THE INTERVEW. Brother Erasto Marisga Fuentes mused happily, and as he looked at me, he spoke with the contentment of one whose prayers have just been answered. His voice was soft.
At 82, he still could recall things and events. He recalled how he had prayed to the Lord for the church in Naga to acquire a lot and a chapel of its own, how he had prayed for a Bible school to be built in his city, and for the progress of the kingdom in the Bicol region.
Gently I told him I had come to conduct seminars to the new churches established in Bayandong and Gindi, both in Bacacay—churches that have been the realization of his dreams. The crop of students PIBI-Naga has produced came too to listen to me at Bayandong. PIBI-Naga is now housed in a school room adjacent to the Naga church building. The Lord indeed heard his prayers.
This noon of Thursday, December 6, we were having Jollibee lunch at LCC Mall, the symbol of modernity and progress that have come to Naga City in Camarines Sur, Philippines. At this stage of Naga City’s urban growth, LCC Mall is still Naga’s finest. His wife Meriam, his son Jed, his two granddaughters, and his daughter Eunice May had gone to buy groceries. So I had brother Erasto all to myself at this time of day. I had wanted this interview, and he was willing to answer whatever questions I would ask.
MY PURPOSE FOR COMING. Monday, December 3, I had come to the Bicol region courtesy of the young preachers who wanted me to lecture on church growth, Christian living and evangelism. My plane fares and other expenses were paid for by brother Luis Cusi of Banilad church. Brother Mhalbe Lagria, a brother who is like a son to me, had arranged for this seminar. Brother Jedidiah Fuentes and the Naga church had also expressed their desire to hear me speak and so from Bayandong in Albay I came to Naga in Cam Sur. We left Bayandong for Naga Wednesday afternoon, December 5. The trip, said Jed, who was at the wheels, could take us 20 minutes. That night it took hours because of the heavy traffic. The midweek service had begun when we arrived. But I was ready, and after Jed introduced me, I spoke. Words flowed from my lips in the dialect that is not of my birth: Tagalog. I spoke about the outward man’s decay and the inward man’s renewal day by day, urging the brethren to keep renewing themselves by submitting to the will of God each day, in expectation of the home that is beyond all expectations.
Seeing brother Erasto Fuentes on a wheelchair that Wednesday night was beyond my expectation. He didn’t like to be sitting on that wheelchair, so his family arranged for him to undergo therapy, and that has been going on for a week now. How do you feel now? I asked. “I feel okay,” he said. That night after the midweek service, he tried to walk a few steps. Those were his first few steps, his wife said, after months of being bed-ridden.
HIS WALK OF FAITH. Brother Erasto’s walk of faith began in the 1950’s. His parents having died, he and his young siblings tried to make it in the world of the adults. He was then a young member of the Lord’s church in San Jose, Oriental Mindoro. Having finished the sixth grade, he got a job as sanitary inspector of the province through the help of the president of their school, who became governor of the province. In a few years he could be promoted to chief sanitary inspector. Politics too beckoned to him. But he had other things in mind.
He had just received a copy of “New Testament Christianity” magazine. That small literature interested him. He wrote the editor, expressing his desire to study at Philippine Bible College. Ralph Brashears wrote back and told him he could come and study for free. That elated him.
That was 1954 when he came to Baguio City. Having been a government employee, he went to a garage near Burnham Park where he saw government vehicles being parked and asked one of the drivers to take him to Philippine Bible College. It was a ride so short; he did not know that PBC was just nearby, along Carantes Street. He thought it was a big school, with a big campus; he saw that it was housed in a small edifice which it also rented. He thought Ralph Brashears, president of the college, would meet him; it was Adriano Limbawan (deceased), one of the students, who showed him around. Brashears was in the States campaigning for more support for the school.
Looking back at it now, brother Erasto said he had no regrets, only a deeper love and appreciation to the Lord who made use of him in His vineyard. His journey of faith, which began with small steps back in Mindoro, now taught him here is the life he should be looking for: The life of one who would be a minister of God.
In 1962, brother Franklin sent him and other young men to Pi y Margall, in Manila. He became director of Philippine Bible course, the forerunner of our Bible Correspondence courses. His students included Mila Arroz, and another young lady, Meriam de la Cruz, daughter of a deaconess of UCCP, who would later on become his wife.
MISSION WORK IN BICOL. He, Gregorio Gallardo Sr. and a brother named Pilote came to Bicol in 1964 because they saw that there was yet no church in the area. After a few months, brother Pilote left the work, but he and brother Gallardo kept on.
His wife wasn’t a member of the Lord’s church when they were married. But for six months he kept at it, answered any objection she may have, and when she finally expressed her desire to obey the Lord, he baptized her.
The Fuenteses have been blessed with six children.
It was brother Erasto who also taught and baptized Leonardo Razon, the husband of Eunice May, his eldest daughter. The Razons now live in Toronto, Canada, and have been blessed with three kids.
His son Erasto Jr. is married to Anna Theresa Ramirez of Olongapo City. They have two kids. Jun has finished an associate of theology degree at Philippine Bible College. He has been in the US Navy for 16 years, but plans to retire 5 years from now and do mission work in Bicol.
Jedidiah (Jed for short) took units at PBC while studying at St. Louis University. His wife is Estrella Apaga, a Christian from Tarlac. They have one daughter named Hannah Jeanelle.
One of brother Fuentes’ daughters is married to another preacher named Scott Saboy.
ELDERS AND DEACONS. Naga church presently have three elders and three deacons who were installed in October last year. The elders are brother Erasto Sr., brother Marino Tejero, and brother Ricardo Montilla Sr. The deacons include Jerry Corpuz, Servin Sargento and Danny Hernandez. Danny had studied at PBC also.
BROTHER SMITH AND HIS SCHOOLS. Brother Charles T. Smith, former missionary to the Philippines, has established the Philippine International Bible Institute (PIBI). It has four branches: one in Batangas, another in Angeles City, another in Olongapo City and one also in Naga City. Brother Smith is the director of these schools, but each of the branches is administered by Filipino Christians. These schools are affiliated with the Sunset International Bible Institute.