RRCB’s long-term partnership with the Fundación Cristiana Médico Social (Medical-Social Christian Foundation) in Panama continues to provide medical and dental care to indigenous populations, and this year, the team expanded to include a construction team as well!
The team partnered with three other churches, with a total of 19 participants led by co-team leaders Judy Collins, Joe Teefey, and CBF Missionary Sue Smith. Other team members from RRCB included: Libby Grammer, Norma Hays, John Heisler, Bonnie Livick, Emily Sumner, Bill Rusher, Anne Rusher, and Geoff Sundberg.
From February 3-11, 2018, River Road Church, Baptist continued our mission to Panama to serve with the Foundation to provide medical and dental clinics to the Embera Indians and others in need along the Panama Canal region in Gamboa and Chepo.
During the medical/dental mission, our work as U.S. missionaries is mainly to realize that our calling here is to assist the Panamanian doctors and medical/dental students in their care for their own people. We are not there to “run the show,” but to give of what we know to help make a medical/dental clinic successful. For some of us, that was taking blood pressures, height, and weight so the doctor had some basic information before meeting with the patient. For others, we translated for those who didn’t know Spanish. For others, it was providing dental care and assistance. For yet others, we learned new skills and assisted in providing medications to the patients through the pharmacy. Whatever we did, though, it was to ensure the work done among the people of Panama was supported – not “run” by us (which sometimes meant starting a little later, or moving to a different site, or finding a myriad of other ways in which to be flexible!). As our leader and veteran trip member Judy Collins often reminds us on our trips: “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape!”
We also realized that the work of evangelism, or sharing the Gospel and providing spiritual care, is something we are primarily doing with our hands and feet. We have gone, and we are providing care and healing. This is our primary work for patients. We may never see them again, but for that moment, in the name of Christ, they were given care. The ongoing work of evangelism is the responsibility of our Panamanian partners at the Medical-Social Christian Foundation. They will follow up with local church leaders; they will provide ongoing spiritual support. We are there to help them start those relationships through the medical/dental clinics. Our primary relationship is with the Panamanian Christians, partnering with them in their good work. It requires a great deal of humility and a willingness to “play second fiddle” – even when things are done a little differently than we might do them here at home.
Written by Libby Grammer
This year we also started a construction mission. The project was working with a Kuna indigenous congregation that has a feeding program for local kids, serving lunch to around 90 kids from the community on Sundays. The program operates on the backside of the church, under a partial roof, with no walls. We helped expand the area where the kids are fed.
I know Joe and Judy well, so I knew we were going to be fine in this new place. And I knew we had major players from RRCB and Second Baptist on the construction crew, so all we had to do was pretty much cut them loose and watch them go. But I only knew Sue Smith from the planning meetings. And between that the falling-through-of-the-original-plan and the last-minute-shift-to-the-new-job, I was concerned. It was my first stamp ever in my passport, and I was anxious for it to be meaningful – and for me to be useful.
It was our first full day in Panama, and that Sunday morning trip to church turned everything around for me. The congregants were native Kuna people who have more or less assimilated into the middle class in Panama City. There was this guy, an engineer, who gave a Bible study from Luke, staying afterwards to talk to us, and he sketched out the building plan on a whiteboard. We drew, and Sue translated (and she also drove fearlessly, and knew where to eat).
So, Sue had led us into an extraordinary situation, and it hit me that these folks were going to build this thing whether we were there or not – we were just here to help. And then the guys we saw in the city at church start showing up in the country on the construction job – working, welding, staying overnight in hammocks. It was servant leadership, and I didn’t see it coming, but I know it when I see it. It turned out to be the key thing. It was a great trip.
Written by Bill Rusher
Originally published in the 2018 Summer Quarterly Explorer