Panama! Day 4

Today, we head across the Isthmus over to the Colon side of Panama. We’re scheduled to preach and help lead the services at “Jesus, Divine Savior Lutheran Church” Rio Rita, Panama.

What’s interesting for me is that when I was here 20 years ago, this was never a part of the country that I worked. This side of the country was served by another missionary. On this side of Panama there are three Lutheran churches. One in Rio Rita. One in Sabanitas and one in Colon (Margarita….yes…the church is named after a popular drink!).

Colon is the Caribbean side of the canal. Colon as a city has a very different “feel” to it vs Panama City. It also doesn’t have a very good reputation. While we visited over there from time to time, I was never familiar with these congregations so being involved in the services will be a new experience for us.

One thing to remember is that all the congregations in Panama are all very traditional and so I brought my vestments for the services. They still use the same hymnal that I used here 20 years ago, although I’ve heard that they’re working on a new one.

During the service, Pastor Jose Angel introduced us, Pastor Miguel Torineire (our awesome guide and leader for this trip) lead the service and performed a baptism and I gave the message with the help of Miguel. While I could have “tried” to preach in Spanish, I’m so rusty, I felt like it was better to have Miguel translate for me. This way, I’ll be more confident that it comes across OK. Man, am I rusty with my Spanish!

The service went well and after my sermon Pastor Miguel said to me “short and sweet”…..so for anyone reading this that knows me….Hey! I CAN preach short!

Anyway, after, the congregation fed us a typical lunch of salad, and arroz con pollo and Tentacion. Man, I’m not losing any weight here!

After photos and blessings…we headed for Sabinitas and then on to Margarita. Sabinitas has a school there but no real functioning church. This used to be the home of the missionaries here and they would have services downstairs. The work…while continuing….is struggling and without leadership, it’s in a precarious position.

Then we went to Margarita and as we went, Pastor Miguel kept saying “man this is a sad place”….and he was right. The work has been abandoned. The building lies behind tall grass and the building is falling apart. It’s been vandalized and is so sad. This congregation was a vibrant and growing church many years past. What’s even worse is that right next to it are two seemingly vibrant evangelical churches, a beautiful Mormon church and an amazing Mosque. All of these churches border maybe the “richest” looking neighborhood we’ve seen here yet.

So…it’s not that this place couldn’t be resurrected, but it’s going to take time, money and leadership….but more than that…God’s Vision for this place.

Will it be able to come back? They have a saying here “Si Dios Quere”. (If God desires). Time will tell.

Since there was no one to meet there, we just dove by and took some photos and being pretty depressed, we had decided that we would head over to Portobello to check out the “Black Christ” statue.

Miguel hadn’t ever been there (and it seems like he’s been everywhere in Latin America!) we headed east for Portobello.

Portobello was founded by Christopher Columbus and the name means “Beautiful Port”. And yes…it is! 20 years ago, we’d come over to Portobello to Scuba Dive and enjoy the history and to eat at a place that was new, at the time, called “Las Cannones”.

We made it to Portobello, checked out the church of the Black Christ, take a few photos at the Spanish Fort there and did indeed find Las Cannones..and had a drink there before heading back. The view as beautiful over the water, but overall it was a sad day.

The Church of the Black Christ is a whole post on it’s own…but it wasn’t very encouraging.

At the Spanish Fort we were greeted by a group of rather rough looking dudes….the entire place was worn down and trashy. Now, I don’t notice a lot of that anymore…but it seemed particularly run down to me and while we got some nice photos, we were ready to head back to Panama City. Like much of the “progress” in Panama, there’s more “ricos” with large homes and large places…next to and intermixed with “los pobres”. It’s always been this way in Latin America, but maybe I was just bummed out, but it seemed particularly stark today.

We ended our day with dinner…at a very familiar restaurant….Pappa John’s! Yes…here they’re full on restaurants! And the pizza was great! As we arrived back at the hotel…the “Super Moon” was up and I got a nice pic of the Panamanian Flag flying on Ancon Hill with the moon above. It was a beautiful way to end a long and eventful day.

Tomorrow…we head for the “Embera Peru” and to have a reunion with Pastor Jorge Villiamil. Can’t wait!

Chao!

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