When Ulverstone Uniting Church minister Rev Gospel Ralte baptised Emily and Linda Fanai in a Malaysian refugee camp in 2012 he could not have guessed how his path would one day again intersect with the twins and their family.
Five years later the Fanai family, consisting of the twins, their parents Sena and Mimi and big brother Joel, is living only 115km north of Mr Ralte, and his wife Grace, on Tasmania’s north cost.
Call it divine providence or just good luck, but both families have wasted little time in reconnecting since Mr Ralte, also a refugee from Myanmar, commenced ministry in Ulverstone last month.
Mrs Fanai said it was amazing that Mr Ralte would end up ministering so close to the family.
The ties run deep. Mrs Fanai’s mother became a Christian during a series of church meetings and Bible studies that Mr Ralte helped run in the village of Vaphai, in North-West Myanmar, more than two decades ago. Mr Ralte said he remembered Mrs Fanai as a little girl at the time.
He met the rest of the Fanai family in 2012 while serving as a pastor to refugees and migrant workers in Malaysia.
The Fanai family came to Tasmania as refugees in 2015, settling in the Launceston suburb of Mowbray.
Mrs Fanai said life for the family had been very difficult in Malaysia, where they were living in a single room after Mr Fanai escaped from Myanmar in 2010.
Mrs Fanai and Joel followed a year later.
“The most difficult thing was that we could not send Joel to school so he missed out on some basic learning and that has made it difficult for him,’’ she said.
Mrs Fanai said the differences between life in Malaysia and Tasmania became clear when they first arrived at their new home.
“The children became very excited and were running around, and our case worker asked why they were so excited,’’ she said.
“I told her it was because they had never seen such a big house before and she started crying.’’
The three children now attend a local primary school and Mr and Mrs Fanai work on a strawberry farm in northern Tasmania, which requires over a 100km return trip six days a week.
Joel said living in Tasmania was “much better’’ than Malaysia.
Mrs Fanai said the family was determined to contribute to their new community. She has experience working in aged care in Myanmar and Mr Fanai is a painter by trade.
The family have attended several services in Ulverstone with Mr Fanai and Joel attending Mr Ralte’s induction service.
They also sang a Burmese Christian song with the Raltes at the Sprent Shalom Uniting Church’s Christmas carol service on 16 December.