The next eight posts are going to be a series of reflections based on my recent mission trip to Panama. The first one is titled “Love of Country”. Enjoy.
I have been back in the United States for about five days, and I have been thinking a lot about my recent mission trip to Panama. This is the second time I have been to this country and this trip was very different than my last one. I have been asked by everyone “how did your trip go?” My response has been simply, “It was different.” I do not mean it as a bad thing, but rather exactly that – it was different (but that reflection for another post).
In this country, we have been talking a lot about immigration policies, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and a wall between Mexico and the United States. Many of us, regardless of what side of the aisle we are on, have a view which is both true and false: people want to come here to the United States. Sure, there are people who want to come here for economic prosperity, freedom of religion, the ability to vote, or pretty much any other reason. However, in Panama, I encountered a very different perspective: Panamanians love their country.
November is called “mes de la patria” or the “patriotic month”. It is the month in which they celebrate their separation from Colombia and their independence from Spain. I call it National Pride month. It is an entire month-long celebration full of festivals and special holidays. There are particular days that are recognized (see list here), but all month people are wearing traditional clothing, flags are in every taxi, and signs are all over the place. Churches even incorporate traditional songs, dances, and poems into their worship service. One family even gave me several traditional Panamanian items including a hats, shirt, and bags.
This experience made me think about my home country, the United States. To be honest, I think many of us take for granted what we have here. We typically believe everyone wants to come here, yet we trash it and act like we hate everything about it: our government, the leaders, our history, our flag, our people, our freedoms, our possibility of a better life. Many of these things could be improved, but overall many of these things we truly take for granted. Many people in the United States have an arrogant view of themselves and of our country and of the freedoms we have. This arrogance leads to a lack of appreciation and malcontent.
In contrast, I do not believe that Panama loves their country because they don’t know any better. I believe they love it because it is where they live. It is their home. It is where God put them. Here is a question for us to ponder, “why did God put me in the United States and someone else in Panama or in a random island village?” We could have been born literally anywhere anytime.
This whole experience reminded me of the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11-13:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Many Christians focus on verse 13 like it is some name-it-claim-it spell. But the truth of this verse is Paul’s recognition that no matter what situation we are in, Christ sustains us. This was lived out before my eyes by dozens of Panamanians I encountered. They love their country and they love Jesus. Maybe that is a lesson this “poor” country can teach us. Anyway, I was just thinking…