he would only do one extraction per person. But he agreed to follow up on these young people and continue to treat them at his office. What a blessing!
Our last day was spent in the mountains, hiking by streams and taking in the magnificent scenery. As we stayed with some local families, we did get to practice our Spanish, but we also made good friends. We miss them!"
Dr. Merlino answered the call for an urgent request for a female dentist to join a team of other medical professionals headed to Nicaragua January 2011. The CMDA team served women and children who had been the victims of human trafficking. House of Hope is a shelter run by an American missionary to help these girls and women get back on their feet by providing education and life skills. Dr. Merlino worked alongside two Nicaraguan dentistas, serving hundreds in less than a week. Many of these women came to faith or renewed their commitment. “We worked hard, God worked harder, the girls’ smiles made it all worthwhile!”
Dr. Merlino travelled to Myanmar (formerly Burma) in February to teach eleven Burmese men to extract teeth. This was her first time working with mPower, a mission agency dedicated to teaching locals skills that they can use in their communities. These men had previously had a week of classroom teaching (anatomy, sterilization, preventing cross-contamination, diagnosis, etc.) Dr. Merlino and two other dentists taught them hands-on. The men were required to extract twenty teeth in order to graduate from the program. Many hurting people came to the free clinic held in a local church building. They also worked with two orphanages and a home for the handicapped – this was the first time many of these people had dental care.
Dr. Merlino happily reports that all of the men graduated. Following her departure, the men continued to work out of the church for another week before moving out into the villages around their homes in different parts of the country. A government official came by the church. The local government had apparently given the team the clearance to practice dentistry, however the team had concerns that the official may have come to verify paperwork. “So I asked the newly graduated students what happened, and they told me that they pulled his tooth!” What a great testimony!
“I am very proud of all these wonderful men. I pray for their protection as they seek to serve the Lord with their new skills. Usually I travel to another country and try to take care of as many needs as possible in the short time I am there. On this trip, I was actually able to “multiply”. Now, as I am back home, taking care of my patients, these men are serving the people in their communities and the villages around them. I hope to join another mPower trip in the future! Dr. Merlino has since travelled back to another part of Myanmar and to Kenya with mPower, continuing to pass on those skills God allowed her to gain.
Almost every year, Dr. Merlino leads a mission trip to Honduras. Guanaja is a small island (10 x 3 miles) and has no full-time dentist. "We learned this when I joined my husband on a relief trip. The men of my church planned to rebuild houses on Guanaja after over 90% of them were destroyed in Hurricane Mitch. I tagged along with my dental equipment in hand. That was back in 1999 and I have since been taking dental students from Pitt and others to help serve the people there."
Last year, Dr. Merlino and her daughter, Leia, spent a few days on the island of Guanaja, doing dentistry in the nice room built for her at the local medical clinic by the people there. The following week, Dr. Merlino mentored ten dental students from Pitt for a week in the mountains around Gracias, the poorest region of Honduras. The dental students were able to see many people, filling cavities and extracting countless teeth. Unfortunately, many extractions were done on children, taking out their hurting, in many cases, permanent teeth. They also showed a DVD on dental hygiene made by a high school Spanish class.
Over the years, Dr. Merlino has donated dental equipment which she leaves in storage there. Her hope is that other dentists would go to Guanaja and serve as well. She and the students usually work a few days in the small medical clinic in one town, Savannah Bight. Then they spend a few days traveling to the other towns, some of which do not have electricity, where they are only able to do extractions and cleanings. If they have electricity or a generator, then they are able to do both amalgam (silver) and composite (white) fillings.
"Of course, everywhere we go, we try to educate. The people on the island speak both Spanish and English, as they were once part of British Honduras (now Belize). Anyone is welcome to join me on these trips. We always need helpers, sometimes just to sit and talk with the people while they wait. We usually go for 10 days in April. Contact me if you are interested."
Each time Dr. Merlino travels to Honduras, she visits with the child she sponsors through Compassion International. The family is very poor, her mother cleans the streets to support the family. They live in a mud home with dirt floors and they just got electricity a few years ago. If you are interested in sponsoring a child please visit Compassion.com.