Man’s best friend leads to a new friend, a new church, and a renewed faith in Christ.
On a routine visit to the dog park with her German shepherd, Cheryle McArdle met Judith. Cheryle and Judith formed a fast and tight friendship that included looking for a church together. Toronto, Canada, had a lot of choices.
Once, while at the dog park, a stranger approached them and invited them to his church. Cheryle and Judith both went a few times, but it was not for them. Cheryle said it was too big and impersonal. Both women continued their search for a church. Judith found one, Hope Lutheran, and began attending regularly. She thought Cheryle might like it too and invited Cheryle to check out her new discovery.
One Sunday in May 2017, Cheryle went to Hope. It was her first step in finding what would become her new church home. Cheryle said Hope drew her in from the first time she went: “First and foremost, it was the message, but it was the way the message was delivered,” she says. “The atmosphere at Hope is warm and loving and accepting. There isn’t anyone they aren’t happy to see. I could feel that the first day I walked in. They couldn’t have been kinder to me.”
The journey to Hope
Cheryle, 68, has lived in the Toronto area her entire life. When she was seven, her parents divorced and she, along with her mother and siblings, went to live with her grandparents. Cheryle attended church with her grandparents regularly throughout her youth. She sang in the choir, it’s where she got married, and it’s where her first child was baptized.
Cheryle met her husband, Dana, when they were just teenagers. “My sister married the boy next door, and my husband was his best friend,” says Cheryle. “My parents said, ‘You should double date; you’re not going on a date alone,’ ” she recalls. “My sister met her husband and I met Dana, and we’ve both been married over 50 years now.” Cheryle was 17 when she and Dana got married.
Cheryle and Dana worked hard throughout their lives and raised two children. When they weren’t working at their day jobs, Cheryle and Dana gave scuba lessons and Cheryle coached hockey. Their family life was good, and even though their jobs and busy schedules didn’t provide a lot of opportunity for it, Cheryle tried to take her kids to church here and there. However, over the years, church became less of a priority. Looking back, Cheryle says, “I had been using the excuse that I had to work Sundays as the reason I didn’t go, instead of saying I couldn’t work on Sundays.”
When she retired and her Sundays freed up, Cheryle had the desire to search for a church home. She knew it was time. Enter the chain of events that led her to meet Judith and, ultimately, to give Hope a try.
After her first Sunday at Hope, Cheryle knew she was going to go back. At Hope, she heard a message about God’s love that she had never heard before: She didn’t have to “be good.” “I don’t have to do anything to get into heaven. Jesus died on the cross and his blood covers me. I’m going to heaven because of God’s grace, not because of anything I could ever do. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for me. It’s the absolute biggest truth in the world for me,” says Cheryle. “It freed me. When I learned that truth, it was so crystal clear, unequivocable, no debate, that’s it. I thought a hundred-pound weight was lifted off my shoulders.”
Mission work very close to home
Every Sunday Dana would drive Cheryle to church and “dump her at the curb,” as she jokes. Cheryle, of course, wanted her husband to know and understand the same truths she had been learning, but Dana, at that point, wasn’t interested. He would attend worship occasionally, especially if Cheryle was singing in the choir.
Cheryle, however, was a persistent instrument of the Holy Spirit. “I would do things like leave the worship folders on the coffee table. When I got my first Bible, I would leave my Bible out. That’s how it started for my husband,” she says. “This is missionary work, but you don’t have to go anywhere.”
At the time Ben Berger was serving as a vicar at Hope as part of the Vicar in a Mission Setting program (see sidebar). He began leading a Bible study hosted by Cheryle in her home. Berger and his wife would then have dinner with Cheryle and Dana.
“Sitting around the table after a meal was when Ben really helped Dana understand that basic truth that I had already gotten, that Jesus died for our sins. The night he realized that, it was complete and utter silence in my house,” says Cheryle. “I actually left the room for a while because I didn’t want to intrude on what I call an intimate exchange.”
After this, Dana started attending worship with Cheryle—maybe not every Sunday at first, but more and more frequently. Then, one day, he asked Cheryle if she could ask the pastor to baptize him. After Dana was baptized, he began taking the Foundations in Faith class and was confirmed as a member at Hope during the last worship service before everything shut down from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The next 50 years
While Cheryle and Dana always had a solid relationship, for the first time in 50 years they now are also united in faith. Cheryle says she can see a difference in how they relate to each other.
“I had to understand my husband is the head of the house, spiritually too. I had to move to the left, so to speak. He’s the head of the house, and most important, with our relationship to God. Once I got that in my head, I learned to be more supportive of him where he was going in his spiritual walk because it had nothing to do with me. It’s his walk,” Cheryle says.
She continues, “It opened us up to seeing each other in a far more loving way because we have God in our lives now. It’s not just saying words, but we’re doing the work.”
Cheryle concludes, “Dana and I are in the second 50 years of our marriage. Now we’ve got God guiding us in what we do and God’s watching over our marriage. God loves us both and he’s not going to guide us wrong when it comes to our marriage.”
Author: Amanda M. Klemp
Volume 108, Number 1
Issue: January 2021