We arrived at Panama Outpost after 7.5 hours of driving and an hour-long boat ride to the base. We were pretty tired, but full of excitement for the coming week. Our new surroundings reminded me of the stories of the apostle Paul. I love when God brings Bible stories to life. Reading the stories of Paul sailing from port to port, recorded in the book of Acts, take on new meaning as we begin our new ministry sailing from island to island, bringing the gospel and medical care to people in remote places. The stories come alive as I taste the salty air and feel the sun beat down on my face, and as the waves toss me to and fro. I am just praying we can skip the snake bites, imprisonments, and shipwrecks!
The first village we visited was our neighbor’s next to the base. About 30 Ngöbe people live there. It was a short walk from the dock through the patches of mud. I quickly regretted not grabbing a pair of mud boots. Upon arrival at the home of our new friend, we washed our feet and ascended the stairs to her hut. We sprang to work setting up the clinic and began seeing patients. We saw many of the same things we had seen on the other side of Panama: colds, diarrhea, malnutrition, high blood pressure, and so on. The challenge in this new area of Panama is lack of resources and access to care. It is very difficult to obtain medicines, even for the hospital, because medicines are in short supply on this side of Panama.
A new mom brought her one-month old unnamed baby to see us. She had a cold and had been treated with antibiotics, but was not getting better. As I examined the baby, I could see she was in mild distress. Worry overtook me as I thought about how quickly these little babies can go downhill and how far we were from the hospital. At this point the doctor had not arrived. The group prayed over the baby and we waited and continued seeing other patients. Two hours later, the doctor arrived and after a prompt examination of the baby, she was deemed ok. What an answer to prayer! We instructed the mother on what to do if things progressed or the baby had trouble breathing. We were praising God for intervening in this little one’s life. I learned a very important lesson about the Ngöbe: In their culture, they do not name the children until they are three years old. The realization as to why hit me like a ton of bricks. Some babies don’t survive simply because of the lack of health care, poor nutrition, and sanitation — all of the things we take for granted that are so easily fixed in developed parts of the world.
After seeing 30+ patients we were finally ready to set sail to Isla Popa, the island from which we would be base camping for the next four days. We have much to learn in this new area, one lesson being how to drive the boats. YWAM Ships utilizes donated ocean vessels to reach areas with limited accessibility. It didn’t take long for Nathan to jump in with both feet as Captain Sandy, a volunteer with YWAM Ships, patiently taught him how to navigate and drive the 50-foot fishing vessel. We were cruising along at a relaxing pace with the salty air in our nostrils and the warm sun beating down on our faces, when all of a sudden, we were all jolted to attention as we brushed against a sandbar stealthily hidden beneath the waves. No damage was done, but Nathan, of course, felt awful until he learned a staff person had done the same thing during an earlier trip to Isla Popa. Lesson learned, and knowledge tucked away for future use.
As we approached Isla Popa, the small village appeared on the horizon. As we got closer, you could begin to see definition of the huts nestled atop the lush green bluffs along the coast line. We loaded our belongings into the panga boat and headed to the dock. The unkept trail that led to the village was steep and muddy. It was a fight to keep our footing as the mud slicked around each step. It was a sight to behold, watching the 13-year-old boys running, barefoot, with bags on their shoulders, as if they were running on a level track. Once on top, we followed a footpath through open pasture, past grazing cows and steaming piles of manure, to a small hut sitting atop a rolling hill. Outside the hut, a small bucket of water had been prepared for us to wash our tired, muddy feet. Nightfall came quickly as we finished our rice and beans and hung our hammocks, all the while dodging ginormous beetles that had taken over our small home. The children laughed at us as we swatted uncontrollably at the never-ending assault. Some of them even helped pick the beetles out of our hair with a calmness that the crazy gringos did not possess. The next few nights we learned to finish everything quickly and to crawl in our hammocks before the infestation began.
We continued with three more clinics and in the end saw around 137 patients. We were able to dispense many helpful medications, as well as eyeglasses. One lady, after getting discouraged in her search through the boxes of glasses for a pair that worked, finally found the right pair. It was rewarding for us to see the delight in her eyes as she looked around and saw clearly for the first time in a long time.
We are still pinching ourselves that God would call us here. It seems unbelievable that God would combine some of our passions with the ministry we will be doing. It feels too . . . FUN! I guess when I really think about it, that’s what God does. He takes our passions, desires, and gifts and melds them together to create a work so uniquely designed for those who follow him, that when we are obedient, we can call our work fun!
“A longing fulfilled can be sweet to the soul.” ~ Proverbs 13:19
Pray with us as we prepare to move to Isla Bastimentos permanently in six weeks. We have a lot of packing to do and painting to be done (in our house, before we leave). We are extremely grateful for each of you as you support us in the work God is doing in Bocas Del Toro. We are thankful for your vital participation in our mission. Thank you, too, for making our transition to YWAM Ships go smoothly, and for all of your encouragement in this process.
Christina and Nathan