Saturday. January 30
Our day started a little later than usual, but after sleeping in we made our way to the Panama Canal. It's a pretty amazing engineering feat. We were able to see a couple of ships go through the locks, and we also took in the 10 minute video explaining the history. Following the canal, we went to a nearby market to pick up some souvenirs for ourselves, friends, and family. Most of us scored good deals on t-shirts, nativity sets, pictures, and other keepsakes. Following the shopping, we went back to the hotel and found lunch at nearby restaurants. The group split up and grabbed grub from local establishments like Subway and Papa Johns. There really doesn't seem to be authentic local Panamanian fare, in case you were expecting us to eat things like tacos, rice, chips and salsa, etc. The food is very Western in the city. The folks in Playa Chiquita typically ate meals with rice and chicken (chicken feet, even).
In the evening we went to a wonderful celebration service in Playa Chiquita. There was a wonderful group there that night who had gathered to send us off and celebrate our time together during the week. When we arrived many of the kids were getting their hair cleaned and some were getting a haircut. Each member of the team was given the opportunity to share a few words about what God had done in them during the week. It was a blessing for me to see each person testify to God's movement in them and among them. I shared that I truly felt that I got a better picture of what heaven will look like some day. These were/are our brothers and sisters in Christ!
During the service we were able to bless each family with a food bag (50 bags in all), as well as give each child school supplies. The church blessed our team by giving each person a little gift. I was given a large bowl with a beautiful local scene painted on it (I learned that this large wooden bowl was used in the preparation of their daily meal of rice). This was done by a man named Israel, standing next to me in the picture below. He painted all of the other gifts, too, that each team member received. We were blown away by these beautiful, generous gifts. We spent the remainder of our time giving hugs and kisses since this would be the last time we would see most of these folks. This was a bittersweet goodbye as our groups really bonded in the few short days we had together. It's amazing the difference that the love of God makes in our hearts and lives, and how God's love moves us beyond ourselves toward others.
We finished our night with a wonderful dinner on the causeway at a restaurant called Bucaneros. 4 members of our team had to leave the following morning, due to our trip delay, so this served as our last supper. I am so thankful for the group that God assembled for this trip. Each person offered their unique abilities and gifts as an offering to the Lord, and each person was a blessing to the larger group. For those considering going on a future trip but doubting what you have to offer, let me encourage you with this: God can use you. This week I saw God using a woman who could paint fingernails; I saw God use a young man through construction work; I saw God use a grandpa with a love for music bless others through music; I experienced God using me to lead a group, when I felt totally unqualified to do so; I saw God use a 10-year-old girl as she provided translation help for our team; and I saw God use countless others who simply said "Yes" to him.