This is part seven of my Panama reflection series. A little over five months 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.
Crazy times we live in. We will not forget this – the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been warned to stay at home, social distance, and wash our hands all the time.
Sports seasons have been cancelled or postponed. Airlines have shut down. Schools closed. Most churches have moved online.
Some people say “it is no different than the flu” or that it will come and go like Ebola, swine flu, or the Spanish flu. Others are hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, this pandemic has reminded us of the value of people and the relationships we have with them.
Every mission trip is different. Mostly because of the people on your team and the bonds your form with them. My November 2019 mission trip to Panama highlighted this fact.
This team harbored different personalities, different experiences, different motives, different backgrounds, different ages, and different vantage points.
I have detailed some of the specific differences of this trip in earlier posts, but what made this trip so different was the people I connected with, Americans and Panamanians. Many of these people I can truly call friends. The bonds I walked away with, despite my moodiness throughout the week, have been a wonderful surprise.
This experience showed me again what the Church is supposed to look like. But more on that in Thursday’s post, “What the Church Should Be Like”.
When my team and I set out for Panama, we had only met together as an entire group three times. Regardless of our limited interaction together, we set out “for the sake of His name” and to encourage the Panamanian Christians.
What we ended up finding was a new brotherhood, six Virginia pastors ranging from 32 to 70+ years old. Memories abound: from not wanting to ride next to certain members on the plane to Chow Mein to Leroy to getting dancing lessons from a Panamanian pastor’s wife to “chancé” to talking to a waitress in Spanish upon our return to the USA. Just to name a few.
But these bonds go beyond humor. One member has reached out to me about helping with this very blog and ministry.
One has become a role model for me because of his genuine care for me and my wife since our trip. About three weeks ago, I was really upset about something and this man called out of the blue. I have also been amazed at his devotion to God even in the midst of challenges and drama surrounding him.
Two of the others and I are now part of a GriefShare group together – a small group dedicated to helping people process the death of loved ones.
Our new bonds with the Panamanians have also been truly rewarding. The six of us each have different relationships because of the churches we partnered with there, but I know that we all share a version of Panamanian hospitality regardless of where we were.
Personally, I will never forget eating hot rolls with Abel, Abel’s brother, Maria, Pastor Felix, Ceci, and Elizabeth. Or eating fish on the lake shore with Vincent and his family (along with Abel, Pastor Felix and Ceci). Or riding in the car playing with Pastor Felix’s four-year-old grandson who stood in the backseat.
Or the family that gave me so many authentic souvenirs: bags, a hat, a shirt, plaques, and a Chiriquí flag carving. Or the Men’s Sunday School teacher who gave me his hat because “he wanted me to remember him”.
Or Paola and her family’s hospitality by providing El Salvadorian enchiladas for us all after a small group meeting at their house.
These memories and experiences impacted my life. I cannot completely describe the hospitality that was shown to me while I was there.
This trip was different because normally I go on these kinds of trips with a group of people I already know. This time I was separated from everyone I knew, even the Virginia pastors. However, being “alone” allowed me to appreciate the bonds I was building with the Virginia pastors as well as to build individual, unique relationships with local Panamanians.
We all have a lot of relationships, and those relationships can shape us into the people God has created us to be whether we have known a person our entire life or for one week. We can grow to love these people.
My experience in Panama reminded me of 3 John 1:8, where the apostle John is writing to his friend Gaius:
“We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.”
Here we find John commending Gaius for his “faithfulness to the truth” and “what [he is] doing for the brothers and sisters even though they are strangers to [him]”. John encourages Gaius to show hospitality to those who serve God.
I wonder what blessings and great relationships I have missed out on over the years because I was busy being moody or holding a grudge or unwilling to be hospitable or to accept someone else’s hospitality. Anyway, I was just thinking…