SPRINGFIELD, Tenn. (BP)-“Down in the Mouth, But on Top of the World,” is an apt title for a book by Ken Mattox, who has made 19 dental mission trips in the past nine years.
A dentist in Springfield, Tenn., for 42 years, Mattox and his wife, Bettye, have traveled to Russia, Poland, the Philippines and various South American and African countries to relieve suffering and share the gospel.
“After each trip I wrote an account for family and friends. Some asked me to compile those accounts into a book,” said Mattox, who has three children and five grandchildren.
“I wanted to tell about those people who have inspired us through the years, those who went with us and those we met. I wanted to tell of our bravest and finest and most dedicated servants — the missionaries. Most of all, I wanted the book to be about Jesus,” he said.
Mattox and his wife, active members of Springfield (Tenn.) Baptist Church, have seen some sad sights during their volunteer trips — hunger, poverty, misery and squalor. “The saddest, however, is spiritual. The most under privileged people on earth are those without Jesus,” Mattox said.
Anyone who has met Mattox realizes that he also has an irresistible sense of humor that comes through in the stories he relates about these missions of mercy.
All the incidents in the book are true, but Mattox confesses he may have embellished the humor a bit, at the expense of his wife. “I pray God will forgive me if I’ve overdone the humor in this book,” he said. “If we didn’t laugh a little, I’m afraid we’d cry a lot.”
Now at age 70, Mattox is often asked why, when most professionals would begin looking at retirement, he and his wife embarked on such a demanding lifestyle in missions.
“Getting us to go on that first mission trip was not easy. Friends had tried to get us to go for years. We thought we needed to finish educating the children, get out of debt, provide for our retirement and retire,” Mattox said. “Those things didn’t happen, but something else did.
“Four of my dentist friends died in one year. Three were younger than I. Another newly retired friend was relating his extensive travel plans. His last words to me were, ‘I’ve got too much time left to sit around.’ Forty-eight hours later, he died of a massive heart attack.”
That experience made Mattox pause and think about the future.
“I couldn’t help but think about the Bible’s warning not to boast about tomorrow. The urgency to do something for Jesus took on a new meaning.”
Shortly after that, the Mattoxes took their first mission trip to Venezuela with a 173-member medical team. “It was a wonderful experience.”
Mattox also tries to recruit medical professionals to go on similar trips.
“I remember trying to recruit a doctor for another mission trip. He told me about the money he would miss if his office were closed for one week.
“It was a fantastic amount. I can honestly say that all the wealth in the world could not buy some of the experiences we have had. Just one miracle or answered prayer makes it all worthwhile.”
Asked if it’s really worthwhile to spend the money to go long distances for such short periods of time, Mattox said that is not a concern.
“I guess God will have to answer that. Hundreds of infections have been treated; hundreds of teeth extracted,” he noted. “Hundreds have also said they want Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. The true record will be kept in heaven.”
Beasley is editor of the Robertson County Times. Used by permission.