The hallway was dark and quiet. The patients had settled down for the evening, and only a small light glowed at the nurses’ station. Novita pulled some papers out of her shoulder bag and began to read.
How a young woman from Indonesia ended up working in a hospital in Kuwait is a story with many twists and turns.
When Novita was only 10 months old, her parents’ marriage broke down. Her mother and father both married again, and Novita eventually had three stepsiblings on either side. But the hostility from the breakup lingered, and Novita’s mother sternly refused to let her have any contact whatsoever with her father.
Finally, when Novita was about eight years old, she received a letter from her father, which he had mailed to her school. It became her most precious possession, and she hid it carefully in her closet.
Novita attended a Christian church with her mother. When the time came for her confirmation, a yearning grew in her heart to have her father there too. She managed to send him an invitation, though she feared her mother’s wrath if he actually turned up.
To her surprise, her father did attend. “I was so thrilled,” Novita says, “But I was very scared of how my mother would react.” Luckily, the ceremony proceeded without a major confrontation, and life continued on.
A New Home … for a While
When Novita was 15, she made a major change and moved in with her father. But her father was a sailor, and frequently away from home. Very quickly, relations with her stepmother soured, and Novita was extremely miserable.
To escape her situation, she started looking for a school that had a dormitory. That led her to an Adventist academy. “It was like heaven, such a contrast to the situation I had been in,” she says. “The other girls were so kind and welcoming. Soon, I started studying about the Adventist church, and I enjoyed it.”
Her classmates encouraged Novita to be baptized. Even though she didn’t feel that she had fully learned the church’s beliefs, they convinced her that she could acquire more knowledge later.
But after graduation, the students scattered. Very quickly, Novita was lonely again. “It’s hard if you’re not born Adventist,” she says. “You don’t have the same connections.”
I needed someone to embrace me.
No Clear Future
Novita dreamed of being a doctor, but her stepmother stood in her way. “She told me that her own children needed money for school. Even though my father had money, my stepmother would only let me choose a diploma program, and only a cheap government one.”
Novita selected a school as far away from home as she could, and passed the entrance exam for a telecommunications program. But her father said, “No, you can only study nursing, or stay home.”
“So I started studying nursing at a government school,” Novita says, “but I never met a single Adventist. How can you find an Adventist spouse that way?”
Relations with her family remained difficult. At family gatherings, Novita tried to stick to her Adventist dietary principles, but her father mocked her mercilessly, even calling her a Muslim.
In due time, Novita did marry, but her husband was a Catholic. She was working by then, and when life got particularly tough, she would go back to an Adventist church for a while.
But then her marriage broke apart. Devastated by her divorce and needing a larger income, Novita talked to a company that was sending nurses overseas. She took a nursing job thousands of miles away in Kuwait, and says, “It was a miracle; God wanted me to be there.
At first, she didn’t like her new environment. “It was hot, and you wouldn’t see many women around in public,” she says. But she did locate an Adventist congregation, made up of about 150 members from a variety of countries. The attendees bonded in their foreign home, and seemed to interact more than Novita had experienced back in Indonesia.
But “more” is relative – Novita somehow still didn’t find the deep level of emotional support she desperately craved. “I needed someone to embrace me, to ask, ‘How is life going?’ But people are so busy on Sabbath,” she says.
Instead, she came across a charismatic church, and found herself more engaged with the people there. “It’s very simple things we need,” she says. “Life is tough, and it’s easy to get lost. We all need to socialize.”
At the same time, she still felt that Adventist beliefs were correct, so she turned to the Internet to improve her knowledge. She printed out resources – particularly on Daniel and Revelation – and read through the pages during her long night shifts at the hospital.
After nine years in Kuwait, Novita returned home to Indonesia. She thought, “Ok, I can start life again.” She faithfully found an Adventist church, but her unfortunate cycle of feeling disconnected continued. “At church, people seemed friendly, but really, all they did was just shake my hand,” she says. “Conversations stayed on the surface; you couldn’t easily tell people your deep needs.”
As well, Novita felt very inadequate about her level of knowledge about Adventist doctrines, but was too embarrassed to ask questions. “I probably got baptized too early,” she says. “And once you’re baptized, people consider you to be ‘finished.’ But no! That’s not the case.”
To hear my name on the radio was very special.
However, someone at the church told her about Adventist programs on the radio. Novita began listening regularly – both on Sabbaths and while she was doing other activities during the week. “I memorized so many things!” she exclaims. “I liked the health talks, and if you called in to the program, the announcer would pray for you. To hear my name on the radio was very special.”
The radio team also had a daily WhatsApp chat group for their listeners. “They would greet you on Sabbath, and you could engage with more people,” Novita says. “We could share with each other, ask questions, and not feel ashamed.”
That interaction was the breakthrough Novita needed. “Radio is my best friend,” she says now. “It’s talking to me every day. I feel engaged. Now, I do reach out to other people, especially those who have no Adventist family members. I understand them very well.”
Novita’s father died a year ago, and her family still mocks her beliefs. But she has found her mission: “We need to find ways to keep people in church and not get lost. Humans have a need not to be alone.”
by Shelley Nolan Freesland