I moved from upstate New York to South Texas about three years ago. Being head elder in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains was very different from being an elder in a bilingual church in the wonderful Gulf Coast re - gion of Texas.
As we were getting acquainted with our new church family, one man stood out from the rest. Brother Rito’s strength and compassion and his dedication to the church and the Word of God was amazing. You could tell that the Lord was using him and his wonderful family—wife Genny and daughters Kimberly and Carolyn—to further His work.
Shortly after we arrived, Brother Rito was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of cancer. You could see the cancer taking the strength from his body, but his love and determination to live for God and to set an example grew stronger every day.
At the young age of 30, I was elected to be head elder of my Texas church. If the Lord had faith in me, I should have faith in myself! Brother Rito was getting weaker every week. Every Sabbath the pastor would ask for special prayer for Brother Rito, and we elders would lay our hands on him and anoint his head with oil. Every Sabbath Brother Rito would shake hands with everyone as they left the church. This effort took all his physical strength, but his emotional strength was amazing. He was Job-like; Satan could hurt his body, but God had his mind. That enraged Satan even more. In a matter of months, Brother Rito had taken a turn for the worse and was given only a couple months to live.
At that point, the pastor decided to have a Week of Prayer for Brother Rito and to anoint him every night during that week. Each church leader was assigned a night to give a brief sermon, after which we prayed together. My assigned talk was at the end of the week, and each night I searched my soul to see if there was anything that would prevent the healing that our church so desired. I thought all week about what to say that had not already been said, but I couldn’t think of anything! Our petition was before the Lord; what more could I do?
On my way home from work Thursday night, I put the top down on my convertible so I could have it out with God. As I drove though the solitary ranchland, I looked up at the vast Texas night sky and felt closer to God as I looked up into His creation. In desperation, I asked the Lord, “What do you want me to do? You know what we want! How many more anointings do you want us to do? What must I say? Is my prayer wrong? Am I not saying the right words? Lord, if there was ever anyone who deserved healing, it would be Brother Rito. His family needs him, and Your church needs him. What do you want me to do? Please let me know!” Suddenly, it was as though someone had snapped their fingers. A calm came over me, and a voice said, “Don’t you know that I love Brother Rito more then you can comprehend?”
That was it! No matter what happened to Brother Rito, God loved him and would do whatever was best for him, even if I could not understand it.
The next night I shared my experience and we anoint - ed Brother Rito again. But his condition got worse, and a month later he died. His death was a great loss to the church’s leadership and morale, but I am happy to say that Brother Rito’s wife has stepped in to fill his shoes. She is the church’s first woman elder, and the Holy Spirit has empowered her in her work with the church. The same strength and conviction that her husband had, she now brings forth.
Brother Rito’s passing was a trying time for my church and I, but we have grown from this experience and now have a better understanding of God and His love for us. In these uncertain times, we need to strengthen our faith and believe that God knows what is best for us. We also need to recognize that the love that He has for us is greater than we can imagine. We need to trust Him, even if we can’t understand. We also need to appreciate the people God places in our lives. I consider myself privileged to have known Brother Rito. I thank God that He used his life to teach our church a valuable lesson and to strengthen our faith.
Bryan Windover is the head elder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Victoria, Texas.