Awake, pack and get ready to roll!
I forgot to mention that we burned up our air conditioning belt on yesterday’s bus and had a little “side of the road” time, so today we’re in a new, much larger and fancier bus. We take that into a different village called “Chilibre” where we are to meet with Gladys who runs a preschool. Gladys and her husband Reuben are both Lutherans, and in fact Reuben is trained to be a Lutheran Pastor. Circumstances of life have Reuben working in the construction field vs. full time ministry today, but Gladys continues to use her Pre-school to teach children about Jesus. We had a wonderful conversation with Gladys about how her ministry functions and the challenges of homes in her village.
We then did a prayer walk through the village in teams of two, praying for the village as we walked and greeting children and adults as we went. A couple of teams were blessed with an opportunity to have conversations with kids and adults as they walked. This exercise made me uncomfortable for a couple reasons. First, I’m just not good at walking up to people and launching into a conversation, even at St. John’s, and certainly not where I don’t speak the language. But second, the fact that we rolled into this neighborhood in a big fancy bus, an obvious group of “tourists”, and then walked the neighborhood looking for conversation seemed awkward. And yet in our debriefing we talked about how this activity can be a catalyst for other things to happen. For instance, the group that got into a conversation with locals started praying for Gladys and her preschool. In prayer, the locals described how important her school is to the community. Gladys happened to walk up on the conversation and prayer, and was blessed to hear how important her ministry is to the people. While we walked the village the first day, our tour guide was stopped by a car that asked “what is going on?”. When Milton our guide answered the question, he was given words of encouragement and asked that he keep them informed of future trips.
We were close to the Panama Canal and so the second half of our day was spent visiting this incredibly important asset of the Panamanian culture. The canal was initially begun by the Spaniards but completed by Americans in 1914. This canal forms the basis for the Panamanian economy (they use USD for their currency!). As an engineer, I completely geeked out on this stop. Ask any member of my family how I behave when presented with a tour of an “engineering marvel”. I texted about 30 pictures, took another 100 and claimed my “best seat in the house” an hour early to watch the locks pass a container ship into the Pacific Ocean. The rest of our group got the same laugh at me that my own family would.
Now we head to a hostel where we will stay for the next 5 nights. We have a long devotion talking about the events of the day, where the conversation continues to revolve around the idea of building sustainable ministries. We have to learn to focus on encouragement and equipping local people to build and sustain their own ministries, with us augmenting their mission. We cannot create a dependency; they must be able to maintain the ministry when we leave. A commitment to partnering with a ministry here in Panama through CALMS requires a commitment of 5 years to help them build their own congregation.
The evening concludes to an outdoor picnic table where we hear stories from our interpreter and liaison, Milton Castillo. He tells stories of his father, an officer in the Panamanian army that was part of a coupe that was intended to upset Noriega. He was imprisoned as a result, and Milton described the hardships that came upon his family. Milton is an LCMS lay minister in Panama where he both serves a local congregation in Panama City AND works with CALMS to bring missions into the field. He is truly one of the most spiritual and interesting people that I have ever met.
Tomorrow we head up a mountain to an elevation of about 3,500’ to worship with a ministry there for church!