As we wrap up our mission trip in Panama, we are overjoyed for the marvelous opportunities that the Lord has set before us to minister to the needy, hungry, destitute, and spiritually oppressed. The presence of God was more overwhelming than ever before! I do not say that lightly as this is my 6th time here in Panama, and my 7th mission trip. Let me explain.
Every J103 mission trip is very special and unique. It almost feels like the many prayers of all the saints that are offered before God weeks and even months before each trip, set a theme for each year. This year, it was very evident to me that the theme of this was fearless love! Why fearless? The bible tells us in 1 John 4:18 that “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. “
My very first mission trip was to Costa Rica. We got to go to the inner city late at night to a shelter for homeless, drug addicts, and needy. I still remember the gratitude of people when they got a bit of food delivered to them. On our second to last day here in Panama, we got the opportunity to deliver food after hours to the inner city of Panama. However, this time they (homeless, prostitutes, oppressed, and destitute) did not come to us; we went straight to them with boldness, love, and compassion!
We delivered food to people forgotten by society, but more importantly we looked them in the eye to let them know that Jesus loved them and had not forgotten them. We tenderly asked them what they would have us pray for. We spoke life over prostitutes, homeless, and addicts. Yet, the most powerful part of this ministry was the opportunity to show them the love of Christ through respect, love, and compassion right there in the streets of the inner city! We witnessed the light of Christ break through in small but mighty ways, and we believe that lives were touched powerfully and chains began to snap!
The missionaries in Panama are bold, compassionate, and relentless about loving the unlovable. They partner with a church that lives and breaths inner city ministry to these often-overlooked individuals crying out for love! Even when we step forward to set the captives free, we also end up being delivered from our complacent, predictable, and comfortable lifestyles, we often enjoy in the United States. After sharing with the entire group after ministering, not ONE PERSON could say that their lives where not forever changed. In fact, each of us felt challenged to live out our faith more boldly, to love more fiercely, and to be MORE humble with those around us back home, wherever that might be, in order to reach more for the kingdom of God.
Our last day was spent admiring the beautiful old city of downtown Panama called “Casco Viejo”. This area of town is currently being brought back to life after being burned to the ground 3 times, since it was founded in the 1700s. It took me back to places my wife and I visited last fall during a trip to Europe. The French influence can be seen beautifully blended in many restored buildings, old homes, and cathedrals. Since the French started the construction of the canal, there are cobble stoned streets that curl through buildings that resemble parts of Rome and small French villages.
We also cruised the causeway that connects the modern skyline of downtown Panama with the old city “Casco Viejo”, and made our way to one of the Panama Canal locks called Miraflores. We watched a giant cargo vessel passing through the locks from an observation deck, toured a facility detailing the inner workings of the canal and its marvelous construction, and watched a presentation introducing the newly constructed lock that enables even more massive vessels to come through the canal!
The country of Panama is truly remarkable. More importantly, the people are HUNGRY for the word of God! They are receptive to the gospel and will gladly take as many bibles, tracts, and love as you can offer them. It is not a coincidence that you are reading this; If you have never been on a mission trip, and you are ready to take your walk with God to a new level, the J03 mission trip will take you there!
Written by Manuel Martinez