For those of you are not familiar with Riverside in Panama, our calling and work, and for those who may have forgotten, we thought it might be a good idea to refresh and inform;
The Lord’s church in El Valle, Volcan, Chiriqui, Panama
Joy and I bought a house on the outskirts of el Valle, a barrio in Volcan, three years ago and started a house church last year. Joy is 18 years younger than me. I am 65 and retired. We have both been divorced. We have been faithful to each other for 25 years. We have been faithful to the Lord for 14 years; that is to say we are sinners justified by the grace of God. Joy went back to school at Harding to learn more about being a missionary. She is now working on her Master of Ministry degree. Joy has a true servant’s heart. I am happy to be her assistant.
In the church here we have a young 14 year old girl who, last year, was the first convert of the church. She has been disowned by most of her family for being “baptized into the church of Christ.” She can not eat or sleep in her grandparent’s house. Her grandparents live 5 houses away from us. She now lives with her mother, about 2 miles from the house, but she comes here almost daily. We are her best shot at family.
There is a woman and her three children who attend regularly. Her husband does not come. The two older children (teens) were baptized this past Spring. The mother was baptized as a youngster. The father also has another family with his wife’s sister. They also have three children. The faithful mother also brings her sister’s three children to worship, even though they are the illegitimate children of her husband.
There is a middle aged woman who was baptized last Spring also. She brings her ‘husband’ who is much younger and is seriously considering baptism. They are not married in any legal sense. She was married off by her father to a boy when she was very young. The marriage was never consummated. She does not know where he is, or even if he is alive now. She has grown children by another man. They would like to get married in the church, and we are studying and praying about how to achieve this.
There is an indigenous woman who attends regularly with 7 of her 10 children. Her young ‘husband’ comes sometimes. She was sold to her first husband, an older man, when she was a child. Three of her children are by her new ‘husband’. They are married in the eyes of their people, but there is no legal paper stating so. Her children at home range from 14 years to 6 months. We believe she is pregnant again.
We have a young man (12) who comes regularly, often with his mother and 16 year old sister. The father is at home but does not attend. A younger brother does not attend. The young man often leads prayers and songs, and is willing to work in whatever way he can with the church. He partakes of communion, but his mother does not.
There are two youngsters (7 & 9) who come alone. They live a bout 1 ½ miles from us. They sometimes ride their bikes, or they walk. The mom and dad do not attend but we have hopes for the future.
There is a young lady who comes fairly regularly with her grandmother or mother. She is a cousin to the two children who ride bikes to classes. There is no husband that we know of, to the mother. The grandmother has a husband, but he has a second family that lives about 45 minutes away.
There is a young mother who brings her two kiddos (6 & 3). The father does not come – he has been working weekends for some time, but we have high hopes that he will come when his schedule changes (next month).
We have a young lady (16) who brings her 1 year old little girl with her. She is not married. She lives with her mom and step-dad. They are close neighbors. She and her mother do not get along well. Her mother is very demanding and she is very…young. We are often counseling her.
These are the souls that gather here at Riverside in Panama. As you can see, we are all sinners, and have our individual struggles. There is much need for God’s discernment and guidance as we seek to guide and serve these loving and loved people.
Our attendance averages about 30. The contribution, without ours or the preachers, averages between $1 and $2 weekly. All of our members are very poor. None of them have cars. So far we have been able to share the Sunday meal with the church. This is something we believe to be very beneficial and Scriptural. Since some walk from very far, it is our best opportunity to fellowship, and get to know them and their needs. At present we meet on Sunday mornings for Bible class and a sermon and the Holy Supper. Then we have another Bible class on Friday nights.
We have four different men from the church at David who come up on Sundays to preach and teach. One of them has a car. The others depend on taxis and buses. We pay the preacher $20 to cover his transportation costs. They are wonderful men of God who truly want to serve. We are so appreciative of their help.
Here are some of the projects of the congregation here:
Riverside in Panama oversees a work solely funded by the children of Riverside Stateside (in Gassville) – the El Valle lunch program. For $80-$90 per week over 250 students are fed each day. They were not being fed last year when we started this program. We found that they were walking several miles to get to school, and then to get home without nourishment. El Valle is an elementary school less than ½ mile from our house.
For the past 2 years we have been blessed by the on-site help of Riverside Stateside. Teams have come down to teach Bible lessons to the school in El Valle. The teams show God’s love in very evident ways to the entire community (our community) through the one-week program with the children which includes puppets, stories, crafts and food.
Joy teaches English classes to area children or adults who want to learn, free of charge. Tourism is a growing industry here, and the majority of tourists are English speaking, so those who can speak English have a great advantage when seeking work.
We began a new work in another local elementary school last June, with the help of the Oxford Mississippi church youth. We brought a great message of God’s strength to each classroom there, along with lunches for a week. The work there is really Oxford’s, we just facilitate and help coordinate. Since June we have taken the school sports equipment and some school supplies to help out. Oxford has a plan, if God allows, to return next year to work more with this very poor school district.
We also assist another school. It is tiny and out in the mountains about an hours drive. We take food in once a month – rice, beans, oil, salt, as well as bring school supplies to the 8 students as needed. Weekly we go in to cook a meal and Joy teaches English. The wear and tear on the vehicle is substantial, so we do not try to go more often. We have been in touch with, and taken supplies to two other very remote schools in our area.
We assist the church in Santa Marta; in the province of Cocle when we can. We brought the children their first ever Christmas gifts two years ago, and continue that tradition annually. Recently we took in a few hundred pounds of vegetables that were quite expensive there, but rather inexpensive for us here in Chiriqui. We also assist by helping fund building projects, a land purchase, and medical needs for members. Regarding Santa Marta, a note about the future; Riverside Stateside is preparing for a medical campaign for next summer, if God allows. The people are very poor, and have very little access to medical help. The congregation asked the group who visited them in 2006 to please try to bring a medical team to them, as the church would benefit much from this act of love to their community. Tim Martin, among others, is determined to see this happen, and we are excited about this great work in progress!
We coordinate a project to provide scholarships to children who would not otherwise be allowed to attend school. We have four grade school students, 2 Jr. High students and one high school/technical school student. We provide uniforms, books, and funds for breakfast. For the older student we also provide funds for room and board, as he lives too far from the school to commute.
We have also coordinated the funds for ladies to be able to go to the National Church of Christ Ladies’ Convention in Panama City for the past 3 years. We do the same for the youth who can’t afford to go to the Youth convention each February.
How cultural ethics fits into Christian ethics is very difficult to determine. We have prayer and the Holy Spirit to guide us. We believe we are called to teach and to love, and God will judge and be merciful with His grace.
There’s lots more I could tell you about the church here, but I hope this enough that you will feel a part of us. Please pray for your brothers and sisters here.
I can’t hold a candle to Lynn’s servant heart. He is the true servant and I am blessed to have his example. I am just louder than him!
Also, we must mention that Riverside in Panama is not just the two of us. There are many without whom this work would not be. I know that I will fail to mention someone, but I must try to mention some – Roger and Rogena Smith, who take care of everything for us while we are here; Holly Smith, who spends a great deal of time with us, helping out every step of the way (both here and there); Lisa Hammett, who has come both years since we began, and who gives 110% to the work, even coordinating, though she hates it; LaJeana and Hannah Chapman, who also have spent part of two summers with us doing everything from cleaning commodes to coordinating teams; Tim & Kelly Martin, who keep us spiritually in tune and challenged, as well as dreaming big with us; Gwynna Walker, who brings her open heart and love to share every time she comes; Doyne & Margaret Byrd, who are always working behind the scenes to help us continue the work here; Our sons, Ben and Josh who have helped hands-on, doing the muscle work for Lynn, and supporting each of our decisions though it meant hardship for them. There are surely more of you who are irreplaceable for us – those who offer financial support, those who have come down and shared with the work first hand – and those who pray faithfully for this church, as well as others. Forgive me for not mentioning every name, but please know you are not forgotten. We know you are God’s blessing to us, and we love you all!