About a four-hour drive outside Panama City, in the middle of a dense jungle, lies a village, home to a native tribe in the Darién region. The village was the primary focus of the missions trip in which I served this past July. We traveled to this area to complete the construction of a recently established community center. The project enabled us to build relationships among the local residents that are vital to sharing the Gospel with the tribe.
Upon arriving in Panama City, we made the three-hour drive to the small town of Tortí. We spent the night there and looked ahead to our journey into the jungle the following day.
Once we arrived in the village, there was a brief period of greeting. The natives were overjoyed to see both new and some familiar faces visit. We got to work and after several hours of moving bags of concrete and treating wood, it was time for lunch. I noticed the warm hospitality with which the tribe treated us and the pleasure they found in preparing delicious meals throughout our stay.
After some more work that day and a refreshing swim in the river, we were ready to sleep. As I reflected on that first day in the village, I was blown away by the amount of work accomplished on the community center. I was especially astonished by the residents' effort and enthusiasm as we worked alongside them.
We awoke the next morning to a crowing rooster right beside us. We stumbled out of our hammocks, checked the ground and shoes for ants or spiders, and began our day.
With a group of us working on the community center until about noon, we needed a change in scenery. We saw a group of kids playing soccer and decided to join them. We ended up passing the ball around for several minutes until a couple of older and more experienced players joined us. We proceeded to volley the ball back and forth to one another, attempting to keep the ball in the air as long as possible. We were all smiling and having such a great time. Despite the language barrier, we still managed to bond over a shared interest in the sport. Build relationships with these members of the tribe through our passion for the sport was a truly great experience.
Later that evening we prepared for a worship service, which many in the tribe attended. Before the service started, we gave every member of the tribe a t-shirt, similar to the ones we were wearing. They were ecstatic! The joy with which these people received the t-shirts humbled me and brought a smile to everyone’s face.
The service started and while many in the tribe are not believers, the chief does follow Christ as do a number of other residents. Every member of the tribe was respectful, paid attention to the Gospel message, and some even followed along in the Scriptures. The chief gave closing remarks and thanked the Lord for bringing us together. We all thanked one another as we proceeded to eat our last meal with the tribe. We were leaving the next day in order to tour Panama City and visit another group that had invited us to join them for the day.
My stay with the tribe in the Darién was very rewarding. Not only did we accomplish meaningful work on the community center, but we also saw the love for Christ grow within these individuals. Some of them had been recently baptized and their passion for the Gospel was spiritually moving.
The Christians in Darién exemplified what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-7. He wrote of the Thessalonians' “work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 3).” He noted how these Christians had become “a model” for others around the world (v. 7). The hospitality the people of Darién showed us and their gratitude for our visit was truly inspired by their love for Jesus. They provided us with food and invited us to share in their culture.
The trip was a life-changing experience for me as I experienced a different culture and worked alongside a very thankful group of individuals. The relationships with the members of this tribe helped us overcome barriers to share God’s message. Seeing how the Gospel had such a profound impact on a tribe of no more than 50 members in a remote part of the world testifies to God’s ability to reach the hearts of individuals anywhere.