Dr. Samuel Chimbioputo Sassamela Fabiano is Bongolo Hospital’s most recent PAACS graduate. The PAACS (Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons) program trains African physicians to Western standards in surgery while at the same time discipling them in their Christian faith. Dr. Sam has studied for over 18 years post secondary, across 3 continents, and learned to speak Spanish, Afrikaans, Umbundu, Russian, and French on top of the Portuguese and English he had already spoken before entering the world of higher education. He is leaving Bongolo feeling confident in his ability to, as he says, “do my part” working alongside missionary and national doctors, nurses and staff in Angola. Sam’s life has been marked and set apart by God and other believers who have influenced and encouraged his dream to become a doctor. Hebrews 10:24 ESV, “and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” succinctly encourages our universal calling to share Christ through serving and discipling.
Dr. Sam was born in Angola and raised in a Christian family. The Fabiano family was living at the Kalukembe Mission Station in Southern Angola when the on-going civil war encroached very personally into their lives. As the conflict neared their town, 14 year old Sam was forced to move to the neighboring country of Namibia for about a year to avoid the possibility of being drafted as a child soldier. Soldiers would routinely stop students and check their documents to see if they were old enough be drafted. Tragically, many students were taken and forced into combat.
As a teenager, Sam was considering two dreams- he wanted to be a pilot or a doctor. Shortly after his return to Angola, Sam traveled all over the country with a team of medical missionaries and nationals. Early post-war, the missionary and national medical team visited camps for displaced people, “kind of like refugees in their own country,” Sam said. He witnessed their passion to share Christ with those displaced people while using their practical medical skills. “I always loved finding solutions to problems,” he said. He observed the team continually finding creative solutions to problems with diseases and injuries they hadn’t necessarily been trained for. That experience confirmed his desire to follow in their footsteps and become a doctor.
After completing high school twice (once in Portuguese and once in English), Sam worked in Namibia as the site manager of YFC- Youth For Christ. YFC would be the location of two life-changing encounters. The first was that of Mike and Linda Sheppard, friends of the family Sam was living with both when he was 14 and at that time. The Sheppards were there for a short visit, and asked Sam about his dreams. He briefly shared his dream of becoming a doctor to minister to the people of Angola. The Sheppards played an almost immediate and pivotal role in sponsoring Sam’s education in California at Concordia University. The second encounter was that of Amanda, an American girl from Pennsylvania who later became Sam’s wife and mother to their daughter, Bella. Amanda was leading a missions team from the US and worked with Sam during the two week trip. Those 2 weeks was all it took for Sam to know Amanda was worth a long-distance pursuit!
Sam graduated from Concordia University and, after a year of intensive study in South Africa, attended medical school at I P Pavlov State Medical University in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Two years into medical school Amanda, his new bride, joined him there and taught English at a local language school. After medical school Sam traveled to Angola to visit his Uncle Dr. Steve Foster. Foster encouraged Sam to come work with him at Lubango Evangelical Medical Center. Foster made arrangements for the Fabianos to come. Before long they had settled into a new life there. Sam worked as an intern doing in and out patient consults and assisting in surgeries for about 2 and 1/2 years. One of the missionary doctors there, Annelise Olsen, strongly encouraged him to apply to the PAACS program. With her encouragement, he applied and was accepted. The Fabiano family, Sam, Amanda and baby Bella, moved to Libreville to learn French for a few months before beginning the surgical training program at Bongolo.
Coming to Bongolo was a big adjustment for the Fabiano family. Working at a remote jungle hospital is very different from the newer more modern medical center at Lubango. During the past 5 years, Sam feels he has learned to be the kind of doctor he was first inspired by. Doctors like his Uncle Steve Foster who are able to treat diseases and injuries and preach the gospel in a language he didn’t formally train for.
With his PAACS training, Sam, Amanda and Bella, have returned to Angola to work with the doctors and nurses there with dreams to see the medical center grow and someday become a PAACS training site. Jovi Diangatebe, one local Gabonese university student got to know Sam and Amanda while they lived on the mission station. He shared how inspired he is by knowing Sam and all that he has overcome. Jovi is pushing forward into his dreams even while facing large obstacles. The story of Sam’s life, as well as, to a greater extent, the PAACS program, gives vibrant credibility to that old, reportedly, African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Written by Alace Straw, Photography by Ulrich Ilema