EDITOR'S NOTE: Student missionaries effectively answer the call each year for teachers across the globe. Dozens fill positions throughout Micronesia, including the republic of Palau, the focus of the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) Partners for Palau project. Dozens may go, but more are needed. Hailing from Alaska, Ellie Butikofer is taking a break from her formal college education to serve as an Adventist Volunteer Services (AVS) first-grade teacher more than 1,000 miles to the east of Palau, on the Micronesian island of Weno in Chuuk. Her story is reprinted with permission from Mission 360˚ magazine, the official mission magazine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. To read other inspiring stories of Adventist mission work happening around the globe, visit Mission360Mag.org.
How Did I Get Here?
Have you ever woken up one day and wondered, "How did I get here?", perhaps considering how completely different your life was just a short time before? That’s how I feel every day. I expected to be attending college this year, not working as a first-grade teacher on a tiny speck of island in the South Pacific!
For one thing, I didn’t feel ready to be a teacher. I’d only completed a year and a half of college and didn’t feel educated or “good enough” for this position. But God set this opportunity before me with such undeniable clarity that I couldn’t deny His leading.
A Text Message at Camp Meeting
It all started last summer at camp meeting in my home state of Alaska. I was catching a quick nap between meetings when I received a text message from a friend. “How would you like to be a volunteer teacher in Chuuk this school year?” she asked. Still groggy, I misread her message. Who is Chuck, and why do I need to teach him? I wondered, very confused. Seconds later, I caught the gist of what she was saying and realized its possible implications. Work as a volunteer this year? Is that even possible?
I made some calls and discovered that Chuuk Seventh-day Adventist School had 150 students enrolled and only six teachers available, including the principal. They desperately needed more help. I prayed for guidance, filled out an application and a few weeks later boarded a plane to begin my new adventure.
Although Chuuk seemed relatively modern to me at first glance, I didn’t have to look far to see that traditional spiritual beliefs still clutched people in their fearful grasp. A conversation I had while teaching a fourth-grade Bible class solidified this observation. We were studying the story of King Saul and the witch of Endor when one of my students related an interesting story. She said that her neighbor’s son had become possessed by a demon at a picnic and that now he stares into space, not acknowledging anyone.
Sun-Drenched, Spiritually Dark
Chuuk’s tropical climate, palm-tree-riddled beaches and fantastic World War II shipwreck diving are big draws, but they pale compared to the immeasurable needs of the island people — a people desperate for truth in a sun-drenched yet spiritually dark world. With most of its students from non-Adventist families, our Chuuk school is truly a mission school, and I really believe that I’m making a difference in both the lives of the students and of the community.
I love my students; each of them is beautiful and interesting in their own way. Somehow, when I’m with them, I don’t feel quite so far from home, at least most of the time. One day, one of them asked, “Teacher, why do you speak English if you’re from Alaska?” I guess I still have a bit more teaching to do!
An Ongoing Journey of Faith
As I write this story in my apartment, the air conditioner going strong in an attempt to combat the invasive tropical heat and surrounded by papers that need grading, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come in this incredible journey called faith.
Some days my best hardly feels good enough, but I believe that God put me here for a reason and gives me the strength I need to serve Him. Through this experience, I’ve come to understand that sometimes the success of our Christian walk isn’t measured by our own “goodness” or capability but rather by how good we are at listening to and obeying God’s voice.
Ellie's story of faith inspires us to step beyond our own comfort zone. If you are interested in learning more about the needs of Micronesia, check out the Partners for Palau website. To understand the breadth of the entire Guam-Micronesia Mission go to www.gmmsda.org.