Mission Trip to Panamaís San Blas Islands: Aug 28 Ė Aug 30 2007
Rev Gary Edenfield Ė Pastor, Bible Holiness Church, Elkton, VA
Rev Darius Templeton Ė Youth Pastor, Dryden Road Pentecostal Church, Dayton, OH
Bro Jeff Roberts Ė Treasurer, Dryden Road Pentecostal Church, Dayton, OH
This trip to the San Blas Islands was made in an effort to find a location suitable to build a new church in the fellowship of churches belonging to Holiness Full Gospel Missions. A family in the Bible Holiness Church had recently lost a loved one, in honor of him monies had been donated to build a church; our mission was to find a place to build it.
We arrived at Tocumen International Airport around 1:00pm on the 27th of August. Sis Marta Betty and Bro Albarino ďFrankieĒ Franklin were there to welcome us. Sis Marta and Bro Frankie would be our interpreters while we visited various churches.
We purchased a Yamaha 9.9 horsepower boat motor for one of the island fellowships in the San Blas Islands. Special thanks to Sis Joan Kegley of Chappelow Ridge Pentecostal Church in West Harrison, Indiana, Bro Jerry Rader of Full Gospel Holiness Church in Connersville, Indiana and the good folks at the Dryden Road Pentecostal Church in Dayton, Ohio for their generous offerings that made the purchase of the boat motor possible.
On Tuesday the 28th we met at Bro Frankieís house at 6:00am to make our trip out to the San Blas Islands or the Kuna Yala. Kuna Yala can be interpreted as ďLand of the KunaĒ. We had decided to take the truck through the jungle because of all the items we were taking with us. The truck was late so we didnít get started until after 1000. We quickly found out that in Panama nobody is in a hurry unless they are driving, on the road everyone was in a hurry. There were six of us plus the driver packed into a dual cab Toyota for the trip over the mountain. Bro Gary, Bro Jeff , Bro Darius, Bro Frankie, his son, Bro Uriel and one of the Kuna pastorsí wife. Bro Uriel sat in the back of the truck with the luggage, food and the gas. What a trip!! We made several stops along the way, only one because of sickness. The journey was probably about 2.5 to 3 hours in length for the 50 mile ride. The roads had greatly improved according to Bro Gary, something us newcomers found hard to believe, but were very thankful for. The end of the trail was at the river, there we were met by some Kuna Indians in a large dugout canoe that would deliver us out to island of Carti-Sugdupu. The canoe ride along the river was beautiful, the dugout canoes, the Kuna burial grounds and the 9 foot alligator made us feel like we had stepped into the latest issue of National Geographic.
Upon arrival at Carti-Sugdupu, we met Bro.Victor, it was his wife that had made the trip with us. This was our first exposure to large groups of island Kunaís. Even though there was no church on the island the Indians made us feel very welcome. We transferred our belongings from the large canoe over to a smaller canoe belonging to Bro Victor. One thing we quickly learned about Bro Victorís canoeÖ.it leaks. We were bailing water constantly, he didnít seem to worried but we were a good three quarters of mile out in the Caribbean without life jackets so we bailed water without ceasing.
Our next stop was at Soledad Miria, this island is also without a church, but we had hoped that this might be the location in which we would build. Several thousand dollars had recently been sent to this island after a fire had burnt half of the homes on the island. We met with two of the island chiefs in the congress house to discuss the building of the church. Although they werenít against building a church, they didnít want to build it until after the homes were all rebuilt to ensure that they had room on the island. So with this unpleasant news we sailed on to our next island.
We soon came to our next stop. This was our first stop where the mission work had a church, believe me when I say there was a huge difference to our welcoming party. The church members were waiting on our arrival. They met us at the canoe and with handshakes and hugs welcoming us to Isla Maquina. We had originally planned to stay on this island and to have church here in the evening, but because of a drunken party that was going on in the Congress House, we decided that we would stay on Isla Raton or Rat Island and hold services there that evening. Before we left Isla Maquina we were taken to the pastorís home in the middle of the island, here we were treated to fresh lobster and rice. The only thing I longed for was a bowl of melted garlic butter. We were treated exceptionally well by the church family on Isla Maquina and were very pleased to see that they werenít partaking in the drunken party that had the island in an uproar.
Back in the canoe we soon landed at Rat Island. We were hoping that we wouldnít find out why they called it what they did, thankfully we didnít have any rat experiences on the island. This island was different from most, it actually had a motel, not quite up to Holiday Inn standards, but it was a motel nonetheless. It was a two story block building, the rooms were all on the second floor, which made it nice in the evening when the breeze was blowing, as the screen less bamboo windows open up on each end of the room. The floor and walls were plain grey block half way up and bamboo walls the rest of the way. The rooms were $7 apiece, we purchased four of the six rooms in the motel for the evening, there was one communal bathroom for everyone. This was much different than any motel we are accustomed to in America, actually though it probably wasnít much different than most dorms at an average youth camp, not unlike youth camp, it also came with itís own supply of roaches, but we were happy with our situation for the night. Church that evening was in a very crowded bamboo building that was not only the church, but in the rear of the church, separated by a bamboo wall was the pastorís living quarters and the front, divided by a cloth, was the kitchen. The Isla Maquina church came over that evening to have church with us. We had a great service, Bro Gary preached and Bro Frankie translated the message into the Kuna language. The Lord moved in the alter service as somewhere around 5 people came up seeking salvation and many more were seeking the Holy Ghost. That evening as we watched the Indians praising and worshipping God in such a humble surrounding our hearts were smote within us as we thought of how we as Americans are so spoiled by our fine way of life and our earthly possessions. As I prayed for and looked in the face of these Kuna Christians I thought that in a lot of ways they are much richer than am I. They serve God in simplicity when so many times we have to attach so many things to our service to God or we become disenchanted. A prosperity gospel wouldnít preach down there, these folks couldn't fathom it, but they know the master of the wind and serve him because of who he is. We had a good time of fellowship in getting to know our brethren from so far away. That evening we distributed to the pastors bags of items that we had brought with us. The good folks at Dryden Road, especially Sis Phyllis Stiles, had been so good to provide us with items and money to bring to the islands. We brought such things as needles, brightly colored embroidery thread, zip lock bags, balloons, fish hooks and lures, fishing line, candy, lantern mantles and other items that they could use. We also brought down two Polaroid Instant cameras and plenty of film, we had a good time taking pictures of everyone, they really liked getting their pictures taken and especially liked it when we gave them the pictures. We left both of these cameras with Bro Frankie so that they can be used in the future, all thatís needed is the film (Polaroid 600). It was soon time to say goodnight and goodbye, as we hoped to get an early start the following day, we had a seven hour boat ride ahead of us.
The next morning we were up at 0400, but a thunderstorm prevented us from leaving so we dropped back off to sleep for another hour or so. We pushed off from Rat Island around 0700, dreading the trip but not much we could do about it now. Bro Frankie had made reservations for us to hire the services of two men to take us to the south edges of the archipelago. It only rained on us once for a short period, then we settled in for the long haul. We stopped after several hours to use the restroom on a small resort island near Playon Chico. We didnít stop on a single island where someone didnít recognize and know Bro Frankie, the island inhabitants have a lot of respect for him. We stopped a short time later on an island called Achutupu, we thought we would get out and stretch our legs and get a soda. On all of the islands we had stopped at you could usually buy a bottled soda somewhere, usually there is one person on the island that will have a propane refrigerator and sell sodas, all of the sodas we had bought up until this time had been 40 cents per bottle. Bro Darius decided that he was going to buy everyone a soda, expecting the bill to be less than $3. When they brought him the bill he almost choked, they had charged $1.75 per soda, the total being $12.25 for 7 sodas, and they werenít even in bottles but in cans. Back in the boat we finally made our way to the shores of Tubuala.
Bro Andres is the pastor of the Holiness Full Gospel Mission church at Tubuala and he and his family were there to greet and welcome us. Bro Andres opened his home up to us and allowed us to stay there during our visit. Bro Gary immediately went to work on preparing us a meal, he purchased some fresh fish and began cooking for us. We had a little time to walk around the island, find the soda shop and we also took a quick tour of a couple of Columbian boats that were there on the island to trade for coconuts. Bro Andres and his wife made us as comfortable and gave us the very best that they had to offer. After Bro Gary had finished cooking the rice and someone was bringing it around to Bro Andresí table when they dropped the whole bowl of rice, it was heart wrenching to watch the children stoop down and eat the rice off of the ground, not one bit going to waste. Bro Frankie quickly made more rice and dinner was soon served. We ate whole fish with rice, it was a very good meal, not anything to compare to one of Sis Nancy Edenfieldís Sunday dinners, but it was good. After dinner we took showers and cleaned up for church. The shower experience was one we wonít soon forget, you basically went into the shower area, hoped nobody came in on you, and youíd pour water over you from a half coconut shell, the first pour pretty much took your breath, but from then on it wasnít bad at all. Bro Andres told us before we went to church that he had a special treat for us after church. He brought out a conch shell that still had the snail inside of it. He told us that eating the snail was a special treat and that they took great effort to get some for us. We immediately tried to find a way out of this but Bro Frankie told us that it would disappoint Bro Andres if we didnít partake after all the trouble they went to to get them.
That evening we loaded up in the canoe and went over to the island of Mulatupu for church. The island was about a half hour boat ride. Mulatupu was home to another Holiness Full Gospel Mission church. This church was quite large. This church was much more advanced in their worship than was the church on Rat Island. We had a good time in the Lord, Bro Darius testified and Bro Gary preached the gospel. Although the weather hadnít been too hot, it was dreadfully hot inside the churches. The churches tend to usually be located near the center of the islands, therefore there isnít much breeze blowing. That evening I believe there were about 8 souls that came forward seeking salvation and others came seeking the Holy Ghost. After church that evening we gave the pastors that were present more of the bags of goodies that we had brought with us. We met one pastor that had came over with us in the canoe that had recently lost his wife during childbirth, he was left with four small children to raise himself, if you think of it please pray for this pastor that the Lord will bless him and strengthen him.
On the way back to Mulatupu that evening, we made a detour and stopped off on another island where one of the local pastors lived. This island called Caledonia had a church but it did not belong to the mission work. The pastor owned the building but he did not own the land on which it was situated. We met that evening with pastor and the chief of the island and was able to obtain the rights to the land for the sum of $1300.00. So, although we still hadnít found a location to build a new church, the work of Holiness Full Gospel Missions had already expanded to a new island in the Kuna Yala. Note: When Bro Gary got back to his church and gave a mission report, a brother in his church came to him after the service and presented him with a check for $1300, praise God!!
When we arrived back at Tubuala we had forgotten about our surprise, but Bro Andres had not. He had us come out and he presented each of us with a bowl of rice with something dark mingled in with the rice. It was dark outside, but it looked sort of like chicken gizzards. We didnít want to eat it, but not wanting to offend our host we each ate some of the conch, it didnít taste like chicken gizzard, it had the consistency of rubber and it was hard to get down, but we each did it, I think Bro Gary and Bro Darius liked it much more than I, as both ate twice as much as I did. I quickly offered the rest of mine to one of the locals and they ate it without wincing. Bro Darius had actually offered Bro Frankie $30 to eat his share, but Bro Frankie was having to good of a time watching us try to eat it. This night instead of sleeping in beds like we did at the ĎHoliday Inní on Rat Island, we slept in hammocks. Situated close to the door there was a good breeze blowing in off the water, unfortunately for Bro Gary and Bro Darius their hammocks were situated further back in the room and they got very little air.
Thursday morning we awoke around 0500, we had to be at the airstrip on another island at 0600. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and Bro Andres took us to the airstrip. Wasnít much to the airstrip, we each paid the island owner a dollar for letting us board there, we arrived about 10 minutes before our plane took off. As we rose over the islands and into the air there was a bittersweet feeling, we knew that we had met more of Godís children and they had treated us so well. Thereís no place like home, and thatís true, but we were left with a feeling that made us want to come back to this place again someday. Please pray for these people, though they have so little in the way of earthly goods, just a few days with them would convince you that the possess so much.
It had been discussed by the four of us that we felt that Rat Island needed a church as much as anyone. Their little bamboo church that doubled as a parsonage just wasnít enough. We decided that this is where the new church should be built. So, Lord willing come early next year a group of men from Virginia, friends of the deceased, will come to Rat Island and build the church in order to honor their friend Sam East, and in so doing the new church once built can honor God.
Please continue to pray and support the work being done in the name of Holiness Full Gospel Missions, this work that Sis Gail Meyers started so long ago is still going on and is still glorifying the God of Heaven in Mexico, Panama, the San Blas Islands and Columbia. As we went around and made stops at different islands there were two regrets that I had, one that I didnít have more to give and two that Sis Meyers was unable to be with us.
- Jeff Roberts / Dryden Road Pentecostal Church