Written by: Bruce Edwards
After an uneventful flight into Panama City, we met with a familiar face to those who have accepted the call to be a part of a Panama missions trip. Eliezel Soto was waiting for us at the airport with the bus that would transport us to the hotel in Panama City. The hotel is ready for us and we check in without a hitch. The trip here couldn’t be easier. Eli prays for us and we retire to our rooms.
The weather forecast is for thunderstorms every day of our trip to Panama. We’re in the rainy season and Sunday here begins with evidence of rain overnight but the skies offer promise of the day proving the forecast wrong. Nine o’clock and we’re all on the bus winding our way Panama City toward the Tocumen Church of the Nazarene. It’s the lightest traffic I’ve experience in this city. I hear it’s going to be a lot worse during weekday rush hour particularly with the construction taking place. The church is an azure blue accented by a man at a side door whose arms spring up over his head. The unimpaired smile assures us we are at the right place. Our groups have never been here but walking into the church gives the impression they know us well. But of course. We are believers of the one God. This is our first meeting but certainly not the last. We better get started in these new relationships, eternity last forever. Why waste a moment? There’s the language barrier for most of us but the communication is unmistakable. There’s joy in our meeting. There’s a common joy in the celebration of our God. We pray, we sing choruses common to our individual cultures and the songs of the Tocumen church are unfamiliar. It makes no difference. We clap our hands and share in their praise.
Pastor Roshanda Womack delivers a message that reminds us that we are never forgotten. God has our names written on the palm of his hands. Eli translates the sermon into Spanish and our two churches become one through God’s Word.
Our afternoon has us ministering to a group of children in an impoverished neighborhood reminiscent of a war scene. There are buildings that are only facades on a sea of rubble. Leaving the bus, we enter their neighborhood behind the Nazarene church planted by a courageous and faithful group of believers on an uneven surface of coarse concrete rubble with an escort from the Policia Nationale, yes, the national police. It’s a little uncomfortable, but as we continue to find our footing along this path, the voice of innocence changes the mood from apprehension to joy. In what might be described as the corner of an alley way were gathered 25 or so children responding to prompts from their enthusiastic Bible story teacher. Whatever their condition in most of their lives, these children are experiencing God’s love from a teacher who seems to know a lot about that. It brings us joy to witness this moment. This neighborhood is rife with drugs and gangs. People peer down on this scene from from open windows overhead. Members of our group wave them down to join us but there are no takers. Our hope is that the words of teaching carry to to meet them where they are. A scan of the expressions on the faces of our group shows they feel the same way I do, joy. We want this for these children. There is nothing more important than what they are receiving at this moment.
We have brought canvas bags they will decorate with markers. They make bracelets with colored beads that represents elements of faith. We give them juice and candy they receive enthusiastically. A cloudburst shuts us down for the day. Eli says our mission there was to love on them and we did. The Lord was in it and we were filled with his love.
I can’t wait for tomorrow. I expect more joy.