Panama Reflection #3: Traffic

This is part three of my Panama reflection series. This time a month ago, I was in Panama on a mission trip with a group of pastors from Virginia. This series of articles is my effort to share some of my experiences while also debriefing from my trip. Enjoy.

Other articles in the series: My Plans or God’s Plans; Love of Country; International God


One of the things that is NOT on my bucket list is to drive around in another country besides the United States. I have enough issues navigating other states here in the United States (just ask students who have gone on a mission trip with me over the past seven years) let alone another country where I may or may not speak the language, where I definitely do not know the roads, and for what it is worth, some countries definition of “roads” makes my in-laws mile long gravel/quasi-paved driveway look great.

Another reason I do not want to drive in another country is because of the rules of the road. The way we drive in the United States is way different than in any of the five other countries I have visited. Here, we have lines on the roads indicating “your lane”. We have dotted lines telling you when it is safe to pass another car. We tend to not use our horns unless the person in front of us is texting instead of driving. And we have traffic lights to handle busy areas.

In Panama, things are a little different. They have lines. They have stop signs and stop lights, but they are definitely recommendations, not requirements. There are two rules of the road that capture Panamanian driving techniques (and in reality they are two different ways to say the same thing): 1) whoever has the most courage has the right-a-way, and 2) the Spanish word “¡Chancé!” – which basically means “take a chance/risk”.

We learned this term from a young Panamanian woman named Meribeth. She is the daughter of one of the Panamanian pastors we worked with. One of my U.S. pastor teammates and new friend, Shaw, is the one who experienced the application of this “¡Chancé!” firsthand. He described riding in the car and hearing Meribeth and her father talking in Spanish and every now and then she would shout out from the backseat “¡Chancé!”. Finally, Shaw asked what she was doing. Apparently, Meribeth was the lookout in the backseat. She was monitoring the traffic and was letting her father know he could turn or change lanes. You see the traffic is moving all the time and even when taxis are picking up passengers other drivers just swerve around them and keep going. People will stop their car in the middle of the road and run into a store or talk to someone on the street. Drivers almost collide with pedestrians or other cars. They drift into other lanes (many times not on purpose). It is not that they are bad drivers. The rules are just different.

Some of you might read this and be horrified. Some of you might read this and have a better story of crazy driving. What made this so unique is that in our conversations and experiences with the locals in Panama, we heard stories of drivers hitting pedestrians regularly, we saw repair shops everywhere, we sat in the cars while they drifted in and out of lanes that were not intentional, we think one of our drivers ran over someone’s foot at a gas station, and then the same pastor I mentioned above (Meribeth’s father) said he would not drive in Panama City because “they drive crazy there!”

This whole experience reminded me of how we often compare ourselves to other people and how we live our lives either taking too many risks or not taking enough. The bottom line is our lives are different and our actions reflect that. Some people use the phrase “you only live once” (YOLO). Some people say “carpe diem” (Seize the day).  Some people plunge recklessly into all kinds of bad situations because they simply do not want to miss out – to be the only one who wasn’t there. Again, we actually have a term for that today “fear of missing out” (FOMO). Some people do not count the cost and get themselves and others hurt. However, the opposite is true as well, some people miss out on things simply because they do not how it will play out. They are unsure so they do not participate. Some people relish in what they know and never venture into what could be. It cripples them. It debilitates them. The Bible speaks to both ideas:

Jesus says in Luke 14:28, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” In these words, Jesus is telling the crowds of people who are following him around the countryside that they need to consider what He is actually teaching them and calling them to do and be and make a specific, intentional decision. Don’t go into this blind. He calls us into something difficult yet amazing and it should not be taken lightly.

Additionally, all throughout Scripture the people of God are told to “be strong and courageous”. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

God intends for us to be strong not because we are but because He is. He gives us the same power and the same spirit that brought Jesus out of the grave. We rarely tap into that power. The power that can raise from the dead, and we think we have nothing. God has given us what we need – access to Him. As Christians it is not our job to try and meet every need for every person but rather point people to the One who can – Christ!

When thinking about that and how we live our lives maybe some of us need to slow down and count the cost and stop being so reckless. Still others may need to hear the call of “¡Chancé!” and take a risk, take a step out on faith, and pursue what Christ has called you to do and be.  Anyway, I was just thinking…

*The first picture is Meribeth. The second top right picture is the road the pastor I worked with lives on. The third picture is one of the intersections.


2 thoughts on “Panama Reflection #3: Traffic

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