“I thank God I am useful where He has called me to serve for the benefit of the people in need of my skill and help.” These words sum up the period of service of Dr. Parfaite Ramboanjananhary of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FKJM) who lived and worked with the Kiribati Protestant (later Uniting) Church from 2008 – 2016.
Parfaite spoke about her work as a dentist: My main work on Kiritimati Island (Republic of Kiribati) is a medical mission. It consists in treating people’s oral and dental problems. Being the only dentist on the island, most of the dentistry works come under my care: extractions, treatment such as fillings and scaling teeth, prevention of tooth decay. I have visited schools for Dental health education and screening. During those visits, I teach the pupils the proper way of brushing their teeth and for the purpose of allowing the children to practice immediately without any excuse I give each and everyone of them their own toothbrush for their own use even at home. The toothbrushes come to us from overseas donations mainly from the USA. I have gone to communities too for dental awareness talk.
Assessing the goals of her work: My work aims mainly at relieving people’s oral and dental pains, and whenever possible to communities and primary schools prevent the sufferings. Another objective too is to reduce the incidence of dental caries on this island, now and in the future. I have achieved part of the objectives after trying my best in doing well my daily work at my clinic along with teaching and awareness action in the communities and primary schools.
The rewards: I consider as a big achievement the fact that people on an isolated island have direct access to Dental services and do not need to go to the capital in Tarawa, two time zones away for such illness. I receive my reward when people are happy and appreciate my work after their pains and problems have stopped annoying them. After such appreciation, I realise that I am useful where I am. Praise God! I thank God for his daily help and guidance.
The challenges: At the beginning, the communication through Kiribati language was difficult, but I could learn some useful expressions and can manage now. Praise God! Our diet was poor since we did not have access to fresh vegetables, fruits and fresh food… But now overseas supplies come almost regularly, and it helps. Some good-hearted people too give us fresh fish, banana, breadfruit and pumpkin.
We do not have 24 hours electrical power supply for storing our food provisions which is a big issue because we cannot afford to purchase a reliable generator. We do not have a permanent source of clean water (our water tank is not enough for the whole year)
Our communication with the rest of the world happens to be problematic too at some stages, on Wednesday only we have flights into and out of Kiritimati island. Our internet access too is not reliable. For visa making, since there is no embassy on the island we had to rely on help from Fiji or Tarawa. In every situation, prayers always sustain us.
Commenting on how she has contributed to the life and mission of KUC, Parfaite said: I share the love of God through my work, my living and my witnessing. Our being with the Kiribati people has shown examples contributing to the life and mission of the receiving church.
Parfaite said her own life and Christian faith have been enriched: I have learnt patience and humility. My work has taught me what Christianity does mean: loving even difficult people, serving people, and respecting the differences. My work as missionary has enriched my own life: my Christian faith has increased day by day. I feel closer to God. I always pray at the beginning of my work every day, asking God to give me wisdom and guide my mind and hands so that everything goes well according to His will.
The other half of the husband and wife team is Rev. Samuel Ramboanjananhary, minister and teacher.
He shares his memories: In 2015, I was working as mathematics and science teacher at Itoin Mainiku High School (IMHS) on Kiritimati Island, a school run by the KUC. My tasks consisted mainly in helping the Kiribati students on Kiritimati Island to deal with mathematics and science. I could manage to help some students to tackle with scientific knowledge, in understanding things of life.
In 2016, I was setting the science laboratory of the KUC, IMHS school. I was helping my wife at the hospital as a consultant, working on getting the funding for the dental laboratory for Kiritimati Island from the Japanese embassy. The funding was granted, the building work is in the hand of the new dentist… Sam was also involved in pastoral ministry with the KUC. He and Parfaite visited the sick in hospital and worked with a congregation of KUC.
Sam accords as his most important achievement giving tools to children for undertaking serious study and describes the most rewarding moments: In 2016, we could prove to ourselves that things are possible when God is in charge, and could get to the goal with a positive and useful result for the Kiribati people.
In 2015, I had a challenging and interesting work, because the children on Kiritimati Island had come to a time when they could not cope properly with English anymore. Therefore I had to find for them an easy way for dealing with the language handicap. The job was very demanding but rewarding.
In 2016, dealing with internet was quite an enjoyable job, finding costs of materials from all over the Pacific were so exciting.
Problems encountered: Facing the children’s problem with English along with to work happened to be quite challenging. I tried to overcome the problem by setting easy way of approach of the study which consists in giving easy questions, and by repeating them as often as possible: this way is time consuming but at least they could manage.
In 2016, we had problems contacting the providers for the costing of the materials toward the preparation of the documents for the dental laboratory. We could not get feedback from the providers from abroad. Avoiding traps set by good providers required skill and God’s help hour by hour. And the locals avoided the job, so we had to fend for ourselves. Prayers and some helps from our American friends helped a lot.
In his assessment of the time in KUC as a PIM Sam notes: The best way of teaching is from example, so I tried my best to set good examples in whatever I did: at school with my punctuality and seriousness at work; in facing courageously the short time notice in church leading services. I think in that way, I have left a lesson for the natives to follow.
The other thing is, I have set an example in doing things, other people find difficult and challenging and as end result I met success. One very important point I felt during my mission was bringing people to be in communion with God.
All along our mission abroad, I learnt to rely on God. People do not like hearing “no” so I have learnt to say “no” in a different way which does not hurt people. All along my mission, I have always felt the presence of God in doing his work. We learnt how to appreciate the generosity of the Kiribati people in general: we still remember their gift of fish.
Sam and Parfaite returned to Madagascar in December and continue to serve FKJM and the people of Madagascar and share their experiences of serving as PIMs.
Coordinator – Partner in Mission Programme and Mission Secretary – Caribbean Region.