Nov 30, 2012, by Adeline Lum CM-
Born the second of nine siblings, Cleo Carmona grew up in poverty in General Santos City, the “Tuna Capital” of Philippines. He grew up feeling neglected by his parents, and quit school at an early age to work as a fisherman. He experienced five major storms and witnessed many ships sinking.
“I realized that there was not future in this job,” Cleo said. “So, I left fishing and re-enrolled in school.”
He was notorious and started taking drugs, getting involved in gang fights using knives and guns. The violence on the streets did not go unnoticed, leading to the intervention of the “Death Squad”, a group who executes delinquents and drug traffickers out of justice but that did not stop him.
One day, Youth With A Mission (YMCA) crusade arrived on the shores of Cleo’s hometown, which caused quite a ruckus. He picked up three stones to throw at them, when suddenly an evangelist said, “Whoever you are, no matter how dark your sin is, God can make it white as snow.”
God touched his heart and tears streamed down his face although he was high on drugs. He had always known the Bible existed but did not know what it said.
After that, he kept awake for three nights until he finally asked around and started to attend the crusade meetings. Faithfully, he would attend every meeting and after one week, he received Jesus as His Lord and Savior at the altar call.
“I was so involved in church activities that I was sleeping at the pews,” said Cleo who later experienced the leading of the Holy Spirit to preach.
One year after that, he assisted a pastor in planning a pioneer church at the mountains of Mindanao named “Pag-Asa”, which means Hope. With a meager allowance of 35 pesos (about RM3 per week), he eventually quit out of the pressure by his parents and became a sales agent for a year. But he experienced deeper poverty, notwithstanding getting back his old habits of drinking, drugs and violence. His parents soon released him to do ministry work.
“When I lapsed into my former vices again, God mercifully said, “Son, it is time to come back. I will train you for two years. After that, I will take you out of this country.”
He eventually returned to Pag-Asa, when God gave him a vision of his wife. Although her face was not clear, he knew she was fair skin. In the vision, he could also see a swimming pool, coconut trees and a nice building.
Two years later, a group of short-term ministry came to visit his church. Among them was a Chinese girl from Kuala Lumpur, named Cindy Yong. Although their meeting only lasted five minutes, both have a positive impression of each other.
However, Cleo wanted to be sure if Cindy was the one. Hence, he asked God to show hi three signs, which is to write him three letters. She did! And after the third missive, Cleo replied with an intention of proposing to her.
Cindy was a metropolitan girl who was happy with her career and active in church. She was serious with God, deciding early on that her life partner would be a foreign pastor who had done at least two years’ of pioneering work. She wrote her requirement on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope, forgetting all about it.
“When I met Cleo, a voice said ‘He is the one’, but there was nothing that attracted him to me physically,” she recalls. But suddenly, she remembers the letter and decided to invite Cleo to Kula Lumpur to meet with her family. If they are agreeable with him, that would be a confirmation.
In 1998, Cleo flew to Kuala Lumpur and stayed for a month, having Cindy's mother hugged him the first time she saw him at a resort in Port Dickson. When he saw the swimming pool, coconut trees and resort building, he knew this was the scene from his vision years ago.
“It was a confirmation that Cindy would be my wife,” Cleo said with a broad smile.
In 2000, the couple got married and studied together at the Theological Centre for Asia (Malaysia) and served as pastors in Bethany AOG church in Kuala Lumpur.
In 2002, they returned to General Santos City to plant churches under the Net Harvest Global Mission Inc. and were blessed to see many lives transformed.
“We had to lived close to danger such as terrorist attacks and bombings, pawned our jewelry and valuables to help people, and seen the ugliness of poverty,” Cleo said.
The couple, who now have a 7-year old daughter, Cherry Faith, planted the Destiny Care orphanage with 17 children under their care in year 2010, from ages five to 22.
The couple is now stepping out in faith to see the completion of a 1000-capacity orphanage. Other church-planting efforts include feeding the poor slum children in and providing water supply to tribal people in the interior of Mindanao. A typical day for the Carmonas includes getting people to hospital, giving then rice, and digging wells.
What a beautiful couple in the Lord! How God unite two people from different countries together is one romantic story to be told. Like iron sharpen iron, the Carmonas work together to bless the poor and destitute.
Note: This story was a shortened version from Pastor Cleo's testimony in Asian Beacon, obtained with their permission.
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