(Saturday, June 29)
The rainforest of Gamboa is just outside the city limits. Thirty minutes by bus and five minutes by boat and the team was lugging their bags up to the village known as San Antonio. The lake sparkled in the sun, bugs and birds buzzing over the lily pads and reeds. The trees were thick with full, green leaves and vines. The Embera and Wounon peoples of the village live in stilted huts, and they peeked out to look at us from under the woven palm roofs. It wasn’t until the team had set up camp that we got to explore. We trekked along a path tourists pay big bucks to walk, and experienced Gamboa’s diverse and bustling jungle. Then the team prayer walked from the first village, down a ravine to the second village, and up a slippery incline to the third village.
Twelve huts housing about two families per hut (the government won’t allow the people to chop down any more trees or build any more houses) bring the total of the three villages to around seventy people. The further we walked, the less eager the people looked to see us. At one time the third village was closed to missionaries like us, but thanks to God their hearts and homes have begun to open. The team hiked back to San Antonio for the night’s church service.
San Antonio’s small congregation meets among the stilts under a house located in the center of the village. With the taller of the team hunched over, the locals and foreigners worshiped and studied the word of God together. Insects hummed in the darkness as the gathering of believers listened with heads nodding in agreement and lips murmuring thanks to God. After the service, the team fled to the cover of mosquito nets for a night’s sleep.
The next morning, the men of village taught the men of the team how to use machetes to build another wing onto a family’s hut. The young women of the team gathered around an elderly woman from the village to learn about the daily responsibilities of women as well as family customs. In the afternoon, the team broke into small groups to visit the people in all three villages. The groups carried trash bags with them so they could pick up any litter strewn about the ground. Their main objective was to engage with the people: play with their children, sit in their homes, talk to them. After inviting everyone in sight to the drama that would be performed later, the team returned to base camp in San Antonio to change and eat dinner. The rain had poured all afternoon, pattering on the watertight palms above the heads in every home. The rain slowed as the team prepared to perform the drama at the evening service, but mud still sloshed between their feet as they gingerly pranced and jumped through the story. With added slapstick flair, the team enthralled the audience.
Early the next morning the team packed up to leave. After hugging some of the children and waving goodbye to San Antonio from the dock, the team boarded the boat. Memories of the hospitality and hunger for God’s Word in the people will remain with the team as they dwell on God’s call in each Christian’s life to spreading the Gospel.
Continue to pray for those on this team, that they would not let the experiences they had in Panama leave them unchanged. A changed life changes lives.
Steph and Daniel