NO security here .....
This years mission trip took us south of the US instead of East. We were in uncharted territory, but the purpose was still the same. We found ourselves daily saying, "This reminds us of Africa!"
The truth is, 3rd world countries have so many things in common. Lack of infrastructure, poverty, illiteracy, illnesses, and people who are in need are the commonality. This year we joined Anthony's cousin Kelly Webb, his wife Terri, and several others to go to San Blas. All in all there I think there were over 50 of us.
We left Nashville July 1st, stayed the night with Kelly and Terri in Pulaski, and early Saturday morning boarded the church van at Fairview Church of Christ with 10 others and drove to the Atlanta airport where we met three more. One of which was our dear friend and fellow Tanzania missionary John Baker, and two teenagers from his congregation. We did a lot of reminicing with him this week!! Once we arrived in Panama City, Panama we met the rest of the group from several other congregations.
The timing was such that it made it easier to meet up with the other groups and
Not the ideal situation to have your airplane stuck in the sand!
coordinate all the housing arrangements, food, and boats rather than 3 groups trying to take care of those needs separately.
Panama City is on the southern coast of Central America on the Pacific Ocean. The San Blas Islands are a group of many tiny islands on the Gulf side the country of Panama. Some are so tiny that a Super Walmart store has more square footage than the entire island. And the largest one we visited was still small enough you could walk the entire length in 10 minutes or less.
The unigue thing about each island is that most of the inhabitants will grow up on their island, and have to have permission to leave. Each island has their own set of leaders, or an individual "silar" that governs the island, as well as who is allowed on or off, and this includes us.
Our purpose this trip was to concentrate on the main Island of Wichubwala, and three smaller islands from 15 mins to 1 hour away by boat. On our flight from Panama City to the San Blas "AIRPORT" we landed on a runway that mostly consisted of concrete not much longer than some
Our destination .... island Wichubwala.
of our drive ways, and then the planes' front tire proceeded to get stuck in the sand when it turned around. Odd thing to see when you know you have to get back on it in 5 days.
Once there, we had to board a boat, NOT a nice boat I might add, and in 10 minutes arrived at Wichubwala. Our accomodations were actually worse than any that we had stayed in before in Africa, outside a camping trip we made once. Since the islands are so small, every inch is used, and all our rooms were on stilts out over the water. You could see the ocean under the floorboards of your rooms and the walls were made of reeds about as big around as your thumb. Most nights however, the cold water was a welcome site, and we ended up in hammocks outside as the rooms held the heat from the day. There were no showers, only a 50 gallon drum with a plastic bucket to pour over you as you bathed and this was inside the 'toilet'. The toilet was an actual toilet seat, but there was a very strict rule, no paper - once you
When it was all done we were in and out of the boats a total of 32 times!
poured water into the toilet, the contents went directly into the ocean. I am not making this up! No further explanation needed here.
There was a couple of small stores on the island where the coolers were chilled with propane tanks. There was no drinking water unless you boiled it, or bought it. No electricity except via generator, and it was only used at night for a couple of hours. We did see a telephone booth, but no one could tell if it actually had wires coming out of it.
The people we were going to be working with are called Kuna's. They are very similar in looks to the Mayan Indians. They are incredibly small people! I was not the shortest adult on the island by a good 4 - 5 inches! The Kuna women sew!!! I automatically loved that and the 'mola's" that they made. Beautiful colors, some very intricate, and of course all for sale and hung on nearly even hut for you to see and hopefully purchase.
Our daily format went like this:
Each morning board a boat to get to Wichubwala where we all meet to go over the plans for
Arriving on Wichubwala
Kelly and Terri Webb, son Colby and Anthony
the day. Three teams of folks each had an agenda for the day. Breakfast was prepared for us, we took our own lunches, and then dinner was prepared for us when we returned each night. After dinner we had a devotional then off to bed.
Once the plans were discussed we each boarded one of 3 or 4 boats that took us to the island that we were going to be working on that day. There was a medical team, an evangelism team, and a construction team. At the end of each project for that island there was a gospel meeting held in their language.
Our team was comprised of both the evangelism and construction teams. And it really wasn't construction as much as simply getting some gutters and sim tanks to collect the rainwater for one island since there is no fresh water. If they ran out of rainwather they had to go to the main land and bring it back in 5 gallon buckets via boat. The plan is to show them how by getting them started, and partner with them so they will finish the project as they are able.
The evangelism group of
The water underneath our room might have lulled us to sleep if the heat had not kept us awake. BUT no standing fresh water meant no mosquitos!
course did just that. Teaching to encourage the existing congregations, as well as new studies. Classes for the men, the women and the children were done on each island.
The medical team that we met up with in Panama had a Dr., a Dentist, 4 nurses, and several others that would be assisting them where they had a need. The Kuna 'registered' each one who wanted to be seen, filed in order to the Dr. , nurses, or Dentist, then the pharmacy to get whatever meds were ordered, then everyone watched as the next person in line was seen. Since they are in such small living conditions there are no secrets for sure.
The week went by in a blur; the heat, humidity, hard beds, cold showers, blisters, swollen feet and even one broken arm can do more good for our humility than the best of sermons on a Sunday morning in our beautiful American church services. The poverty of the people touches your very deepest emotions and allows you to leave a better person.
From what I remember of the numbers reported each night at our devotional, there were over 500 people seen by the Dr.
So much for privacy.
and Dentist, around 1,000 prescriptions given out, nearly 150 teeth pulled, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 heads treated for lice.
We all know the purpose of the church includes benevolence and we read that clearly in the scriptures, but the encouragement that you can see in their eyes when they know that you care for their soul, as well as their physical body is evident.
The time spent sitting and talking to them about the scriptures, the church, and what lies beyond the poverty that they live in day to day is our real purpose. The islands are small, and most of the inhabitants are children, the congregations are small, but growing. This week there were restorations, and baptisms, but the only number that really matters when talking about converstions is one. One more soul added to the church. Then one more, then one more ...
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