Joshua chapter 1 says, ‘Arise, go over this Jordan … as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law … turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success … Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest’.
It was December 2007. A past call and clear direction had now become a living reality and we were on our way to the Republic of Panama, the southernmost country in Central America, the bridge between two continents with a pathway between two seas. We felt somewhat like Joshua, going to live in a place we knew very little about and had visited but once before, but on that visit the Lord had shown us wonderful spiritual fruit. Yet it was a place where there was no known assembly or assembly missionaries. It was a land that we had visited for a few weeks the previous year, but this time it wasn’t a visit, we had a one-way ticket. Leaving with eight suitcases, and arriving with only one, to begin a new life in a foreign land, with an unknown language, culture and climate, and with no assembly or family, we felt very much alone. Alone? No, we had in our hearts and hands a sure word of promise that God had given to Joshua some many years before. A promise of an unfailing God, of success in His will according to obedience to His word and His unwavering presence with us.
We live in the newly established province of Panama Oeste, one of the most populated provinces in the country. Where we live, and where the assembly gathers, is about forty-five kilometres west of Panama City. This should normally take about thirty-five minutes, but increases to two hours and forty minutes in morning and evening rush hour traffic.
We were delighted when we heard that in 2009 Marcos and Sara Sequera, from Venezuela, were being commended to the Lord’s work in Panama. They stayed with us for a few months, but had an exercise for the western end of the country, the province of Chiriqui, where they have moved to and have been ever since. They labour in Dolega, where the assembly meets, as well as in surrounding areas, such as Boquete, Dos Rios and the provincial capital of David. We labour in happy fellowship with them, even though the 500 kilometres between us makes it difficult to work together physically.
Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and teaching biblical truths for Christian living and gathering, as well as meeting the many needs of the people in this land, are the main purposes for which we are here. We have complete liberty and are able to use various methods to do so. Lois is a medical doctor, which opens numerous doors as health needs are attended to, spiritual ones are touched on as well.
We have continued with Bible classes in a local boy’s orphanage for the last nine years, as well as weekly Bible classes in outreaches in Potrero Grande, about thirty minutes away. The Friday evening young people’s class continues to be an encouragement. A few have professed to be saved, some are now baptized and others in assembly fellowship.
In our home, we have weekly Bible studies for young believers to help them develop spiritually and to assist them in working through the many difficulties they face in their homes, schools and workplaces. Many of the believers are the only ones saved in their family or home, so there is little encouragement for them in spiritual things.
We received permission from the Ministry of Education to give out scripture texts (Seed Sower texts) in all 400 schools in our province. Often, it takes three trips to complete a school, so it can be very time consuming, but it means that the gospel enters hundreds of homes in a short period of time.
Throughout the year we have a number of one-week Bible classes for children (VBS – Vacation Bible School), during the week off between each of the three semesters, that is, at Christmas and at the beginning and ending of the school year. This has helped to make new contacts with the parents, increase the attendance at Sunday School and provide basic Bible teaching for the children. Their lives lack so much, not just in their need of salvation, but in relation to morality, guidance and good examples to follow.
For a number of years now, we have had a group of girls from various countries come and help us for a couple of weeks. This gives them an opportunity to experience gospel work and Bible teaching in a different culture and environment. They help out with children’s work, visiting hospitals, helping at the orphanage, distributing gospel texts and invitations and various other activities.
Every six to eight weeks we have a meal at the hall for anyone that would like to come. This gives us opportunity to make contacts and have conversations in a comfortable environment. We often have barbecues at our place as well throughout the year to attract the people and provide opportunities for spiritual conversations. At Christmas, the assembly provides a community meal, where we sing hymns and carols, have a Christmas gospel message and the turnout has been very encouraging over the years.
The culture lacks respect on all levels, from self-respect to respect for governments and authority. It is a selfish culture of corruption and survival, big dreams but no hope, poor education and health care, immorality and ruined lives, broken family structures with no knowledge of God’s purpose in marriage nor role or commitment of husband and wife. Moral direction is lacking in the homes, schools and churches. The children are often left alone to be taught by the immoral systems of social media, internet and television. When we had our first child, the paediatrician told us that the television was a great source of teaching and development for the child. We listened, but kindly disagreed, and suggested that parental engagement and personal interactive stimulation by physical parents, accompanied by biblical principles were much healthier and more beneficial than the morally void programmes of this world. Lois has had to give classes to teach mothers how to care for, play with, and stimulate their children. They had no idea how to engage with their own child.
Both in Dolega and Valle Hermoso, there are believers from indigenous tribes (Kuna and Guaymi, Ngöbe-Buglé). This brings many traditional spiritual beliefs that, at times, need to be corrected by the scriptures without offence to their background.
We live in a dark, spiritually blinded and morally bankrupt culture that is saturated with Bibles and churches but void of truth, God consciousness and a knowledge of right and wrong. Churches here are nothing more than corrupt businesses. They demand ten percent from the people and tell them God won’t bless them if they don’t pay. Friendliness and courtesy are more of a surprise than the norm. Once a soul is saved, there is much undoing of the past and much biblical teaching and guidance needs to be provided. Even the simple things like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are rarities. Some indigenous cultures here don’t even have words to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’!
There are many churches here that would claim to gather according to the Bible but fail in the scriptural pattern in many ways. They preach another gospel that is not true. They want a pastor instead of plurality of elders. They reject the truth of headship shown in the covered head of the sisters. They dismiss the truth that the responsibility of public preaching and teaching is for men and that the women are silent in the church gatherings. We are trying to teach what the Bible teaches and not the traditions and ceremonies of religion.
It was on April 26, 2009 when a little group of believers in Valle Hermoso, who previous to our arrival had not heard the gospel nor seen the biblical way of gathering to the name of the Lord Jesus, gathered for the first time to remember the Lord with a loaf of bread and cup of wine. After having attended so many churches in the past where they had never heard the gospel nor seen the simple biblical way of gathering, they were delighted to form part of a local assembly with Christ in the midst.
Likewise, on December 5, 2010, six and a half hours away in the village of Dolega, where Marcos and Sara Sequera labour, another small group of believers came together to break bread for the first time. This was another day for rejoicing in what the Lord is doing in this land.
These two testimonies continue by God’s grace and have grown numerically and, most of all, spiritually in the few years since they were planted.
We are very much aware that this work is not our work nor about what we are doing. We have learned from making many mistakes, falling down and getting up again, that this is the Lord’s work. It’s done in His name, by His power, for His purposes and He alone is to be praised. The glory is His!
‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake. But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased’, Ps. 115. 1, 3. ‘When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory’, Col. 3. 4.