This month I interviewed Maria Casiero, second year MA student, about her unusual journey to faith and how it’s continuing with CMS pioneer training
HH: Maria, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. You’ve just started your second year of the MA programme here but I would like to take you back to when you committed your life to Jesus. You told me it was while working for billionaires in Moscow as a private governess, and that The Sound of Music influenced you greatly! You also told me there was “No Bible, no church and no Christian friends!” That sounds like an amazing story in itself; please can you say more.
MC: Yes. It was my first winter in Moscow, experiencing minus 32 degrees on the Christmas Eve of 2012! I worked on Christmas Day, as they do not celebrate theirs until January, then spent time alone. I did not want to be alone on New Year’s Eve so, breaking protocol rules, I asked my billionaire boss if I could work instead. But she didn’t need my governess services that night. Her children would be ‘entertaining’ some of the wealthiest children in Russia in their palace of a private residence. Instead she arranged for the bodyguard-driver to collect me from my apartment and take me to their staff quarters where I could use the computer and watch Russian TV.
I had used the same computer several times before and as I tapped in ‘BBC’ that night, the screen filled with Jesus’ face. I couldn’t explain this but knew I had done nothing different from the other times. Later, I saw President Putin talking for ages on TV and all I could pick out was ‘god, god, god’ being repeated in many sentences. I didn’t speak Russian at the time but it sounded like ‘God’ and I couldn’t help thinking about the face of Jesus. I later realised it meant ‘year’; he had been talking about the New Year.
Around 4am, I was driven ‘home’ and as I was drifting off to sleep, I realised I was in the presence of Jesus. Standing side by side, looking over the universe, I gave my life to him that night and said I would serve him for the rest of my life! I didn’t sleep for three days and was concerned of how I could learn ‘things’. I assumed I knew nothing! I knew no Christians, had no Bible or a church I could attend. (I could write a book just on this event and what followed….)
HH: You’ve told me “I considered myself as a freelance entrepreneur prior to ever considering I was a pioneer for God’s kingdom. I came to CMS to gain more confidence in the theological aspects of reaching out, after working so long in secular environments.” How has that been for you, you’ve been at CMS now for just over a year?
MC: CMS has opened my eyes in witnessing that God does not have limits or boundaries in his mission. From knowing nothing, then to commuting from Moscow to Chester to studying Theology, Mission and Evangelism, then to finding myself in CMS with others, I suddenly feel at home – exploring even more. Most of my life I worked freelance, learning how to start and manage many projects from scratch. My first career was as a property project manager where I converted an old brewery into 11 residential units; and I loved the challenge of going to any lengths to find solutions!
Freelancing for God has a different demand; knowledge, credibility and wisdom of a different kind. I came to CMS to learn just that; to deepen my knowledge and to help build my confidence in how a serving life to Jesus could change many other people’s lives. During my time of studying here, I have felt the stirring of entrepreneurship within me start connecting with my studies and the limitless potential ahead. While I’m anxious to do well academically, I am more pleased to be among people who are on a similar journey and are non-judgemental of how I explore my calling to pioneer.
HH: I’m sorry to hear you have had suffering in life (especially in childhood) but pleased to hear this has really influenced your passion to serve Jesus, by bringing a moment of joy and fun to children. Can you say more about this?
MC: As a child, I experienced real poverty, neglect and abuse. I remember seeing Julie Andrews once, in The Sound of Music, and noticed how she could make sad children laugh and feel special. I wanted to do the same and eventually, and passively, dedicated time working with disadvantaged children and teenagers. I left the property sector to go into teaching and after putting a portfolio together of ‘unusual experiences and skills I had to offer’, I registered with The Royal Nannies of London. The Russian Family headhunted me and I worked with them for over three and a half years, learning even more about people on the fringes; and how much people really need God! I don’t think of my childhood as a loss but a gain for giving me foundations to help build the kingdom authentically.
HH: That’s such an amazing perspective. You said “My pioneering pull appears to continue being around the theme of children – from the super rich to the super disadvantaged! I particularly enjoy working with off the grid groups; those which have fallen through the net and home schooled children.” Please tell us more about all these areas of your work.
MC: As I study, my work keeps steering back to working with children, whether they are being home educated or arriving as migrants from Africa’s shorelines to Italy. I remember back to some kind words an adult gave me, or the film which inspired me the most, and I just want to continue giving a taste of the living Jesus. If children never start school, they are never followed up and some parents are afraid of the authorities. I have been working with a boy with autism this year and within three months he was able to communicate, smile, follow instructions and greet me with a desire to learn. Now he is in full time, mainstream education and is learning about Jesus. Another joy of mine is, after years of being on the periphery of gang culture, some have adopted me as ‘Gan Gan’ and will comfortably pass me a baby before they go for a smoke. They are very suspicious of authority and any structure outside their own, but have demonstrated their unwritten rules of respect and loyalty to each other which has accelerated my anthropological learning too.
HH: That’s really amazing Maria. Thank you for sharing that. I know that in September this year you visited some African migrant children in Bologna, Italy. How did that visit go? And can you say more about your desire to write books/educational games fit for the next generation and to present Jesus to all children?
MC: In September 2019, I was invited to visit Bologna and preach in a church (filled with the most loving African eyes and hearts possible). I had prepared nothing, but told them I was coming to give a word for the children. The children, of all ages, were all congregated at the front and for 45 minutes I shared my passion for Jesus and his children. The children eventually turned and prayed for all the adults in the congregation. It was a Spirit-filled moment of joy and everyone was deeply moved by the experience of the children praying. Some parents later came up to me to ask if I had written a book yet as they wanted to hear more of my story. Writing and creating educational material to help others experience the love of Jesus is what I would like to plan time for!
HH: How very inspiring. I think you turned expectations on their head, asking the children to pray for the adults. To me that is a very pioneering move. So, lastly, how can we pray for you?
MC: I would like prayers for continued strength and courage to continue on this amazing but extremely demanding journey of faith, and to get my experiences of my journey put into print. I see more things unfolding as we converse through this interview which convinces me that we should pray particularly for all those I am to meet; both children and adults in my journey; that I am able to bring the love of Jesus gently yet boldly to them, so many can live an eternal life!
Pray: please pray for Maria and the plans she has. I am very touched by her words and I am sure you are too.