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"I know how it feels like being lost."- Joel Cruz

"Take Me Out of the Dark" is one of the songs that won Joel Cruz the title of male champion during the 2011 Karaoke World Championships (KWC) Philippines national trials. But the song also has a personal meaning for someone who lived a broken life before God reached out to him.

Read the testimony of 2011 KWC Philippine Champion Joel Cruz, and the salvation he found through Christ.

For the longest time, Joel was on a downward spiral of drug abuse and, in his own words, “Nag self-destruct talaga ako. (I really self-destructed.)”

Joel grew up rich in a family that was able to provide him with everything material he needed and wanted. His father, a textbook agent in a publishing company, had a swine business in Tagkawayan, Quezon; 127 hectares of fish pond in Bataan; and more fish ponds in Carmona, Cavite. At 19-years old, he was a hot shot college student driving expensive cars. It was during this time when he married his wife, Tita Bañares. He never thought things would end for someone with so much. “As it turned out, hindi rin pala naglalast…those things. (As it turned out, those things don’t last after all),” he said. 

In one instant, his family lost everything and began to have financial difficulties. His disappointment began a heavy reliance on drugs despite his wife’s efforts to share the Gospel with him. “I felt useless, worthless. Wala akong meaning to anything, because at that time, I was lost. I was weak,” he said. "I took 3g of shabu everyday. I smoked four packs of cigarettes a day….Grabe ako. And that’s why kilala na ako sa rehab centers. Parang basura ako e. (And that’s why I’m known in rehab centers. I was like trash.)" 

Despite his wife’s efforts to tell him about God, and have pastors minister to him, Joel was stubborn. ”If you bring me pastors, I would only discuss and debate on things,” said Joel, “I was so proud of myself knowing everything (that) there’s nothing I needed to learn anymore.”

Joel has been in rehabilitation centers three times already because of his drug abuse. The last time Joel was taken to a center, he was handcuffed and faced a year or more of rehabilitation. Ironically, it was there where he first encountered God.  

"He just came to me one night." Joel said, adding that there were more than 1000 patients in the center with around 200 per dormitory. "(At) 9 o’clock, we should be sleeping, every one of us. And that particular night, siguro mga less than two weeks palang ako, I was really praying…Tulog na lahat ng mga kasama ko. And sabi ko kay Lord, ‘Lord, embrace mo ako. Embrace mo ako.’ (And that particular night, I was probably less than two weeks admitted there, I was really praying…All of the people with me were asleep. And I told the Lord, ‘Lord, embrace me. Embrace me.’)"

"Parang kasi I am left with no one. (It was like I am left with no one.)" He said, "And all of a sudden, I was comforted. I was really there with Him. God was really there for me. Iyak ako ng iyak (I cried and cried)…. I never felt so- in my whole life -na so much loved ako during that time. Parang sinasabi (As if He was saying), ‘Don’t be afraid, I am here.’ And from then on, I thirst for His word.”

Joel pledged to give his life to Him right then and there. “And then He healed me. From the inside out. There was a change in me.” He began to tell everyone around him at the center about Jesus. He initiated devotion and quiet time for anyone who would want to have that special moment with Him. He also began to sing Gospel songs.

"Sabi ko, when I step out of, Lord Jesus, when I step out of this institution, I do not have anything in my wallet. In me. I do not have anything, not even a single centavo. I will take my first step, and I want that first step with you." Joel said.

In 2005, he left the center after 14 months— with God in his heart and a new passion in Him to serve. He started a ministry together with his wife, visiting rehabilitation centers and jails, and sharing God’s word to them every Wednesday and Saturday. “The rehabilitation center wanted to introduce me as someone whom God lifted to a changed life…Sinashare ko yung life ko. Paano yung buhay ko when I was still on drugs. When rebelde ako. And then shashare ko din that God made a difference. (I share my life. How my life was like when I was still on drugs. When I was a rebel. And then I also share that God made a difference.)”

After his testimony, his wife would then share hers. “Yung struggle niya, hirap niya, kung paano niya ako nirereach out. Hirap niya when all her years were filled with so much pain. (Her struggle, her suffering, how she reaches out to me. The suffering she went through when all her years were filled with so much pain.)” While Joel has never physically abused his wife, those years of drug use emotionally hurt her. “She doesn’t want to see me unting-unting nauubos. (She doesn’t want to see me slowly wasting away.)”

 When Joel sang, “Take Me Out of the Dark”, during the KWC Finals, he was singing it for God. “When I sang that song, I was really filled with so much of my past.” He said, “I was declaring na siya talaga, siya talaga. Wala namang iba eh(I was declaring that it’s really Him, it’s really Him. There’s no one else)…  He’s just there waiting for us. If we’re just going to open our hearts and really accept Him in our lives, trust him, all the blessings will come.”

During the KWC national trials, Joel invited previous patients of the rehabilitation center he ministers at to watch him. He was a living testimony of a transformed life in Christ. “They’re all there supporting me, even the parents, yung mga wives. Pag tumayo daw ako on stage, they see hope. (They’re all there supporting me, even the parents, the wives. They say when I stand on stage, they see hope.)” He said. “And then I invited all of them to witness, because I do not really want to be proud of myself I just wanna be proud of God. Look what God did to my life.”

"I know how it feels like being lost." Joel said. "I have to represent God who cared for me."

Joel Cruz is the 1st runner up of the 2011 Karaoke World Championship held in Kilarney, Ireland last September. He continues to minister to those in jail and in rehabilitation centers, as a simple man who was brought out from the dark by God.

"Finding God In The Dark", is an article featured in Issue 8 of Saved Newsmagazine. Download a .pdf copy of the issue today and share stories of hope and salvation, together with features on the latest Christian music and books, with your friends and family.