Panama! Day 3

Today we visited two churches. Los Andes and Loma Cova. A little back story…and hopefully this post will lead to a more in-depth discussion about the “state” of things in the Lutheran Church in Panama.

When we lived here Los Andes was simply a house in a neighborhood. A young American couple lived there as missionaries to teach English. At that time, it wasn’t necessarily the “safest” place to live (especially for young gringos) and it was outside the city. They took the bus into Balboa where the offices were and that took about an hour + per day, one way. It was always hard to be anywhere “on time”. This is one reason why “American time” and “Panamanian time” are different. If you have an appointment say for 10am and your party isn’t there….don’t worry and don’t leave. They’ll show up eventually. Why? It’s often very hard to get around quickly.

Anyway, Los Andes is a property that was purchased to help the Panamanian Lutheran church have a presence and a place in this area. Back in around 2000, a very large church in Houston got involved in Los Andes and helped the Panamanians build a very nice, very big “templo” that was attached to the house, transforming it into a very large center.

One of the main problems in Panama has been the raising up of the next generation of leaders. The problem is…it just hasn’t happened. So, much of the work struggles without consistent leadership. This isn’t unique to Panama at all! But it’s currently one of the main issues in Panama.

We see it everywhere we visit.

Today, Los Andes sits in an area that has been transformed by progress. There is a HUGE new mall a block away. There is a train station that runs next to that. It’s crowed with people!

Yet, on any given Sunday, only a handful of people come.

Jesus said:

“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” — John 4:34

And…

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest field.” — Luke 10:2

This is an urgent prayer for the Panamanian Lutheran Church!

Loma Cova is another long story!

I worked in Loma Cova quite frequently while living here. It’s primarily a Kuna Indian village west of Panama City. Work was begun here over 20 years ago after Lutheran missionaries got a fresh water well project going in the village. The elders of the village then gave the Lutheran church land in the village to build a church. Lot’s of lessons there! Over the years, the church was built and they’ve even added on to it!

I led services there quite a few times…but it was very difficult. I would show up when I was scheduled and wait. A few curious kids would show up and after awhile, I’d lead a service for them and the few dogs or chickens that would wander in.

I’d often wonder if anything I was doing or saying was making any sort of difference at all. My Spanish was rough…and we really didn’t have any music….and the liturgy was well…it was the liturgy. I would tell the kids about Jesus and how much He loves them and how He wants to know them. I always left there…wondering….

When we arrived to meet with the leaders, we were immediately greeted by a pack of friendly and very cute children….all curious about why we were there!

I think my girls played more “pato, pato, gonzo” (duck, duck, goose) than maybe ever! The kids of the village were having a great time, and were a delight.

We met with the “Presedenta” (yes they have female congregational presidents) and another long time member/leader and his family. We talked for a long time about the struggles, changes and what they hoped to do.

Pastor Miguel who is our guide and works for Central American Lutheran Mission Society (CALMS) led us in an amazing bible study and I just sat in awe of this Brazilian pastor who was so awesome at engaging and passionate about teaching God’s Word. I thought…man, what a blessing to the Church he is!

After the meeting, they fed us “Cena” (dinner) and it was ridiculously good! “Arroz con Pollo” with “Tentacion” (plantains in a brown sugar sauce) for dinner. Very “typico” and wow…we were all full!

Being so late, Pastor Miguel offered all of them a ride home….so…we packed everyone into our “busito” and headed off into the night to drop them each at their homes.

During the evening, it came up that we were looking for some authentic Kuna “Molas”. Since we were in a Kuna village and talking with Kuna people, dressed in traditional Kuna clothes, this seemed natural right?

Well, come to find out we were heading to the “factory”! AND, even though we were tired and it was late….we were invited into their home for a tour, coffee and a chance to pick up some really nice Molas and other things. And here was the other thing…no matter how many times I tried to politely refuse coffee at around midnight, it was impossible!

“Cafe con leche y azucar…por favor…y mas y mas…” It was a good thing because us guys ended up on the back of the house drinking coffee while the ladies were all in the front of the house talking and looking at Molas. No one was in a hurry….it was totally a “mi casa es su casa” kinda deal….we talked about “futbal”, the elections (yes…everyone wanted to talk about our elections…and NO ONE like the outcome btw…) (PS: Panamanians have always been interested in North America and in many ways our influence in the region is very visible. I would say most North Americans have no idea that so many in their hemisphere are watching!) and even though I was so tired….it was one of those moments when we were all simply guys having a great conversation. We were friends, brought together by this common bond of the church. We talked about family, business, the future, hopes and dreams for what’s next. All a very cool experience. Funny thing was, you had a North American, a Central American and a South American all represented at the table. So in a way we represented the entire hemisphere!

When we finally got away from stop number one, we had two others.

At the second stop we were invited inside to tour their home. Panamanians are very hospitable people. In many “pueblos” they live in very close proximity to one another. This makes things that we value like “personal space” and “privacy” seem somewhat out of place. They are used to and even expect closeness.

We were talking to one of the super impressive “jovenes” (Panamanian College Student) and he was sharing how he loves being with his family. He sees his grandparents every day and loves it. He came to the US last year to study English and he said the hardest part was not being with his family and the most “strange” observation he made about North Americans is how much distance there is in families. He talked about how North American families always seem to be apart or so preoccupied that they don’t talk or take time for one another. I noticed that in his family…they all talked and talked. They told stories and the laughed a LOT! Even the older sons would hold mama’s hand or hang on to her. Their relationship was deep and beautiful. Oh…side note….this young man had recently married (4 months ago) and they moved into her parents house. Totally natural and “normal”. Very different than our culture. And he still takes time to go to Loma Cova to see his grand parents. And all those kids that greeted us? He knows them all, since they were born. He knows their families…and they all act like family.

Now, I’m sure that things aren’t perfect. In fact I know that relationships often struggle here like they do in the US. BUT, there is a difference here that is beautiful and rich…and cultural.

When we finally got everyone dropped off and back to our hotel…we were exhausted…but happy.

OK…there’s so much more to all of this…but I have another long day tomorrow…so…for now…

Chao!

PSS: I know “Chao” is Italian….BUT it’s a very common Panamanian way of saying “goodbye”. Say it as you leave and you’ll get a “Chao!” Back!

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