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Ministries in Panama: Bridges Being Built

by Mary Beth Coudal

Ministries in PanamaAlmost everyone asks when the bridge will be built. It was washed out years ago in a torrent of rain, not uncommon in the Caribbean, so the indigenous people must bring their wares to market by pulling themselves by rope in a basket, one or two at a time across the Rio San Juan.

The people who live on the Cieneguita-Ngobi Bugle reservation cross the rapids to sell their handicrafts at the Methodist Church center, an offshoot of the Resurrection Methodist Church and a ministry of the General Board of Global Ministries.

Through the handicrafts self-empowerment project, Global Ministries has built one bridge in Panama. There is a need to continue to build real bridges as well as bridges of understanding in this Central American country, where the majority of people are Roman Catholic and a minority of people--about 6 percent--are Amerindian, such as the Ngobe people. The United Methodist Church works in partnership with all of the people of Panama.

New Ministries

One new ministry of the Resurrection Methodist Church was a men's retreat. Men gathered in the Chiriqui Province of Panama to make friends, share their faith stories, and study the Bible. While the Methodist Women's Federation has been strong in Panama, meeting regularly, the idea of organizing Methodist men to share their strengths and weaknesses in an organized way seemed a little odd to some men. However, the men's gathering offered an opportunity for sharing among men in a part of the world that is often perceived as valuing machismo over men's sensitivity.

Another initiative sponsored by the Panama Methodist Church was a Marriage Enrichment Workshop. Among the 20 couples, one couple had been married for a few months and another for more than four decades. According to United Methodist missionary Rev. Rhett Thompson, highlights included: "A walk through an obstacle course guided only by the words or nudges of the partner (no hands or specific directions allowed), a contest to compete for door prizes, creation of love letters, a delicious buffet lunch and a time to commit to continuing to work on building a better relationship."

Volunteers Needed

Ministries in PanamaRev. Thompson is the pastor of two Evangelical Methodist churches in Panama City. Beyond the work of the new ministries and empowerment programs, Rev. Thompson prepares the way for volunteers to partner with the people in Panama to secure drinking water, lead adult-literacy classes, build retreat cabins, and teach Ngobe preschoolers.

Mowry McClure is one such young adult volunteer who works at the Walter Reitz Child Development Center in Panama through the Individual Volunteers program of Global Ministries.

The Individual Volunteers program is "creating leaders for the church and the world," says Landon Taylor, Global Ministries executive. Individual Volunteers serve from two months to two years in a location of their choosing. The Individual Volunteers Program is an increasingly popular international service opportunity for young adults. Ms. McClure, for one, calls her work in Panama "life-changing."

Through Global Ministries and the Evangelical Methodist Church of Panama, bridges are being built in this country that bridges North and South America.

There are more bridges to build and to cross. Find where you can connect to the ministries in Panama through volunteering and giving.

Gifts to Walter Reitz Child Development Center, Advance #14859A or Rhett Thompson, Advance #09543Z can be made through The Advance in several ways:
by credit card online at givetomission.org or by telephoning 888-252-6174.

Checks may be sent directly to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068, or placed in the offering plate of any United Methodist church. Be sure to include The Advance number in the memo line of the check. Every dollar given through The Advance goes to the ministry designated.

For more stories from Rev. Thompson, read his missionary newsletter at www.funk4.com/rhett

To find out to volunteer through Global Ministries, go to http://new.gbgm-umc.org/connections/volunteers/

Mary Beth Coudal is the staff writer for Global Ministries. The Revs. Chris Heckert and Rhett Thompson contributed to this story.