What church is this from?” How many times have you heard that question while sharing gospel literature or in a conversation? What do you say? How do you describe what you believe and practice so that you are not just another drop in the vast ocean of religions and churches?
In Panama, we face this question constantly. In the 1.6 kilometers between our house and where the assembly gathers in Valle Hermoso, there are 15 religious buildings which can all be seen from the main road, not including those which are a block or two out of sight.
“So which church is yours?” they ask. It is the only church found in the New Testament, the body of Christ, His Bride and purchased possession, and we gather unto the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ in a local expression of that body. It doesn’t take any other name, for religious names indicate distinct teachings and systems that are outside of God’s design. We are a people called-out from the world and gathered to the Lord Jesus Christ alone. These other religious places function on a toxic mixture of worldly attraction, fleshly emotion, popular trends topped with a scattered biblical seasoning which may, at first, give a Christian taste, but very quickly turns to something carnal and dissatisfying, and not what God has designed for a local church on this earth.
Following men instead of Christ is not something new. It happened in Corinth: “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ.” Are they all equal? Do they all carry the same authority? The believers began following other believers of influence and their ideas and placed them on an equal level with following Christ and His Word. Thankfully, some said “I am of Christ,” noting that following anyone else wasn’t following Christ. Paul said “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
The majority in fellowship in Valle Hermoso and Dolega are first generation believers who have never seen an assembly function before. They have said the local assembly is very different from other churches, practicing what the Bible teaches, and not using worldly entertainment or emotionally driven events to somehow substitute for the working of the Holy Spirit. They have come out of the religious world because it didn’t satisfy. They see no need to bring it into the local assembly to supplement the teaching of Scripture.
Weekly personal Bible studies continue in our home with younger believers. We find that one-on-one study can be helpful in addressing personal needs and questions which often go unnoticed or can’t be addressed in a public way. Children and youth work continues weekly in the boy’s home, Friday night young people, and Saturday morning Bible Adventure Club. We also still get a good number of adults in to hear the gospel, but it is the younger ones who don’t have years of religious confusion and baggage hindering them who show the most interest. Recently, a teenage girl said she is now sure she is saved. Her younger sister has also professed to be saved and their mother has asked to be received into assembly fellowship. To God be the glory, great things He has done!
In August, a group of young ladies came down to help us as in other years. They brought suitcases filled with clothing, baby supplies, hygiene items, and numerous other useful things. With these items, we made up packages for babies and new mothers and distributed them in the maternity ward in the local hospital, as well as hygiene packages for the women’s ward. These packages are well received and we are known in the “medical community” for this act of kindness and the gospel message which we share with them. New shoes and other useful items were given to the children at the boy’s home and the house mother was very appreciative. We also had a BBQ at the building where we gather, and gave out several hundred hotdogs, along with a gospel literature package. It was hard to believe the number of people who rejected the free food as well as the literature. They would be hungry, but too proud to admit they needed anything. This would apply to the physical as well as the spiritual.
Also in August, the Lord opened a door to a work which had been on our hearts for some time. We received permission from the Minister of Education of our province to enter all 400 public and private schools and give out Bible texts. We are thankful for this new opportunity, as the orphanage where we have labored for a number of years is soon to be closed by the government. They say it’s a stain against the country’s image, for if you have orphanages, then you have poverty and social problems and this affects outside investment on which Panama is dependent. Sadly, the plan doesn’t go any further than closing the boy’s home. The children will just have to live with a distant relative or friend. Until now, the government had said they were not capable of caring for them. It is all about money; it doesn’t matter about the future of these little souls. The love of money is the root of all evil.
Our fellow workers, Marcos and Sara Sequera, who labor in Dolega (the Province of Chiriqui), have also been encouraged in working with the youth. They have a nice group of teenagers who attend regularly and have also been able to have weekly Bible classes in one of the public schools in the nearby town of Boquete.
During the third week in September, the children were off between semesters and we had some Bible activity classes. We were encouraged by the attendance and some new visitors said they will come back to the Friday night youth class and the Sunday school.
“Behold a sower went forth to sow” (Matt 13:3, KJV). Are you faithful in sowing?