Senior Missionaries Bring Special Delivery to South Pacific Isle
Contributed By By Lucy Schouten, Church News staff writer
KIRIBATI, SOUTH PACIFIC
A tiny island in the South Pacific got its own miracle one day in the form of a three-wheeled chair. Two senior missionaries told the Church News the story of how their inter-island journey changed one member’s life.
Elder DeMoine Findlay and Sister Joyce Findlay went to Kiribati (pronounced kira-bas), an island nation southeast of Australia, to see how the Church could help with an upcoming campaign to fight pneumonia. While there, they were also asked to check on a recent shipment of wheelchairs to the island. The assistant director of the wheelchair project and physical therapist, Aata Tebakaro, took them on a tour of the Kiribati rehabilitation center.
“What a wonderful experience that turned out to be,” Sister Findlay said. “Aata … showed us the exemplary way in which they handled the wheelchair recipients.”
The Findlays learned about one major challenge with the project—transporting the wheelchairs from the main island to the outer islands.
“They had one that was ready to go to a lady on North Tarawa, and they were looking at transportation options,” Sister Findlay said.
The missionaries offered the Church’s boat to aid in the expedition, and Ms. Tebakaro “thought that would be wonderful.”
Next, the missionaries spoke with the president of the Tarawa Kirbati East Stake, Iotua Tune, who agreed to take both the wheelchair and the rehab team with him when he went to the island on stake business.
The Findlays set out early on the appointed day. “We picked them up before sunrise and launched the boat at dawn,” Sister Findlay said. “Both [Aata Tebakaro] and the technician, Tion Atateka, would accompany us to ensure that the wheelchair was properly fitted.”
Elder DeMoine and Sister Joyce Findlay launch the boat Riaona (which means “Liahona” in Kiribati) at dawn to transport a wheelchair.
Engine troubles slowed them down on their journey, and despite their early start, the high tide had already come out when they reached the tiny island.
“We were about a half mile off shore,” Sister Findlay said. “The water was too shallow to get the boat into where the wheelchair needed to be delivered.”
President Tune suggested they take the boat around the island to try and dock near the branch president’s house, which stood on a steeper slope. This allowed them to stop the boat only feet from the shore. President Tune called out to a woman on the beach and asked her to contact the branch president.
“[President Iou Teeta] arrived shortly and carried the wheelchair to shore and then the technician to shore,” Sister Findlay said. Then she explained, “The technician is an amputee who gets around amazingly well, but he cannot get his prosthetic leg wet.”
President Iou Teeta of the Bonriki Branch on a small island in Kiribati came to the beach to help unload a wheelchair and carry it through the shallows.
Ms. Tebakaro herself waded in to the shore, and the group set off for the next village. The Findlays took the boat back out to sea to repair the motor, and they were finally able to go ashore themselves four hours later when the tide came in.
Tekanan Tanintoa, a Latter-day Saint and double amputee, was “beyond thrilled” to receive the wheelchair. “She was sitting in the wheelchair chatting and giggling,” Sister Findlay said. “She was so very, very happy!”
Sister Tanintoa had not been able to attend church for months, but the wheelchair team took her to the Church building and showed her how the wheelchair would let her go upstairs to the chapel. When she reached the top, she laughed and told them that they would not have to assist her going down. “The Lord will help me,” she said.
President Tune returned to the outer island a few weeks later and learned that Sister Tanintoa was attending church again. He tried to visit her, but she wasn’t home—she was out in her wheelchair.