Day three has been full of incredible surprises! The spirit is hard at work in Sora, where a thriving ministry is in place.
Our bus pulls up to the location of the church and immediately the contrasts to the previous day are evident. There is an option air church with people milling about greeting each other. We are warmly greeted by many. There is a mix of Americans and Panamanians. Children’s music is playing over an amp. There are banners and signs and a printed order of worship. While I can’t understand any of the words being spoken, there is something so familiar about this. Since I can’t speak Spanish I gravitate toward the English speakers, and in traditional LCMS fashion we’re all connecting the dots. It takes no more than a minute or two to find mutual points of friends among us.
As the service comes to order I’m moved by all the energy that can be felt from the spirit. This place is alive, and the children’s ministry is thriving. Keep in mind that this is their “summer break” from school, and they are finishing their week-long VBS. The service centers on the children who lead us in songs. They demonstrate that they know their memory work from the week by reciting 4 verses at the front of the church (from behind a stand-up). The church is packed; people are standing in the back of the sanctuary. It was an awesome worship experience.
When church was finished, again in good LCMS tradition, we have lunch together. Two huge pots are filled each with rice and chicken. We all get a plate and sit and have lunch together as we get to know each other further. And when finished, we have a conversation with Pastor Alejandro and his wife Laura to know more about their ministry. Alejandro is from Chile and Laura from Argentina, and they met at a Lutheran convention. They accepted a call to Sora about 1 year ago. Both are musical and active missionaries. Previously from city ministries, this is very different for them. Alejandro states that the only thing they have in common is the language, and this has been a year of change for them as they adopt a rural lifestyle. Alejandro describes how he has become integrated into the community by learning their ways, saying “they raise chickens, so now I raise chickens”. The year has been good for their family as they are now working together in ministry, eating together and spending their entire days together, something that was not possible in their city ministry in Chile. We learned a lot from Alejandro and Laura.
Next we went to the home of Ken and Marta Peterson. This church is the result of this couple’s work. Ken worked in the US AF, retired after 10 years and then served the International Lutheran Hour ministries for the rest of his career. Ken’s wife Marta is originally from this community, received property as an inheritance, and this is where they relocated later in Ken’s career. Once just a jungle, they have developed this property into a setting that is hard to describe. It is absolutely gorgeous, almost like a resort. The driveway is almost a 45 degree angle up a hill on the top of a “mountain” and the views are breathtaking. Marta is a gardener and she has flowers everywhere. They have developed small sitting areas on different parts of the property with different views. Evidence of Ken and Marta’s faith are everywhere.
When Ken and Marta relocated here, the intent was for Marta to open a business selling plants and flowers. She did this, and then started working with kids on a bible study. The Bible study flourished and eventually she quit the business to focus on the kid’s ministry. This led to an adult ministry, and eventually a church was constructed. Ken led the church for 6 years and then finally they were able to call Alejandro. This ministry is the result of the spirit working through some very hard work of Ken and Marta.
We head back down the hill in a race to catch the sunset over the pacific. We enjoy a few minutes at the beach, and then head back to the hostel for dinner and a group debrief.