International Anabaptist community mourns death of BIC Church leader from Cuba

—On Sunday, December 13, 2009, the Brethren in Christ Church in North America received word of the sudden passing of Felix Raphael Curbelo, treasurer of the BIC Church in Cuba.

He had been traveling in Germany at the time of his death.

Curbelo was in Europe following a meeting of the executive committee of the International Brethren in Christ Association (IBICA) in Strasbourg, France, earlier this month. He had served on the IBICA executive committee since its inception in 2006, representing the national BIC churches from Latin America.

“Brother Curbelo was a man with a quiet, deep commitment to Christ and to the Church,” comments Darrell Winger, executive director of the IBICA. “He was constantly reaching out to others in the global Church, keenly interested in other peoples, cultures, and the Church in other settings. He loved the Church in Cuba and worked diligently to see it strengthened. He was committed to his family, loved to laugh, and was first concerned for others rather than himself.”

In a communiqué with the BIC Church earlier today, Mennonite World Conference (MWC) vice president Janet Plenert wrote that Curbelo “was optimistic and positive in his character and nature. As a Cuban church leader, he offered a rare window and opportunity for the Church in Cuba to connect actively with and contribute to the global Church.” Curbelo had served with Plenert on the MWC executive committee since 2009.

Missionary leaders from within the Brethren in Christ community recall Curbelo’s long-time commitment to serving his fellow Cuban citizens. John and Ruth Pawleski, who served with BIC World Missions in Cuba before the closing of the country in the late 1950s, offered these words of remembrance: “As a quiet young boy, it may have seemed that he was somewhat eclipsed by other youth a bit older and more outspoken than he, but his reported statement when others were escaping from Cuba was, ‘I will stay with my people.’ And stay he did—what an example of loyalty and helpfulness.”

Curbelo is survived by his wife, Leyda, and his son, Kenneth.

The Brethren in Christ Church in Cuba began in 1953 under the direction of BIC pastor Harry Hock and evangelists Howard and Pearl Wolgemuth. After the Cuban revolution of 1959, a continued missionary presence in the country became difficult, and leadership of the growing contingent of BIC churches was turned over to national leaders. Today, about 5,000 to 6,000 people gather in BIC churches across Cuba to worship each week; the national church is headed by President Francisco Martinez.