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Choctaw elder recalls years of travel as a missionary

By Vonna Shults, For The Oklahoman
 Curtis Pugh Photo provided
Curtis Pugh Photo provided

While many descendants from the Choctaw who were removed from Mississippi to Oklahoma still live within the state, the majority have relocated throughout the years across the United Sates and internationally.

Poteau resident Curtis Pugh now lives only a few miles from his birthplace of Heavener, but has traveled thousands of miles sharing the Gospel as a missionary.

He was born to Lois and Jerome Pugh in 1944. His mother, Lois McAlvain Pugh, worked at the Sequoyah Indian School in Tahlequah. Pugh would have preferred to attend Sequoyah, but at that time children of employees were not allowed to attend the boarding school.

He began his ministry at the young age of 16, by traveling once a month to a small community near Quinton called Palestine. He describes his first congregation as fine and patient people, and said, “I felt sorry for them because I didn’t know much back then and still don’t know much.”

After he finished preaching, someone would usually take him home to feed him, and then he would drive back home to Tahlequah.

He met his wife, Janet Killian, while attending Bible College in Memphis, Tenn., and introduced himself by telling her he was going to marry her. He admits that is probably not the best way to acquire a date.

Janet finally agreed to go on a walk with him, which led to more walks, and they were married on Jan. 29, 1966. They were blessed with two daughters, Anna Cattemull of Auckland, New Zealand, and Ruthie McLellan of Poteau, and have eight grandchildren. The Pughs were married for more than 45 years until Janet died in July 2011.

Pugh said he had not always done what God had instructed him to do and instead drove a truck for many years to support his family. But finally, God “broke my heart and brought me back, so I spent 26½ years doing mission work.” He spent 15 years in Canada and 11½ years in Romania.

In Ontario, he pastored for five years at the Six Nations Indian Reserve, which had 10,000 Indians on its band list. He and his wife started a Christian school at the reservation that is still operating after 27 years.

From there, he and Janet went to the Yukon Territory, but before they could make the journey, they traveled to different churches to share the next journey God was leading them toward.

Pugh said he estimates they ended up visiting 300 churches until they were located with the Tlingit people in a village about 50 miles south of White Horse, in the far northwest corner of the Yukon Territory near Alaska.

Next stop was Romania, but that would require the couple to visit churches seeking support for about a year before they could make the journey.

While in Romania, they learned about communism, but also realized the people were among the most generous they had met, and relished anything from the United States.

Pugh pastored at a small country church where they could fit in about 150 people. Eventually he was able to start his own church. The building had no air conditioning, and only a wood stove for heat in the winter. Nonetheless, people would walk to attend his services.

While in Romania, Pugh was able to witness how simple tasks in the United States would be tiresome and complex in the everyday life of Romanians, such as waiting in long lines to buy bread, milk, and, on occasion, fruits and vegetables.

Even though life in Romania was tough, Pugh said that if his health allowed him, he would be back in Romania or traveling back and forth.

He is a seventh generation LeFlore County Choctaw and contributed to the book “Touch My Tears” by Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer.

Vonna Shults is with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

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Denham Springs, LA 70726

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