I'll just start right back into it:
We needed all the peace we could get in Chiriqui because as my journal says, "Well...today 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.