Sharing the love of Jesus with the people of Panama
Alyssa Palmer gives a firsthand account of living among the people of Panama and sharing the love of Jesus Christ to her new friends.
When I was a young girl, a teenager stood at my church’s pulpit and told stories of her missionary trip in Haiti. I remember sitting on the edge of the wooden pew and soaking in every word. My eyes open wide, I told my mom I wanted to go. Though she shrugged off the request of my young heart, God heard me loud and clear.
A month after my 14th birthday, I took a 20-hour plane ride to South Africa where the desire for missions was permanently engraved on my heart. A year later, I was challenged while teaching poverty-stricken people in Mexico and building a home from the ground up. I was 17 when I met teenagers in New Zealand who taught me the reality of suicide and my team taught them of Jesus Christ’s love. Last summer, I used the passion I found in South Africa, the strength I gained in Mexico and the perseverance I learned in New Zealand to face the most difficult trip of my 21 years -- Panama.
Imagine having no electricity or running water. You bathe in a wooden structure that encloses a large plastic tub of water. You walk down a slippery, muddy hill to use the toilet. You cook your food in heavy pots over a fire in your backyard. You see the faces of many beautiful children. Trying to communicate, you use the few Spanish words that your leaders taught you. Now, tell them your love for Christ.
We took a bus through the cities and country land of Panama to the remote village of Pueblo Nuevo. As we pulled onto a dirt road, we watched as men, women and children curiously left their huts and congregated near the road. The children were the first to accept the strangers into their village. We asked them for their names, ages and favorite colors -- the few sentences in Spanish we could mutter. After a short meeting, the villagers took us to their homes where we would sleep for the next week. Refusing to let us carry our own bags, I winced while watching two thin girls struggle to drag my heavy bag to the hut. Another girl walked beside me and proudly carried my pillow. From that moment, that beautiful child, Elizabeth, stole my heart.
If there is one thing I learned from this missionary organization, Global Expeditions, it’s that strangers rarely reach people at a spiritual level. You must learn from them, eat with them, laugh and dance and simply live with God’s people in order to break down walls and truly connect. Missionary trips are not shaking a Bible in someone’s face on the street. They’re about loving people and teaching Christ’s love.
In Pueblo Nuevo, I was a missionary advisor, which is a fancy term for a leader who watches out for four teenagers, looking out for their spiritual well-being and general health. One day my group and I were finding odds and ends of jobs around the village when a woman asked if we would put her chickens in their coop. To demonstrate Christ’s love, the five of us looked like complete fools as we chased chickens around her yard. Holding their stomachs, the family laughed so hard I thought I saw tears. Walls were truly torn down that day as we were accepted into the village. We were no longer strangers, but friends.
Though my teammates and I quickly fell in love with the village and the people, the trip had its challenges. Instead of staying in a hotel down the road, we lived in the homes of the people we wanted to share the word of God with. The huts we slept in were several feet off the ground. I was astonished watching small toddlers who could hardly walk climb the wooden ladders into their homes. We slept in cloth hammocks covered by thick mosquito nets.
While we spent the majority of the days picking up trash around the huts and assisting in washing dishes and laundry, my primary goal of the trip was to be a spiritual mentor for my group and the children of the village. Every day after lunch we gathered the boys and girls from infant age to teenagers for Vacation Bible School. By the third day of walking through the village inviting youngsters, the children themselves invited others in Spanish. We shared Bible stories and life-application stories, played loud and chaotic games and sang songs in both languages.
I remember one boy who went to VBS. On the third day, a violent switch turned in the 7-year-old as he starting pushing other kids, pulling hair, screaming in their faces and distracting the other children from the lesson. Members of my missionary team became frustrated while trying to decide if we should keep him out of VBS for the rest of the week. Later that day, I was eating dinner when I watched that boy walking past huts by himself, dragging a stick in the ground. I instantly felt a need to pray. My eyes followed the young child as I asked God to be with him. When he disappeared behind a hut, I concluded with an Amen. God was seeking that boy. The next day at VBS, he came strolling over and sat square in my lap and quietly watched the skit. I looked down at his black head of hair, smelled the dirt on his brown skin and thanked God for that handsome child.
While the trip challenged my leadership abilities, it also taught me patience. Even though I was in desperate need of a hot shower by the end of the week, I never felt more energized. I will never forget the smell of the wooden huts, the taste of the bland rice and the breathtaking sunsets. I will never forget the people of Pueblo Nuevo.