VIM trip goes to Panama to bring blessings but ends up being blessed

VIM trip goes to Panama to bring blessings but ends up being blessed

March 15, 2023

In January 2023, a 16-member Volunteers In Mission (VIM) group traveled to Panama to work at the Methodist Community Center in Cienaguita. The volunteers included twelve from Iowa, two from Illinois, one from Georgia, and another from Florida. 

On the Sunday they arrived, Rhett Thompson, a pastor and the VIM coordinator, invited the group to worship at his church in Panama City. After worship, they headed on a long bus ride up to the Methodist Community Center in Cienaguita, their home and work site for the next week. 
The following day, the group surveyed what work they could provide during their mission trip. One volunteer was put to work fixing the stools, faucets, and other plumbing that wasn't working well. The group of 16 shared two bathrooms, and no other group had been there since the pandemic, so some fixing was in order.
Supplies were purchased, and the work began. The volunteer's main job was to paint the outside of the Community Center. First, they had to clean off dirt, mold, and rust. A couple was assigned to paint the metal doors and railings with black oil base paint, and a couple painted the white metal on the windows. The rest took on the main part of the large building. 

The volunteer mainly consisted of people of retirement age; Thompson looked at the group with little faith and thought he should name them the "sloth team." But they would prove him very wrong. 
Soon, a few local boys came to help. They gave them old shirts, brushes, and rollers. The boys also liked to play Uno with volunteers during breaks. Though there was a language barrier, everyone thoroughly enjoyed having their help and visiting with them.
After painting the outside of the building was progressing, volunteers began painting the inside rooms. 
Four interior rooms in the Community Center host various activities and services for the local people, including dental clinics, vaccinations, children's activities, and church services. One of the volunteers, who has dental hygienist experience, organized the dental clinic.
Local volunteer cooks and helpers fed them very well, and they enjoyed some of their local foods. 
When the VIM group finished, everything on the property was freshly painted, including the Well house, electrical panel, plant nursery, fences, posts, gates, and part of the cook's quarters. They had a little paint left, so they even painted the outhouse!
The VIM group purchased a new washing machine with a donation from an Iowa church and also bought a new water tank because the old one was leaking.
One morning's highlight was a walk to the local Ngäbe (pronounced no-be) village where some boys lived. 
The Ngäbe, they were told, are some of the poorest of the poor in Panama. Thompson told them he had some other volunteer teams help build houses for them years earlier. They met some of the boys' families and saw how they lived—plus enjoyed a wonderful walk in the beautiful countryside. To get there, they had to walk across a high walking bridge over the river, which moved a bit when people were on it, and up and down steep hills. 
The Ngäbe people were very gracious and let them take lots of pictures and ask about their lives. The boys always enjoyed a fist bump with exploding hands and the peace sign when meeting us or having their photo taken. 
The day the VIM group prepared to leave, the Ngäbe came with their families in their native dress to the Center, and a group performed a cultural dance.

By now, Thompson had changed his mind about the group and was calling them the "Avatar" group! He said the group had incentivized him to bring more teams there in the future.
After a hard work week, the VIM group went to the Las Lajas beach resort for rest. They enjoyed relaxing in and by the ocean, watching beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and enjoying good food. 
The following Sunday, they worshiped at a Methodist church in David (pronounced da-veed) and had communion with them. Then they drove up to a mountain community set inside a volcanic crater. They had a fair, and they saw the grounds covered with beautiful flowers. They were treated to supper at the home of one of our cooks. 
The next day they headed back to Panama City for some touring there. 
Everyone prioritized seeing the Panama Canal, so they went to the locks and saw a huge cruise ship go through. They also visited the old ruins of the original city and then the colonial period city, and a bio museum also told the story of how the two continents came together.
They had team meetings every evening to discuss the day's happenings, sing, and hear Thompson tell many stories and the history of Panama.
The VIM group was very blessed by their interaction with the local people. The local people thanked all the churches and individuals in Iowa who contributed money for supplies and prayed for the Iowa group. 

As usual, the group went to help the people in Panama but instead received the biggest blessing.