Parallel Lives Collide

You’ve been living your separate life for months now, maybe even years. You do things your way. You buy the groceries you want, get gas at your favorite station, and even light your favorite candle. You may struggle and you may thrive, but the point is: you are doing it on your own. You have embraced the independence and love the life you’ve created for yourself.

You eventually run into old friends and family; your hugs are sure to symbolize all that missing time. Okay, you have seen their Facebook updates so not totally separate. Either way, you unknowingly stare at them thinking “What do I tell them about first?” Or depending on the mood, “I don’t have the energy for this life update.”

There are so many amazing things you have done that they are sure to be waiting to hear about. Those places you traveled, people you ran into, or even a random story about your dog that you think everyone should be so privilege to know. The point is, you have so much to say and so many people to say it to.

But, did you ever think that while you were out living it up, perhaps they were doing a few cool things too. Maybe they read the most amazing book or fell in love or even learned something profound. They may be just as excited to see and hear about your life, but would love the chance to share as well.

So when you meet up with an old friend and burst with stories, don’t forget about them. Don’t forget about their life they have been working on just as much as you have been living yours. Everyone has something to say. Everyone has their own adventures. And everyone deserves to be heard. Ask questions, sit back, and listen!

Just Give In

It was one of those days where you ride in your car by yourself and the hum of the road gives you plenty of time for your mind to wonder. That one song comes on and sparks your memory and imagination. What are you thinking about?

It’s as if the light turns green, to not only signal your accelerator, but also your mind to run faster than you can catch it. Before you know it, you’re thinking of that thing (or that someone) you thought you were over. It is so far gone that you aren’t even paying attention to the song anymore.

We’ve all done it.

You are thinking about all the crazy times. You are wondering what they were thinking. You want to  know what you did wrong. You want to know, why you? You have a million and one wishes yet can’t think of which one to ask for.

You scream. You curse. You pray. You cry. You laugh. You look hopelessly further than your eyes can possibly see.

Maybe it hurts. Or maybe it is like a dream that you never want to wake up from. Perhaps it is everything you want but can’t have. Or is it everything you don’t want crushing down at once?

Let yourself fall.

Go ahead, it will be alright. You cannot run from yourself much longer. After all, it hasn’t worked yet.

Just give in to what your heart wants to tell your mind. Give your imagination a chance to think about it for awhile. Good or bad, it must not be ignored. Hiding all your thoughts will only have you blend in with this big ol’ world. These very moments of solitude and daydreaming are what makes you as unique as you are. It is what gives you direction. It is what helps you move on. It is how you find out who you are. It is how you find your dreams.

It is time to be honest with yourself and stop keeping your mind quiet. If it has something to say, the least you can do is listen.

And don’t forget, God may want to tell you a thing or to. Give Him a chance.

Then you see the last light before your turn and you want everything in the world to just go on so you can keep driving. Heck, some of you just might drive pass.

Those Small Things

Those small things are what keep us going.

The days are bearable, quit easy really. You’re doing good! Heck, any week where you do your laundry and manage to fold them in the same day is a good one! You walk outside, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you have a ridiculous grin spread across your face.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you lie.

Then you forget a few tasks at work and you’re waiting for your boss to say something any moment now. Your mom is mad at you again because you didn’t do anything. Opps, you don’t have any clean underwear either. Should we grab carry out for dinner again? It seems as though your daily path is turning into a tight rope and forcing you to start to speed walking, hoping you get off quickly.

It takes a few more alarms to get you out of that comfy, old bed of yours. You skip breakfast for the third morning in a row. At this point, you are just trying to make it through the hour, let alone the day! And you snapped at your friend again?

Boy, you’re a time bomb!

Stop. Stop right in your tracks if you have to. The only reason your walls are pinching in is because you’re walking down the tunnel. Turn around and start over.

The sun is still shining and the birds are still chirping; you may just have to look for it now!

This time, lets walk over the mountain instead of through it.

Life is nothing but a series of steps that are meant to be focused on one at a time. You can only worry about today, for tomorrow is far too much to bare at once.

It is up to you, and only you, to decide that today will be a good day.

That day will turn into a good week. That week will turn into a good month, and eventually a good life. But remember this: you get there by honing in on the good day and not the good life. Don’t you dare loose the pleasure of the little things. Appreciate a delicious lunch that you don’t normally get. Feel the sun’s warmth through the car window. Smile at that little child in the deli isle. Call your mom for Pete’s sake!

What matters is that you find the things to become happy about throughout your day. These things may not always come find you, but they are there. Put all your faith and effort into being intentional with your happiness. And please, by the grace of God, do not give up!

You have too many purposes in this life of yours and no time to be captured by sadness.

Panama 2016 – Day 5

ZZZ ZZZ ZZZ

My phone was somewhere between my body and the hammock, making my unconscious mind struggle a little bit as Leyla and I woke up to what was going to be a very beautiful Wednesday. I am thankful for this alarm because today was a day I would never want to miss.

There wasn’t much time to waste, we were going to school!

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Schools in Panama are set up in a square shape with classrooms making up the outside frame. The center is home to a roofless and outdoor play area. It is very neat and I can only imagine if it were raining. Technically, it would be raining in your school! I am not sure if all their schools are like this, but every one we went to were so I am going to assume it is a popular style.

Our team was split into two groups so we could divide and conquer. We visited four classrooms that morning, one right after the other. We would walk in, stand at the front of the room, and introduce ourselves to what seemed like a million little eyeballs. As soon as we said we were from the United States, it was like we said we were Taylor Swift!

They gasped and smiled at us.

We sang songs, performed the Sin Chair skit, and read a bible story in Spanish for every class. During the first class, I wanted to help and read from the book. How hard could it be to read a story in Spanish when I did it all throughout high school? Apparently pretty hard because I didn’t even make it halfway down page one without messing up. I read the same sentence twice without realizing it and then figured it was time to pass the book to Leyla.

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One classroom got lucky and were able to do a balloon activity with us. We brought a set of balloons with sharpie on them that lined up to read a verse. We were teaching the children to memorize it by popping one balloon at a time. This way, they wouldn’t be able to read it and would have to remember each part of the verse. I sat on my balloons to pop them and everyone seemed to be enjoying it! Then I noticed that one child didn’t seem so privileged to be a part of this activity because he ran out of the classroom. We later found out he was very afraid of popping balloons.

I am not sure if this was an issue before we got there or one we caused.

Between class, we had a break in the outdoor area as the students ate their lunch. We were supposed to be sitting with them and talking, but I couldn’t understand even one of the fifty words these 2nd graders were spitting out. So, I looked this boy in the eye, hit his shoulder with my hand, and yelled “TAG!” I turned and sprinted away, hoping he would follow. Could you imagine if he didn’t and you just saw this random white girl smacking a little boy and running away?

Luckily, I turned around to see literally 30 smiling kids running behind me. It was pure joy and quite possibly one of my favorite memories. We chased each other for the rest of the period and every single class out there must had joined at some point.

Now hot and sweaty, I was even more excited to be with this school and wanted to give it my all. I tried to pull the non-existent theater kid out of me for the rest of our skits.

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At our final class, the teacher was nowhere to be found. So as a result, we had much more free time with them. I began talking to this little boy and he (obviously) started speaking Spanish. I told him I needed to practice and am not very good. He walked away and came back with a pad of paper and a pencil. He wrote down five words in Spanish and would point to them with his pencil until I said it correctly. Once I did, he would check it off as if to say I was passing his class. The only one I remember is leon, which is lion. But I will remember that moment forever.

That boy’s kindness and simplicity is something to learn from.

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We were waiting outside and playing tag again, when suddenly all the students brought us their notebooks. They wanted our autographs! I was so unworthy but honored that they thought this highly of us. I probably signed 50 books and I tried to write “God loves you” in most of them.

Next, they brought us out into the play area and had our team sit in a row of chairs. One of the teachers turned on music and the children began a very well practiced and traditional dance. IT WAS SO CUTE! All of the sudden, little hands are reaching to us and asking us to dance. I feel bad for the one who picked me because these hips can’t compare to Hispanic’s.

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As if this school didn’t spoil us enough already, they made us these fried beef empanada-type things that were so yummy! I also drank three cups of this pink fruity juice mix that truly made me feel like I was in middle school, and I loved it.

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What a great day it had been, and it wasn’t nearly over yet.

We got into the van and were headed to our next stop: a woman’s juvenile prison.

They were aged 15-24 I think. I will admit, I was quite scared. I had never been to a jail before and I am not very familiar with prisoners. We drove a good distance and the father we got, the more it set in.

We turned onto a dirt road with strange one-garage buildings. John told us that they were actually bedrooms that could be rented for one hour, kind of like a motel type business. Woman were taken there or worked there to make money in exchange for sex. As if it weren’t bad enough, woman had actually been found dead there. I know that there is prostitution here in the U.S. too and I am sure very terrible things go with that as well. I can’t imagine selling my one and only body that God gave me to a stranger, but some of these woman do not have a choice. I pray that those suffering from this all around the world find hope and know that they are not defined by what has happened to them in those rooms.

I pray that they find freedom and know they are loved.

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We pulled up to an old building, surrounded by barb-wired fence and in the middle of nowhere. As we climbed out of the van, I saw some of the girls walking up a hill with wheel-barrels and shovels. To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure if they were going to be nice and say hello or whack me over the head with one of their yard work tools.

I would soon realize these girls were some of the most gracious woman I’d ever meet.

We went into the building and had to all sign in. We couldn’t bring anything but our instruments so I have only the pictures in my mind. It wasn’t like something you would see on TV in Law and Order. It was more like something from an old Western movie. A thin wire door, natural lighting through the barred windows, and dust on the ground.

Five of the girls were sitting in a classroom waiting for us. We walked in and there weren’t enough seats for everyone. As soon as she realize, one of the prisoners jumped up to pull some more over into our mini circle. Her named was Suanny. (Swa-knee) All sitting together and awkwardly staring at each other, we introduced ourselves in Spanish and said how old we are.

“Hola, Me llamo Emily. Tengo 20 años.”

Doing what we do best, we began to sing some of our favorite songs. The girls were laughing together and were having fun with it! Then we taught them one of our favorite games called signs. It requires no talking so it is perfect for this whole language barrier thing. Lucy, our amazing translator, sat with us and led the entire conversation. We couldn’t had done it without her.

She told us that the girls said they would play that game back in their cells with each other.

It got deep pretty quickly. Hailey told her testimony first and showed her courage through sharing. Then Suanny was asked to share hers. She said that she wasn’t scared to tell us, but she was scared to tell her friends and the other inmates. Lucy encouraged her and told her no one can judge her. So she decided it was time to talk.

Her dad died and her mom went to jail when she was born. She lived with a woman who she thought was her grandma for her whole life. When she was a young teen, she went to jail to see her mom. She explained how excited she was to hug and kiss her, but her mom didn’t do any of that when she saw her. Her mom hugged all her other brothers and sisters, except for her. Suanny was left to the side but still decide she loved her mom and wouldn’t give up. When her mom got out of jail, they were supposed to spend time together. Her mom dropped her off at her real grandmother’s house that night and said she would be back. All these men, some being her uncles, came to the house. Her mom never came back that night and she was raped by her uncle. Suanny was about 13 years old. Bleeding and scared, she took a bus and then started walked down the road because she was lost. She was crying and finally someone saw her. She tried to take it to court but no one would support her so she said it never ended up with justice. She was taken to jail not much longer after for robbery. While she was in jail, her best friend, who was also in jail, convinced her to escape with her. They ran away together. Then within two weeks, Suanny’s best friend tried to kill her and stabbed her in the leg. She ended up surviving and had no choice but to come back to the jail; the safest place she had to go. She ended her story telling us she has a three year old girl that she can see once a month if she is lucky.

Then, this broken girl with all her pieces from a shattered past, told us about God. She said that ever since she met God, she realized that her life has a purpose. She says that she still loves her mom and forgives her family. She loves her little girl and knows that God loves her so she shares that to those around her.

She prayed that we would have safe travels and she prayed for our lives. I couldn’t even believe what she was saying. How can someone so broken and in pain be pouring out to us when we have more blessings than we deserve? Aren’t we supposed to be the ones praying for her?

God does amazing things in this big old world of ours.

He heals the broken and lights the dark. Suanny showed me God’s love and grace when we were supposed to be the missionaries that day.

A girl named Naomi asked to share, but the guards said our time was up. It took everything in me not to cry right there. I just wanted to listen. I wanted to listen to every word they wanted to say.

But here we were, trapped in the screen room waiting for John and Ben to come back with our ride. I wondered why God had given me this life. Why am I the lucky one? I get to travel the world during Spring Break and go home to a mom and dad who hug me. I do not understand why some people are dealt a hand of cards so much worse than others. Yet, at the end of the day, we both come back to the same God.

For the first time on the trip, I had been broken.

What an amazing life, what an amazing God.

That night was craft night at the park. It was a good wrap up of our three day party at the park. Leyla and I ended up sitting at the basketball courts and talking to this woman on the bleachers. She was very sassy but fun. She was also loud, so I am sure the whole place heard our conversation. She told us she doesn’t go to church because she doesn’t like being told what to do and she is a rebel. Luckily for her, God loves rebels.

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It was my turn to share my testimony that night. This time was different, I was going to actually share the whole thing. No more leaving out the big parts.

I am excited about God and want the world to know.

 

Panama 2016 – Day 4

Tuesday was a slow day, which I didn’t appreciate as much as I should have.

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We woke up and ate breakfast. There was plenty of room for quiet time. Soon enough, we were all gathered in the living room and began to plan out out visits to schools.

We rehearsed a skit I’m going to go ahead and call the “Sin Chair.” It had to do with one person sitting down in a chair and being unable to get up. This was to represent sin and how it can be so difficult to get out of. Then each of us would pretend to be a common sin or outlet and attempt to pull the person out of the chair. We were representations of drugs and alcohol, money, gossip, body image, and even parents. I was the mom and would come to the person in the chair, hug and kiss them, then try and pull them up. Except even this wouldn’t work. Finally, Jesus came. The sinner resisted Him at first and wouldn’t let Him save him/her.

Then they accepted His love and were freed from their sin and the chair.

We also practiced songs to sing to the students. One in particular is called “Melodia En Mi Corazon.” To be real with you, I sang it the whole time as melody es en mi corazon. But I just looked it up and apparently I was wrong.

Good thing we only sang it about a million times.

Lunch was at a new restaurant the pastor of the church had opened. John wanted to give him some business so what is better than 10 hungry missionary? We had spaghetti and then ice cream, my personal favorite.

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This is a picture of this John man I keep speaking of.

Back at the condo, we all had a chance to take a nap. I went out on the balcony, climbed into my hammock, and fell asleep to the city noises.

I woke up and it was time for our sports night! This was the simplest because we just had to bring some balls, hullahoops, and water balloons. It was a lot of fun and you better believe we got into some water balloon fights with each other!

Actually, the balloons are a funny story.

Remember how I said we all went shopping on Sunday for our events? Leyla was on the team in charge of looking for various supplies including balloons. She is from Puerto Rico, so Spanish is her first language. However, sometimes words change depending on where you are talking in Spanish. Leyla had been walking around the store and asking employees for “bombas.” This is what they call balloons in Puerto Rico. They looked at her funny so she tried describing it using her hands and demonstrated something you throw and it explodes. Little did she know, bombas is how Panamanians say bombs which also happen to explode when you throw them! That got a good laugh and we were thankful we weren’t escorted out from Leyla’s threats.

Speaking of Leyla, the sports night was her time to shine. Not only does she excel at every sport there is, she got a chance to step out of her comfort zone. We needed her to speak on the microphone, explain games, and talk about our next night at the park. I know it wasn’t the easiest thing for her, but she did amazing.

I am so proud of her taking initiative and holding up our team that night.

After it got dark and we cleaned everything up, we went with a few people from the church and got popcycles. For a mission trip, we ate an awful lot of sweets. But I was willing to give up my health for such a thing. After all, a mission trip is supposed to be sacrificial. 

I have already mentioned the sidewalks in Panama being death traps. The walk to the treat shop was nothing short of that. I was goofing around with Hailey and giving “salmons” to our team members. This is the act of walking up behind someone, sticking your flat hand into the back of their armpit, wiggling it back and forth, and yelling salmon. I know, it is stupid and I am kind of embarrassed to even be typing it on here. The point is that I accidentally stepped into a hole and about fell into the road. I think I pulled something because it still hurts to run! That’s what I get for being silly.

We worshiped that night with a couple, and their little boy named Marcello. He is the cutest thing ever and we got to spend most of the week with him. That night, I remember looking around and being in awe of such an amazing group of people. We were from all over the states and now from all over the world. We didn’t speak the same language and we didn’t know much about each other.

But we were still worshiping the same God, and that is a beautiful thing.

The husband of the couple mentioned something I really liked. He said that tonight at our sports event, we had watched parents play with their children. Normally, the parents just sit and watch but tonight they were engaged and having fun together. 

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Then I shared the hammock with my best friend again.

 

Panama 2016 – Day 3

Sleeping rather well, I woke up to parrots and the trash truck.

Parrots are not a bird that makes a sweet chirp by the way.

I was feeling anxious this Monday morning. It was already getting hard for me to live in the moment and appreciate every single day. So I sent up a little prayer that went something like this:

God, please give me strength. Thank you for this opportunity to be here in Panama. I’m so thankful to be able to tell stories of a place far away. Thank you for the people around me, a bed, food, and water. Thank you for beautiful days, your love, and grace. God, I need you and your love in my life. I pray that I get out of this deep slump my mind sometimes wanders to. I pray for revival. I pray that I love more freely and show more grace. I want to remember what it was like to first know you. I give you full liberty to take my life, wreck it if you have to. Create in me something with a purpose, something of a miracle, something of your plans. Help me make the most of every moment. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

This day turned out to be quite awesome. We filled our water bottles and laced up our shoes; it was time for an adventure.

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John split us up into two groups and gave us all a scavenger hunt paper. We were going to explore El Cangrejo! It had a whole list of places to go see where we would take a picture and then pray together.

We headed outside and down the street to the very first stop, Robert Duran’s house! I actually thought this man was an Oriole’s Baseball player. I am just going to blame that on the chance of homesickness because he is actually one of the greatest boxers of all time. His house was not what I had expected. Though he had some fancy cars, it was just another house on the side of the road. I kind of liked that. He is still just another Panamanian and seems to like it that way. We prayed for spiritual warfare happening there in Panama.

We stopped on the side of the street to get fresh squeezed orange juice.

Who knew $1 could get you the most delicious and nutritious little cup of sunshine?

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Our walk went on!

At one point of this hike, we stopped at McDonald’s. I really wanted ice in my water bottle, being that it felt like it was 100 degrees. I walked up to the counter, reached my cup out, and said “Helado por favor?” I repeated the question at least five times as if I thought the poor woman would suddenly understand and not look so confused. Little did I realize, John was off to the side laughing. I later found out that helado is ice cream. To make matters worse, I had just taken one of the little girl’s hat as a joke and was wearing it on my head. It was a much too small safari hat to help whatever mental image you have. I apologize to all the tourists out there for making us look so ridiculous.

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We went to a beautiful Roman Catholic Church. It was filled with colorful walls, stained glass windows, and statues. John explained to us how many of the people there pray and worship to the actual statue instead of God.

We prayed that they would turn towards Him instead of idols.

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We also saw an amazing sky scraper called El Tornillo that looks like a big screw in the sky. Our team prayed for all the twisted lies that Satan uses. We took a picture with a broken sidewalk and prayed that God would heal broken hearts and broken relationships with the truth in his grace.

Side note about sidewalks in Panama- you must be looking down, up, and around all at the same time. There are massive holes just in the ground and people driving every direction and speed they want.

It is kind of like a game of Frogger.

We took a metro to Albrook. This is a giant mall. Giant as in it is Central America’s biggest shopping mall! It was quite impressive and don’t worry, I made sure to sample the ice cream.

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The mall was crazy and the metro system was even crazier. The current president is responsible for this one track yet highly convenient system. John said he has done more in five years than the rest had done in 50!

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We all prayed together on the metro.

I felt silly at first and wondered if we looked like those crazy people. I asked God that people would look at us and see His love and our passion.

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We walked about 6 miles that day. I love being able to have my feet carry me wherever they can take me.

The day had quickly passed and it was already into the afternoon.

This night we were hosting the “Taste of U.S.” night as I had mentioned before. Notice how we can’t say “of America.” People from other countries actually get pretty upset at us here in the US because we took the label “Americans” and left out everyone else. Panamanians are American’s too! We are supposed to say North America. Lesson learned!

My duty assigned to me was food preparation. This meant enough food for 200 people had to be made within the next four hours in a very hot kitchen (I told you it would make sense later.) We were serving hot dogs, baked beans, brownies, and chips.

Can I get an AMEN from all you country folk?

We all worked well together and our spirits were high! I even practiced my delegating skills when it came to cutting onions. After sweating my bum off, it was time to go set up at the park! Slight issue, it was 1/2 mile down the road and the traffic there would have literally taken 2 hours. “Looks like we are walking the steaming hot pans of baked beans.” We were up for the challenge that resulted in multiple trips and some unwanted bean sauce on our shirts.

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This night ended up being very cool and challenging in general.

The park was filled with people of all ages. There was Zumba, basketball, snow cones, and swings all going on at once. Oh, and TONS of doggies. Leyla and I walked around to people and invited them to come over and get free food. She forced me to memorize and say, “Queremos compartir comida gratis de la Iglesia de la Comunidad de Cristo.” It sometimes haunts me in my sleep. I was so scared but everyone was so sweet and laughed with me, instead of at me. At least I think.

It grew dark but the park was still going strong! Ben, Hailey, Lori, and Ivy (some of our team members) were playing music and singing. It was quite fun as we talked and grew closer.

When in actuality, the growth had just begun.

After cleaning up and walking back, it was time for a couple testimonies. A testimony is basically someone’s life story including the good and the bad. It often relates to how God has worked in their life.

We listened to Lori and Hailey tell their beautifully unique stories.

Then we did an affirmation circle, my favorite! (Proof that words of affirmation are my top love language.) Ben told me that he noticed all my hard work that day in the hot kitchen. He said he realized that you don’t need a lot of scriptural knowledge to love on people the way God wants you to.

Off to the hammock for Leyla and I!

Panama 2016 – Day 2

It was Sunday morning: our first real day.

Between Leyla and I, our eyes were wide open and we were ready to go before 8:00 am. Unfortunately for our child-like minds, Panamanians take the day rather slow.

When I say slow I mean that they have to tell people church starts at 10:00 just so they can hopefully begin at 10:30!

So we ate our breakfast on the balcony and John told us to have some quite time and read our bibles. I have never been good at this nor really known what people meant. Like, you’re telling me you’re not supposed to talk? And what part are you supposed to read? You certainly have a lot of options with 66 books! I finally learned how to take the pressure off and to ask my good friend and team member Daphney, “What should I read today?”

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This is Daphney, whom I first introduced myself to as Velma (Scooby-Doo reference) and it stuck.

We were told that we would stand out in a different country so we should do our best to dress modestly to avoid long looks. Naturally, we all packed long skirts and loose shirts. The ironic part is that we were in Panama City, where everyone dresses stylish and “American” if you will. We walked to church and looked as awkward as we felt kissing everyone’s cheeks. Not only did we stand out, but a woman leaned in and whispered “Are they Mennonites?”

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Let me show you what Mennonites looks like just so you get the full effect.

Church was very interesting, being it was in Spanish and 80% of our team could only speak English. BUT it was very neat because it pretty much forced you to feed off tones and facial expressions. We also sang Spanish worship songs, one of which I recognized as Amazing Grace.

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Leyla and I sat together, (if you can’t already tell, we are inseparable.) She tried translating and it was enough for me to understand we were talking about Living Water. I heard the pastor say we can’t go even a week without water and God is the only one who can really quench out thirst. Then I started thinking about my mom and I hiking the Appalachian Trail next Spring and how we will not only rely on water but on Him.

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This new church is held in a restaurant/bar area. They have about 20 people that regularly attend and most are from Venezuela. These precious people were forced to leave their homes after the danger was unbearable. Money got tight and people started doing anything. One man, before finally moving, was held at gun point multiple times at his car each day. They come to Panama because they want to provide a better life for their family in the future. This almost always requires huge sacrifices. Full families live in one room, make $2 an hour, and have a refrigerator the size of the one in my dorm. Let me just mention, you can’t fit a pizza box in there.

After church, we were told to socialize. We conjugated to each other and the children, seemingly the safest options.

God forbid someone else was going to bite off our head.

Finally we were moved to the dinning patio for lunch and all forced to spread out. Bre, another team member, and I sat with a mother and her two daughters, Sahara and Leah. They were so sweet, who would have thought? The mom often relied on Sahara to help with her English. She is very intelligent and kind for a 15 year old. Her favorite singer is Ed Sheeran; that man is everywhere. She wants to be a Neonatal nurse and admirably admits to being rather bright. Leah was more shy but much younger so I couldn’t blame her. Before we left, the mom asked me what symbol I liked the most.

Not knowing what she meant or why she asked, I told her the sun.

Soon enough we were back to the apartment and all gathered around the table. We debriefed and heard from our team members about the morning so far. The more I listened to John, the more I learned I would have to drop my love for nice, planned out schedules. I promise I do like him, but I certainty had to keep myself from getting frustrated when he wouldn’t tell us the plans for the week, let alone everyday, hour, and minute.

Little did I know, this day would be the one where we were told THE MOST!

We had to plan for three nights at the local park: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Our team was responsible for hosting events that would get people’s attention so we could recruit people to go to church! I know, all you non-church goers are saying “Of course they were!”

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It was actually pretty fun pretending to be event planners. We decided night one would be “A Taste of the US,” another be a sports and game night, then lastly we would have a craft night. We made long lists of all the things we would need to buy and delegated responsibilities to everyone. With our long list of groceries and supplies, we headed off to the local PriceSmart.

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Are we going on a hike or going to the store?

After that long adventure, we went to a place for dinner where John picked out what we would get. This too was a trend I wasn’t the biggest fan of. If you haven’t noticed, I am a woman who likes choices. But I decided he was budgeting our money and I should suck it up and eat my food, so I did and I very much enjoyed it.

That night, Bre and I made 200 brownies in an oven that only had one rack. Luckily, we were up late singing worship songs and playing games with John and The Summer’s, so I was happy.

“You’re a Good, Good Father. It’s Who You Are.”

By 1:30 am, Leyla and I decided we needed to “rough it” a little more. So, we hung my hammock on the balcony and called it our bed for the next four nights. We sprayed ourselves with bug spray, climbed on up, and I used my towel for a blanket.

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It was really more like glamping, you know like glorious camping?

Panama 2016 – Day 1

Sometimes in life you find yourself in a place where you just sit back and think, “Wow, what a life.” That was Panama.

At Palm Beach Atlantic University, there are countless trips that go out over Spring Break to serve the world and spread the love of God. It began when my best friend, Leyla, announced she wanted to go to Panama within 5 minutes of me deciding the same thing. It was fate.

Weeks of meetings, fundraising, training, and packing went by.

Then it was Saturday morning at 1:30 and we were outside waiting for the bus with our team. This team of strangers that would soon become the greatest of friends. We got to Miami around 3:30 for a flight that didn’t leave until 8:00. The cold, barely vacuumed, and carpeted terminal floor became our beds. When we started to wake up, the bonding began with card games, hot-seat, and long talks. Finally we snagged some McDonald’s for breakfast and loaded up on the plane. Needless to stay, I stayed away from the McGriddle.

We were greeted by beautiful flight attendants with painted faces and silky hair, a dead giveaway we were going to Columbia for our layover. During those four hours, I watched When Harry Met Sally so my time seemed well spent and I was enjoying the downtime while it lasted. We had an hour to spare in the airport. One of our girls got searched by a drug dog because of her diabetic devices. That was fun! Soon enough we were ready to go for a short skip over to Panama, just a one hour flight.

We landed and I saw beautiful mountains out my window. In fact, they were the same ones I saw when I googled “Panama” just weeks before.

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They were waiting.

The heat hit us the second we got off the plane. We rushed to find our luggage then looked for our ride, which took no time at all because we were all wearing matching “Sports X Change” t-shirts. This was where we met John and Clara. John went to the same school, PBA. Then he became a missionary and was placed in Panama. His grandparents started the sport’s ministry program that we were volunteering with. His sweet daughter Clara would be one of his four children we would be blessed to meet.

We (again) loaded up except this time into a long, 12-passenger van. This “cramming many people into small places” became a trend over the next week.

I took my first favorite picture.

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In Panama, people took whatever land they could. Houses were built into hills and soon became the very home many families would grow up in. They live the simply life.

Peeking under out tired eyes, we managed to see the beautiful colors of the city for the first time. You first saw the shack-like homes seemingly on top of each other. Than you saw the bigger houses and hotels. Finally, your eyes met Panama City. It was as if it were a giant Christmas tree surrounded by gifts and a beautiful skirt. I knew it was love, for me at-least.

Of course I didn’t get a picture of it, I guess I was too busy staring.

Next thing I know it and we are parked at what looks like a run down baseball diamond and old shops. We were told to take everything important with us, got out, and locked the door. In the same parking lot was a fruit stand. John, starting the cultural experience out right, bought us some pineapple, cantaloupe, and watermelon. I ate until my stomach hurt; it was the best fruit I have ever eaten.

The baseball diamond was in fact a softball field and we just so happened to be going to the biggest event in town that night.

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We met Lucy, the sweetest most selfless person I have ever known. She hugged and kissed our cheeks as soon as she saw us. This is a Hispanic thing I guess and I willingly admit that I like it.

I think I might try to start it in the United States.

Everyone was watching and drinking some form of beer. People stared and we sat on what they called bleachers. It looked like they may have been bleachers once but I am going to say they had seen better days. I ate some more pineapple. We watched the US High School team play the Panama (I think) High School team. It was a big tournament the Sports X Change had set up, except these were the only two teams who made it. The Dominican Republic team accidentally came a week late.

Leyla and I took the responsibility of handing out flyers and pens. I wanted so badly to meet these new and mysterious people, but I was very nervous! I don’t speak Spanish for starters and on top of that, I look like a dumb American.

We later discovered these were called “Gringos.”

Two middle-aged woman sat in chairs resting on the dirt ground and we decided they looked approachable. Luckily, our hunch was correct when they returned a warm smile as we came to greet them. Leyla talked to the two in Spanish as my head swung back and forth like a dog watching a fly. Finally, I told them I needed to practice Spanish and we began a guessing game of how to say every body part in the crazy language. We laughed together and shared a little about ourselves. They had driven two hours to come to the game that night.

A silly old man brought me a small kitten and tried to get me to take it. I said, “Too bad I can’t take that thing on the plane!” Then he walked away and put it with the rest of the 50 stray cats there.

It was a fun way of God showing us that we were welcomed here.

We drove to our home for the next five nights. It was a condo in the city occupied by an older couple (she is going to kill me) called The Summer’s. Marc and Sam welcomed us with love as we squeezed nine people in two small bedrooms. It wasn’t too bad, except for the fact that I was freezing and the only blanket I had was my beach towel. I was certainly thankful I decided to stuff that in my suitcase at the last moment.

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They had a small kitchen with no A/C (this is important for later.) It actually had a small bed room and bathroom in it, along with a washer. Sam told us this was meant to be where a maid would live if they had one as the Panamanian Architecture suggests. A dining room and living room combined to make what would be our meeting and bible study place. We sang worship songs, shared testimonies, and listened to John’s devotional every single night. He said we were the most musical group he had ever heard. He must not have heard me singing, I figured. It was very enjoyable except for the few (okay, many) times that my eyes wouldn’t stay open towards the end.

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There was also a balcony that overlooked more of the city. It had bare buildings and vacant towers all below it. But then right next store would be a flourishing apartment complex. I tried to understand it. I saw a cat walking across a roof, clothing hanging on lines, and a million potted plants sitting on other balconies.

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They had snacks waiting too, so I knew we would get along.