Elizabeth Cernoia sighed. Her student had cancelled. Now she was at campus hours early for no reason. It wouldn’t make sense to go all the way back home and come back to Fitchburg State just a few hours later, so she’d just need to kill some time. She had some reading she needed to get done anyway.
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, her unofficial office was in “The Hub”—a commuter lounge filled with students. As a campus minister, it was the perfect place to jump into the action of people’s lives. But as someone trying to get work done, it was less than ideal.
She settled in a chair by the window, ready to read…but it wasn’t long before she was distracted. Students rushed by on their way to class, freshmen chatted loudly at a nearby table, and a girl paced up and down the hall probably waiting for her coffee order. Delicious smells wafted in from the nearby bistro. Every time she started to focus, she’d catch a glimpse of some excitement out of the corner of her eye. Finally, she got back to reading.
“Um, excuse me.” Elizabeth looked up. It was the girl who had been pacing the room. “Do you know Jessica Smith?”
Surprised, Elizabeth said, “You mean Jennifer Smith? Not well. We’re just Facebook friends. But yes, I know her.”
The girl sat down. “Well, she was my Uber driver twice over the summer, and she suggested I come meet you because I need someone to talk to about Jesus.”
Together Through the Journey
Over the next several months, Elizabeth and the girl (Diana*) met regularly to read the Bible. Diana was full of questions about who God was and what it meant for Him to be, not just a force, but a real person.
As Elizabeth shared the Bible with Diana, Diana started to share her life with Elizabeth. It had been a rough one. In middle school, her family had moved to the US from the Dominican Republic. She was plunged into the public school system without knowing a word of English. Even though she was very bright, she had always felt behind her peers.
Far worse, a few years later, she and her siblings were removed from their home and put in foster care. Eventually she was adopted, but then was later disowned by that adoptive family and estranged from her siblings. She had experienced loneliness and rejection at deep levels.
Now as a senior in college, she was terrified of graduation. She had no money and would have nowhere to live. Throughout that dark season, Elizabeth was there to support her — lending a listening ear and shoulder to cry on, as well as helping meet her practical needs, like buying her a cell phone. All the while, telling her about Jesus.
The Lost Found
Little did they know, yet another trial was coming. After months of reading together, coronavirus struck, and the two women could no longer meet in person. Yet again, circumstances outside of Diana’s control threatened to destroy a precious relationship. But Elizabeth didn’t leave. She was committed to support Diana. They found a way to meet virtually to continue talking about God.
One spring day, Elizabeth got a Zoom call from her young friend. But it wasn’t a regular call. When Diana’s face popped up on the screen, she uttered the words every missionary yearns to hear. “Elizabeth, I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I want to accept Jesus.” All those months of faithful love came to fruition. Diana became a Christian.
In the next several months, a lot changed for Diana. Despite all she had suffered, she gained the courage to reach out and pursue reconciliation with her estranged family. She was reunited with her sister and aunt, and they offered her a place to stay when she graduated. God provided for her spiritual and practical needs. She now is living with her family, working, and continuing to learn more about loving her Savior.
Diana’s journey to salvation hinged on Elizabeth’s availability. That’s why the campus ministers at FSU spend a lot of time in public places, which is made possible by support through Missions Door. They host several weekly Bible studies and activities. But they attribute much of their impact to being available for life’s small moments. Walking to class, eating lunch, studying. They want to be there for the unexpected conversations that change lives, just like Diana’s. If you’d like to support Missions Door missionary Elizabeth Cernoia, visit her page here.
*Some names have been changed for privacy