It was summer 2020. A mentor and good friend, Pastor Rich Carlson of Union College, was talking to us soon-to-be student missionaries about what we should expect. “There’s no magic dust in the mission field.” What he meant by that, or at least what I understood from it, was that we will be the same person in the mission field as we are at home. With all the same flaws, issues, and bad habits. I left that Zoom meeting with the belief that I would grow during the year, and to grow, I must suffer or at least sacrifice (Romans 5:3). God isn’t turning us into robots but individual and willing members of His Church. In fact, in many ways, I was embarking on this trip as a pilgrimage – selfishly, to grow myself before starting my own life.
Six months later, I was still in America as the North American Division COVID travel restrictions prevented us from serving overseas that year. During the winter break, I was on vacation with a good friend, driving through eastern Utah. It was getting very late and the rhythm of the two-lane highway was relaxing our minds. We got into a deep conversation.
“I don’t feel like I know near enough about the Bible to be a high school Bible teacher and witness to dozens of kids," I spoke.
“If you know everything about a subject, it’s probably you talking, not God," my friend replied.
This response stunned me because it’s true. If I have pride in my knowledge or my speech, it will always be me talking. I will never have to rely on God.
Finally arriving at Pohnpei Seventh-day Adventist School in 2021, I was extremely overwhelmed – not unlike any of my seven other peers that had gone through the two-week quarantine just to get onto the island. We had a daunting task before us. We had seven days between getting our curricula and the first day of school. As a Bible teacher, I was feeling ridiculously underprepared and unworthy. Feeling as if my understanding of the Bible was extremely inadequate.
As the year has marched on, my feeling of inadequacy has turned into intense joy and awe. God has continued to use me every single day. I come into my classroom as a teacher without a grasp of how class is going to go. Aware that if I try to teach anything, nothing will be taught. For what can I teach compared to the abilities of my Father. I have asked God to talk through me, to use me completely in my classroom. To prevent me from teaching, for I will cloud His Holy Word with my flaws.
God has more than sprinkled me with “magic dust”. He has drowned me in an ocean of His miracles. As my mouth speaks, in class, it is common for me to say something I didn’t know. I continually have references for verses I've never read before. To be able to expand and explain God's words way beyond my own understanding. When I am asked questions, God always shows them answers from the Bible and I have the indescribable privilege of being used by our Creator. The students are constantly telling me how my God’s class is impacting them. I have had mothers cry to me in thanks for the work God has done on their children through this class. These kids are searching desperately for an understanding of the truth. They are begging their elders for guidance and are often met with cold answers from a tyrannical, and often secular, system far from God's direct influence. Why do we as humans try so hard to do anything ourselves? Why do we put our efforts into so much when we have the scope of history to see that anything that isn't led directly from God fails? Why do we act so surprised when our efforts are not met with success?
I got my pilgrimage and so much more. I have been blessed and directly shown the power of God. Privileged beyond my understanding. Used beyond my belief. Strengthened beyond my abilities. At the same time, I am still the exact same person I was when I left. I have not changed. I am still Tobias Novak with all the same flaws, issues, and bad habits. I still struggled with the same things in the same way. I only know now how weak, and unqualified I am to speak.