>I was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. I was baptized at the age of 8 into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. When I was a boy, my father introduced me to serving God through the spoken word. He was, and still is, a preacher.
Tested and Approved
Learning to trust God in a foreign land
By Mikhail E. D. Byng
(image)COMPANIONS IN TRIALS: The author (right) poses with two other international students: Hoan from Vietnam, and Thulisani from South Africa.
I was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. I was baptized at the age of 8 into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. When I was a boy, my father introduced me to serving God through the spoken word. He was, and still is, a preacher.
A few years ago, seven months after my nineteenth birthday, I received a scholarship to study at the University of Belgrade in Serbia. After weeks of heartfelt prayer, I decided that it was God’s will, and I accepted the opportunity.
I have been living in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital city, for more than two years now. Although there are Seventh-day Adventist churches here, most people belong to the Orthodox tradition, and many find it difficult to engage in conversations about God and religion.
I have attempted to engage individuals in direct conversations about God, but in most instances my attempts have been unsuccessful. However, one experience showed me one way God intends for His followers to witness, a way of ministry exemplified by God’s followers throughout the Bible.
Will That Be on the Test?
One day we were to have an oral exam at the university. Most of the students were nervous, both Serbs and my colleagues from other countries. As we saw the other students being examined, we noticed that the professor’s mood was not pleasant. Students who seemed to be giving the correct answers were failing, and I and the other foreign students were perplexed.
In addition to giving the right answers, we were required to do the exam in Serbian. So although we foreign students had studied Serbian for only eight months, we were directed to answer the questions in Serbian.
As I sat there I thought of stories of great Bible characters I had learned about in Sabbath school. I thought of Moses in Pharaoh’s court; Daniel and his three friends in Nebuchadnezzar’s court; of Esther and Mordecai in the court of Ahasuerus; and how God worked out their challenges when they trusted in Him.
As I was thinking about these things, a text message came from a “sister” back home who had taught me in Sabbath school and had seen me grow up. The message on my mobile phone said, “May a live coal from heaven touch your mouth so you can spread God’s message.”
At that moment I excused myself from the classroom, went to the restroom, and locked the door. I knelt down and prayed. My simple prayer was to receive wisdom, as Solomon did. “God,” I prayed, “whatever happens with my life here in Serbia, may it honor and glorify Your name. May my success or failure be used for Your glory.”
I was still nervous about the exam as I walked out of the restroom. I doubted that I would even have the confidence to attempt to answer the questions. But I tried to keep my mind focused on the belief that God would bring me success.
"I tried to keep my mind focused on the belief that God would bring me success."
Did I Say That?
As students began to leave the classroom, some rejoicing in their success, and others sulking in their failure, the professor asked, “Da li ima neki jos?” (“Is there anyone else?”)
I stood up, along with a colleague from the African country of Gabon. We indicated our intention to answer the questions. The professor allowed us to select one card from a shuffled stack of cards with questions on them. Then we were given 10 minutes to jot down some notes and compose our answers.
With a prayer in my heart I selected my card. It had four questions. After my colleague unsuccessfully attempted to answer the questions he had chosen, I approached the professor’s desk and began reading what I had written, attempting to explain the various concepts in Serbian.
As I spoke, I found it hard to believe that I was actually explaining the various theories and giving examples. The words I said actually made sense! At that moment I realized, even while speaking, that I was witnessing God’s activity in my life. The same hand that had led Moses in the wilderness, Joseph in Egypt, and Daniel in Babylon as they witnessed for God, the Creator of the world, was present with me that very moment. By the time I finished, I knew I had witnessed God’s power.
The professor shook my hand and said, “Congratulations” (in English). He gave me a grade of 9 out of 10. I was shocked.
As my friends and I walked to the bus station, my colleagues asked me all kinds of questions.
Hoan, from Vietnam, asked, “Mikhail, how did you do it?”
“It was God,” I responded, “not me.”
Hoan paused a moment and said, “You mean, you are talking about religion?” He wasn’t interested in such talk. He explained that in Vietnam the largest religious influence is Buddhism. He felt that religion was full of meaningless rituals that did not interest him.
“Hoan,” I said, “the God I’m talking about is bigger than religion; He created the world.”
Hoan still wasn’t convinced. I invited him to visit the Adventist church in Belgrade with me, but he has yet to accept my invitation. However, we are still good friends, and I try to demonstrate a Christlike example to Hoan and others every chance I get, whether in academics or in simple daily interactions.
I soon realized the message God was sending. My academic success meant less to God than the ministry of my faith in Him. My Christian example and ministry for Hoan and others meant more to God than the 9 out of 10 I received on the exam. It was only a tool to show God’s power, just as education is only a tool to better equip us to do the work of our Master.
Mikhail E. D. Byng lives in Beograd, Serbia, and seeks to follow in the footsteps of his father, Dwight, who dedicates his life to spreading God’s Word.