This was my first mission trip and also my first time outside the United States. The experience could not have been better. Panama was breathtaking and amazing, but what really makes Panama such a special place is its people. For example, Pastor Cecilio and his family in Chitre seem to live only for God and nothing else. They put on Vacation Bible school and sports camps to reach children, the future of Panama, for Christ. Such events have brought opportunities for members of our church to partner with the First Baptist Church of Chitre in the form of mission trips. The church in Chitre is also very active in spreading Jesus’ name to all people in the area. They see the need for Jesus in their community and take it upon themselves to bring Jesus with all they have and all they are.
One thing the church in Chitre has to battle is a lack of interest from the male population. In Chitre, church activities seem to be perceived as women’s activities. Very few men take part in church activities but the ones who do participate share the Gospel with all those around them and are incredibly bold and courageous in every aspect of their lives. Andres, Pastor Cecilio’s son, is a shining example of Christ to me in our dark world. He taught me much about having a servant spirit. He has had challenges after being in an automobile accident that cost him memories (due to a brain injury) and years of rehabilitation. He had to re-learn everything from walking to talking. Now, he has recovered and lives to serve Christ and others. One day, as we were out witnessing to townspeople, I set down my backpack while I grabbed a towel to wipe my brow. Andres picked up my backpack and insisted on carrying it the rest of the evening. Though I imagine he has little money from his position, he insisted on paying for snacks and interesting treats for us as he showed us around the are
The people of Chitre I encountered are incredibly caring and giving. It brings me to tears to think about all the things they did for us and gave us when they have very little to give. When my good friend and fellow-missionary Dawn complimented a girl just a little older than I am about her bracelet, the girl took it off without hesitation and insisted Dawn take it. The girl had made it herself and though Dawn struggled to make her take it back, she insisted she could make another one.
Between working with others who did not speak my language, witnessing in the community, getting up to give my testimony in front of approximately forty-five kids at the sports camp, and eating interesting new foods including squid with rice, I can tell you wholeheartedly I stayed primarily outside my comfort zone and I could not have enjoyed my time more. It was a week of hard work and fun and I loved every second. This mission trip gave me a new perspective on what is really important in life. If you have vacation or free-time available, consider going on a mission trip. It may completely change who you are as a person and for the better.
We know that, as Christians, we are called to the mission field whether it is overseas or in our own neighborhood, but Jesus did say to go into all the nations and share the Gospel. Jesus said to feed His sheep. We know we are called to be servants of Christ and to take up our crosses and follow Him. Do not be afraid to go on a mission trip. I thought I would be terrified but God gave me grace and I was not afraid. God gave me the courage to stand and work and I never once was tired of any of it. At the end of the week, I really did not want to leave to come back home. I felt there was so much more to do there.
I would like to thank the First Baptist Church of Wentzville for making this mission trip possible. Thank you, Glen Locklear, for planning the trip down to the minute and keeping us safe the entire time. Also, special thanks to mission team members Jason Meinershagen and Dawn Thornhill, Pastor Cecilio, his wife Clara, his son Andres, our interpreters Nili and Allison, and our driver Oniel for the greatest first trip outside the United States. You guys are truly lifelong friends. Lord willing, I hope to see those in Panama again very soon. I know we get to spend eternity together in Heaven, but I hope to see you again before then!