Panama Mission Trip 2017: What I Brought Back
Any little thing you do can be used to communicate what kind of person you are
Members of Alex's mission group perform a show for Panamanian children.
Photos courtesy of Alex Baker
When you run into an old friend at the store or meet someone new who lives just a couple streets down, you might say it’s a small world. The week of July 22-29 helped show me how truly big the world really is.
I went to Panama with my church youth group, along with some 25 or so college and adult leaders. We left Raleigh-Durham International Airport on the July 22, bound for Miami and then on to Panama. I was a little apprehensive at first, thinking the whole time how am I going to be able to put myself out there for a group of people who I can’t really communicate with. I soon found out how wrong I was to think that.
Planting Seeds of Joy
I won’t blow you away by sharing the whole trip with you, but I will give you a story that really stuck out to me and helped shape what I brought back from this trip. This first story is about the first activity we did as a church group. We left the house pretty early that morning to make the trip to a little church among the clustered houses of a mountain-like village called Booyalah. All of the fear and nerves I had boiling up to that point were wiped away the second I stepped in that little one-room building. What I saw were children and adults who may have looked different than me, but in reality were very much like me. They also were listening attentively to the preacher up front, trying to hear the message and how it could apply to their lives, which is something I strive for and is why I go to church on Sundays.
Soon after walking in we began what the church group called a “program,” which consisted of music, puppets, one or two skits, and a bible story. I was part of the puppets group for the duration of the trip and, trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds. After we did our program we broke out the crafts and bubbles and just started having a party. It was during this time that I found out even if I can’t speak to these people, I can communicate what I need to through the power of a smile, a laugh, a hug, or simply by doing a craft with a kid. Any little thing you do can be used to communicate what kind of person you are.
During this party there was so much joy — not the kind of joy people my age try to get out of drug- or alcohol-fueled parties, but the simple joy of a wholesome, good time. Everyone had smiles on their faces and couldn't have taken them off if they wanted to. I’ve never had so many kids just come up and hug me in my life. They were genuinely happy that we were there.
After an hour or so we had to wrap up the party to get back and stock up for our next mission, and even while we left, the kids were laughing and joking and having a good time, which showed me that if you just plant a seed of joy it can grow on its own. That day was really influential for me because it set the tone for the rest of the trip and blew all of my worries out of the water. Each day of the trip was a little different but held its own special moments, like this one.
The Rest of the Week
Later on the same day we went to Booyalah, and Sunday, we went to a rural village called Gamboa, which required taking a boat across a lake to get to. The next day we went to a village near the border of the country and helped build part of the new community center there. We also held a women’s ministry and even did a little baseball camp on top of the normal program. Then on Wednesday we went to a beautiful mountain school where we did our program for the students there. Some of us, including myself, went down to the field to play soccer and baseball with the P.E. classes.
On Thursday we went to the national park at the Chagres River, which was more of a tourist destination to see how the people there used to live, but the natives were generous enough to let us perform our program for them and make crafts with the kids. Friday we went to a beach as a group, just as a final resting day before heading back to the states, which was ironic because some killer waves there got some people hurt — that's a whole other story. Saturday we said our goodbyes and headed off to the airport, which was a super hectic experience during which my friend and I were super sick, and another friend could barely walk due to a hip injury from the wave. Although the trip ended a little roughly not a single one of us there was disappointed or forgetful about the true meaning of that trip and what it did for us.
From this trip I took away that it only takes a few words to get a religious conversation started. It only takes a smile or a hug to brighten up someone’s whole day. I learned that whether you are miles and miles away from home, or at your neighbor’s house, you can still share love that is much needed. I loved every single thing about that trip and really hope I get the opportunity to do something like it again, but what I also realized was that everything in our daily lives can be used as a tool to spread the love that has been given to us.
Some tools we thought of on the trip were puppets or crafts or bible stories. However, there are also tools such as your son or daughter’s soccer game, or a long line at Target, where positivity can be shared. I learned so much from this trip, but maybe most of all I learned that no matter what you believe, it is a big world out there and it’s a world in need of love and positivity. Lots of it.
Below are some photos and a video summarizing our mission trip.
Alex Baker is a senior at Apex High School. He plays basketball and lacrosse, and is also a member of the school's Academy of Information Technology.