The asphalt ran out. We had turned our car off the one lane road and started up the mountain to a small orange church on the side of the road.
Though we were only 15 minutes outside of a Panama metropolis with skyscrapers that glisten in the sun, our sedan was making its way up an unpaved mountain road to bring a workshop to a church that meets in a former house in an under-resourced community.
The one lane dirt road is bordered with deep storm water ditches and cement fences that help mark the way. Behind the fences are simple cement houses tucked in among the jungle trees.
The church meets in a house off to the right. In a community where cars are rare (and therefore few parking spaces), parking my car means hoping I don’t drop it in the storm ditch trying to get to the narrow spot on the shoulder between the ditch and the fence.
Pastora Celina [left] has been ministering in this community for years. She and her husband planted this congregation, but her husband died some years back, so she labors alone in this community. Her bedroom is attached to the church, right off the patio. We stand in front of it for a brief visit as people arrive.
From talking with her, it’s clear that she loves this community and desires to make a difference. Her small church is trying.
If you could hear her speak, you’d describe her as a person who knows how to
- “get to it” or
- “get ‘er done” or
- “pick yourself up by the bootstraps. . . “
But something needs to change
She struggles with many of the same struggles of small church pastors. As we talk, we hear the frustration in her voice.
We hear a desperation that something has to change.
But the lack of significant pastoral training, supervision, and resources leave her to do what she only knows: get your act together and try again with what you know.
So with raw determination, she keep plugging away, trying to reach their community and it feels like a never ending cycle of optimism that crashes into reality.
Can you bring us fresh ideas?
She’s invited us to share some fresh ideas that might inspire her leaders to do something different.
- Brenda does a workshop for the children’s ministry leaders, and
- I’ve been invited teach Sunday school workers for a few hours.
Brenda’s class is in the sanctuary. A few young ladies who are doing ministry for the children are able to make the workshop on this warm Saturday. They are preparing for an upcoming VBS and the training is meant to help them with that outreach.
Brenda had prepared crafts using 100 % recycled materials. Communities like this don’t get a Wal-Mart or a Michael’s. Crafts have to be done with whatever recyclables come home from the supermarket or convenience store. Few cars mean that any shopping for resources must be well-planned out.
Brenda also shares a teaching on creativity, helping to show the process she’s been using to develop the bible lessons for the the Children’s ministry in our own church.
However, when she shows people how she finds ideas on the internet, Brenda is caught off guard – we were not prepared for the level of computer illiteracy. So we have to “go back to the drawing board” for the next time.
A class for Sunday School Leaders
My class is outdoors in a partially constructed class room. The smell of cement dust is strong. Pastora is apologetic for the condition.
The church is in “perpetual construction,” meaning that remodeling will happen in steps as offerings come in. She’s waiting for the offering money to pour the slab for the second floor above our heads.
The church kitchen is a detached structure in the back yard, and the bathroom is a third structure in the back yard [pictured above to the right]. The bright blue water thank holds the reserve water when the water pressure from the city doesn’t allow the water to make it up the mountain.
I spend about 3 hours with a few leaders of their adult Sunday school to discuss ways to make it more evangelistic. The intimate format allowed for creativity and ideas to flow.
I am encouraged to hear “That’s a great idea” and people writing down notes and action steps.
The creativity sparks a fresh round.
As we drive home, we are grateful that we could attempt to make a difference. But we feel like the changes Pastora is looking for is more than we can accomplish in a 3 hour workshop.
We can provide the fresh eyes. We can provide a fresh wind of motivation. We can provide fresh ideas, but ultimately, the responsibility for reaching the community belongs to this local church (and the others tucked in back there).
Will any changes be made? Will Pastora start doing some things differently? Only time will tell.
Help us invest in Pastors like Celina
This invitation is part of our core calling:
to come alongside church planters and pastors in Latin America to help them reach their communities for Christ.
We want others to help us invest in Celina. Make your financial gift or monthly contribution through Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International (PRMI) by following the directions here.
PRMI is the organization that allows us to receive contributions and your gift will help all of our Latin American training investments.
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