Last year the Guaymi Indian people received recognition as an indigenous people with rights to self-government within the republic of Panamá. Ngöbe Buglë is the name they use for themselves. So I'll change too.
Once a year the Ngöbe Buglë Indians gather for a weeklong camp. Most all of them come in on foot. Some on horse back. For most it's a one-day trip. For others it can be two or three days walking just to get there. Reports on attendance varied from 1000 to 1500. An accurate count is impossible because they come and go and are never all in one place at one time.
At the camp they set up house under trees, next to the river and a few have little plastic tarps for covering.
For the first time we used the land in Quebrado Guavo purchased to become a campground meeting place for the Ngöbe Buglë people. Our Panamanian missionaries to the Ngöbe Buglë and their respective leaders set up bathrooms, logs for benches, sound system, strung light bulbs and one long bamboo "conference" table.
I went with Templo La Felicidad and their pastor, Julio Valdés, our national General Secretary. He is committed to the Ngöbe Buglë missionary work within Panamá, and a good friend of mine.
When we arrived we built our own little dwelling. We joked that it was our tabernacle (booth) in the wilderness like the Israelites built when they celebrated the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). The Ngöbe Buglë come to this camp with an expectation reminiscent of what I remember from camp meeting as a young person. They stayed up late worshipping in their little areas, around the fire. They were up early praying and praising the Lord before services even started.
Our group joined with their leaders to conduct morning and evening services and hold classes all day long. About eighty people were baptized at the end of the week. About fifty were being trained in a pre-Bible institute program. Another seventy or so were being trained in membership classes.
My responsibility was to coordinate the children's ministry. I had seven or eight great assistants, teachers and helpers to work with about 120 kids, ages two to twelve. We sat them down under the trees. Some were sitting in ashes from previous cooking fires. When we sang songs with motions they were thrilled to be a part. You could see the joy in their faces.
We taught the most basic Biblical principles. The first three classes were on God the Trinity: Father-Creator, Son-Redeemer, Holy Spirit-Baptizer. Each class we taught a memory verse and the next class I would give 25˘ to the child who could say it perfectly. We played active games together and told Bible stories. We divided them by age into three groups.
The children were given medicine to help with worms in their stomachs and vitamins. Many children had distended stomachs from worms they contract from the unclean water they drink.
Everyday life was an adventure in camping. We bathed in the San Felix river, fed by cool mountain run-off. Even though I've lived in Southern California a long time, I had to learn the "surfers shimmy" from my Panamanian buddies. That's where you change out of your swimsuit underneath a towel wrapped around your waist.
As I was hiking up a hill on the last day getting ready to leave I said good-bye to one of the little guys. He stopped me and said, "Teacher, you can't leave." I said, "Well, I have to go with the group now." He countered, "What if we tie you up to a tree?" I laughed and said, "Then I guess I'd have to stay by force, wouldn't I?"
I was grateful to be heading to my family, but reluctant to leave the kids too. It was nice to see that my affection and love for them had been received.
During one of the class sessions we the executives and presbyters attended to matters of ministerial business and discipline. While problems are never welcome for their own sake, conflicts between the growing number of leaders is a reflection of the fact that the work among the Ngöbe Buglë is maturing and developing at a good healthy pace.
Cesar Rivera was with us in these leader meetings. Do you remember him? He is the pastor and director of the LACC school in Duíma. Many of his leaders and members from his region had come to the camp as well.
The past two years I have been prevented from going by last minute sickness or schedule changes. I'm so glad I made it this year and look forward to next year to see greater growth.
The final evening service was visited by an exciting move of the Holy Spirit with many of our Ngöbe Buglë brothers and sisters dancing in the Spirit. For being a people typically reserved and stoic in nature this freedom of expression in worship was a step forward into being open to the Spirit's moving in their lives.
Please join me in praying for the continued growth of our Ngöbe Buglë brothers and sisters in the faith, for maturity in the indigenous leaders, for wisdom for the missionaries and executives and for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Kirk Antonio Jones
Missionary to the Children of Pahamá