Last weekend I went to Chiriquí, Panamáís largest and westernmost province. In three days we ministered at four churches and covered 1038 km. (645 mi. for you metrically challenged).
I invited Agustín Mejía, the vice principal of the Latin America Childcare (LACC) High School in Panamá City. He coordinated the Seniors ministry trip that I accompanied as chaplain. He in turn invited José Perez, one of the graduating seniors from the High School.
Our first stop was Duíma, the LACC school, feeding center, church, and hub of the community. We brought over 100 Christmas gifts for the children. I want to specifically thank the Panamanian LACC high schoolers, plus Karyne Paiva and her Canyon Kids from Canyon Country AG (Pastor Ken Walters), plus Betty Guida and her Missionettes from the Desert Section of the Southern California district.
Itís interesting that the Missionettes sent their little gifts way back in August--and they arrived mid-November! They helped round out our supply just perfectly.
When I received the gifts from Canyon Kids, I saw all the soap and shampoo and other toiletries and I thought, what kid would want this for Christmas--even poor Indian kids?!? So I didn't wrap them, but I took them up to be distributed later, perhaps to the parents.
When we got there I explained to the head teacher, Vielka, that we had some great toys and stuff for the kid's presents, plus some bathroom items. She jumped for joy and said Praise God! It's an answer to prayer. They needed them for the Mother's Day service that same night. There were not near enough gifts for every mother, which would be a tragedy for a Latin Motherís Day service! Since they had a bunch of wrapping paper and first aid kit tape, they wrapped them up and everybody was happy!
In the afternoon we had the Christmas program, complete with flannelgraph-type presentation of the birth of Jesus. I stressed that Jesus gives the best present of all at Christmas, and thatís the gift of eternal life. We prayed with all the children to not be like the inn-keeper who had no room for Jesus, but to invite Jesus into their hearts.
Plus José (the high schooler) performed with puppets he had brought. The Guaymí kids loved it!
The presents lit up the faces of those children brighter than a string of Christmas lights. Though this may sound like a cliché, it is true: these are probably the only gifts these children will receive this Christmas. I asked, just to be sure, and was told, yes, the Guaymí do celebrate Jesusí birth. The problem is that there is little or no money for buying gifts.
Several hours later, after dark, a little toddler waddled up and thrust his new toy car, now well broken in, towards my face. He asked me in toddler-ease (neither Guaymí dialect, nor Spanish, nor English) if I could fix the wheels. Unfortunately I couldnít, so he tossed the broken wheel into the trash pit and went on playing happily with his car without any wheels. I think most of the kids spent the next few hours playing with their new treasures.
In the evening was the Motherís Day special program. The actual date of Motherís Day is December 8. Itís a national holiday--practically every business and all government offices close. A traditional way to honor Mom is for groups, usually of youth, to serenade them. Beginning at midnight the morning of the 8th they visit the homes of all the Mothers and sing 3-4 songs, typically staying out all night. The mothers listen inside at the window and on the finale--Las Mañanitas--come out then invite the group in for chocolate and cookies. The mothers absolutely adore the attention--even at 3 or 4 in the morning.
So, husbands, next Motherís Day why donít you wake up at 3am, pull out your guitar, start serenading your wife, and then ask her to get you hot chocolate and cookies? Maybe the US isnít ready for this tradition.
I think Yvonne might be, though. I thought she wouldnít want to be woken up, have to get dressed, make chocolate and get out cookies, so I kind of discouraged Nayla from having her youth group put us on their route. Later I found out that she would have liked it. Oh brother. Well, I know what *Iím* going to be doing next December 8 at about 3am....
Forgive me for my cultural exchange digression.
So weíre in the Motherís Day service, and they name one of the Guaymí Indian ladies "Queen of Duíma 1997." Teacher Vielka pretends to be Queen from 1996 and passes the homemade paper crown to the new Queen as she sits in her throne up front, with her squirming baby, staring down at the floor, for the next hour and a half!
Later I told Yvonne, Iím not sure if that was a prize or punishment for her! Guaymí people, especially the women, are very reserved. They donít want to stand out and be up front. Latin Panamanians, on the other hand, love to be up front and have all the attention. Theyíre partyers--in the good and bad sense of the word. For example, during November and until mid-December there have been 4 Mondays off for various national holidays for Independence and Mom. Our superintendent Rev. Lowell David told me, Panamanians are party people!
Later in the Motherís Day program they offered the first, and better, presents to "the most" mothers. You know, the most children, grandchildren, oldest, youngest, etc. Well, for the most children they started counting at 10--nobody responded. Next, 8--none. 7-None. "Wait, donít you have 7 children Sister Fulana de tal (thatís Spanish for so-and-so or whatís-his-name)?" "Yes, but the other Sister Fulana de tal has 10." "Oh, you do?" "Yes."
It wasnít that she forgot how many she had, itís that they donít want to respond to anything.
Next category: oldest. Nobody responds. So Vielka, bless her heart, looks at two obviously older sisters and asks who is oldest. They donít know. So she asks the one who looks older how old she is. She doesnít know. So she asks the other. She doesnít know how old she is either.
You see, birthdays arenít remembered, nor considered important. They donít read or write and donít have any record of when they were born anyway. So, who cares how old you are!?! Different, huh?
After that the gifts were pretty much just given out to everyone--but numbered to make sure that everyone got one, and just one. I chuckled as one lady tried to hand in her numbered slip to get a gift and was told flatly that her gift had already been given out and she should go sit down.
The remainder of the trip was for a Childrenís Crusade Saturday morning, and preaching at two churches on Sunday morning. At each of the three churches I promoted developing Childrenís Ministry committees to join the national effort to get children to reach children. Many of our churches have very active childrenís ministry. We want to harness that energy and also spark those who need to get started.
Thanks for reading! Sorry I got a little long-fingered. Well, it canít be "winded," Iím "typing" not talking! God bless.Kirk Antonio Jones