Crossroads of the World
A few centuries ago the gold traders of South America, European explorers, and merchants from the high seas discovered Panama as an excellent rendezvous point. The neck of land as narrow as 50 miles in width allowed for easy trading between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans with access to traders from the continents to the north and south. Bankers and “traders” still flock to Panama. Today, Panama City is one of the top financial centers in the Western Hemisphere, being home to more than 80 banking companies. The canal, cutting 8000 miles off the voyage of about 35 ships daily, brings in about five billion dollars annually. Panama is forecast to have the strongest 2007 economy of any Latin or Caribbean nation. However, a few children still starve to death annually in some of the more remote mountainous areas. You can run with the rich or preach to the poor.
Panama has a population of three million; Panama City, one million. Thousands from indigenous tribes now walk the urban streets. More than 150,000 Chinese are scattered throughout the country, where they operate corner stores and laundromats. Thousands of Jews reside in the upscale area of the city. Workers came from the Caribbean to assist with the canal construction and have chosen to stay. They call Panama City a city of a thousand faces because of the variety of the color, shapes, and sizes of the people. English can be heard but not usually when you are looking for it! Spanish is official.
Catholicism has been the predominant religion for centuries. Panama is not unlike any other Central American country where it seems every religion and denomination is present. “Jehovah’s Witnesses” trudge the streets of many towns. They appear so sad and weary with many elderly men and women literally shuffling from house to house, not one bit inspiring to the onlooker. The Mormon youth army is attacking in droves. Strong young men and enthusiastic seoritas with a mission walk briskly along with pen and notebook in hand. Pentecostalism has swept from coast to coast. The Baptists have just celebrated 115 years in Panama. Most remote villages have multiple churches. Every child has heard of Jesus. Will it surprise you to read that there is no known assembly in the whole country of Panama? Why? How has it been missed?
Since November, 2005, assembly gospel work has been carried on in a little “barrio” of 1500 houses called Valle Hermoso. This is located about 20 minutes west of the canal with Panama City located immediately on the other side of the canal. Many have helped from many different areas and countries. Some stayed for a few weeks, some for a few months. A little home was purchased that has a front porch at street level where 50 or 60 can be seated for meetings. Since 2005 there have usually been gospel meetings every Saturday and Sunday night, a Sunday school and a midweek meeting for gospel or teaching. Special meetings have also been tried in a basketball court in the middle of Valle Hermoso, as well as numerous gospel series at the house.
The core of the work has been the monthly distribution of gospel texts and tracts to every home along with fliers with an article and a picture of the “Sala Evanglica” (the house), mostly in a small area of 1500 homes. For many months there were some respondents each time literature was distributed to the homes. Attendance increased from one man on the first Sunday to 30 on occasions. A number were saved and baptized. However, the months of November and December were difficult. The Christians seemed more tired and they can’t be blamed. Often they leave at 5am for work, spending hours each day on a hot bus and maybe are still on a bus somewhere when meeting starts at 7:30pm. There were fewer unsaved attending. Not one new person attended in two months. The inquiries stopped. The work stagnated.
In such times you reflect with thankfulness on past blessing. There is Bernabe. The only person that attended the first Sunday meetings in November, 2005. He was saved that very first day. There is Maria, the lady that used to go to her church at 6am every morning to read and pray before going to work. She would argue after meetings about a God of love putting someone in hell. She talked of the assuring feeling of a man’s hand upon her head pronouncing her sins forgiven. However, she discovered one night that the blood of Christ forgave all her sin. Those who have contributed their time and energy to this work still thank God for these and others who have been saved.
In January, Kyle Wilson arrived with his Spanish tongue to share in yet another month of nightly meetings. Valle Hermoso was canvassed another three times with the help of visitors. The Sala Evanglica filled up. New faces were seen. Some stopped by to say they have been reading the literature for the past year and wanted to attend a meeting. God blessed in the salvation of more. We planned another month of meetings for March. God still uses the public preaching of the gospel.
Painting the picture of Panama would not be complete without sharing the words of the next door neighbour lady. Her 41-year-old sister from five hours away was staying with her in June and July, last year. She was here for cancer treatments and was attending the weekend gospel meetings. Nightly meetings commenced at that time mostly for Dadamia’s sake with the hope that she would attend during the week as well. She came many nights. Some nights she was too tired and couldn’t. One night she talked about the peace she had received from listening to the messages. Her treatments finished. She returned home on the road to recovery. A few months passed. One morning I asked the neighbour lady how Dadamia was doing. She told of how she died the previous Saturday and then added, “My sister died happy.”
Are there any readers who could be led to fulltime service in Panama so that other Panameos will “die happy”?
Pray for couples to be led to Panama.
Pray for assemblies to be planted in Panama.