Volcán, Panama | Chiriquí Province
Panama is unquestionably one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. It’s the rainy season here — and the fruit of each drop shows in the amazing panorama of colorful flowers accented against lush green trees with bromeliad rain-gauges clinging to their trunks. I am staying at a quaint little hotel nestled beneath the shadow of a dormant volcano named Baru, the highest point in the country. In the surrounding mountains, indigenous peoples work on coffee plantations and farms that produce an abundance of crops in the rich volcanic soil. The view outside my hotel room looks like something out of a Thomas Kinkade canvas. It all seems more than a little surreal. This is Panama, a country blessed with more than its share of natural beauty.
Today, I found an even greater beauty in Panama in the faces of the poor and neglected and those who care for them. This morning, my friends Jerry and Susan and their Pastor introduced me to a man who cares for throw-away kids. These kids are not orphans. They are kids who either escaped or were rescued from abusive homes or ended up on the streets because they were no longer wanted at home. In the course of our conversation, Victor, the director of the home where these kids live, said “I have the kids that nobody wants.” But what impressed me even more about Victor is that he sees the beauty and recognizes the potential in each of these kids, including those with special needs. Victor is a guy who believes in these kids so much that he has labored tirelessly and on a shoestring budget to give them a future and a hope. And, he has done this faithfully for the past thirty years. That is a beautiful thing.
After spending three hours with Victor, we drove from the mountains to David, the capital of Chiriquí Province, to visit a prison for teenage boys and then an orphanage. Once again, I saw the real beauty of Panama in the faces of those who have given their lives to care for troubled boys and vulnerable orphans. At the end of the day we made one more stop at the home of a poor family that has faced more than their share of challenges. The family lived in a hovel made of scrap wood for years. As Angelica became increasing crippled by severe arthritis, her husband began to build her a new home — a palace by comparison at about 500 square-feet. What impressed me most is how he did it. Over the years Angelica’s husband purchased two or three cinder blocks at a time as he could afford them. Little by little their new home started taking shape, each new block a beautiful testimony to this man’s love for his family. In the meantime, their daughter Lourdes had three surgeries to repair her cleft palate. My friends Jerry and Susan are paying for the braces that Lourdes must wear before her final surgery. And they are blessing the family by purchasing the three windows for their new home and adding a toilet that Angelica can access with her wheelchair. That’s a beautiful thing.
So, the beauty of Panama runs much deeper than its flora and fauna and its mountains and meadows. The real beauty of Panama can be seen in its people — especially those who are living out what it means to be a Christ-follower by quietly and selflessly loving and serving others without recognition.