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Pasco pastor drives home inspiring bilingual message

When Ruth Barwind first attended worship services at Faith Assembly, she was so moved she returned after lunch for the second service of the day.

Yes, the message was the same, but presented differently. The first service was in English; the second in Spanish.

And no, Mrs. Barwind doesn't speak Spanish. She just knows what she likes, and she likes Pastor Miguel Cruz and the message he brings.

"If you ever heard him preach," she says, "you would know that you had heard the Word of God."

Cruz was born in Puerto Rico, moved to New Jersey when he was 2 and says he was pretty much raised in church. As a supply clerk in the Air Force, he got the nickname the "Jesus Kid."

Now the 44-year-old "Kid" makes his living driving a school bus for the Pasco County school system _ but his passion is ministering to the people of Faith Assembly on Gulf Drive.

Cruz first began translating his English services into Spanish when his parents moved to Florida and joined the congregation. They had a little trouble understanding English, so he began translating into Spanish.

"If anyone got up to do a testimony," he says, "I would translate. We were doing bilingual services."

The constant translating soon became too much. Now each Sunday, Faith Assembly offers English services at 10:45 a.m. and Spanish services at 1:45 p.m., with Sunday School in each language before each service.

And even though the church has a few more Spanish-speaking people than English, Cruz makes it clear he has no desire to make it an all-Spanish or all-English church, but to continue with a combination.

"We meet the needs of both areas, and I don't want people to get the idea that it is just a Spanish church," Cruz says. He also has some definite views on what a church's purpose should be, and it's not to entertain.

"Entertainment is not the focal point of our church. We just want to stick to the groundwork of ministering to the Word of God. A lot of ministries use comedians or other tactics to bring people in. It sometimes does not make us as popular, but we stick to the old ways. Entertainment makes us feel good, but the Word of God gets us through the tough times."

Cruz came to Faith Assembly five years ago after serving at Light of the World in New Port Richey and at Hallelujah House in Tampa.

The church offers a variety of services, including Spanish services each Tuesday for women and Thursdays for men. The services are organized and presented by Spanish laymen of the church.

An English Bible study group meets each Wednesday night. Cruz says the church's "great" youth program is led by Hilaria "Lalin" Bosquez. The Keenagers, for people 55 and older, meet at 10 a.m. on the first Friday of each month.

"Sometimes they have lunch with the pastor, sometimes a speaker," he says. "It's a time to let down your hair and be yourself."

Miguel and his wife, Christine, have two children, Miguel and Jessica, who are home-schooled.

As pastor, Cruz receives a housing allowance but no salary, so he makes his living by driving a Pasco school bus. He tells this story of how he received a new bus on his first day of work while long-term employees were driving older buses.

"I first started working the school bus route as a substitute driver. When you become a regular driver, they issue you a bus for 10 years. I noticed that the bus I got was fairly new and I was surprised when others got the old clunkers. But when I went in for my first day as a regular driver, they gave me the keys to bus 666."

Cruz says no one wanted the bus because the Book of Revelations says 666 is the "mark of the beast."

There were no beasts on his bus _ though Cruz recites the old bus driver line that when he is driving, all his problems are behind him. He says he tells his riders if they want to be treated with respect, they must also respect him.

As for ministering, he says, "Being a pastor is easy to do when you are getting paid for it, but it is more rewarding when you are doing it for the Lord. That way you are not disappointed when not compensated by man. I have been offered positions in other churches with a salary, a car allowance and other things to pull me away, but I have not given in to that. I feel that this is where God wants me."