A Missionary Has Fallen
Teresa Costello and Leomel Jezter Bellosillo
Filipino physician is remembered for a life of service and sacrifice
Service and sacrifice have defined the life of Dr. Manuel Bellosillo, a Filipino family physician who passed away on June 17 in Cameroon as the first Seventh-day Adventist missionary in active service to die of COVID-19. He and his wife Elma (Plaza) Bellosillo served for 26 years as missionaries, most recently at a dispensary clinic in a remote part of Cameroon.
Members of his family remember him as “…a God-fearing man, a hard worker, who lived his life to serve others…The number of people he helped throughout his years of service, directly or indirectly, is vast. Only God knows the exact quantity of people directly or indirectly touched.”
Nothing at his birth on February 18, 1953 to elementary teachers Silvestre B. and Victoria B. Bellosillo in Rizal, Pontevedra, Capiz, Philippines hinted at the vast distances he would travel and accomplishments he would reach. However, he would soon become known for his sincere desire to serve and vigorous work ethic. As the eldest of five children, he took his responsibilities seriously from a young age whether it was looking after his brothers or running a laundry and egg delivery service to bring in additional money for the family.
In terms of his education and career, he evaluated the sacrifices involved and accepted them willingly to reach his goal of becoming a medical doctor. After earning his bachelor’s degree in Biology, he was accepted to the Doctor of Medicine program at South Western University in Cebu City, Philippines. There, he faced the challenges with his trademark resolve.
He kept his expenses to a minimum so his educational bill could be paid. Some weeks his meals consisted of soup made from a bouillon cube, occasionally supplemented with a boiled egg. Similarly, he could not afford the expensive textbooks required so he would borrow them from his classmates as allowed during the course. During the holiday and summer breaks, he would borrow the books for the upcoming semester’s classes so he could study and learn ahead of time. Family members say God gave him an exceptional memory and this enabled him to retain enough of what he read to do well academically even though he did not have full access to the necessary textbooks.
This habit of utilizing well his opportunities and time followed him into his career. During missionary furloughs back to the Philippines, he would immerse himself in a medical specialty for a month each time at the Adventist Medical Center Manila. One year he would focus on surgery; another on ophthalmology and so on. In this way, he continued to gain as much expertise as possible so he could better serve his patients in the mission field.
In addition to his early years of serving at the Adventist Hospital – Calbayog, Inc. in Calbayog City, Samar, Philippines where he met and later married his wife Elma, a medical technologist and accountant, he served at the Adventist Hospital Palawan in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines. After he was confirmed by the Philippine Academy of Family Physicians as a Certified Family Physician in February 1994, the family accepted a mission call to the Yuka Adventist Hospital near Kalabo, Zambia.
Located approximately 990 km (550 miles) from the capital of Lusaka, Yuka Adventist Hospital serves the surrounding village composed then of small mud and straw homes. Reaching the hospital involved traveling on cemented roads, then flood plains and finally along the Zambezi River which floods during the rainy season. At times, a boat was needed to cross it and continue the journey.
During the Bellosillos’ time there, the lack of television channels, cell phone reception and internet connection in the area isolated them from much of what was happening around the world. The local radio station was their one source of information, but this isolation enabled them to focus more intently on those they served and to make many friendships among the community.
Bellosillo worked long hours and was often on call 24 hours a day, especially during the years he was the only doctor in the hospital. At times, when he was able to go to his home, he would sleep next to the landline phone in the family’s living room so he could quickly answer a call to return to the hospital. Still, he and his family treasured their time there due to the many friends they made. Bellosillo even talked of returning there to serve the people again before retirement.
After 11 years in Yuka, Bellosillo was called to Botswana. After passing the national physician’s exam there, he worked in the Kanye Seventh-day Adventist Hospital in Kanye, Botswana from 2004 to early 2007. From late 2007 to 2012, he served in the Scheer Memorial Adventist Hospital in Banepa, Nepal. Next, he served for two years at the Batouri Adventist Hospital in Batouri, Cameroon. He began his service at the Buae Seventh-day Adventist Dispensary in Buae, Cameroon in 2014 with his mission service slated to end in 2020.
Regardless of where he served, he would encourage his patients to read the Bible so they could be prepared for Jesus’ soon coming. In addition, he served as a church elder and a Sabbath School teacher as well as organizing outreach programs in various countries.
A few months before the end of his term in 2020, he contracted malaria which greatly weakened him. Before he could fully recover, he became sick again. As his condition worsened, he was admitted to a series of hospitals in Cameroon before he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Shortly thereafter, he passed away on June 17. However, his life of service and sacrifice will continue to impact and inspire not only those who knew him, but those who seek to similarly serve.
German Luste, co-director of the General Conference’s missionary processing program (IPRS), said, “We praise the name of the Lord for missionaries like Dr Manuel Bellosillo, who has served together with his family in Zambia, and then in Nepal and Cameroon. Dr Bellosillo was an example of professionalism and care, who was always willing to go the second mile to serve others. May his life inspire others to serve God!”
Kevin Costello of the missionary processing department at the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) based in Silang, Cavite Philippines, noted that “both Dr. and Mrs. Bellosillo dedicated their lives as missionary doctors for God, with over a quarter century of sacrificial service, ministering to the sick and infirmed, meeting their physical needs while at the same time, pointing their patients to the One who can heal them spiritually. The Adventist Church is very grateful for the dedicated service of Dr. Manuel and we are deeply moved by the ultimate sacrifice of his life while in service of the Master.”
“…One thing is for sure: his legacy of service and God-fearing life will carry on in his family…With aching hearts, we will continue his legacy by serving others, and working hard in each of our respective fields. And most importantly, make God our partner in every decision and action we do until we are reunited with our father on that resurrection morning,” said his family in a joint statement.
A celebration of life memorial service will be hosted by the Southern Asia-Pacific Division on August 16 at 7:30 pm Philippine Standard Time (GMT +8 at http://www.facebook.com/AdventistSSD and www.youtube.com/user/adventistssd.
Dr. Manuel Bellosillo is survived by his wife Elma, daughters Femae Love Bellosillo and Illoza Joy P. Bellosillo-Palacol, both physicians at Palawan Adventist Hospital, and son Leomel Jezter Bellosillo, a master’s in public health graduate who is a laboratory scientist. The Bellosillos’ first grandchild is expected to be born to Illoza and her husband Ryan in early August.
-Teresa Costello and Leomel Jezter Bellosillo
Seventh-day Adventist beliefs are meant to permeate your whole life. Growing out of scriptures that paint a compelling portrait of God, you are invited to explore, experience and know the One who desires to make us whole.