I would like to tell you about my friend, Pastor Hermando Abelitado, who was suddenly killed a few days before Christmas. Brother Cruz, as his friends knew him, a graduate of Iloilo Baptist College, was an encouragement to everyone. He was a faithful and fruitful servant of God.
He came to IBC in 1980. I challenged the students to go to their Christian friends and family, and encourage them to come to Bible College. One young man went to his home on the island of Mindanao, and talked to Hermando and another friend. Both came to IBC, and all three became pastors.
While Brother Cruz was in school his job was to teach guitar to some of the students, as well as clean the auditorium. He would often bring as many as 60 children to Sunday school. After graduating he started a church in the central part of Iloilo Province and named it the Good Tidings Baptist Church. Before long he noticed a nomadic tribe of Ati people (the native Filipino, as they’re called here) who had settled outside the village. The Lord burdened his heart to start a church for them and the Lord blessed his labor. He named the new church Hilltop Baptist Church.
Becky and I went to visit him in 1985 along with several of our church members. Becky’s parents were here for a visit and they went with us. We walked about a mile up the mountain and the only one who didn’t complain was our then six-year-old son Ricky but that was because he got to ride a pony up the mountain.
I remember the smiling faces looking down on us as we climbed up. Their shyness was overcome with joy and excitement over their visitors. Many of the children ran away in fright but were fascinated with Ricky and his blonde hair. I looked around at our church members and they had tears running down their faces. The Ati are a very poor and sometimes despised people. I can’t describe the condition of their houses and clothes yet these baby Christians were very happy.
They were proud of their Hilltop Baptist Church even though it was very simple with bamboo rails to sit on and a dirt floor, which by the way, was much nicer than any of their homes. Our church helped with materials and the church members did all the labor. We were so touched that many of these poor people had sacrificially donated chickens and rice to feed us. Some of the men speared some large lizards for us to eat.
For 28 years Brother Cruz started churches in that area. He started a Bible Institute for married men and for most of those years he pastored two churches at the same time.
Many villages in the Philippines are small with little to no transportation so churches are limited to reaching those within walking distance of the church. Pastors who have initiative have a vision to start churches in the villages in these areas by training men and often pastoring two churches at the same time. Brother Cruz was 25 when he started his first church and 51 when he started his last one—another church for the Ati—two years before his Home-going.
Last year when our orchestra played at a large high school in the town of Passi, I invited Brother Cruz to preach because he was great with young people. He was always being asked to preach for special occasions by pastors, especially youth camps.
In October 2011, Brother Cruz was one of the speakers at our Pastors & Workers Conference, probably the highlight of the year. He was very funny but also serious about God’s work. When Brother Cruz would speak at one of our events we knew something good was going to happen because he had God’s Hand upon his life.
On Saturday, December 22, he was preparing for Christmas Sunday at his church. They were expecting a lot of visitors. Brother Cruz went to pick up some things for the special service. Around
noon he was standing at the side of the road and a man driving a large truck, who had fallen asleep, hit and killed Pastor Cruz instantly. Missionary Sam Heidenreich, who lives nearby, was a great help to Pastor Cruz’ family, for which I am extremely grateful.
As we were starting our visitation meeting that Saturday, I was stunned when I received the news. Brother Cruz was more than just another graduate of IBC, he was a close friend. I remember a time when I really needed a friend to help me with an extremely difficult and complicated problem and the Lord used him to help me. I owed him a lot.
That night alone in my room, I couldn’t keep back the tears. My grandson, T.J., walked in and asked why I was crying and I told him. He said, “It’s ok. You’ll see him again in Heaven someday. When Grandma dies, I’ll see her again, and when Daddy dies, I’ll see him again, and when Mama dies I’ll see her again in Heaven.” Then he stopped. He didn’t say anything about seeing me in Heaven! Like he wasn’t too sure about that!
Brother Cruz’ death came five days before our annual Christmas Alumni Meeting. We held a memorial service for Brother Cruz. It started at 8:30 and ended past noon. We asked several pastor friends to tell their memories of Brother Cruz. Many told funny stories, and they told how he had touched so many lives. We laughed and we cried. Brother Cruz was a practical joker and often used humor to get close to people and win their hearts.
The next day his body was taken to Passi, where his new church was. The funeral was held several days later and there were about 600 people there. The church is small so most had to stand outside. After it was over we slowly made our way to the cemetery, near his other church. There we again gave thanks to God for his life. It was fitting that he was buried in the church of the Ati, a group of people that few people care about.
Brother Cruz was always smiling, always encouraging. I was just one of many who benefitted from his great spirit. You’d never think he ever had a problem but the truth is he had many trials. He lost a four-year-old daughter a few years ago. His youngest son almost died on three occasions. Once I went to visit his little boy in the hospital. There was Brother Cruz, tears in his eyes, but a smile on his face. I’ll never forget the grace of God so evident in his life. Please pray for his dear wife and children.
NEWS & PRAYER REQUESTS
Much has happened since our last prayer letter regarding the progress of opening an FM radio station in Iloilo City. It seems as though the Lord has opened many doors and helped us through some of the legal requirements, which will allow us to start soon. Not only that, a generous donation was given to buy the equipment needed to operate the station. We are very grateful to God and the donor for this investment.
Also, we have been able to start training people from Iloilo Baptist Church who will operate the station. Gene Sharp, who has started many radio stations all over the world, recently spent six days here training some of the workers here (see photo). If you would like to listen to Brother Sharp’s station that he started in Ohio, get on cleanair.fm. Please pray for the following:
*Bro. Sharp as he probably will be shipping the tower from the USA to install here.
*Continued training of the broadcasters and permit for the station. Lord willing Bro. Sharp will be coming back in a few months to help.
*Expenses to help fly two men to the Philippines to install the tower. We are building soundproof rooms for the station. We have the building but the broadcast rooms need to be finished.
For many years radio in the Philippines has had a larger listening audience than TV. We hope to broadcast 18 hours a day. There is no Christian radio station on this island of 4,000,000 people.
Thank you so much for your faithful support. We don’t take it for granted. We are so grateful for it and for your prayers.
Sincerely in Christ,
PS: Those of you who receive a paper copy of our prayer letter and would rather receive our prayer letter through email, please let us know at email@example.com. Our website is: martinsibc.jimdo.com.