About 3 a.m. Friday, Elba Acosta awakened and instead of dosing back to sleep got out of bed and dropped to her knees in prayer.
Acosta recounted her experience Tuesday night at a Latino storefront church in a small commercial strip on Shallowford Road across from Target.
Just a handful, including children, attended the service at Iglesia Con Cristo en las Nubes (Church with Christ in the Clouds), just four days after the ministry’s founder and pastor — 66-year-old Cristobal Cruz Sanchez — was killed in a car crash Friday around noon on Cleveland Highway near Clermont.
Cruz Sanchez was a passenger in a Honda Fit driven by Christine Washington, 51, who also died in the crash when the vehicle she was driving crossed the centerline and collided head-on with a Toyota 4Runner traveling southbound, according to authorities.
Acosta said at the service Tuesday that as she prayed earlier that Friday morning, she had a premonition about her pastor.
“I had a vision of the pastor preaching in the congregation,” Acosta said. “I was sitting behind him facing the congregation as he preached. All of a sudden I see him step down from the altar and walk away. As he exited the front door, he turned back to look at me. I was stunned when I got a call later saying he’d been killed.”
Parishioners told The Times that Cruz Sanchez and Washington worked for ServiceMaster Expert Cleaning, located at 837 Main St. SW in Gainesville, and that they were on their way to a job when the wreck happened. An employee of the company confirmed Wednesday that both were employees with the cleaning service, but directed any other inquiry to the owner, who was not in the office.
Daniel Slott of Cumming is the company’s registered agent, according to state business records.
Vilma Ramos put her arms around her two young boys at the church as she remembered her pastor.
“He put so much time and love to this church,” Ramos said. “He would come here very early to pray before he’d go to his job at 6 in the morning. Many times he did not know where money would come to pay the rent here or cover the power bill. This ministry was his passion.”
Ramos’ husband, Byron Lopez, said the pastor married them at the church in 2013 shortly after he started his ministry in Gainesville. Lopez said Cruz Sanchez is originally from El Salvador.
“He taught us to be faithful,” Lopez said.
Family came down from New York to return Cruz Sanchez to his ministerial roots, where he’ll be buried.
Acosta said she’s sure that the pastor’s widow, Lucia Paz de Cruz, who’d been by her husband’s side as co-pastor, will continue his work in Gainesville. The couple had been married more than 25 years, she said.
“I remember being at a laundromat in town preoccupied with so many family problems when he walked in handing out Bible tracts,” Acosta said. “He invited me to church and helped me pray to bring my husband and rebellious sons around.”