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Colombian leader served two denominations on two continents


Héctor Valencia

July 29, 2003
-by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

Newton, Kan.— Héctor Valencia, who made significant contributions to both the Mennonites and Presbyterians while living in his native Colombia as well as in the United States, died July 9 in Bogotá. He was 83.

Valencia was born March 3, 1920, in Bogotá, Colombia. After being orphaned at the age of five, Valencia lived with different family members. While living with his older brother, he enrolled at Colegio Americano de Barranquilla for his elementary and secondary grades, where he came to know Christ. He became active in the Presbyterian church in Barranquilla and completed his secondary education in 1939 with honors.

In 1950, Valencia married Mary Becker, one of the first four missionaries sent to Colombia in 1945 by the General Conference Mennonite Church mission board. She was from Newton, Kan., and a member of First Mennonite Church of Newton. She survives and lives in Bogotá. Their two children, María Victoria and Daniel Alfonso, also survive, along with two grandchildren.

Valencia continued with the Colegios Americanos in Colombia, alternating work as a professor with periods of study at the Universidad Javeriana de Bogotá; Grove City (Pa.) College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1946; and Ohio State University, where he received a master’s degree in 1948 and a doctorate in 1953.

He was associate professor of Spanish and Latin America studies at Bluffton (Ohio) College from 1964 to 1966 and during the summer of 1968.

In addition to his teaching, Valencia was the director of the Colegios Americanos in Bogotá, Barranquilla and Ibagué. He was also the secretary of education for the Presbyterian synod in Colombia.

In 1975 he began his work within Mennonite circles as the Secretary for Latin America of the Commission on Overseas Mission (COM) of the former General Conference Mennonite Church, now succeeded in Canada by Mennonite Church Canada Witness. He and Mary lived in Newton until 1980, where they affiliated with Faith Mennonite Church.

“Héctor was the first and only non-North American to hold a staff position at that time,” said Howard Habegger, who was executive secretary of COM during those years. Habegger had first met Valencia in Colombia in 1956 while playing basketball internationally. Their acquaintance deepened during the time Habegger served as a COM worker in Colombia from 1963 to 1968.

Upon returning to Colombia in 1981, Valencia continued serving among the Mennonites and became the executive secretary of the Mennonite Church of Colombia until 1984.

Parallel to his professional activities, Valencia was involved in diverse activities related to the church, especially in education. He was one of the founders of the Bible Society in Colombia, and the first president of its board of directors. Most recently he was also president of the board of directors of the Colombian Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Bogotá.

Throughout his life as an educator and church leader, many people sought Valencia for his wise counsel and help. He will be remembered for his dedication and commitment, his disposition to listen, his generosity, his tolerance for others ideas, and above all for his exemplary life.

A worship service of remembrance was held July 10 at the Teusaquillo Mennonite Church in Bogotá. Music was provided by daughter María Victoria and a group of volunteers from the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra of which she is a member, and by two professional soloists. Valencia’s son, Daniel, read the biographical tribute. Current MC Canada Witness workers Rudy and Helen Baergen and former mission worker Mary Hope Stucky participated in special music and read Scripture. Pastor Islandes Losada gave the meditation.

Mennonite Church Canada Witness supports ministries in 40 countries, including Colombia.