Lily Cashin, who performs at this weekend’s service (Feb. 11-12) with professional ballroom dancer Mirko Gozzoli, shares her incredible story of how God saved her and transformed her to dance for Him.
By Theresa Tan
I was not a believer till I had my first encounter with God in Le Celle, a St Francis monastery in Cortona, Italy in May 2005. On this occasion, I was playing tourist guide to a couple of Japanese friends. We entered this room, which was St Francis’s living room, and as I did I felt something pushing me down to kneel. I knelt down with tears streaming down my cheeks and said what I now know was one of Jesus’ most profound sayings, “God forgive me for I knew not what I was doing.” I then got up and my very first thought was, “I wonder whether God heard me.”
At that moment one of the oldest monks came into the room (something they don’t normally do especially when there were three Oriental tourists who were unlikely to be able to speak Italian). He held my hand and spoke to me. He talked about this, that and the other, and he went on for about 10 minutes and as we were leaving, I heard from God for the very first time. “I heard you, child.” Of course, I thought I was going crazy but I suddenly felt this incredible need to find a church in Singapore. From that moment, I was hooked. I visited two other churches before coming to CHC in August 2005. Here, God gave me lots of signs to let me know this was my church. I was from a convent school and back then they didn’t operate church services the way we do here in CHC.
In August 2006, a friend brought in a dance teacher from China and she asked me to take lessons with him. I told her I couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous. At that time, Pastor Kong was preaching about reaching out to the Chinese and we were told to bring our Chinese friends to a dinner party hosted by CHC. I then told my friend I would take up dancing only if she lets me take him to church. But by February 2007 I was fed up with dancing and had decided to give it all up.
On that fateful day, I rang my sister Carol to tell her of my decision and in the evening of that very same day, Carol, David, Howard and I went to a Christian meeting held by another church. Nobody knew us at this place and certainly no one knew about my dancing! The four of us went up for prayers and when it was my turn, the pastor told me, “Dance for the Lord.” I remember all of us looking at each other awestruck! The next morning I thought I should check this prophecy and who better to check with? God Himself of course.
So during my quiet time, I asked Him “Was this from you?” And this was the second time I heard from Him “If I don’t send you who can I send?” I didn’t even know this verse was from Isaiah. So I carried on dancing, but I wasn’t sure if He was sending the right person for the job. I was not known to be the epitome of patience back then. In one very frustrating moment I said to God, “Are you sure I am fit for this job? I lose my temper so I am not exactly the right ambassador for You!” Of course, God just lets us rant and rave because He knows what’s really in our hearts.
So the next day I continued with my lessons. I then met a Japanese man who was in Shenzhen. He invited me to go to Osaka to attend a party where the world champion was doing a show. I was clueless as to who this world champion was. That’s how I met Mirko Gozzoli and his previous partner Alessia Betti.
Sometime in November 2008, God told me a dance studio is like a fishing boat. I behaved like Jonah and told Him there was no way I was going to start a studio, it will mean that I’ll be tied down in Singapore. So I told Him “Why can’t I just carry on as it is now? Go to any studio to take lessons etc.” Strangely during this time it became very difficult for me to get into any studios. I then gave up and told God if He really wanted a studio, He will have to find the place as it is not easy to find a huge space without pillars, in a convenient spot for transportation etc. He then found our current location. It was April 2009 and the world was still reeling from the collapse of the financial system. The chief landlord was having a very difficult time trying to get someone to take over 4,000 sq ft of space. Even NTUC was negotiating for two weeks, not prepared to make the commitment. So I came, I saw and I put down the down payment.
The next sign from God was my friend Rosa asking me what I was going to call the studio. I told her that since it belongs to God and not me, I will let Him name it. During this period, I was reading the New Testament and the Old Testament simultaneously. In both Testaments, I reached the part about floods. In the New Testament it was Matthew 7:25, “If you don’t build your house on a rock, when the flood comes it will be washed away.” And of course in the Old Testament, it was Noah’s Ark, Genesis 6:17. I told God “Please not Noah’s Dance Studio!” He then reminded me “The Ark is a very big boat! So I told Rosa the next day, the name of the studio was Ark. We all thought it was a very appropriate name as the animals went in two by two, and so do dancers. She then asked me “Can you make it work?” Although the rent per sq ft was cheap when one multiplied it by 4,000 the amount became quite daunting. Anyway, I put up a brave front and told her in the words of Esther “If I perish, I perish.” As if God was ever going to let Esther or me perish!
After this I went to Italy for training with Mirko. On the last day of this trip, on May 7, 2009, my Italian friend asked me what was the name of my studio. I said Ark and she repeated the name in Italian and said, “Arca.” In my heart I told God, the Italian name sounds so much better than the English name but since it is Your studio, You can call it anything You want, even Noah’s Dance Studio. Very shortly afterwards my friend’s daughter handed me a paper bag containing a gift. Holding the paper bag together was a sticker with the name “ARCA” on it. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
During this same trip I had received a phone call from O School asking to rent Arca, as they were in-between studios. They couldn’t extend the lease at their old place and their new premises at Scape weren’t ready. God is good. O School stayed for about 9 months. After they left, strangely one studio closed, two dance clubs shut down and most of the dancers came to Arca.
God also organized my meeting with Mirko and for him to teach me. Normally world champions don’t give solo lessons. For my first trip in September 2008, Mirko had organized for one of his students to accompany me during my lessons with him. But on that trip, for some reason, the student couldn’t make it. So being the gentleman that he is, Mirko gave me solo lessons. He must have really suffered!
In March 2009, I invited him and his wife and her then partner to come and join us in the celebration of one of his students’ 21st birthday in Singapore. I thought it might be a good idea to perform a show with him, but then I thought better of it. I probably couldn’t afford his fees, so I didn’t send the email. On his arrival and before the party, he surprised me by saying “Sara and I would like to give you a present. I will do a dance with you.” You can imagine how elated I was.
I have the greatest respect for him as a teacher and as a person. He is very charismatic and full of love and kindness for all his students, whether they are finalists in Blackpool, young amateurs, senior couples or even, senior partner. He truly is God’s gift to me. Without him I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I can do now. He has never placed a limit on my ability. Whenever I remind him I am 56 years old, he will always say, “No excuse.” Without Mirko, many wouldn’t know who I am. But with Mirko as my lighthouse, God has given me a platform from which to reach out to the dance world.
On this trip, Mirko then started saying he liked this name Arca (after all it is Italian) and suggested starting a studio in Italy with the same name. Praise God, we have just found and bought our first studio in Italy! We carry on God’s vision under Progetto Arca in Italy.
Late last year, I was beginning to wonder if what I was doing is in God’s will since I wasn’t bringing huge numbers to church. Of course, there had been a few from different parts of the world, as far flung as Estonia, Lithuania, and Russia, reaching out and testifying to a few but today, we have many from Arca in church whose very presence is by itself a miracle. God is indeed very good.
So why did God bring me to CHC? Well, it’s the only church in Singapore which has a dance school!
I was called when I was 50 and I remember telling my youngest brother then, I am so happy that God called me so late in my life so I could enjoy my earlier years of merry making, but now six years on I look at my past life and wish that God had called me earlier instead so I could have avoided all the mistakes I had made back then. That’s why when I became a Christian, the verse that appealed to me most was in Galatians 2:20,
“It’s no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave himself up for me.”
I am the one who owed 500 denarii (well, actually more like millions of denarii) but God has forgiven me my debt. I pray that all who don’t already know Jesus will come to know Him as soon as possible.