Panama City, Panama
I arrived in Panama, the crossroads of the Americas, at noon today. Panama is the narrowest and southernmost country in Central America — an isthmus that bridges two continents and provides access to two oceans. Nearly one-third of the 3.4 million people who call Panama home are impoverished and live on less than a dollar a day. Of the several dozen native tribes that inhabited Panama when the Spanish explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas first set foot on the isthmus in 1501, only seven remain. Today, Panama is a study in contrasts between things ancient and modern. Just a short distance from the skyscrapers and malls of Panama City, indigenous peoples still paddle dugout canoes and live in bohíos — thatched-roofed, open-sided dwellings.
Like many of you, I first learned about Panama in geography class. For me it was the most memorable Central American country that we studied because of the engineering marvel known as the Panama Canal. The idea of a canal across the isthmus was first conceived in 1525 by King Charles V of Spain and later became a reality at a cost of thousands of lives. On August 15, 1914, the first ship sailed through the canal, inaugurating the link between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Panama again blipped on my radar after US forces captured and arrested Colonel Antonio Manuel Noriega, military governor of Panama and de facto leader, and imprisoned him in Miami in the first few days of 1990. A few months after his arrest my mentor, Dr. Rudy Hernandez, traveled to Miami and led Noriega to faith in Christ. In the months that followed I read some of Noriega’s handwritten letters to Dr. Hernandez in which he talked about his life and new-found faith in Christ.
And now, I am in Panama — here to visit my old friend Jerry Smith with whom I worked for years in Mongolia. Jerry has set up a new base of operations here and I have come to spend a couple of days with him to explore new options for our ever-increasing numbers going out on mission each summer. It’s fantastic to have so many students and adults serving around the world each summer, but it has created new challenges for us. So, I am trusting that God will open additional doors of opportunity for us to serve Him and make Him known though our initiatives in the Western Hemisphere. In about an hour I will fly from Panama City, the capital of Panama, to David, Panama’s second largest city and the capital of Chiriquí Province. Jerry has arranged for me to meet pastors and ministry leaders and also to visit a prison for teenage inmates. I look forward to discovering what the Lord may have in store for us on the isthmus of Panama.