Finding Calling Through Study Abroad
by Kalli Watson, ’13

When he graduated from Whitworth in 2007, Michael Novasky knew he had two career choices: seminary or law school. After going on the South Africa Jan Term trip, Novasky put off his choice between those options, placed his career on hold, and headed back to Africa. His experiences were shaping the career path he would choose in the future. But he had some more traveling to do first.

Novasky, originally from Federal Way, Wash., graduated Whitworth with degrees in communication and religion. In his junior year he went on the South Africa Jan Term trip with Professors Ron Pyle and John Yoder. This trip fostered the desire to return to Africa and serve in the community after graduation.

Throughout his senior year, Novasky and his two friends, Brad Hixson, '06, and Philip Culbertson, '06, tried to organize a return trip. They were unable to work it out, but in July 2007 the three men found themselves heading instead to Kampala, Uganda.

The friends were able to work with an organization called Come Let’s Dance. This organization was started by a group of volunteers in Colorado who wanted to care for the orphan children within a small church community. Novasky, Hixson, and Culbertson helped with the charity organization, caring for orphaned children.

A year later Hixson and Culbertson returned to the United States. Novasky, however, met Pastor Matthias Magezi from Kampala, the Ugandan capital. Together, they traveled around East Africa, and Novasky preached in rural villages or gave leadership seminars to congregations.

“We went to the D.R. Congo twice, and we went once to a place deep in the mountainous jungle right on the Congo and Uganda border in a place called Bundibugyo. We also went to Tanzania once together,” to a small inner-city church in Arusha, Novasky says. The villages they visited were small and far off the beaten path. He says, “Generally [these were] the kind of places that people from Kampala wouldn't ever go to, and that people from other countries would never have heard of.”

The men shared about biblical leadership. Novasky preached around East Africa and built relationships with the people in the villages. It was imperative that the congregations connect with other churches within the area. Novasky says that often churches would be fighting within their villages and become disconnected with churches in the cities.

“Sharing about leadership may or may not have done much in the community, but I hope, at least, that if it did do something, it gave people a sense of purpose in their church, or a feeling that they belong to something bigger than just their own congregation,” says Novasky. All the while, though, Novasky was thinking longer term about the leadership role he could place on returning to the United States.

Throughout his 22 months in East Africa, Novasky made many close friends through his experiences. “People treated me very well, and helped me through a few difficult situations.  I truly felt like, after a certain amount of time or reputation building, I was valued as a member of the community I was a part of, and not just a visitor, and that was an incredibly humbling experience,” he says.

Even abroad, Novasky continued his education. During the ten months he lived in Kampala and traveled with Pastor Magezi, Novasky continued to love learning. He took literature classes at the University in Kampala. “I worked out an arrangement where they would let me attend the masters seminars for free…so long as I didn’t take exams,” he says.

After returning to the United States, Novasky knew he finally had to choose between law school or seminary. He had left college knowing that he would take one of those two directions. But one more step was needed to clarify and finalize his thinking: a move to Portland, Ore. Novasky worked at Portland’s Westminster Presbyterian Church doing different jobs within the congregation. Working within a church and gaining a completely different perspective on pastoral ministry finally confirmed for him that he did not want to become a pastor.

“Being part of a community, whether that’s through lay ministry, or whatever, is very much part of God's calling. But it’s about the role you assume in the church,” he says. “Westminister exposed me to a wide variety of people who were very deeply involved in running the church and in ministry, but were not pastors.  This was an inspiring, and humbling, vision of leadership.” Having this experience established that seminary was not where he felt called. So Novasky applied for law school.

Now, he is in his second year at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. The school drew Novasky in because it is dedicated to public service. He plans on focuses on public issues.

But he is still drawn back to Africa. In May through August 2012 Novasky interned with an organization called International Bridges to Justice, in Rwanda. The organization focuses on reforming criminal justice systems in other countries. While in Rwanda, Novasky helped with policies, and legal aid bills and he worked closely with local attorneys. “In Rwanda everyone has a right to a lawyer when they are on trial,” he says. “However, there are only about 700 lawyers in the country and not enough people to fight for those put in jail. Those people just get forgotten about.”

This has inspired Novasky to specialize in immigration law after graduating. He currently does legal work in his university’s immigration school. “I want to work with immigration law because it gives a lot of ways to help different people. These people don’t have all of the same rights and that’s what’s interesting to me,” he says.

 “The way I want to do law is directly affected by my time in Uganda,” says Novasky.

His experiences in Africa and time in Portland were crucial in helping him decide against fulltime ministry. Instead, he’s chosen another option: to become a lawyer with the heart of a pastor, a combination that seems to fit Novasky perfectly.