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Died: Ferdie Cabiling, Philippines’ ‘Running Pastor’

One of the founding leaders of Victory megachurch, he never stopped running to share the gospel.
Died: Ferdie Cabiling, Philippines’ ‘Running Pastor’
Image: Facebook/Victory Ortigas / Edits by CT

Ferdinand “Ferdie” Cabiling, a bishop at one of the Philippines’ largest megachurches who ran across the Philippines to raise money for disadvantaged students, died April 1, the day after Easter. He was 58 years old.

Dubbed “the Running Pastor,” the moniker describes not only Cabiling’s epic race but how he lived his life and served as an evangelist. For 38 years, he was a vocational minister of Victory Christian Fellowship of the Philippines, which has nearly 150 locations in the country. The branch he led, Victory Metro Manila, averaged more than 75,000 people each Sunday. [Note: The author is a member of Victory Church and was a part of the late pastor's small group in 2014.]

In the past two years, his focus was on teaching evangelism to Victory leaders. Every time he received a teaching invitation, his answer was always yes, said his assistant, Faye Bonifacio.

“He was a maximizer,” Bonifacio said, noting that Cabiling developed a habit of taking short naps while parked at a gas station between long drives. “Because he liked to drive, he did a lot in a day.”

Hours before his death, Cabiling had visited a church member at a hospital an hour away from his hometown of Cuyapo before parking his car at a gas station, likely for a break before heading to his next destination. It was there that an attendant found his lifeless body and rushed him to the hospital he had just visited. Cabiling had died of a heart attack.

“He was a serious man of passion, action, and conviction,” wrote Steve Murrell, the founding pastor of Victory, the flagship church for the charismatic-leaning Every Nation Churches and Ministries, which has churches and campus ministries in 82 countries, in an Instagram post. “For 40 years, he was a part of every major decision made by Victory leaders.”

Born on September 8, 1965, Cabiling lived in the rice-producing Central Luzon. His father was a farmer and his mother was a school teacher. One of six siblings, Cabiling grew up a “nominal” Seventh-day Adventist due to the influence of his mother’s faith, according to his autobiography, Run: Endure the Pain, Keep the Faith, Finish Your Race. After graduating from a Catholic high school, he moved 100 miles south to Manila to attend Adamson University, where his close relatives provided for his tuition and allowance. The plan was for him to become a civil engineer, work abroad, and support his parents.

Yet those plans changed during his sophomore year in 1984, a year marked by civil unrest against the first Marcos presidency, when he attended an evangelistic crusade by the US-based Maranatha Campus Ministries led by Rice Broocks. That night, Broocks highlighted John 3, noting that unless a person is born again, they cannot enter the kingdom of God. “If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?” Broocks asked the students.

“I felt like I was standing in front of a torrent of truth as he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ with unreserved passion and conviction,” Cabiling recalled in his book. He decided to give his life to Christ during that meeting.

Afterward, one of the American missionaries invited him to be baptized at a pool in the hotel near where they were staying. Cabiling agreed, and the Americans lent shorts too big for him. He remembers “holding on for dear life to my shorts, lest I lose them in the waters of baptism.”

Days after, he was introduced to Murrell, who taught new believers biblical foundations. When the short-term mission trip that had brought them to the Philippines ended, Murrell and his wife had decided to stay behind. Together with Cabiling and other college-aged new believers, they started a church in 1984, initially called Maranatha Christian Fellowship. In 1991, they changed their name to Victory Christian Fellowship to emphasize Christ’s victory over death.

Arnie Suson, one of the early Victory members who later became one of the church’s pastors, said Cabiling was always assigned to do the altar call. Murrell would preach, and then the engineering student would be called to deliver a short gospel presentation. “There was an evangelist inside of him,” said Murrell.

After receiving his engineering degree, Cabiling decided to become a pastor at Victory. In 1991, he married another early Victory member, Judy Pena, who became a campus minister. Together, they helped establish new branches of Victory church.

“When we were starting, Ferdie was a diamond in the rough,” wrote Jun Escosar, a missiologist and Victory’s first paid staff member. “But you could see the steady growth and the passion to learn—not out of selfish ambition or to seek a name for himself.” Victory’s former leadership pastor, Neil Perion, said it took years for the church to convince Cabiling to be ordained a bishop at Victory, as he hated titles.

Victory grew quickly as the church focused on reaching Filipino students on the campus, with small group discipleship a crucial component in their outreach strategy. These young Christians would invite other students, their siblings, and parents, adding to the church’s numbers until thousands were gathering each Sunday in churches around the country.

Rico Ricafort met Cabiling as a sophomore in college. “You may have a lot of guides but not many fathers,” Ricafort said during a memorial service for Cabiling.

Ricafort later became a Victory pastor and, together with Cabiling and several student leaders, founded the campus ministry Youth on Fire in 1994, which spread to many colleges and universities across the Philippines. The late pastor was also instrumental in sharing the gospel to Ricafort’s parents and siblings.

Ria Llanto-Martin, a former campus minister who also met Cabiling when she was in college, described him as a “relational disciple-maker.” She remembers him spending a lot of time with the students, obliging their requests to preach the gospel in their classes and being there for them during times of need.

“I was in my 20s when my dad passed away,” said Llanto-Martin. “He was one of the first people to be in the hospital with us in the ICU. And then he prayed for my dad.”

In 2015, Cabiling, who was an avid ultramarathon runner, decided to run 1,350 miles across all three major islands in the Philippine archipelago to raise around $36,000 for Real LIFE Foundation, an organization he chaired that helps disadvantaged students. He aimed to run 31 miles a day for 44 days in celebration of his 50th birthday. Judy attributed his new obsession to a midlife crisis.

At 2 a.m. on September 5, 2015, Cabiling started his run in the town of Maasim at the southernmost tip of Mindanao. He ran through dangerous areas on the island, including what is now known as Davao de Oro, where insurgents have an active presence. He ran even as his left ankle and foot began to swell to the point that he “could feel bursts of extreme pain with every step.” He said that on the ninth day, “I couldn’t force myself to get up and continue.”

“Nonetheless, I never entertained the thought of quitting,” he wrote in his book. Cabiling’s solo race drew national headlines, as only six others had made the journey. When he arrived in Manila, a little past the halfway point, two prominent Philippine broadcast journalists joined him as he covered the stretch of the historic Roxas Boulevard along Manila Bay. He became known as Philippines’ “Running Pastor.”

On October 26, 2015, he completed the last leg of his race in Aparri, a town on the northernmost edge of Luzon island. In total, he exceeded his goal and raised $55,000, providing scholarships for more than 200 students.

That single-minded focus could sometimes affect interpersonal relationships. Murrell described Cabiling as having “humble boldness,” emphasizing that most who knew him have experienced that boldness “where he would say things we all wanted to say but we were afraid to say them. He’s legendary for speaking the truth in love to very powerful people that aren’t used to hearing correction.“

Several Victory leaders noted the late evangelist could be intense. Ricafort said that unlike those who correct others using the sandwich principle—sandwiching critiques with positive affirmations—his mentor served it “all pure meat.”

Serving the growing church and the campus ministry and equipping pastors and leaders on evangelism took up much of Cabiling’s time. He would preach at two events in two different provinces on the same day while still making time to minister over the phone and even virtually.

Judy said that, at times, she and her husband would have “loving fellowship” (translation: conflicts) over his jam-packed schedule. “He always had to do everything within one day,” she said.

Now, looking back, she sees why: “God allotted only 58 years for him to live, so he didn’t waste any time.”

Cabiling is survived by Judy, his wife of 33 years; a daughter and a son; and two grandchildren.

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