I’m writing this blog next to the San Felix River 10 miles North of the Pan-American Highway surrounded by the Ngobo people of Panama. Just 30 years ago they were a predominately unreached people group until a great friend of mine, Pastor Julio Valdez was called by God to reach them with the Gospel. Julio began many different works including a yearly conference in which the Ngobo people come together for a week of evening church services, daily classes, and times of prayer. While small in it’s beginnings, this work has grown to include some ninety churches with pastors, buildings, schools, and annually thousands now come together for the conference. I’ve had the great privilege of being here the past thirteen years. It’s not your normal missions trip. There are no hotels, running water, or bathrooms as you know them. We sleep in tents, bathe in the river, and well… you can imagine the rest! Those of us who come annually can’t imagine missing it.
Pastor Julio passed away two years ago and his daughter Waquiria directs the ministries now. This mother of two leaves her young children on Sunday afternoon, catches a bus in Panama City for a ten hour bus ride to where she catches a truck ride up the mountain to Soloy where the school she directs is located. She normally stays there two weeks and leaves there on Friday morning to repeat that trip in reverse back to Panama City to see her family. She spends the weekend at home before returning for another two weeks. I never cease to be amazed at her commitment to the children the Lord has placed under her care.
It would be a fair question to ask why I come every year. It’s a hard question for me to answer. While we do work on projects and I usually preach at the conference, others could do these. I think I come not because of what I do here, but rather what being here does to me. You see, it’s impossible to spend any time here and then come home and complain. Said succinctly, we have everything. We are blessed so greatly that we have no sense of the degree of that blessing. Not only in things, but also in freedom, privilege, access, and opportunities. In every area of our lives God has poured out his blessings in such great measure that I can’t think of a word that describes it. In fact, I don’t have a word or phrase that can create in your mind the degree to which our lives are blessed.
You and I owe a huge debt! We have everything and yet we want more. Every morning, afternoon, and evening here we sit and eat our meals with literally hundreds of eyes on us….
I was just interrupted in my writing by a Ngobo brother who brought me these bags of beans and rice that he had grown in his garden. He grows and harvests the rice by hand June through December. His total harvest this year was 70 pounds. He feeds his family with this. This bag that he gave me has at least 7 pounds of rice in it. That’s ten percent of his total harvest. He said it was a gift because of what we do here. He thinks that that we are here to teach him…I know better. He’s teaching us. There it is. That’s why I keep coming back. This place resets my entitlement meter to zero and refills my reservoir of thankfulness. This place makes me want to serve again and reveals once again the heart of Jesus.
We’ve got to come again next year. I promised the brother who gave me the rice and beans, some pumpkin seeds!