Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Teaching and Reaching in Panama City with Hands of Peace

A few months ago I was blessed with the invitation to join Hands of Peace Ministry Team from Connecticut on a mission trip to Panama City, coordinated with Ministerios IR (Go Ministries). I first worked with Hands of Peace in January in Mexico.

Like Mexico, our objective was to equip and encourage children's workers, church leaders and youth with creative arts tools to reach out to their community. The 7 days consisted mostly of 3 days of training rehearsals and workshops and 3 days of dress rehearsals and children's crusades. Reflecting on this experience, all I can say is: WOW!

God never ceases to amaze me. Over 3 days we were able to share with the eager and ready-to-learn Panamanians several ideas ranging from puppetry, ventriloquism, props, creative movement, dowel rods, sign language, illusions, hand mime and blacklight.

Their eagerness and willingness to serve was particularly striking. Our host church's, Comunidad Evangelica Monte de Sion (COEMONSI), slogan is "salvos para servir" (saved to serve). They unhesitatingly lived up to this challenge.

The 3 days of workshops also included afternoon rehearsals, (about 2-3 hours a day), where we trained 3 different teams to participate in our program for the children's crusades. The brothers and sisters were motivated, not only to learning the program but to being excellent.

The next three days of dress rehearsals and children's crusades were long and arduous. Still, our team was the epitome of dedication: assisting with set-up/tear-down, distributing invitations to the community (rain or shine) and enduring the sticky heat in rehearsal and performance.

Our first crusade was in a rural community 2 hours away from Panama City, where teen pregnancy is high and electricity/running water can be considered a luxury. Our program there was powered with a generator, portable sound system and lit by a single bulb. Our last 2 crusades were in the barrios Pedregal and Concepcion, both considered "red zones" for drug dealing, assaults and other violence.

While each crusade ranged from small to large facilities, very hot to slightly less so, from mostly adult to mostly children, what never changed was the genuine fun and wonder captured in the program, backed with God's presence and the call to accept Him.

Many of our objectives were met in those 7 days of work in Panama: equipping the leaders, training the youth and reaching out into the community. Better yet, other benefits came about as "side effects," including working collaboratively with other churches, developing the leadership of the church members and empowering the youth with ministry that opened the eyes of the adults to their potential.

I am so grateful for the wondrous opportunity I had to be a part of this trip. Many people came to know Christ during our visit and we are excited for the potential ripple effects that will continue long after we are gone.  As COEMONSI's Pastor Elias said: "Several little lights have been lit that are now going back to their homes, where they will shine in the darkness."

Though we did come to equip and encourage our brothers and sisters in Panama, the blessing they are to our own lives is just as great. Their humility, dedication and servant's hearts are inspirational and they send us back home refreshed, rejuvenated and eager to serve!

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