Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A New Pair of Glasses

One more post and we're all caught up, people.

Since I've written about what I did, I'll talk about what I've learned. I'm sure a lot of it is going to sound super cliché and typical, but I think a lot of the time things are cliché and typical for a reason. And you know what? Because I like how simplicity makes things significantly easier, I'm gonna be really straightforward.

"If you are saved by Jesus, you are part of a global Family."

I've said it before, but it's so worth saying I'll do it again. We serve the God of the universe, which certainly includes the whole of planet Earth. We are part of a global Church, it is our global Family, we are part of the Body. All those descriptions are whole things, yet when I was confronted with my outlook before I left or the majority of those in the States (at least what I see), I see a weird, totally unbiblical apathy to/distance from our distant fellow Christ followers. It doesn't even have to be that far, I see it in comparing churches across the street from each other. When was being a part of THE Church traded for being a part of a specific congregation, like it's some fan club and you can't support another church as being part of your Family? Of course, we have to use wisdom in who we support, but this is kind of ridiculous. Let's make it stop, people.

"Never outright judge people, you don't know them."

I am so guilty of this. Not that I would hate people, or even deny them opportunity, but I would absolutely assume what they were like before I got to know them. As if I, a tiny human, could know the depth of personality or knowledge or integrity in another person. Of course, you do get a sense of what someone is like based on how they CHOOSE to present themselves to the world, because the choosing says something. Would I trust a super tattooed guy who listens to his screamo music super loud and swears like a sailor to teach a fifth grade small group? Heck no. (Sorry, potentially super tattooed, screamo listening, swearing, potential Reader.) But I can't assume that's all he is, he could possess exceptional generosity or honesty or compassion for all I know. I'm simply saying that impressions only get you so far, and in no way tell the whole story. Once again, wisdom is fantastic.

"Missionaries are just like *insert whatever your job/role/education/status/disposition/skillset/interests are here*."

This is something we hear and agree with in our heads, but we hardly ever live with it as truth. Is it something special to "be a missionary"? Sure. But what makes it special? That we would "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" and really treat Jesus as Lord. When we say, "the Lord", that's a pretty serious deal. A lord is served with honor by his subjects of their own will, who seek to meet his purposes first, or he tells them to do something, and they do it. To be a missionary all you need to do is follow Scripture: "love the Lord your God", and obey what He's commanded. So to be a missionary really just requires that you love God and serve Him, which we should be doing everywhere.
(Side note: This is not a copout paragraph to feed how people to flippantly say, "Well, I serve in my church," and do nothing more. If you're not going, you're supporting. But if you call yourself a "supporter" and God tells you to go anywhere, even if it's just across the street, you'd darn well better do it.)

"Quit complaining."

Seriously. Let's stop it, please. It accomplishes nothing, breeds laziness and selfishness, and makes us soft. Wimps. If you complain, you're a wimp. If I complain, I am a wimp. Jesus was not a wimp. We need to stop complaining and start thanking God for what we have. Whining about things is a slap in the face to a good God who has blessed us with every good thing we have, and continues to bless us despite our ridiculousness.

"Stop looking through a screen and look with your eyeballs."

Some background about what brought it to my attention might be good, I suppose. For the first month in Panama, I decided I was going to go without any form of communication/media from back home. That meant no Facebook, phone calls, email, news, whatever. And in this time I had the purest times with God, enjoyed new sights and sounds more, and just overall applied myself to life. We waste our time on our technology and use it to escape into a cheap, laughable copy of what we want out of life, rather than striving to actually live. Bored? Get out and do something you always say you wish you did, like running, or learning an instrument, or find a solitary place to talk to God and give Him the attention He deserves. Speaking for myself (because speaking for others in this coming statement would be kind of harsh), if I don't find something to do it's either straight up can't because I'm stuck in an empty room on the bottom of the ocean, or I'm lazy. And I don't think I've ever been stuck in an empty room on the bottom of the ocean.

"Stop freaking out/caring so much about...stuff."

Really what I've been learning about this is how wrapped up we get in stupid things. Petty arguments, preferences, what whoever said about whatever and how much we disagree with it. Too often we (I keep using this word because I'm included here) take up some cause or situation as our cross to bear without stopping to think if it's really worth it in the end. There are real things to get really upset about, like when Jesus actually DID something about the moneychangers in the temple (an actual problem worth his time). Jesus did something about whatever bothered him, or else it wasn't something he needed to jump into. We need to pick our fights for the glory of God.

"The 'all things' in Romans 8:28 means exactly what it says."

That's why it says, "all things". Nothing coming down the pipe surprises God, even if it's a bad thing like war or illness (...or a lost passport), and He works everything out for the good of those who love Him. I don't know about you, but I'd sure like to be one of those who love Him, because if you believe God is who He says He is, you can bet on that promise. On our end this means (aside from loving God, as it says so explicitly) to be teachable in all things, no matter what, and to choose to remain thankful. So hang tight and take God at His word.

So there you go, the main things I've learned since flying off for Panama until today.

Good golly. That took forever. And I see I'm quite fond of parentheses, run-ons, and a blunt writing style. I'll think about changing that, but no promises.

Onward, to serendipity.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Panama in Retrospect, Part 2

I'll just start right back into it:

We needed all the peace we could get in Chiriqui because as my journal says, " is the day outreach really began." We had arrived in Changuinola. It was a unanimous decision amongst the team that this was the most trying time we had, and we were lucky it was only three nights. We left the Chiriqui base on the 28th of April in a van driven by Scott (who was the man, by the way), and after crossing the mountains to the north, we arrive in the town of Changuinola. We hopped out at a diner of sorts where we grabbed a quick meal and waited for "El Pastor" to show up. Before he did though, we unloaded, and it was here I heard what I now see was a word from the Lord. He said, "Dude, you should probably double check to see if you left anything in there." And I said, "Meh, someone else will check." In hindsight, that was a stupid thing for me to say.

We said farewell to Scott, who drove away with the van, and eventually El Pastor showed up. I have no idea what his actual name was, but he was a nice guy. Our leader Rodrigo hopped in with him in his curiously shaped, tiny van, and the other eight of us split into two truck taxis. We were told we were going to Pastor's house, but when Pastor's van and our taxis go two completely different ways, I was a little perplexed. Then we came to a police checkpoint on the road. He walked from my side of the car over to the driver's, then opened the back driver's-side door where my three teammates were and said, "Passports." It was then it was brought to my attention that was what God had tried to get me to double check for. Luckily my astute reaction was ignored by the policeman, who must not have spoken English, for I immediately exclaimed, as I stared into my backpack, "I left my freaking passport." The officer checked everyone else in the car but me, and waved us on.

Let me take a moment to emphasize here: The guy checked everyone except me. Who knows, perhaps he just thought I was taking too long? But regardless of why things happened the way they did, I "lucked out" big time.

Eventually we stopped at a house and assumed it was el Pastor's, so we unloaded and wound up sitting on the front porch area while the family that lived there kind of gave us sideways glances and went about their business. I admit that I sat steaming at myself for a while, but eventually I distracted myself with hypothetical zombie survival questions with my team. Always a good fallback. Rodrigo eventually showed up and I alerted him about my lost passport, and I guess Pastor's little car was broken, because we were kind of on our own for the rest of the day. We walked down the road a short distance to the school we'd be helping at and the little general store, then came back and ate what we could for dinner. I think it was spicy noodles. By then the sun was down, and we were promptly attacked by the marauding hordes of beetles. Hundreds of them. Nights in the upstairs room we had were pretty interesting, seeing as there were only curtains for the door and windows, and a five inch gap between the walls and the ceiling. We also found out it was very unfortunate to have to use the restroom at night, as the toilet only halfway worked, and the bathroom, with its rusty metal door and leaky pipes, was reminiscent of a prison.

Daylight proved that it wasn't just the beetles that were notable. To use gaming terms, it was like everything leveled up and I didn't. The wasps, centipedes, and even grasshoppers were two to three times bigger, jet black, and had red pinstripes. I got stung by one of the wasps through my shirt, and had a small crater in my shoulder even until I got home about four weeks later. And I'm not even exaggerating when I call it a crater, it looked like someone took a mini ice cream scoop out of me.

But, onto ministry. Only being there for a few days, we applied ourself to repainting the school, as the staff simply did not have any time. We scrubbed and painted all day, every day, and got a lot of hard work in. Changuinola may have been the least comfortable place we went, but honestly, it was where we all laughed the most. The company of my team members was such a comfort and a privilege, and I really caught sight of how great they all are. If you guys from team Panama read up to this point in my quite possibly overly long post, I love and miss you all.

The last day we were there, Rodrigo returned from visiting Bocas town where we'd be heading next on the island of Colón. We were just finishing up with the painting project, and gathered around in eager anticipation. Annie asked if he found a place for us to stay over there, and he said, "No, but we'll be leaving anyway." We all rejoiced at this news and Rodrigo says, "Oh, I also found this, I think it's a passport or something," and tosses my lost treasure to me. I breathed a mighty sigh of relief and felt the calm I hadn't had since I lost the thing. After another night in "the Room" (in which we burned WAY too many mosquito coils), we were on our way to Bocas.

After a bus ride and then a water taxi, we walked out onto the main street, and clomped over to the nearby Golden Grill to get some lunch while Rodrigo found us a place to spend the night. It was here I saw that the menu was in English. Things just kept getting better when Rodrigo brought us to the hotel a very short walk away where we had both wifi, AC, and private restrooms. And the beds were glorious.

While in Bocas del Toro, we definitely had to learn to adapt and make things happen, as there were no pre-existing ministries to jump into, and we had a lot of empty time on our hands. Along with checking out the villages on the surrounding islands to gather information for the coming YWAM base, we did some street ministry and (the most interesting part of the trip) had a bible study with a guy who called himself Elwood. I've never spoken to anyone who calmed the Bible "wouldn't let him read it", and he stretched our group for sure. But even through the confusion and twisting of scripture we witnessed, I was encouraged when I saw how we could withstand the trial and draw close as we discussed the spiritual truths that had been called into question.

Being in the big travel destination that we were, however, we did get to have some fun too. We got to see Starfish Beach, Cayo Zapatilla (the island where Survivor was filmed), and my favorite, visit a missionary family, the Woods, on Bastimentos. God has absolutely smiled on them and blessed them immensely in what they've been doing with the native villages. They are a model of patience, perseverance, and joy, and a real blessing to everyone they meet. While we stayed with them, they treated us to some of the best food I've had in my life, showed us around the property the YWAM base would be on, and by far my favorite part, gave us a tour of a bat cave.

After our 18 days in Bocas, our outreach officially came to an end. We left Bocas on a water taxi and took a bus south across the mountains to a mountain town called Boquete in Chiriqui (how good it was to be back there) where we had done street ministry before, and got rooms in a hostel. We spent one day here for debrief with Rodrigo, as he was heading off to visit family when we left for Kona. And then finally, having made our way from Boquete to David to Panama City, we spent the night at the base there and rode to the airport the next morning. We bid our leader farewell, and we were bound for America.

So that's the super condensed version of Panama, and of course, I've left out a ton of names and places and sights and sounds (like the fact the number one use of a car horn in Panama seems to be honking at gringos). But, I did my best to share the events that took place, perhaps I'll go into what I've learned in my next post.

Onward, to serendipity.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Panama in Retrospect, Part 1

Holy goodness, it's been forever. I had to read my own blog to figure out where I left off. I'll try not to do that in the future.

Brace yourselves, folks, this one's a two-month long story.

Alright, Panama. What a big topic. We left Kona on March 23rd, flying to L.A., then Dallas, and finally Panama City. According to the journal I kept for the length of the trip, I didn't sleep at all on the plane, yet I somehow managed to stay awake and take in the sights and sounds once we arrived. I "could feel the moment my (assumed to be endless) sweating started."

There was just so much new, it was fascinating. For starters, Panama City was blistering hot, and the humidity was up there. But then Panama as a whole is a pretty conservatively dressed country, so we "gringos" were definitely out of place, with our t-shirts and shorts in stark contrast to the dress shoes, jeans and formal shirts of the people. And still we sweat more than they...I think. Needless to say, everything was Spanish from then on. The traffic was amazing. To me, a sensitive, pampered, American motorist, it was pretty much anarchy, and I've never been so scared of being hit by a car in my life. But then, they are SO much better with their vehicles than Americans are that I eventually came to trust them (with due reservations, I assure you.) Ah, I can't leave this out: with so many people and no sense of environmental stewardship, the place was absolutely TRASHED. Garbage everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I'm not ragging on Panama when I say that my concept of cleanliness had to take a back seat for our stay there. Next up was the ridiculous contrast between the wealth in the skyscrapers filled with offices for foreign companies, situated a mere block away from the hovels of the poor. I had anticipated this difference, but I was not prepared to see the two extremes so close to each other. The thing that stuck out most to me, however, isn't so much the clothes or the temperature or the driving, but what I saw of the people.

During our time in the capital we helped with many ministries, but to start, we had to get a feel for the place. So, Andrea (our fantastic host) took us to a hill called Anćon that overlooked the whole of the City, from the Old Town to the booming business district. Looking out over this bustling metropolis she said, "Alright, so we're all gonna pray and ask about the needs of the city, and just try to listen for what God's telling us." So we prayed individually for about five minutes, and I thought the Lord was telling me about families. Specifically, the disconnect between fathers and their families. Looking back now, that really was God showing me a need: Panama as a whole needs help with its fathers. The times I saw dads investing in their kids were woefully few, and the times I saw and spent time with kids (particularly boys) absolutely desperate for attention from a father-figure were too many to count. To have such strong convictions and be upset about the state of the family in America, and then getting this wakeup call in Panama really got my attention. If you could join myself and the great missionaries and church leaders I met down there in praying into this issue, it would be very much appreciated.

So I mentioned ministries, and Panama City definitely had the most for my team and I. Over the course of the sixteen days there, we did street evangelism (called "treasure hunts", you basically just show up in the city and say, "God, where should I go?" and see what happens), helped at an elementary school (attention starved kids that speak a different language than you are extremely difficult to keep in their seats, let alone teach what "yellow" means), visited two villages (I held a man's head as two of his teeth were pulled), shared about our mission and our testimonies on two radio programs, and helped out at the Panama City YWAM base. And it was here that we learned our frequently performed skits. I gave it a fair shake, but I still loathe skits.

My personal favorite was our visit to the prison in Gamboa, El Renacer, or "Rebirth". Fitting, for a prison ministry. (Side note: Manuel Noriega, the dictator of Panama that was captured in 1989, is held there.) Pastor Bill Wilbur has been leading a ministry there for years and has a small church established among the inmates, and when he invited us along, I was definitely all for it. I thought to myself, "This'll be great, we'll show up, get to pray for these guys, share some testimonies, encourage them, and I'll get to say I've been to a Central American prison." Yes, we did all those things, but I was completely unprepared for what they did for us. After we sang a hymn together (it consisted of singing hallelujah over and over, but it was good) and did our thing, the mic went to them, and they matched us. They gave their personal testimonies, they prayed over us, they encouraged us, they blessed us just as much as we blessed them. These criminals, these who were brand new Christians, and doing time in a prison, because they were in Christ, could do everything we could do. Never assume you are more godly or competent than the newest Christian, and pray against the favoritism in you that you cannot see. Going into this ministry showed me an assumption I'd made without realizing it, and God blessed me immensely through the experience, showing me even more of Himself and of the Family I have in Christ.

So, on the ninth of April my team hopped on a double-decker bus (which was pretty cool, and nicer than a U.S. airplane), and went for an eight hour ride to the City of David, in the province of Chiriqui to the west. We were picked up at the bus station (buses are a pretty serious deal in Panama, so it's quite busy, and reminds me of a train station) by a YWAM Chiriqui van...and I soon found out Chiriqui is, geographically speaking, one of my favorite places. Pine trees and crisp, fresh air were a welcome change from the hot and hazy city, and David was suddenly the model of cleanliness. To us, the Chiriqui base was an absolute paradise. I slept in my hammock every night, and even got too cold a couple times. Looking in my journal, I described the dog there as, " actual dog, hefty and huggable". It was glorious, and my spirits soared.

While at the Chiriqui base, there were less opportunities for ministry, but we still managed to stay busy. We helped with the conference celebrating the anniversary of YWAM in Panama for a few days, visited a nearby boys home a couple times where we did our skits, played soccer, had a bible lesson and shared testimonies, visited a nursing home, and the guys built a cold-room (basically a walk-in refrigerator) for the base. Chiriqui was the perfect place to recharge, and we certainly needed it...

And now that I'm looking back at this post, it's long enough. This'll have to do for part one, and look at me, ending with a cliffhanger. As if I know what I'm doing. (In all seriousness, ignore all grammatical and/or structural mistakes here, I'm just trying to catch up at the moment.)

Onward, to the serendipities in part two.