The Words of the Tobkin Family
Reflection on my STF Two-Year Experience
I came to STF partly out of my parentís desire, and partly because I knew it was something I had to do. Yet, in preparation for my years after high school, I avoided the idea of STF altogether. I applied to different schools and planned my college visits, but in the back of my mind I knew I would be going to STF after the summer of my senior year. I guess I didnít want to face reality. I had heard that STF had changed to a two-year course (which was part of HJNís seven-year course), but I had decided on only staying one year. Coming into STF, my main goal was to develop my life of faith; I wanted to better my relationship with God and TPís; I wanted to understand why our parents and other first generation made and continue to make the sacrifices that they do for our movement; and I wanted to develop my own personal character to become a better person for my future family.
My first year doing MFT-style fundraising was the most challenging year of my life and I would never do it again, but I would also never trade any of those experiences for anything. Throughout the year, I told my parents never to let me come home or allow me to take a break, otherwise I would never return to fundraising. It was difficult for me to leave my comfort zone of freedom, home, family, friends, etc, but eventually it became a way of life. After a few weeks of experience, I had become really homesick, given that I could finally appreciate my parents and value all that they do.
My family became my main "Isaac," or attachment and they were something that I couldnít easily let go of. I continuously thought about them and my life at home. There was always some experience or person on the frontline that reminded me of home and distracted me from my mission. Looking back now, I canít believe that I went through a whole year of living in a van and fundraising, and during that time I didnít believe I could do it either. One of my biggest challenges was that I always wished I were somewhere else and constantly looked forward to the next workshop or break from fundraising. I couldnít allow God to fully work through me because my mind was always looking forward to or worrying about the future and reliving or dwelling on the past. At the time I couldnít fully understand the importance of living in the present. My mind was, and still is, my worst enemy.
The times I broke through the most that year were the times I cut off from thinking and put my faith in God. It took me a while to get to that realization however. For the longest time I was just surviving being there. My struggles were so difficult that it was hard for me to believe that I would ever break through. I even accepted the fact that maybe my ancestors werenít the "money making" type and I was one of the chosen to always pay indemnity. There came a point during those times where I decided that I had to do something to get the experience I desired. I just needed to change my outlook. I began waking up early, serving my team, reading Fatherís words when I could, skipping meals, praying extra at night, anything to set the condition to mobilize spirit world; and eventually my efforts could pay-off.
My biggest break through came around the time True Father was in the hospital. My own father had also just recently become sick, and fundraising was the last place I wanted to be. But instead I tried to relate all of my struggles to True Father. I was so moved by how much he wanted to accomplish and how repentful he was that his physical body limited him so much. So I was determined to push myself for True Father and Heavenly Father. Thatís when I began putting complete faith in God and spirit world. I have a tendency to analyze every situation, but I cut off from any kind of negative thinking and just believed that God would work. It was during those times I had the most amazing experiences with spirit world. Little did I know, though, that "trusting God" wasnít something I would only need while fundraising and seeking result, but itís something I can apply to my whole life and that wasnít discovered or applied fully until later on in my second year.
Making the decision to stay a second year was very challenging for me. Actually, any kind of decision-making is an unpleasant task on my part because I am so indecisive. I have a tendency to weigh out all the possibilities from both sides, seek advice from everyone, worry about how my decision affects others, and donít know how to recognize what God wants me to do. I seem to hit my lowest points when making an important decision because I become very emotional (my character is still so unstable).
I finally committed to a second year, mainly because I wanted witnessing experience, but also because in my mind I was only planning to stay half of the second year. However, I started out that year as an assistant to a fundraising team. I was chosen to go to assistant-training and learned how to develop overall consistency and efficiency in helping lead a team. I pushed my limits and broke many concepts during that time period. I discovered through my experiences, though, that I am a very good object and can inspire others and support my captain and do what I am told as much as is needed, but when it comes to taking that kind of creative initiative on my own as a leader, it was difficult for me to follow through.
During my ten-day assistant training course I was so emotionally unstable and uncertain of my abilities to be an assistant that I wasnít sure if I could go on for the few more months in that position. It was also very hard to go back to fundraising and I felt that I was just reliving all of my struggles and I didnít want to pass that down to my members. Each one of them told me I was doing a good job as their assistant, but I couldnít fully connect to that mission, therefore, I felt I was letting them down in some way. So after another long and painful process of decision-making, I came to the conclusion to go to a witnessing center instead. I know I could have stayed as an assistant if I had really tried, but I might not have been able to get the full experience God wanted me to receive because of my mindset. It turned out, however, that just by changing my environment didnít mean I would be changing my responsibility at all.
After coming to the Maryland CARP center, I quickly became a team leader. At first I was worried that I was escaping some kind of responsibility and was accusing myself of not being able to fulfill my mission as an assistant, but I discovered that God gives challenges again in different situations until we overcome them.
When I first came to the CARP center, I was so grateful to have a house to live in and a bed to sleep in (instead of a van) that no problem seemed too overwhelming. I really wanted to make the best of my situation there, especially since so many of my other brother and sister assistants were still on the frontline fundraising. The lifestyle at the center is completely different than the previous year on MFT. The most obvious change is in the level of intensity. Because of the difference, I felt for the longest time that I wasnít growing nearly as much as the previous year and actually thought I was becoming more lazy and laid back. But looking back I can see that I grew in so many different ways. Second year is meant for the members to take ownership of their time. Itís almost impossible to recreate the standard of MFT-style fundraising at a witnessing center, and that is not the purpose of the second year. The transition to CARP life is mainly the next step to prepare for college life and life after STF and our experiences are not supposed to be the same as first yearís.
The amount of initiative that one takes determines the experience that one receives. The most challenging aspect for me was the stress that I put on myself. I was very hard on myself and never felt that I was doing enough. It was mainly because I was in the team leader position during that time and I wasnít sure how to guide or inspire my members. I also couldnít connect well to the heart of witnessing. I had had such high expectations and determinations for a witnessing breakthrough coming to the center, but when we actually started bringing guests, I didnít know how to invest in them. I loved cooking and keeping the center clean and would often times find myself in the kitchen taking care of the external needs of the center instead of caring for the internal needs of the guests. I knew how important witnessing was and I wanted to experience bringing someone to understand Principle, but motivation has to be there, not just desire. It was hard for me not to compare myself to others who naturally could invest in and re-contact guests, or who had such a strong motivation to reach out to students and help them understand Principle. I guess it was because I couldnít completely find value in the Divine Principle and our True Parents as of yet.
By the time our Godís Day workshop came around, I was determined to go home and be with my family for the last half of the year. I was extremely homesick and felt that I had gained enough from my witnessing experience (which of course turned out not to be true). I had brought a few guests and was satisfied with that result. Those past months at the center were some of the hardest months I have experienced. I was trying so much to connect to God, but at the same time I was set on my emotions and desire to go home. I realized later how much my mind limited me. I wanted so desperately to leave that I wasnít allowing room for any other options. My parents kept stressing the importance of making the best of the moment and my time there or else I would miss Godís blessings for me, but I couldnít relate to that entirely. After attending the Colorado workshop, however, I decided that I still could grow so much more for the sake of my future family. So I took an extra break at home and soon returned to the center to finish off the rest of my two-year course.
Returning to the CARP center, I resisted being there a lot at first. The decision of coming back wasnít mine completely yet; it was still partly out of duty. So the first week back, I wanted nothing to do with the responsibilities of the center. I was even considering leaving again, but I determined to stay and make the best of it. I honestly didnít think the end would ever come, but I got involved with different tasks around the center to keep my mind occupied, and eventually time started passing. To help develop my desire to witness, I began working with Justin Fong in a different type of campus outreach: TCPI (Towards a Culture of Peace Initiative), which dealt with reaching out to different college student groups, instead of just focusing on individuals. We wanted to establish CARP on campus and kind of create a "brand name" for us through the activities we do. We invited church leaders from the community to speak on campus and also held two Inter-Religious Symposiums. In this way, we could teach Principle to a crowd in a manner that students could relate to and at the same time find the "Abel-type students" and focus on that group of people, which is how I met one of my guests. He was attracted to our book table one day and signed up to participate in inter-religious work. He has since been coming to CARP and is even taking some of his own initiative to work with us.
Through my experience with TCPI, I had gained more confidence in organizing events or activities, speaking in public, contacting participants and speakers, and working with important leaders in our movement. I took a lot of responsibility on myself and, although it took up a lot of my time, my mind was still distracted from my personal struggles. During most of my time back I wasnít homesick as much anymore and I think it was because God was helping me focus on my mission. For a while I was hitting a panic stage: completely worrying about plans for next year and wondering how I would handle life after STF. This is when I started putting my trust in God even more, sincerely believing that things will fall into place if I just fulfill my responsibility. It is actually more comforting that way, knowing God is leading you and will take care of you. I still have yet to be confident in my decisions, but there is always something to work on.
After my condition with TCPI, I was grateful for all that I had achieved, but for some reason I felt called to witness again. Besides my one guest, I had a couple of other guests, Carl and Jenna, who I had met the previous semester and were coming to the center for evening programs and other events. Both of them, however, didnít seem to be connecting to Principle so much. I couldnít understand why they came to the CARP center sometimes, especially Carl who didnít like lectures at all. Even so, something kept bringing them back. We were preparing for the final 40-day witnessing condition. I wasnít sure what to expect, but I wanted to apply myself to the best of my ability. On one of our "in-house planning days," we had one unexpected run on campus, just to get out of the house and do something constructive. I remember Ms. Annemarie saying that this could be the run where we meet a spiritual child, but I wasnít sure how much I believed it. I donít like sudden changes in schedules and I was struggling with going out and struggling with my partner, but I was determined to change my mindset. In my head I kept telling myself to change my attitude and the situation would change, which was easier said than done.
During that run, however, I met two brothers, Steve and Jose, who were very interested in not only CARP, but learning about the Principle as well. They both came to the room on campus later on that week to hear the introduction, and continued to attend evening programs that followed. At that time there were also workshops at the DC church that we wanted to bring our guests to. For three weekends, my team and I were setting conditions to bring our guests to attend a two-day workshop. Something always seemed to come up, sometimes literally the morning of, which kept our guests from coming. For the first time I had desire to contact my guests and invest in them. I wanted to see that internal transformation of understanding the Principle take place in each of them. Since we as second generation canít experience the sudden realization of the truth as many of our parents did, I figured that my understanding of the Principle would deepen by seeing that transformation in others. Of course it is a work in progress and there is still so much more investment needed, but I was able to bring Jose, Jigar, and Steve to attend some of a two-day workshop with Rev. McCarthy. I could finally see result in all of my witnessing efforts.
Now that STF is almost over, I am constantly reflecting in amazement that I was able to make it through the past two years. I can honestly say that it was definitely worth it, to the very last challenge. I am able to see how God was leading my life through all of its twists and turns. Iím not so worried about my future anymore because I know that everything will turn out, even if I donít know clearly yet what will happen. As long as I do my part, God will take care of the rest. There are still times when I have a tendency to over react or stress out, but the extent of that happening is becoming less and less. I have decided to stay in Maryland and am therefore close enough to continue investing in my guests and also stay connected to CARP. I just hope I can keep the same standard that I have developed for myself over the past few years and I hope I can continue to perfect my relationship with God.
At first, I didnít think anyone else should have to go through this course. I have a younger brother and I didnít like the idea of him struggling like I did. But now I see that in order to fully understand the heart of God and the necessity of our True Parents, this is at least the quickest path to take. When I look back over the years, I can see much improvement in my character and life of faith. I know that I have challenged many limitations, broke concepts, developed my character, denied myself, hit rock bottom and climbed my way to the top again, learned to find value in others, and matured in many different ways. I still donít have a complete understanding of the Principle, but after this second year at CARP, I can believe in it more. I am most inspired to hear the testimonies of first generation because through them I can see how much the truth has impacted their lives and how they apply it everyday. Iím grateful for the support of the church community here in the DC area. We are blessed to have many important church leaders and members around who are constantly coming by the center giving us CARP members advice and guidance and because of them, my faith has deepened so much more. I have to thank Heavenly Father for His unconditional love and faith in me, my parents for their constant inspiration, and my CFís for never giving up on me.
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