Aurora Sonio is not a medical provider or a teacher at either the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist Clinic or School. But the last weekend of May in Saipan was an important one for her. She is a patient - one who looks forward to the free clinic offered every year. Aurora has lived on Saipan since 2004. She first learned about the free "Clinic with a Heart" event from a friend. Since she does not have insurance, she has tried to come at every opportunity, except when her work or the pandemic prevented her. This year, Aurora told her neighbor Romelie Hechanova about the free clinic Sunday. With three other friends, the women drove to the clinic at 1 a.m. and slept on the front benches to ensure they were the first patients seen. Romelie said, “I don’t have enough money to pay for dental (care), so this is a big privilege and help.” Aurora added, “Especially the SDA clinic services, it's different - the way they talk and treat people. They are approachable and make me feel comfortable.” She grinned, “Now I’m not ashamed to smile.”
This is the legacy of the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist Clinic - providing essential dental services to those who need it most. In doing so, they share the love of Christ.
The Saipan SDA Clinic and the Saipan SDA School both celebrated notable milestones this year. During the clinic’s 50th and the school’s 40th anniversary programs, many challenges and praises from their past were depicted. Stories, like Aurora’s, were made possible by God’s provisions for these two institutions over the last half century on Saipan.
Saipan is the capital island city of the CNMI (Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands) – a territory of the United States. With an island population of over 48,000, the Seventh-day Adventist clinic and school are well-known institutions on the island. Simply referred to as “SDA” in the islands of the Guam-Micronesia Mission, airport agents often nod in quick recognition when passengers state the purpose of their visit as working at SDA. The May long weekend was spent recognizing the work of these institutions have accomplished in Saipan.
The festivities began Thursday afternoon with the blaring of car horns as the dental clinic staff waved at vehicles cruising along Beach Road in western Saipan. With signs and flags announcing the 50th anniversary of the Saipan SDA Clinic, their smiles drew the support of drivers passing by – many of which were familiar with the clinic located just down the street.
Soon, the staff moved the celebration to the clinic itself for the unveiling of the commemorative marker. Dr. Warren Creed and his wife Eileen, who have both served the clinic for over eight years, revealed the plaque etched with its mission statement. Donald Lloyd, Jr., GMM Treasurer, and Maria “Auntie Mary” Agulto, the longest serving staff member at 46 years, moved to the other side of the marker to reveal a plaque with a brief history of the clinic.
The next morning, patients and community members were invited into the clinic to tour different stations and learn about dental hygiene and orthodontic services. Dentists Dr. Anna Lee and Dr. Jonathan Min were among the professionals who answered questions about various procedures, while Head Lab Technician Fidel Barro described the craft of using 3-D printers to customize dental prosthetics. Drawings for water picks and whitening kits simply sweetened the visit!
Saipan has three Adventist congregations and the majority met at the Saipan Central SDA Church for a special Sabbath program. GMM President Matthew Kirk invited the clinic and school staff, including student missionaries, to the front for a prayer of dedication as they entered a new season of service.
Dedicated to service, the clinic has committed the last Sunday in May since 1990 to providing free dental services. Known as “Clinic with a Heart”, the event is normally reserved for adults without insurance. This anniversary event also welcomed any uninsured children - a population usually hosted every first Friday in February at the clinic’s “Give Kids A Smile” program. Services included extraction, cleaning, filling, and oral cancer screening.
People from around the world joined the celebrations through a virtual reunion hosted by the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School on Sunday. The school's history was set to music as photographs from the first 40 years flashed across the screen. Then principals, staff, and student missionaries renewed friendships and reminisced over shared experiences.
On Monday morning, an in-person anniversary program was held at the school. Dignitaries from Saipan Mayor David Apatang’s office and U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan’s office shared sentiments of appreciation, the latter of which presented a certificate of commendation to School Board Chair Olympia Manibusan.
To the surrounding community, the school has been a positive influence. For the missionaries, it has been a fertile mission field with 89% of its students from non-Adventist homes. Teachers have witnessed their students' parents develop interests in the Bible through their children's lessons. The simple joy of hearing their children sing Christian songs has turned hearts towards Jesus. GMM Education Director Churchill Edward remarked to the audience that his own relationship with Jesus began when attending the SDA school in Pohnpei.
The congratulatory weekend culminated with an awards dinner for the clinic on Monday evening. Distinguished guest speakers included the Honorable CNMI Lt. Governor Arnold Palacios and a representative from the office of the Honorable CNMI Governor Ralph Torres. They expressed gratitude for the contributions of the clinic to the territory. The fond and familiar faces of clinic pioneer Dr. Stephen Fisher, previous clinic director Dr. Ken Pierson, and former dentist Crystal Pierson shared fond memories through pre-recorded messages.
Staff were recognized for their dedication with beautiful awards based on their years of service. A posthumous award for Terry Rulmal – the first dental assistant who began in 1973 – was accepted by her proud adult children who had travelled from Ulithi, Yap for the event. The ceremony climaxed with a standing ovation as Maria Agulto approached the stage to receive the Majestic Award for 46 years of service.
These were some of the faces behind the decades of service. Their stories combine to illustrate the work God is accomplishing in the CNMI. Throughout the weekend, the celebration acknowledged God's blessings and it served as a reminder that "we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history" (EGW, Life Sketches, p. 196).