Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New Hispanic ministry in Ruskin grows out of family rift

WIMAUMA

When the Rev. Bill Cruz and his wife, Dora, moved to South Hillsborough more than two dozen years ago, they found farm workers living in the backs of pickup trucks.

Near this outpost surrounded by citrus and vegetable fields, the Puerto Rican couple saw need and heard their calling.

They started the Good Samaritan Mission and, through the years, helped thousands of laborers and their families with food, clothing and spiritual counsel.

But these days, the couple can be found across town in Ruskin, where they recently launched a Spanish-language ministry at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church.

The couple's son, also named Bill Cruz, now directs the mission they founded 25 years ago in Wimauma.

"I was thinking of retiring, but I understood it wasn't the time," the elder Cruz, now 80, said recently. "I felt an urging, a calling from the Lord to continue the ministry."

The pastor grew concerned that the mission's board wanted to move it in a new direction, away from grass roots evangelism. He changed his mind about retiring and decided to stay on. But he felt sidelined as the board turned to his son as interim director late last year. A rift grew in the family. That's when he chose to start all over again someplace else.

But two missions already existed in Wimauma — Good Samaritan and Beth-El Mission.

"We felt no need for another ministry right there," he said. "We prayed and asked the Lord for guidance."

Ruskin, by contrast, had no mission serving its large farm worker population apart from outreach centers run by Catholic Charities and the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. When Cruz and his wife decided to leave Good Samaritan, they approached a friend and board member at St. John.

By April, they formed a proposal for a Hispanic ministry and held their first Spanish-language service at St. John on Palm Sunday.

Now their nonprofit, Lord's Lighthouse Ministry, operates out of St. John's annex with the assistance of the Cruzes' four daughters and two sons-in-law. They are searching for new donors to help them with a food and clothing pantry, early childhood programs for preschoolers, after-school tutoring and community advocacy.

Much of the congregation from the mission's Sunday services followed the pastor to Ruskin.

"They've been my pastor(s) all my adult life," Loretta Sanchez, 56, said after a recent Spanish-language Sunday service at St. John. She echoed other congregants who called the Cruzes their "spiritual mother and father."

Back at the mission, the younger Bill Cruz, appointed executive director at the start of this year, said evangelism remains its backbone, even as he guides the mission in a new direction.

An ordained minister and licensed marriage and family therapist, Cruz continues the Sunday services. He leads Bible readings and group discussions on Tuesday mornings before the open pantry.

But a major change rests in the mission's shift toward continued education and requests to patrons of the mission for volunteer service.

"We're moving away from a hand out to a hand up," said Cruz, 48.

Under the younger Cruz, the mission launched a new program called "Seeds of Change," which his wife, Theresa Cruz, directs.

It includes new computer and sewing classes, GED tutoring and driver's education instruction. All the classes are free and taught by volunteers.

Tapping the talent of retirees in nearby Sun City Center, Cruz soon expects to offer woodworking classes.

Cruz also met with the Hillsborough County School District about holding adult eduction classes at the mission. Those classes could range from cosmetology to English, nursing and auto mechanics.

"We're still bandaging wounds, we're still feeding them and clothing them, but we're moving them from where they are through education to a better place," he said.

After he took over, Cruz also started registering the hundreds of families who visit the food and clothing pantry on Tuesdays in order to more efficiently distribute the mission's goods.

Last year, the mission came close to shutting its doors until it received an infusion of last-minute donations to replenish its shelves.

With the latest changes, visitors now receive help that's consistent with the size of their families. Single men get smaller food baskets than a family of seven.

"We're not hoarding," he said after revealing two pantries stocked with canned goods, bags of rice and diapers. "How can we best use what we have and be better stewards of it?"

Cruz also asks some families to donate their time through volunteering. By doing so, he hopes to instill a sense of community.

In that regard, Cruz also recently partnered with Beth-El Mission to bring food to labor camps. He jumped on the chance to take part in a donation drive led by the U.S. Postal Service in May that helped stock his shelves.

Minding the budget, he found money to buy books and materials for the state-backed prekindergarten program. The mission sports new doors and a fresh coat of paint, while teachers in the mission's day care decorated their rooms in themes of monkeys, bears and bumblebees.

"We're respecting what we've been doing for 25 years, but with a new shift," he said.

The emphasis on job training and continued education, he said, matches the area's changing families, from migrant workers to working class.

"We're dealing with a different population now than 25 years ago," Cruz said. "Before it was a great need for food and clothing. Now with the second and third generation, we've become aware of other needs."

Lucia Bardalaz of Dover learns how to make little shirts and pants for her seven grandchildren during the Monday sewing classes.

But someday, she hopes to offer sewing services to supplement her husband's income as the owner of a bodega, or small grocery store.

"With God's help, I can do alterations in the future," she said.

Meanwhile, the Cruzes on both sides of the rift are looking forward with their respective projects, hoping one day the wounds will heal.

"We need to bury the past," said the elder Bill Cruz.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

HOW TO HELP

For more information

Call Bill and Dora Cruz at the Lord's Lighthouse Ministry in Ruskin at (813) 321-9723.

To contact the Good Samaritan Mission, call the younger Bill Cruz at (813) 634-7136 or visit its Web site at

gsmission.org.

New Hispanic ministry in Ruskin grows out of family rift 06/04/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 4, 2009 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault

    National

    WASHINGTON — Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried "eyes only" instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Barack Obama shake hands at the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. [Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]
  2. GOP's challenge: Finding votes for Senate health care bill (w/video)

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally unwrapped his plan for dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law. Now comes his next challenge — persuading enough Republicans to back the measure and avert a defeat that could be shattering for President Donald Trump and the GOP.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to reporters at the Capitol after Republicans released their long-awaited bill to scuttle much of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 22, 2017. He is one of four GOP senators to say they are opposed it but are open to negotiations, which could put the measure in immediate jeopardy. [Associated Press]
  3. Harmeling first woman to receive lifetime honor at Sneaker Soiree in Tampa

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — For the last quarter-century, she has combined passion and meticulousness to keep the Gasparilla Distance Classic humming and evolving. Indefatigable and detailed, Susan Harmeling braces for every race-weekend contingency.

    Susan Harmeling gives a speech after accepting an award  during the annual Sneaker Soiree, at TPepin's Hospitality Centre, Thursday, June 22, 2017.
  4. Manslaughter charges eyed in deadly London fire sparked by refrigerator

    World

    LONDON — Manslaughter charges are among the offenses under consideration in the devastating Grenfell Tower blaze that killed 79 people, London police said Friday.

    A view of part of the Burnham residential tower on the Chalcots Estate showing the bottom section of the building after cladding was removed, in the borough of Camden, north London, Thursday, June 22, 2017. Tests so far have found that at least three high-rise apartment buildings in the U.K. have flammable external panels like the ones believed to have contributed to a fire that killed 79 people in London, Britain's government said Thursday. The local council in Camden, a borough of London, removed cladding from one of its buildings for further testing after tests they commissioned showed some of their panels were of the flammable variety "and not the ones they ordered." It was unclear whether the Camden example was one of the three mentioned by the government. [Associated Press]
  5. PolitiFact: 6 questions about the Senate health care bill and transparency

    Perspective

    Now that a Senate health care bill has been unveiled, senators will be jousting over its provisions to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined by, from left, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks following a closed-door strategy session, at the Capitol in Washington on June 20. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)