Farewell, brother Curtis!

Farewell, brother Curtis!

The Lord called home another one of his faithful servants, brother Curtis Pugh. He was ready to go and, though weak in the body, he crossed the finish line as a victor. His life was one of unselfish service to His Lord and His churches. His work was finished, he fulfilled the purpose for which we was left on earth and His Master called him to everlasting peace. The departure of a loved one is such a grievous time. Our hearts are shattered, and we suffer, but not like the world. For we have a hope. We know that death is not the end. I love bro. Curtis and, in a selfish way, I wanted the Lord to prolong his life. But he is so much better now than he was while here. When I think of how, where and with whom he is now, I am comforted and I even feel a sense of jealousy. I want to be there, too. He is seeing our Lord now, while I am still here…

My heart is flooded with memories of him. How can I put them to words? I shall attempt to describe how I viewed him, not just now, but ever since I met him.

At the feet of Cavanal, the world’s highest hill, in the little town of Poteau, Oklahoma, lived the last years of his life the greatest man I ever met. It was my privilege to learn at his feet. Brother Curtis had a love and a burden for Romanian people long before he came to Romania and long after he said good bye to it, until the very end of his life. His last question to me was about the work in Romania. His last words to me were in Romanian. When he was in Romania, he said that he wants to live and to die here. Our Lord had a different plan.

Brother Curtis and Sister Janet Pugh moved to Romania in 1999. They lived a simple life, often using their limited personal finances for the mission work and for the relief of others. The number of people that were helped by them directly or indirectly, spiritually, emotionally and financially is so great that no one knows it, only the Lord.

It is impossible to estimate at this point of time the full impact of their coming to this former Communist country to do mission work. The entire printing work that we do now (almost one million booklets and books printed and sent all over the world), hundreds of mission trips, the church that was organized, people all over Romania being brought together and advancing the work of the kingdom throughout Europe, the relationship we have with sister churches throughout the world – all these are direct effects of Bro. Curtis obeying the calling of the Lord and moving to an afar and strange country. This is how God works. His plan is marvelously complex and intertwined, making one action to have million of effects down the road. There are no coincidences in this world. There was no accident that Bro. Curtis moved from across the ocean to the very area where I lived and I got to hear him preach and then translate for him. I was just turning 17 then.

While I cannot tell you the general impact he had in this part of the world, I can testify about the impact he had on me. Bro. Curtis and Sis. Janet were another set of parents for me. Much of who I am as a person today is due to him. He first taught me the truth, he baptized me, he trained me and guided me. When I first told him that the Lord called me to preach (with a disappointed voice, because I perceived it as God messing up all my life plans), he replied: „I knew He would. I have been praying for this.” He taught me for years and, when our church that was organized through his efforts called me to the ministry, he assisted in my ordination. I told him that I am not ready to pastor, I don’t feel qualified. His answer was that if I felt qualified, it meant that I wasn’t. I see a lot of him in me. I am almost as stubborn as him. I am a workaholic as well. I finally admitted it, so I guess I am not in denial any more. That’s progress, of some sort!

Bro. Curtis came down with an autoimmune disease in 2004. The strong and energetic man that I knew became so weak now. I could barely keep up with his pace before. Now, just walking 100ft to the office where we were preparing the materials for the print shop made him so tired and out of breath. The best doctors in Eastern Europe didn’t give him any chance of survival (6 months to 2 years, they said in 2004). When the two years passed, his personal doctor, an agnostic lady, took me on a side and said: „Raul, I want you to know that Curtis is a miracle!” She repeated 4 times the word „miracle”. She was right.

In 2009 our church was organized and he assisted in my ordination. In 2010 Bro. Curtis and Sister Janet returned to the States. We were heart broken. The decision was made after many months of prayers. He told us the reason: he didn’t want to be a burden for the work. Aurel and I should be free to do mission work, and not hindered by tending to him. He was weaker, couldn’t travel to mission trips and I was taking him once a month to the hospital in Budapest, Hungary, for blood transfusions. „It is a missionary’s job to work himself out of a job,” he told us, hinting that he fulfilled his mission and it is our turn now to pass down the faith. He stayed here until the church was organized and until he was certain that we were mature enough to continue the work. The brethren in the church assured him that we would much rather die than betray the faith. The hardest trip I ever took was from Bocsa to Budapest, Hungary, taking Bro. Curtis and Sis. Janet to the airport, to fly backup the States. It was just as hard for them.

In 2011 I got a visa and came to the States, to visit some churches. I was unknown by face to the churches in the States. Bro. Curtis worked so hard contacting churches and aligning the itinerary. Years before, when he was in Romania, he told me many times that he would love to accompany me in my first trip to the States. „I want to see America through your eyes,” he said every time he was telling me about his travels there. When I got to Poteau, Oklahoma, he couldn’t come with me to any of the churches in the area, and that was hard for him.

The second time Brother Curtis and I met in the States was last year. When I saw him in September, we were so happy to be reunited after 6 years. He exhausted himself taking me all over Poteau, including the Choctaw Clinic, where he told everybody that I am probably the first Romanian to set foot in it. In Heavener he showed me the house in which he grew up and the Runestone Park. We drove to the lake in Wister, to the family cemetery to visit sister Janet’s grave, and to the historic landmarks of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, but not before we grabbed his favorite milkshake at Braum’s, which he wanted me to taste. In the afternoon, he was just exhausted, but didn’t want to doze off because he wanted to spend as much time as possible together. It was such a happy time!

I left Sunday morning to go preach in two churches, the last one being in Texarkana, Texas. My next destination was Ft. Worth, TX, but I decided to come back Monday morning and spend a little more time with him. He was so surprised, so happy. I would have spent many more days there, but the next morning I really had to leave. We hugged each other long, both trying not to cry. We said our good bye. The steps I took from the porch to the driveway were so hard to make. I got in the car and looked toward the house. Bro. Curtis was in the door, in his power chair, waiving his hand. This is my last image of him. I waived back and drove away slowly, as slowly as I could. Leaving behind the little Chocktaw house on Nanih Waiyah lane, with him in the door, was like leaving behind a part of my heart. Somehow we both knew that we are seeing each other for the last time in this life. After I left, I refused to harbor that feeling anymore. Since then we talked as usual, every other day during the rest of the trip and after I came back to Romania.

We made plans about the printing projects and also I wanted him to preach for our church via phone and I would have translated for him like in the good old times. All these came to a halt three weeks ago, when he started feeling ill. We may have many good plans and projects, but it is the Lord that decides which ones will come true and which will remain forever unfulfilled by us.

I remember his last advice for me. It was concerning my wife, Miriam. He wanted me to spend more time with her and cherish her. It sounded more like a rebuke. And a certain regret, because he wished he had done more of that with sister Janet. And he knew that, like him, I could get too busy in the work. He saw himself in me, too, I think. I will do my best to heed your advice, I will try to stop and smell the roses, brother!

For all his selfless ministry, he will receive the reward of the faithful ones. The words of the apostle Paul are befitting Brother Curtis as well: „I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). You are well now, my brother, you’ve never been better! We may meet soon, for the coming of our Lord is drawing nigh! Until then, you’ll always be in my heart and in the hearts of all your brothers and sisters from Romania, who are so thankful for your life’s work! La revedere in vesnicii, frate Curtis! Until we meet again in eternity, Bro. Curtis!


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