When you think international missions and making disciples, you may think passport and foreign travel. Cheryl Iaconis will tell you for her, “It all started with a casserole.”
Wandering around the ministry fair at RiverLakes Church in 2015, she glanced at a little table that Bridges International set up. Bridges is a ministry to international college students. They were looking for people to sign up to bring food to an event. Cheryl thought, “I can do that.” She showed up to bring her casserole and stayed to see what it was like. She watched as international students were introduced to simple concepts such as how God loves them unconditionally. Talking about that gave Cheryl goosebumps remembering watching students grasp for the first time that the God of the universe loves them.
She began to volunteer regularly with Bridges twice a week for an hour during their “Talk Times” on the campus of CSUB where students are given an opportunity to practice their English. During Talk Time students from different countries compare cultures, discuss a topic of the day on subjects like marriage, holidays, how important money is in your life and other topics of interest. Talking about marriage has given Cheryl the opportunity to share how she and Tim have been married for 35 years and how they base their marriage on honor and respect and how Christ remains the center of their marriage.
Cheryl describes herself as a person who was always shy in school and doesn’t enjoy public speaking, but in this environment God has used it to grow her. Talk Time has led to students accepting an invitation to dinner or to Dewar’s and friendships developed, which has also led to them accepting an invitation to church. She continued to pray how to be more involved, which created an opportunity on the part of her whole family. They went on to have a Japanese student living with them full time. They shared new experiences with their student such as traveling, trying new foods, and watching American movies. Cheryl taught her to drive and she recently got her driver’s license.
Cheryl quickly will tell you that her view of missions has been shaped by her experience with Bridges. Though she doesn’t have a passport filled with stamps, she has gained the friendships of students from Central America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It also was the reason she finally signed up for Facebook. She is now able to keep in touch with these new friends around the world.
Cheryl wants people to know, “that a simple act of obedience like taking someone to buy shampoo or helping an international student grocery shop might seem like a small thing at first, but might be what God uses to demonstrate to that person God’s purpose in their life and in your own.” Cheryl began praying for God to use her and to give her purpose and direction as she was about to become an empty nester. She didn’t want to miss opportunities to serve God. God opened her heart to missions through one-on-one conversations with students and her gift of hospitality. She was able to gain a new perspective about countries through listening to students explain their cultural heritage. Her experiences have caused her to trust God and not assume that everyone has heard the name of Jesus.
“God didn’t make it overwhelming for me to say yes.” Through Cheryl’s experience God has taught her that everyone can do something. “Take a small step of obedience and then take another, and continue to ask God what you can do next.” Start with something simple. You never know how a casserole will lead to discipleship and missions!