Today was bittersweet as we began our last day of ministry here in Panama. As the students awoke, the realization of our time here coming to an end hit as we reminisced all the adventures we have shared and the ways we have seen God move here in the country of Panama. As usual, we had a delicious Panamanian breakfast of sausage and Panamanian tortillas. Afterward, we headed out to our first ministry site at a major metro entrance in San Miguelito.
When we arrived, the students gathered in their ministry groups to pray for the hearts of the people and for God’s guidance in what He wanted us to do as we started off our last day. We set the stage in the middle of a busy sidewalk where hundreds of people walked about heading towards the metro entrance and bus stop. Between bus departures, various crowds formed around the students as they performed the drama. The students performed with extra enthusiasm, making sure to give all that they had, and we as leadership could not have been more proud to see that.
After the drama had ended, the students went out to speak to the people gathered. Several already professed to know Christ, but some were still not sure about what it meant to be a Christian. The students were able to explain to them further the beauty of a relationship with Christ and the life-changing experience that He brings as well as pray with them.
We then headed to a huge park called Parque Omar located closer to downtown. Though Awe Star been able to perform the drama there in the past, for some reason, we were not granted permission to do so. A saying Awe Star uses many times on our trips is, “Our disappointment is God’s divine appointment.” That was surely the case at Parque Omar. Instead of performing the drama as we had originally had planned, we were able to start conversations and evangelize with those who were strolling about in the park. The students were able to talk to and pray with many, seeing some come to Christ!
Our next stop was at a tourist location in Panama that is called Casco Antiquo. There, old Caribbean-style buildings line the narrow cobblestone streets. Locals and tourists alike walk around in enjoyment of this scenic area. With the ocean to our backs, the students performed the next drama. Not long after the announcement of the drama, people filled the benches of the plaza and look on with curiosity and amazement. Several afterwards came to know Christ including a police officer who had been listening at his post. During our time in Panama, we have also met people from other parts of the world. Today, at the plaza in Casco Antiquo, we met a man named David who was visiting Panama from Switzerland. He is a fellow believer, and we had the privilege to be prayed over by him in German. Panama has had an astounding growth in Christianity over the recent years. One of the translators described several of the ministries here in Panama and the number of missionaries that have been sent out from Panama to the farthest parts of the world, and it is incredible what God is doing in this country. It has been an honor to be able to work alongside the translators and pastors here during this last month.
Tonight, the men of the team prepared a special evening for the women. With the help from our lovely cook, Tia Mirna, the men made Chicken Alfredo and Pasta. As the women came downstairs for dinner, they were greeted by the men dressed in their best outfits in a sweetly decorated dining room. The women were beyond surprised and overwhelmed by the kindness and thoughtfulness shown by the men of the team. The night ended with a time of laughter and fellowship, a good way to mark the ending of our time together.
Thank you again for all your prayers and support during our time here. The students have been able to see God work in and through them in mighty ways here in Panama. Lives were touched and changed forever.
Rebecca & Marc
Today our wonderful and hard-working country coordinators got a well-deserved day off, so this update is coming to you from team directors Melanie and Garrett.
The morning began with a special treat, a delicious sweet bread given to us by the mom of one of our dear translators. The Panamanian people continually amaze us with their graciousness, and the bread was a delicious accompaniment to our pancakes and eggs. After breakfast we headed off to Veracruz, a small town located about 20 minutes away from Panama City. It was a joy to spend our morning with Iglesia Cuadrangular de Veracruz. After joining them in worship and prayer, the students performed the drama for the church. The response of the church to the gospel presentation warmed our hearts, and reminded us that we all need the gospel daily, no matter who we are.
For the next site we got back on the bus and headed outside a grocery store to do ministry. However, this area, which is usually very popular, was deserted. Hoping for more opportunities elsewhere, and trusting that our disappointment would be God’s divine appointment, we headed to a soccer court. Immediately the students began engaging with the numerous kids that were in the area, and we quickly drew a crowd. After performing the drama under a light sprinkle, the students went out to the people and began to share the gospel. Two of the groups spoke to big clusters of children and we saw the Lord do incredible things. When they asked who wanted to receive Christ, dozens of tiny Panamanian hands were raised and then our students led them in prayer. Our other ministry teams went elsewhere to talk to more of the onlookers from afar. One of our students spoke to a mother of a few of the children and saw her surrender her heart to follow Christ. What a joy it is that now she will be able to lead her children and grow with them together. Gloria a Dios!
Today in Panama was Dia del Niño, a day dedicated to celebrating children. The team was given a great opportunity to go to a festival at a local soccer field with more than 500 people in attendance. The students prayed and prepared their hearts for the ministry that was to occur shortly thereafter. The scent of popcorn filled the air while various bounce-houses were being set up. By the grace of God, one of the men in charge of the event was not only a friend of our translators but a believer. He set us up with the sound system and worked the schedule so that we could perform a drama without intruding on a soccer game. The students performed the drama for a huge crowd of children, parents, and locals out enjoying the festivities. Hearts were opened to the gospel and we saw many come to know him.
The next drama we performed, however, did not happen with ease. Immediately after the previous drama had finished, the students began sensing spiritual warfare. The enemy did not want us to continue ministry, and several students began feeling very discouraged at the hearts that were hardened to the gospel. But, thankfully, we serve a God who has overcome the enemy. We went on to perform a second drama at the soccer field. Although the crowd was smaller than the last, the message of hope was proclaimed throughout the festival. One of our students who had felt particularly discouraged got to aid in leading a woman to Christ and was moved to tears at the result.
After this we headed back to Casa Blanca in Panama City, but not without the gift of hot dogs and delicious juice from friends from the church. We were so blessed by their hospitality. The students enjoyed arroz con pollo for dinner, cooked by the ever-so-lovely Tia Mirna. After a time of worship, the students enjoyed playing hide-and-go-seek throughout the house. Laughter and fun was had by all.
Tomorrow is our last day of drama ministry in Panama. This trip has flown by, and we have seen the Lord do incredible things. Please pray for the team as they go out tomorrow and give everything they have. We believe the Lord has the power to perform miracles and we will step out in faith as a team.
Panama 35-Day Team Directors, Melanie and Garrett
Today for our first day of ministry back in Panama City, we started off with a delicious breakfast of Panamanian tortillas and bacon prepared by our favorite cook, Tia Mirna. Lelia and Jacob had their turn as TDs for the day, and they did a great job leading the team efficiently from our first site to our last. After breakfast, we made our way through town to a soccer field in the middle of the city, where about fifty young men were attending a Saturday soccer academy. The father of one of our translators runs the academy, so that opened the door for us to perform for there. We arrived just as they were finishing practice and set up for the drama in the middle of the field. Afterward, the team was able to go out and talk to the kids and parents who had arrived to pick them up. It was a great opportunity to share the gospel with many from all over the city. Some had to leave quickly, so we handed out gospel tracts to them as they left, but some stayed for us to explain the gospel more clearly, and a few prayed to give their lives to Christ!
For our next site, we traveled to Tocumen, which was about a thirty-minute bus ride out of Panama City. Surrounding us as we drove through downtown were the uniquely designed, towering Panamanian skyscrapers. We were then greeted by the open ocean with its pockets of green islands jutting out of the blue water. Our first stop in Tocumen was at a church that has recently started and whose growing attendance consists of many the young people in the area. They welcomed us with open arms, ham and cheese sandwiches, and cookies, which we all happily consumed. After praying over us and the area of Tocumen, the pastor and his wife commissioned us for a drama in a park nearby.
We made our way to the park and spent the next hour going out in groups and reaching out to people in nearby homes, stores, and restaurants. Members of the church joined us as we went out to share with people about the Lord and invite them to the drama. We reconvened after the hour was up to perform the drama in the park. Afterward, the students were able to interact and pray with the people who showed up. One of the groups got to share with two young men who were playing basketball behind us during the drama. They found out one of the kids was from Maryland and spoke English. He was visiting family in Panama. It’s cool to see how even though we’re in Panama, we are able to reach people with the gospel from all over the world.
This evening, we made our way back to Casa Blanca and had a delicious dinner of ham and mashed potatoes, and the students ended the night in their MOM & POP groups processing through the day and all that God’s been teaching them. We can’t believe that we only have two more days of ministry left. Please pray that the Lord would keep us focused on this final stretch and that He would continue to do amazing things while we’re here. Pray for continued unity and that we would be able to stay strong to the end.
Marc & Rebecca
We’re back on the grid!
What an amazing adventure these past few days have been. We cannot wait to tell you all that the Lord did during our time with the Embera people. Everyone made it back healthy and happy with farmers tans and Embera tattoos. This morning as we departed from the village, we were sad to say goodbye to the incredible people we met. Let us recount for you all that has happened over the past few days. . .
Our jungle adventure began early Tuesday morning. After a nutritious breakfast of cereal, we began to load the bus in preparation for our journey to the village of Embera Quera. The village is about half an hour up Rio Gatun (Gatun River), a large river that runs outside of the city of Colon where we visited a few weeks ago. Rio Gatun flows into Lake Gatun, a massive body of water that is part of the journey for boats passing through the Panama Canal. Once we were all packed up, we said goodbye to Casa Blanca and the hustle and bustle of Panama City for an hour and a half journey to Gatun. When we had almost arrived at our destination, the bus took a big turn down a steep dirt road off of the highway. We were covered by trees overhead and bobbing up and down in the bus as we pulled up to the river. All of a sudden, four men in traditional Embera tribal clothing came into our view. They were waiting there to greet us with smiles on their faces as they stood beside their long wooden canoes.
We all loaded up onto the canoes, they cranked up the little motors on the back, and we made our way up the river. After a thirty-minute scenic adventure weaving up river surrounded by exotic trees and the songs of jungle birds and insects, we found ourselves in front of a large island filled with tall trees and large round huts . We pulled ashore on the river bank, where a long dock extended out from the village of Embera Quera. As we all made our way down the dock, two adorable little children came running forward to welcome us. When we made our way past the dock, we were greeted again by the village band playing flutes and turtle shell drums! It was quite the sight, and the village was very beautiful.
In the afternoon, after getting settled in to our team’s hut and getting acquainted with the people, we had the opportunity to perform our first drama for the village in their main meeting hut, which was about 90 feet diameter and 50 feet high. We had a small crowd at the start, but toward the end of the drama, many more people began to show up after hearing the music. So, we took the opportunity to perform it a second time for those who hadn’t seen it. The students had a great time going to talk to people afterward, some of whom decided right there to give their lives to Christ. It was a great start to our time in the village. We celebrated our arrival and first evening with lots of hot dogs and Lay’s potato chips for dinner. Our lodging for the night was on a raised platform that had a roof made of dried palm leaves that came to a point like a hat. With the rain that fell this afternoon, a cool breeze swept through our hut, making this jungle experience all the more perfect.
That night, the CCs met with Pastor Luciano and the village leaders to learn more about Embera Quera and how we could serve their village the next few days. We learned that the people of Embera Quera make most of their living through tourism. The village has only been around for about nine years, and most of the people their came from other distant Embera villages. As a new village, they have yet to establish a church, which is something we hoped to help facilitate by being there. There were a handful of Christians in the village, but many of them hadn’t been to a church service in a months.
So after our first night in the jungle, we awoke to rooster cows and the sounds of Embera people walking by as they started their day. With our stomachs filled with a breakfast of eggs and pancakes, we prepared for our first assignment for the day, clearing a large hill that would soon be a helicopter landing pad. We all worked together to pull up weeds and large tree roots to clear the area for the landing pad. We also cleared a path for the people to build a staircase up to the top of the hill. The Embera people joined us about halfway through to help and we got to work side by side with them to construct the helicopter landing. After a well-deserved lunch break, the students broke up into groups of three and went house to house to meet people, get to know them, and share the gospel with them. One of the groups got to talk to two young men who asked a lot of questions about God and religion. The group was able to share the gospel with them and they decided to give their lives to Christ right there! We ended that second evening in the jungle watching the Jesus Film with the people of the village, which is a movie that goes through the life of Jesus. So, all throughout the day, the Lord gave us many different opportunities to share the love of Christ with the people of Embera Quera.
On our second full day of ministry, we started the day with an adventure up Rio Gatun. As we made our way into Lake Gatun, we stopped at an island to explore and walk around in the water. Pastor Luciano gave us a powerful message about God’s faithfulness to provide everything we need when we’re doing His ministry. When we made our way back from the river, we were able to go out again to visit various families throughout the village with whom we didn’t get a chance to speak the day before. Much fruit came from those conversations. Later, we got to spend time with the people getting tattoos and souvenirs to take home. In the evening, we had one last gathering with the village. They shared some of their traditional dances with us, a very special, and then they brought us all up to dance with them! It was a very special moment. In return, we performed one last drama for them. It was a sweet evening of fellowship with the people. Later in the evening we had another opportunity for adventure. One of the men of the tribe asked us if we would like to go hunt for crocodiles! We said yes, and all of the men and some of the women piled into one of the canoes and headed out with the village crocodile hunter. We managed to catch a crocodile after about half an hour of searching and got it on our first attempt. The team was thrilled and could not believe we actually caught a crocodile.
On our final morning in the jungle, we had cereal breakfast along with fried crocodile tail from the crocodile we caught he night before. We packed up, said our goodbyes, and headed back to the city. Overall, our team had a great impact on the village, sharing the gospel and our lives with them, and seeing many come to faith in Christ and many encouraged to continue to grow in their faith. Pastor Luciano will work with the village in the future to continue to help them establish a church. Much follow-up ministry goes on in the places we visit that the students may never see, but it is encouraging to see how God uniquely uses us to draw people unto Himself. So please pray that the Lord would continue to work in mighty ways in Embera Quera.
Tomorrow begins our final stretch of ministry in Panama City. We will spend the next three days going around to different areas around the city from schools to plazas and parks. We want to finish strong and unified. The Lord has done so many incredible things so far, and we pray that we would be able to maximize our time these next three days to see many come to Christ. We are so thankful for all your prayers and we look forward to all that’s in store for the remainder of this trip.
Marc & Rebecca
Today was a much-needed day of rest and fellowship for Panama 35 as we prepare for our trip to the jungle for the next four days. Last night we had to say goodbye to Marti Pieper, Awe Star’s in-house writer who helps prepare all of Awe Star’s written materials, such as quiet times for the trips and so much more. She has been with us the past ten days to experience a 35-day trip and get a better understanding of how our teams operate out in the field. During that time, she has become a vital part of our team family. The team got to encourage her and pray over her last night before her trip back to the U.S. We will miss her greatly. (She has also been helping write the updates for our team during the time she’s been with us, so her amazing writing skills will be greatly missed by the CCs!)
The team got to sleep in this morning and have an extended quiet time, a great start to a day of rest. After a cereal breakfast, we all gathered together for a time of worship and hearing from God’s Word. One of our students, Jacob, gave a great message on humility and unity. He encouraged us to continue growing closer to one another and really love one another, not only while we’re out doing ministry, but in our down time as well. The team then broke up into MOM & POP groups to encourage each other and pray for the jungle adventure ahead of us. Then, after a (you guessed it) PB & J lunch, we gathered together again for a time of sharing testimonies. Although everyone gets to share their testimonies regularly every time we perform the drama, we don’t include much detail for the sake of brevity. The students got the chance to really share their stories with each other, how they came to know the Lord, how He called them to Panama, and whatever else they felt led to share. It was a sweet time of fellowship that allowed everyone to go into a deeper level of unity than they had before.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of packing for the jungle and getting ready for our journey. In the evening, we had a great time that consisted of having pizza for dinner, playing games, and eating popcorn! Though we did not do any drama ministry today, we were reminded of the importance of rest. The Lord worked for six days and then rested, giving us an example of the rhythm of work and rest He wanted us to follow. When we rest, it allows us to sit back and process through all we’ve experienced. It points us back to the Lord by reminding us that we as humans are finite beings and He is the one who keeps the world spinning.
Tomorrow, we will be traveling up the Gatun River to an Embera village. The Emberas are one of Panama’s three main indigenous groups. The particular village we are visiting does not have an established church, so we are very excited to go and present the gospel to them and see God work. Please pray that the Lord would move in a powerful way these next few days as we minister to the Embera people in Gatun. Pray that we would be able to demonstrate God’s love to them by our speech and conduct, that they would truly see a difference in us, and that the Lord would bring salvation to the people there.
Thank you for your prayers. We may not have internet for the next few days, but we will do our best send updates when we can. We will be back in Panama City on Friday!
Marc & Rebecca
Your Panama 35 team is in awe tonight: in awe of Panama and her beautiful people, in awe of God’s work, in awe of what He is doing and will do in and through us.
The team experienced a role reversal of sorts today as two students became TDs (Team Directors) for the day and TDs Garrett and Melanie moved to the student level, even playing the parts of the Good Prince and Knightmare in the drama. After morning devotions and a hot breakfast, we headed to downtown Panama City and Primera Bautista Iglesia Guna (First Baptist Guna Church) where we attended part of one and all of a second morning service, conducted in both Spanish and Guna. The team did a wonderful and enthusiastic job of performing “Freedom” in a very small area for a very grateful audience. We then walked to the larger Primera Iglesia Bautista of Panama City, where we prepared and ate our PB & J lunch in an open courtyard.
Afterward, we walked a short distance to one of the poorest areas in which we have served yet, in an area known as “La Rentas” (the Rentas, government housing via apartments), where we had the opportunity to perform in an open court in the center of the complex. The students split up into ministry teams, and each went with a translator to invite residents to the drama. But before we could get started, the Panama sky opened up and the rain poured down. As we waited on a covered sidewalk overlooking the court, we took the opportunity to pray for the people, the weather, and God’s perfect timing for the drama. Soon, the rain was over, and we were able to play some music as a means of letting the residents know the performance would begin soon.
We could see people watching from the balconies on all four levels of the complex, although few came down to the courtyard where we were. Those who watched, however, seemed focused on the story. The bright colors of the students’ costumes stood in sharp contrast to the dull and dirty walls, and the powerful story of life as portrayed by the drama also stood in sharp contrast to the hopelessness we know many of these people experience. The outreach director from Iglesia Bautista Panama gave the Net (gospel presentation) at both this and the next drama site, and many of those watching raised their hands to indicate their desire to follow Christ.
At this drama site, one ministry team went out and talked to four men on the top floor, only one of whom had expressed an interest in following Christ. However, once the team spent time explaining the gospel, all of them wanted to begin a personal relationship with Him. When the ministry team had to leave to join up with the rest of Awe Star, the translator continued ministering to the men. Other ministry teams also reported people who accepted Christ, so the team left this site energized and ready for the day’s final drama presentation.
The team walked a few short blocks to a second La Rentas apartment complex and set up quickly to present “Freedom” after inviting the crowd. At this drama site, a number of people also came out to watch the drama, several of whom prayed to receive Christ. Because of the lateness of the hour, the team departed quickly for our walk back to Casa de Blanca and a delicious dinner of Panamanian chicken, salad, and yellow rice. After dinner, the students took time to shower and are now spending time in their Man Up! and Reign On! discipleship groups.
Panama 35 has one more day before we leave for the jungle, so part of our day tomorrow will be spent packing for that intense experience. Please pray for the team that God will continue the love and unity God has worked within us and that we will be fully prepared in every way to extend His ministry and His kingdom.
Marc and Rebecca
Your Panama 35 team experienced yet another amazing homemade pizza dinner last night, followed by an even more amazing outdoor worship service. The service included testimonies and expressions of gratitude from several of the church leaders as well as the Awe Star leaders and included Alfa y Omega’s invitation to the team and to Awe Star to return to Chitré and La Arena for more ministry in the future. Pastor Ricardo noted that their church had hosted other mission groups, but these groups always stayed in hotels. Ours was the first to stay in their church, to ride their buses, to walk their streets, and to truly connect with their people. We are so grateful for the way Awe Star has taught us to do missions and for the wonderful, caring church that has hosted us during our time of ministry in Chitré.
Through our ministry on the streets, in parks, in schools, in bus stations, and at the mall, hundreds of people heard the gospel message, and hundreds of those made its truth their own. As our service concluded last night, we looked upward to see the first of several lanterns that church members lit and set free, also in honor of our time together. Just as these small lights penetrated the great darkness over Chitré, please keep praying for those who heard but did not yet respond and for Alfa y Omega, which continues its ministry as light in the midst of darkness.
Despite our late evening filled with goodbyes, we were up early today and did our best to leave the church looking even better and cleaner than it did when we arrived. Our quick breakfast of cereal and milk helped us have more time for important tasks like mopping the sanctuary and cleaning the restrooms. Before long, our bus arrived, and the men of our team helped load our large bags and various trunks on top. A mixture of rest, worship, and conversation made the four-hour ride back to Panama City pass quickly, and before we knew it, we were back at Casa de Blanca, our home away from home here. Our welcomed PB & J lunches made home that much sweeter (and perhaps nuttier, too).
After we unloaded the bus and unpacked our belongings, we settled in for some team time, which has been in short supply during our days in Chitré. One student led in worship followed by a time of honest heart-sharing about our ministry in Chitré and what God has been teaching us on our journey in Panama so far as well as sharing about any questions and concerns we had. We were also blessed by a teaching from our CC Marc on helping people understand the bad news (we are all lost without Christ) before we share the good news (He has provided a way back to God).
The team is now spending time in their MOM and POP groups and taking turns making their halfway-point calls home to their families (if no one in your family heard from your student, please know they will try again soon). Tonight, we will head back to the amazing Albrook Mall and enjoy some of the multiple food options available there before returning to Casa de Blanca and what we anticipate as a good night’s rest. Thanks as always for your prayers. As you rise to worship tomorrow, think of us worshiping with fellow believers in Panama City and know we will send another report soon!
Marc & Rebecca