“Dear brother pastors, elders, leaders in general, and to the precious church of our Lord that is under your care, Redeemer.
We wish to praise the Lord for this immeasurable experience that we were able to have together with your young people and the leaders that accompanied them. Truly it was a great joy to receive the group and share together as one body. Just like the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in Rome in chapter 12 verse 5 “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We really lived this during these days with the ones that you sent to us.
All that remains for us is to thank the Lord, and to you Redeemer we give you thanks by means of a strong hug that we gave to Jared so he could give it to you, a reciprocal hug for the generous giving of love and friendship shown by you all. Thanks to each one who contributed towards this work.
The Executive Committee of the Gospel Missionary Union of Panama.”
There have been few letters in my lifetime that brought me deeper joy to receive than the above message from our brothers and sisters in Panama. To say that God exceeded our expectations would be an understatement.
As a team of eight high school students and four adults, our five days in Panama in July were full, sweet, and transformative. The relationships we began forming transcended culture and language and provided a beautiful picture of global Christian unity.
From the first morning when we awoke to the calls of parrots and parakeets, to our tear-filled farewell evening, God’s presence permeated every aspect of our time there.
Here are a few highlights to share the joy of our experience:
1. On our first morning, we were taken on a tour of Campamento El Amanecer (“Camp of the Sunrise”) by Jairo, the church association (UMEP) president. We got to see plenty of unique trees (mango, cashew, palm, and almond) and one special treat was getting to see two monkeys scrambling about in them. We also saw a few iguanas, centipedes, and some tropical frogs.
2. Our initial work primarily consisted of power washing two of their bunkhouses, all walkways, and even the inside of a home. We then moved on to painting the exterior of those bunkhouses as well as their dining hall. This was hard work, but exceeded their expectations and should last for several years. The financial gift we brought allowed for the purchase of the paint and supplies as well as a little extra for future projects. We were also able to present copies of The Jesus Storybook Bible to each of the leaders and their families and some sporting goods for use at the camp. It was great to watch the kids engage the tasks with high energy, great attitudes, solid teamwork, and use the work time to have meaningful conversations.
3. Three of the evenings, we were able to spend extended time with a local youth group playing games and building friendships. One of the most surprising aspects of these times was how quickly our American students and the Panamanian students began effectively communicating using google translate on their phones! It was also a great reminder of how much of our communication is non-verbal and how powerful a posture of eagerness to engage and understand someone can be.
4. On Sunday, we worshiped with “Templo Belen” (Temple of Bethlehem) about 10 minutes away from the camp. They provided a translator, which was a huge blessing. We got to participate in Sunday school, join in a baby dedication, and worship Jesus in Spanish. After the three-hour service, they held a fundraiser meal for local missions work they are doing, so we got to know the congregation better during that time as well. It was glorious!
5. Each night after dinner we would gather as a team to check in with each other emotionally and mentally by sharing “appreciations, worries, and hopes”; this is something the older high school boys' Small Group does on Wednesday nights that Alvin and Anthony led us in. Then one of our students would share their testimony, we would pray for them, and then play games and laugh together until bed time. These spaces birthed some wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.
Below you’ll see a graphic that the UMEP staff created to illustrate our partnership as well as a letter from a youth volunteer leader Angel thanking us for coming and written in English. These gestures were incredibly meaningful to us and we hope they are to you as well.
For those who prayed, gave financially, encouraged our students, and followed along, we want to say thank you. We hope to return with a slightly larger team next Summer and have already begun planning ways to continue this partnership. None of that would be possible without the support of our church.
Please keep praying for God to use us for his glory and to unite his global Church to expand his Kingdom!
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