Surrounded by bridal gifts and décor, Cas Monaco speaks to about 60 women, most of whom she knows well. The bridal shower, thrown for a student Cas once mentored, is a typical social gathering for most.
The women listen fervently, encouraged and inspired by her words. Yet an overwhelming sense of loss comes upon her as she speaks.
Before the shower ends, Cas dismisses herself to the safety of her car where she weeps. Although spiritual mentoring, both one-to-one and in groups, is a strength for this national leader with Cru, Cas (top photo, at left) will never know the joy of throwing a bridal shower for a daughter.
“I felt the loss of not being a mom,” Cas remembers.
She and her husband fought infertility for years and sadly realized children weren’t part of God’s plan. Yet in circumstances like these, Cas remains faithful to the Lord.
“I definitely talked with the Lord about it for several days,” she says, after the shower. “Job 23:10 says, ‘He knows the way I take, when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.’”
Cas has learned to surrender both her strengths and insecurities to the One who created her. As a result, she has influenced hundreds of people, pointing them to Jesus Christ.
For Cas and her husband, Bob (photo above, right), relationships with people make ministry seem like having a huge family. They regularly communicate with friends and people they mentored through Facebook messages, phone calls, e-mail or handwritten notes.
Technology plays into life at their Durham, N.C., home as well. Late one morning, Bob sends Cas a text message: “Need a break?”
She walks down from her study in the master bedroom, leaving her comfy chair with stacks of books on either side. Passing red tray tables and pottery from Italy, Cas and Bob meet in their kitchen for what they call “a Starbucks moment.”
Their offices are mainly virtual, since they work to develop a new strategy in their current role on the executive team of Faculty Commons, Cru’s ministry to college faculty.
“Professors are like an unreached people group,” Cas explains.
The Monacos are conducting focus groups and interviews to help shape a strategic plan that integrates Faculty Commons and Campus Ministry. They love students -- Cas joined the Campus Ministry in 1982 -- and see the potential this partnership creates.
“We want it to be like the skinny jeans of Campus Ministry,” Cas explains.
Faculty Commons has existed for 30 years, but the Monacos want it to stand out as a new trend.
“It’s vogue, it’s the way to go,” she says.
Despite her leadership strengths, Cas is quick to admit she fears failure, and can be tempted to fill the role of people pleaser. As a staff member, she admits it’s easy to fear not being liked. In her efforts to excel and succeed, Cas discovered the Lord wants her to be faithful to Him.
“I wrestle with the side of me that wants to go, go, go,” she says. So Cas goes to Scripture for perspective. “I want to do things simply to please Jesus,” she says, “even if nobody else ever knows or sees it.”
Some do get to see it, like Robi Myers, a staff member working in Moscow at the State Pedagogical University. This was one of the schools where Cas worked in 1991.
“I can’t even connect all the ways God has used Cas,” Robi says.
The Monacos lived and worked in Russia for 3 years with a rapidly expanding ministry team. They were there when the Soviet flag went down and the Russian flag went up in Red Square. No longer under Communist rule, students eagerly received their first Bibles from Cas and her teammates.
“It was an amazing time to be there, but extraordinarily difficult,” says Cas. Battling Russia’s icy winters, the team struggled with food shortage, loneliness and illness.
Over the course of those 3 years Cas began to struggle with significant pain in her back. She didn’t think too much of it and pressed on. Yet as her health deteriorated and the pain increased, Cas was forced to depend on others, especially Bob.
“There were things Bob had to help me with -- like lowering me into the bathtub – that you never imagine your husband having to do,” she says.
Deciding to return home and visit a doctor, the Monacos bought roundtrip tickets from Moscow.
“Little did we know God had other plans,” says Cas.
Eventually, Cas was diagnosed with 2 nebulous but debilitating diseases: chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Instead of returning to Moscow, the couple moved back to the United States.
In or near bed for 10 years, Cas prayed -- a lot -- and began writing Bible study materials. What started as personal Bible application blossomed into a tool to help others study the Bible. She’s self-published 9 so far with a 10th in the works. (For a list of titles, visit www.entrusting.org.)
Surrendering her will to the Lord has taught her to trust Him, even in hardship.
After her illness eased, and she began to recover, Cas created better boundaries with her time, learning when to say no. She still has difficult days, but her bedridden years rest in the past.
Most of the time, Cas’ insecurities are invisible, hidden behind a more visible confidence. Wearing a red cardigan, red nail polish on her fingernails, and seated high on a stool, Cas enjoys coffee with a new friend in Orlando, Fla.
Cas flew in for meetings at Cru’s world headquarters. The friend points out a smear of red lipstick on Cas’s front tooth and, without hesitation, Cas wipes it off mid-sentence, un-phased.
Cas believes she must do things for the Lord, not for herself or in her own strength.
“The more I recognize my own weakness, the more Christ’s strengths are perfected in me for His glory,” she says. “If I was strong, I wouldn’t look to the cross. I’d look to myself.”
“Cas hasn’t built a wall between herself and God. She hasn’t been afraid to lean into her weaknesses,” says Barbara Francis, close friend, mentor and fellow staff member.
“God wants to shine through me, and the best way for that to happen is through my brokenness,” Cas says. “In our weakness, He is strong. That’s beautiful: The strength of God in my weakness.”