Purpose in Panama

Our family traveled to the Bocas del Toro province of Panama in early August. A tropical vacation in the summer, during the rainy season? Not my preference for a vacation honestly.

This was not a typical vacation. Instead it was a mission trip that we’d prayed for, saved for and planned for more than three years. If you aren’t familiar with mission trips in the Christian sense, they are times when you leave your regular life and normal job in order to make the world a better place. In a non-Christian terminology, they would be considered volunteer vacations, where you go somewhere to help an organization you believe in. Christians have a mandate to spread the news of Jesus to the ends of the earth, so there are many Christian organizations with tens or even hundreds of thousands of people working toward that end. The best also relieve suffering.

We chose Panama because our homeschool friends, Nathan and Christina Pineault, have been missionaries there for several years with Youth With A Mission. Our children are about the same age and were friends when they were little. In addition, Nathan and Christina can always use help around the base. My husband and I also wanted our children to experience international travel before they graduated high school. This combined all of our goals while maintaining a larger vision of service.

Christina stands at the entrance to the hardware story on a drizzly day in Bocas Town.

Youth With A Mission is a unique organization in that they train young adults, recent high school grads and those in their 20s, to follow Jesus. After weeks of classroom learning, they go to the places in the world where people are hurting to help relieve suffering. One group that I know of went to France and Greece last spring to assist refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

As a former mission team leader for a church in Wisconsin, I’ve seen and researched many organizations, and YWAM, as it is known, does an amazing job of training people how to serve just as we all imagine Jesus would. I was thrilled when my friends joined the organization.

Our time coincided with a team that was there to serve the indigenous people of the island and remote coastal villages in the Caribbean archipelago. However, none of us knew exactly how my family would best serve. My family’s goal was to truly serve Nathan and Christina and their children, to help them any way that would be most useful and encouraging. They were delighted to find that my accountant husband also loves to build things, and Christina remembered my writing and marketing abilities. After giving the kids several days to re-introduce themselves to their friendships, they also found ways to help with the work of the base.

This jungle is a boy’s dream. Machetes, anyone? They are clearing the ground for stairs to the new casita.

In the end, Dan spent most of his time helping build a casita, a 30-foot-by-14-foot, three-room cabin, that will be used for staff housing. All of us lacquered some of the siding. I helped organize a huge closet, sort tubs and write fund-raising materials. We also took our turns cleaning after meals and during all-base clean up. Our boys used machetes to cut down banana stalks and other tropical foliage to make way for stairs for the casita. The bigger boys dug out a huge root and rolled it to the burn pile.

Within an hour of arriving on base, my accountant husband climbed on the roof to help build the casita.

But it wasn’t all work. In fact, Christina said they’d just finished a time of work with the Ngöbe people and needed down time that our arrival coincided with. So other than Dan, who thinks pounding nails is a fantastic way to rest, we spent our first day unpacking, exploring the property and getting reacquainted with our friends.

Our second day was town day, so we rode into Bocas Town in a panga boat with a few of the staff and students to buy groceries. Town is a good bit of walking and exploring. We quickly learned that though commuting to town by boat is fun, carrying everything back up the 93 or 110 steps from the dock to the house is quite a job.

Sundays are church days, where everyone gathers for prayer, worship, and a teaching from a pastor in the United States (Internet service rocks). Rest and relaxation follows, unless you decide to go to a bat cave with all the kids. Yep, my husband and I joined them, and I received kudos for being the first mom to brave the adventure.

Mondays through Fridays are work days. Dan worked on that casita every moment he could. Tuesdays are also town days. Xander and I went into Bocas Town with a few of the Kona team. A lot of the afternoon was spent waiting laundry to be finished, so I interviewed Christina so I could write fund-raising materials. I spent Wednesday and Thursday writing and asking questions.

We flew from Bocas to Panama City on Friday morning for a bit more than 48 hours to explore and discuss our experiences before we returned to the United States. A week after returning, I’d highly recommend the experience. This particular trip would be difficult for parents with small children or someone without the ability to climb many steps, but I definitely recommend international travel with children.

This is Part 1 in a series of posts about our trip to Panama.

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