Obituary From Albuquerque, New Mexico Newspaper

A Chiriquí Chatter Reader sent me the following Obituary. I found it interesting:

Native of Panama Returned as Missionary
By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer

The Rev. Claudio Iglesias was born on a little island off the Caribbean coast of Panama and was 13 years old when he was sent to the United States to receive an education.

Not that he wished to leave. “He was very happy being the youngest of 12 children,” said his attorney-son David Iglesias. “He wanted to stay, and he knew that people in the city — Panama City and in America wore shoes.

–He figured if he hid his shoes, they wouldn’t ship him off to the U.S.
–“So he hid the one pair of shoes that he had. And my uncle put him on the boat anyway.”

(The shoes were found under a bed and taken by little boat to Iglesias’ big boat before it left.)

Claudio Iglesias’ “heart was always in Panama.” Iglesias served there as a Baptist missionary with his wife, Margaret, for years. He built a school, provided medical and dental service and — being a member of the country’s indigenous Kuna nation — he helped put the Kuna language into written form.

Here, Iglesias served as a pastor at churches in Albuquerque, Gallup and Santa Fe, as well as in Oklahoma.

Claudio Iglesias died Dec. 1 in Keller, Texas, where he moved two years ago. He was 85.

“He was very engaging. He was charming. He was very funny — a very warm person,” David Iglesias said. “He didn’t treat anybody with suspicion or animosity.

“Where I really saw him blossom was in Panama. He would go down there and everybody knew him and he knew everyone.”

The son of a medicine man, Claudio Iglesias recalled going into the jungle with his father searching for bark and plants to make remedies.

“At the time, San Blas didn’t have any hospitals. It was living a very traditional non-Western culture,” his son said about the island area.

In 1936, Claudio Iglesias arrived at Ellis Island, which he recalled as “crowded with lots of people speaking lots of languages” and that the kind guards gave he and his younger nephew milk and crackers.

Iglesias ended up at an orphanage and school in Muskogee, Okla. He went on to study at Bacone College in Oklahoma and Houghton College and Nyack College, both in New York. The sociology major would graduate from Redlands University in California in 1955, becoming only the second Kuna member to receive a college degree, his family said.

Iglesias met his future wife, Margaret Geiger, at the University of Oklahoma. She had been a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators in southern Mexico, and she was teaching some linguistics courses.

After the couple were married in 1949, Iglesias decided to returned to Panama and be a missionary in San Blas.

“He had become a Christian early on in his life, and he decided that he wanted to go back to his people and be a minister,” David Iglesias said. “But he also realized that he had to relearn his language, which is why he went to the University of Oklahoma.

“Once he got back to the islands, he realized that, sure, there were spiritual needs, but there were lots of other needs, the biggest being education.”

As missionaries, one of the first things the couple did was build a school literally brick-by-brick on a small island called Mulatuppu near Colombia.

Soon, his work extended to providing medical aid where no health care facilities existed.

“People would come to him who would have injuries,” his son said. “Because they knew he was educated, they knew he was married to a North American woman. So, he had to pick up medicine and dentistry.”

That everyday work involved everything from stitching up wounds to pulling teeth.

“I have memories of him going into the congress hall, which is kind of the island headquarters where all the business is run, and just speaking for hours and hours and hours, telling the chiefs what was going on, telling them about the news from outside the islands,” which he had heard via short-wave radio, David Iglesias said.

The couple were independent missionaries initially and became part of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1950s. The missionary work in Panama took place from about 1949-64 and from 1973-74 with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

“His greatest legacy was the school and the (Kuna) alphabet,” his son said. “Because Kuna had not been written down until my parents and uncle and aunt and one other couple created the alphabet.”

Iglesias was pastor at a small mission church at Chilocco Indian School in Oklahoma before 1970, when he began serving at the First Indian Baptist Church of Gallup.

“He was an excellent preacher, communicator and also was a wonderful teacher, instructor,” said the Rev. Laddie Adams, who knew Iglesias in Oklahoma while with the Baptist Home Mission Board. “All of his students were very taken with Claudio and his family, and that seemed to be the case everywhere he went.

“He did a marvelous job.” Louise Chambellan, who attended the Gallup church with her sons — who were baptized by Iglesias — remembered him as a kind, gentleman.

“You could always talk to him,” the current Rio Rancho resident said. “He was just different.”

Sharing details of his own indigenous background, Iglesias easily connected with the Native Americans who attended the Gallup church or lived in the area, she said.

“He always welcomed people,” Chambellan said.

From Gallup, Iglesias then served as chaplain at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe before moving to First Indian Baptist Church of Albuquerque. Iglesias lived in New Mexico’s largest city from 1976-2006. After retiring, Iglesias led groups from Hoffmantown Church on short-term missions to Panama, work he did into his 70s.

Iglesias also was active with a group called the Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship, or CHIEF, that ministered to North, Central and South indigenous Americans.

Iglesias’ survivors include his wife of 59 years, Margaret Geiger Iglesias, of Keller, Texas; three children, Lorena and Bill Heydenburk and their family of Keller, Texas, Marina Iglesias of Panama City, Panama, and David and Cynthia Iglesias and their family of Albuquerque.

12 thoughts on “Obituary From Albuquerque, New Mexico Newspaper

  1. I wonder if this is the person from whom I first heard of the San Blas Indians. Part of the time while Rev. Iglesias was at Chilocco Indian School, I lived in Arkansas City, KS, which is a few miles north of the school.

  2. Don: thanks for running the obituary of my father. He loved Panama. I bet Tuxi is right as Arkansas City, KS was about 10 minutes away from Chilocco Indian School.

  3. Hi David. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I was impressed when I read it and felt that it was an important piece of Panama related information that others might miss.

  4. Rev. Claudio was a great man. “You can count the seeds in an apple, but you can NOT count the apples in a seed”.
    Rev.Iglesias’ influence is such. He has made the world a better place and will be missed. Psalm 91 for all our troops,

  5. Don,
    Thanks from Claudio Iglesias’s second child who lives here in Panama. My Father is greatly missed and all his efforts with my Mother Margaret to improve the lives of the Kuna continue to be visible in every area of Kuna Yala.

  6. Hi Marina. Thanks for taking the time to send a comment. It is obvious that your father’s good works live on and he will be remembered.

  7. The Rev Iglesias was a very good man, and I was very sorry to hear that he passed away. Although my life’s journey has taken me else where, I still remember the Gallup Indian Baptist Church and the good Rev Iglesias. I remember that he used to tell the story about converting his older brother, who was still a head hunter to christianity, and also about developing a written language for the Kuna people.

  8. We had lost touch with our dear brother sister but always remembered fondly the trip we took with them and our friends at C.H.I.E.F. the summer of ’82 to Mexico, Panama and the San Blas Islands and Guatemala. We were privileged to share our music as part of the team at that time. We were rightfully impressed with the humble and gracious servant- spirit of Claudio and Margaret to everyone.
    My husband, Chebon, preceded Claudio to Heaven one year earlier – December 6, 2007. What a wonderful reunion we shall all have when all God’s children are finally Home.
    May His grace continue to sustain Margaret and the family as they continue to serve the Lord.
    In His hands,
    Trudy (Mrs. Chebon) Thomas
    Galatians 2:20

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