First of all, we had a fantastic trip!! What a relief that everyone came back to their families safe and sound. We only had one big miscue, when David lost his luggage. He was a pro about it, though, so that made it nice. We were staying in a cockroach infested, mothball-smelling dormitory where you couldn't even flush the toilet paper after using the facilities. But surprisingly, everyone rolled with it pretty well. It probably didn't hurt, though, that the site ended up having a pool that we could relax in each night. It was great to come together as a group each night and spend time devoted to God in song, reflection on the day, Scripture reading, and prayer.
We were able to accomplish a ton while we were in Panama City. The men and some of the ladies worked with a construction crew from Panama to build a new and safer fence around a preschool and daycare and to build and pay for a roof over a school playground to prevent flooding during the 8-month rainy season. To get this fence up, we first had to dig down. The first day was spent digging a huge trench, 2 feet deep, about 18 inches across, and about 30 feet long. The ground was completely filled with rock, so our bulging muscles were put to the test that day, and we left the site feeling totally exausted. The next couple days were spent constructing a cement wall that would serve as the foundation and bottom half of the fence. I've never mixed so much cement in my life! I've also never sweat so much in my life. It was so hot and humid that after a couple hours of work, each of us had sweat through about every inch of clothing we had on. In addition to the digging, mixing, and pouring of cement, our week consisted of a ton of painting (thanks Nick) and a ton of cutting of re-bar and steel for the fence. And yes Manuel, I know I took third place in the hacksaw competition. "Move the Bricks! Ha Ha Ha!"
Most of the ladies spent their week serving in the school with the children. On the first day they were divided into classrooms, so throughout the week they were able to form relationships with the students in their class through playing games, singing songs, teaching English, learning Spanish, and playing soccer. About 2 or 3 times during the day the kids would crowd into a little gymnasium for a rousing game of futbol (soccer). These were great times of interaction with the kids as they looked forward to these games each day.
The girls who worked in the classrooms had an incredible impact on the lives of the children they worked with all week. Often it is easy to be discouraged about our accomplishments when our achievements are not visible. In life we must continually operate with an eternal measuring stick rather than a worldly way of measuring success. We must know that most of what we do in the name of God will never be rewarded here on earth, but that God is very much aware of all we do for the Kingdom. May we keep the faith and keep pressing on, knowing that all we do for God, whether seen or unseen, is greatly impacting the world around us.
I know it sounds cliche, but worshipping and serving in Panama really allowed me to understand that God is present everywhere and is being worshipped everywhere. The first morning was a Sunday and the team had the chance to worship with all the Methodist churches in the area, all at one unity service. This was a very powerful time of music, dance, and spoken word. Even though we could not understand much of what was sung and said, it was moving to know that there are followers of Jesus everwhere and they all worship the same God. Some of the hymns and worship choruses were familiar so we were able to understand the meaning because we knew the English lyrics.
On the following Sunday, the team was able to worship twice on the beach of the Pacific Ocean, once in the morning and once in the evening. These were powerful times to really experience God's creation first-hand, to witness the vast ocean and know that God is infinitely larger than that.
One thing God is continuing to teach me is how easy it is to compartmentalize our lives and our faith. It is so easy to act one way at one time and another later. If God has called us into leadership, we must recognize that we are called to be a leader 24-7, no matter who is around. We also must realize that God has called us into a lifetime of service and mission work, not just a week or two at a time. Whether we are serving at a church in Panama, or relaxing on the beaches of Panama, we must always carry an attitude of worship and service. Let's not continue to be Sunday morning worshippers who "praise God with our lips but walk out the door and deny Him with our lifestyles." Let us not continue to be mission trip servants who completely ignore the injustice in our world the entire rest of the year. God has called us to so much more!!