June 19, 1927 – March 10, 2010
Born in Monroe, Florida, Bob Cranston was one of four children in a fourth generation Free Methodist home. Bob told of going to the altar frequently during his childhood, but it wasn’t until after high school graduation and a year in the U.S. Navy that he made a full commitment to Christ. Bob realized he needed to answer the call to preach that he’d been fighting since his teen years and give himself wholly to Christ. He attended Greenville College, Illinois, then went to Asbury Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky. He married Carolyn Shaw, whom he had met at Greenville, in September 1947.
Following seminary graduation in 1954, Bob returned to the Florida Conference as pastor of the Lake Worth Free Methodist Church. Three of his and Carolyn’s four children were born in Florida. During this time Bob began to feel a call to missions. First, the Cranstons were appointed to Florida Spanish Tampa Mission in Ybor City. Bob served as evangelist, teacher and school administrator until their appointment to the Philippines in 1963.
The Cranstons’ work in the Philippines centered principally in Butuan City, Mindanao, at Light and Life Bible College where he served as director, teacher and college choir director. Their role was important in training pastors and directing church growth efforts. Bob also served as English pulpit minister for the Butuan City church and as mission and conference superintendent. In 1975 he was appointed the Area Director for Southeast Asia, a position requiring oversight of work in India and Egypt, later expanding to include Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.
In 1978, the Cranstons were appointed to Indonesia to assist in new work beginning there. After an intensive language course, Bob began pastoral training classes. In 1980 they were given a short appointment to India, and then in 1982 Bob and Carolyn were reappointed to the Philippines. Two years later they were able to turn the Bible college over to national leadership when Jim Tuan was elected president.
Bob instituted a conference church growth program, IMPACT 77, for southern Philippines. The program’s goal, “I Must Plant A Church Today,” introduced in 1985, included growing by 7,700 members and planting 70 new churches in five years. Also that year, the Philippine Conference asked Bob to organize Light and Life Graduate School of Theology.
Just prior to the Cranstons’ retirement, Bob reviewed growth of the FMC in the Philippines from 1980 to 1993: it had moved from one conference to four full conferences; the graduate school (organized in 1985) had turned out 43 master of ministry graduates; and about 200 pastors were ministering to 11,000 members. He wrote, “The horizon has never been brighter. Our dreams are becoming realities.”
In reflection in 1984, Bob wrote, “My most satisfying experience is to see the maturing progress of young workers in the national church – they are accepting responsibilities, carrying them out and the church is going forward. Christ is building His church and it will survive.”
When asked to give advice to a person interested in becoming a missionary in Asia, Bob reflected his own approach to service: “Come to stay. Missions today is not for the light-hearted. It is not a time to come and check things out. The first term is, at most, a learning experience. Yet, a high percentage of candidates never return for the second term. It will not be easy. There will be culture shock and loneliness. And your work will not always be praised. But if your goal is to serve, there is a great field waiting to receive all the service you wish to give. Come looking for a place to help, and you’ll find it! The church is on the move, the road is upward, and you can be a part.”
Robert’s Colleagues Write:
Current pastor of Zeeland FMC, Michigan, Rev. Jerry Van Kuiken remembers, “Forty-two years ago, Margaret and I arrived in Butuan City, Philippines, as new young missionaries. To me, Bob embodied a mission statesman, a strong motivator, an excellent communicator and a dynamic leader. Still, although generations ahead of us in the Free Methodist denomination and years beyond us in missionary service, he became my mentor, older brother and best friend. Over Pepsi and peanuts, Bob and I envisioned and launched projects such as the Light and Life Graduate School of Theology to better equip our Filipino pastors for service to the Lord. Since his retirement, we have communicated through frequent telephone calls and e-mail messages. Earlier this year, Bob expressed his urgency to be released from the hospital so that he could resume his Bible study ministry at their most recent residence. ‘And, Jerry, pray that my voice will get strong enough to lead them in singing again.’ God ultimately answered that prayer. Today I envision my best friend, Bob, leading his section of the celestial choir. To Carolyn and to their family, Margaret and I send our loving sympathy, as do our children who deeply loved ‘Uncle Bob.’ Thank you for sharing him with us and allowing us to participate with one who was true to his faith, true to his family, true to Free Methodist missions, true to his friends and true to the finish.”
“As a young missionary couple, Bob Cranston went the extra mile and mentored Deb and me,” recalls Jim Wilson missionary to the Philippines, “giving of his time and energy. As we began teaching at Light and Life Bible College, his influence could be seen in every aspect of the school. He loved the Filipino church and gave 100 percent of himself to help the church go forward. We join the Asian church in saying, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”
“From the time the Cranston family first arrived in the Philippines in 1964,” writes Asia Area Director David Yardy, “Bob became a significant presence in the rapid growth of a dynamic church. He pastored the Butuan Free Methodist Church into planting satellite churches that became a pattern repeated across the Philippines. All through his missionary career he developed leaders, first as president of the Light and Life Bible College and then founding the graduate school (LLGST). It was with the same passion and leadership he served as the Asia Area Director, giving particular attention to India. Bob and Carolyn were totally sold out to Jesus Christ and this commitment manifested itself in their home, friendships and ministry.”
Bishop Matt Thomas writes, “I am delighted to have known Bob from multiple vantage points – as one of thousands who have heard the fascinating stories, as someone motivated to give to one of the many critical projects in Asia that Bob passionately promoted, as a missionary working alongside him in the Philippines, as the father to kids who called him Uncle Bob, as a bishop seeking his wisdom on a missional commitment or two and as a long-time friend and admirer.”
“Bob’s legacy is a rich one. His contagious optimism; his eagerness to raise up leaders; his passion for families (through the marriage encounters and retreats he led and sponsored); his tearful heart for the lost and his deep desire to see the church mature and grow in autonomy. On behalf of the church in Asia and the church in North America, I prayerfully offer thanks to Jesus for Bob Cranston. If I had one last opportunity to speak to Bob I would also say on behalf of the church, ‘Well done, brother. You have been a faithful and productive servant. We are better people and a better church because of you and your service. Thank you.’”