Over the past five years we have made several visits to Panama, but our March trip was the first visit with a church in the town of Penonomé. I met the pastor, Omar Peñaloza, through our earlier visits, and as President of the Panama Baptist Convention, he has a much better insight to the needs across the country. I reached out to Pastor Omar in search of a church that might want to partner with us in an area outside their home church. Our goal is to help plant a church, not just help grow an existing church. Focus on outreach, not in reach.
Pastor Omar proposed three options to explore: 1) Work in a mining town that has had no evangelistic contact. 2) Work with a church plant just outside Penonomé that Omar has been leading. 3) Work with a native pastor with the Ngöbe Buglé, an indigenous tribe in Panama.
We first visited the mining town of Coclecito. It is a very small, rural community with public schools that we could contact about using for VBS or visiting and sharing with the classes. Next, the church plant in La Honda is also located in a small, rural community, and it currently has some 15-20 people participating in Bible study. Finally, we drove another two and half hours north of Penonome to meet the Ngöbe Buglé.
Panama has seven unique indigenous cultures, compared to the more than 750 Native American tribes here in the USA. The territory of the Ngöbe Buglé is just a bit more than 5 hours north of Panama City on the Panamerican Highway, the highway that starts in Alaska and ends down in southern Argentina. After arriving at the turnoff at San Félix, we continued another 15 miles or so to the tribal state of the Ngöbe Buglé. Approaching the border, pastor Omar spoke to the guard, who permitted us entry without the fee typically charged outsiders.
The Ngöbe Buglé that we visited live at poverty level, many in shelters made of sticks, straw, and dirt floors. The Panamanian government has a program in place to provide basic housing for tribal members, but it will take several more years to get each family in their own house. Electricity, water, and plumbing have not arrived to all areas, so many rely on lanterns and candles for light and walk long distances for their water daily. Outhouses are the norm, not the exception.
As we prayed over what the Lord has shown us, we believe that we can make the most impact working with the Ngöbe Buglé, but also team with that church plant from La Honda as they want to serve. Our first trip will be in September, during Panama’s school break, to work in Vacation Bible School (VBS) with the La Honda church plant. In February 2020 we will return and head to Ngöbe Buglé to work alongside the church plant doing VBS. Over time we would like to take a medical team down to help the Ngöbe Buglé, continue with VBS, and if we can get the resources, drill a well to provide clean water to the community. All the while, we will evangelize and share the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have not heard.
So would you pray about joining us?
We need missionaries willing to step out of their comfort zone and help tell others about Jesus. They must be born again believers. They must have a current passport. And, they must complete the Basic Training for Mission class which is held several times a year. The next class will be all day on Saturday, June 1 at the church. To sign up, call the church office at 636-327-8696, or email me at