As promised, Walter, an educator for the Diocese of Panama and our tour guide, took us to the spot where American troops, in 1989, invaded Panama. Can you imagine? I'd forgotten all about that.
The longer we stay the more complicated things get.
Earlier on Day 6 we returned to Colon to visit Iglesia Colegio de Cristo, a K-12 school founded by the Diocese of Panama at a time when Colon was a thriving port city. Today Colon is known for crime and poverty.
We find the school behind bright blue cement walls, topped by coiled barbed wire. Dressed in crisp pale blue seersucker uniforms, the students proudly give us a tour of their classrooms.
We visit the computer lab which Trinity is raising funds to replace and we listen as the oldest students describe their hopes for their futures. They venture shyly into what concerns them and the significant challenges they face emerge. We begin to understand what their futures really hold.
Later in the evening, our group reflects on the ministries and people we have met and we begin to wonder how we can have an impact.
Ideas begin to form and our conversations take a turn.
Can you imagine if?
We invite you to imagine with us how Trinity's partnership with the Diocese of Panama can deepen. If you have been touched by this journey and want to know more, please contact Maggy Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We're at that point in the trip when we know each other's special gifts, daily rhythms, style preferences and (how to say this?) endearing behaviors.
We're fifteen people from different countries, backgrounds and life experiences, spanning in age from twenty-something to over sixty, each with a common intention over these six days of being of service to others.
Matt reminds us to take space from the group when we need it.
But I haven't seen much of that. Laughter has been our friend. Curiosity, too.
Day 5 is Sunday and our itinerary calls for church and a tour of the canal. Bishop Murray invites us to the Atlantic Regional Holy Eucharist Center in Colon where three congregations of the Diocese of Panama are gathered for a service in commemoration of African Heritage month. Men, women and children are clothed in brightly colored dresses and suits of African design. The children from the school have made us hats to wear so we fit in.
The Bishop's sermon is spine tingling, the choir is rocking and when the congregation is invited to "greet one another in the name of the Lord," all peace breaks out.
We want to continue the spirit of the service on the bus ride to the canal. "Let's sing some songs,"someone says. But we can't seem to get started or remember lyrics.
After a VIP tour of the Gatun Locks, where Patrick is actually allowed to push the button that opens a lock, we head back to Panama City for dinner out by the bay.
As we turn the corner toward home, a waterbug about the size of a half dollar finds its way onto the bus.
Screams, hysterical laughter and then, finally, a song breaks out.
"La cucaracha, la cucaracha!"
We're past hot and deep into humid.
As we board the bus for Day 4, Maggy tears off paper towels for us to wipe the sweat from our foreheads and necks. Matt has a face cloth in his back pocket. Why didn't I think of that?
We make our way to Hogar de las Ninas, a home for girls on the outskirts of Panama City.
The girls, ages six to eighteen, have come to live here because their families have difficulty caring for them or are unwilling to care for them. This is their last resort and their best hope.
They are waiting for us at the door.
We divide ourselves up and do an art project with the younger girls and a knitting tutorial with the older ones.
The coloring and gluing project with the little ones is going well. The knitting is much harder.
Teaching someone to knit requires precise instructions and a lot of patience. In this situation, it also helps if you can speak Spanish.
Yvonne, Marta, Rebecca, Roz, and Martha get the girls past the casting on of stitches and through the first row. But there are several left-handers and they are struggling with our right hand instructions. Additional translation help is needed, Rita and Omayra come and lend a hand, joining Marta with their fluency.
The girls have it. Needle through the stitch, in back, yarn over, pull it through. Now they just need to practice.
Practice. A number of us regret that we didn't do our own practicing before we came. Speaking Spanish that is. These trips are about relationships and it's hard to develop one if you don't speak the language. So many stories left unspoken and unheard.
As we leave, the girls hug us and ask us to come back.
Don't forget to practice your knitting, we remind them.
One girl quietly says, "Learn Spanish, please."
It turns out that getting on the bus by 5:30am was the easy part. Everyone was in their seat while the moon was still visible in the early morning sky. Some folks erroneously set their alarms on eastern time and were up at 3:30. (We won't name names.)
Getting the bus to Lajas Lisas turned out to be the challenge. The last six miles cut across steep and winding dirt roads. When someone says "this is like the roller coaster at Six Flags" your stomach starts to churn.
We come to a flooded ditch where the river has washed out the road and we take the last 500 yards by foot.
I recall our first Mission Trip meeting in New York and the words Maggy Charles had written in black marker across a sheet of paper: Be flexible and have fun.
We are in the heart of a community of such simplicity of lifestyle that it is startling. There is no electricity. Local transportation is by horse and a local jitney. The community of multiple families has gathered at the Church of Santiago Apostol to greet us.
Over the next eight hours we will paint their church and plant a large organic vegetable garden for community use. The work is physically exhausting--digging and planting in the hot sun; rolling out paint onto twelve to fifteen foot walls. The community feeds us, setting up a firepit with a large black caldron filled with chickens from their coops.
At the end of the day, we gather in a circle --Trinity Wall Street, the Diocese of Panama, and the community of Lajas Lisas. One by one we go around and express our thankfulness. We are grateful for their hospitality. They are grateful that we have come.
We arrived in the dark Wednesday night and woke at dawn on Thursday to a tropical landscape and 95 degrees. It's hot.
Breakfast included eggs, toast, strong coffee, and the ripest papaya and pineapples I've seen in a very long time.
It doesn't take long to shake off the adrenalin of a hectic New Yorker and ease into a more measured pace. That's where the heat helps. It doesn't make sense to move fast.
Today was all about getting situated.
An overview of Panama's history and the role of the Episcopal Church was followed by a leisurely bus tour through Panama City. We see the stark contrast of the lifestyle of residents -- from oppulent high-rises to subsistence housing. The Atlantic Ocean is to the east, Pacific Ocean to the west. In Panama City it is all about commerce and the canal.
Matt Heyd convenes us in a circle for a time of reflection and sharing. Our Community is forming.
Dinner is at the home of Trinity parishioner Evelyn Moss -- an amazing feast of paella, ceviche, and tres leche cake. A night of local Panamanian hospitality in primary colors. We feel welcomed.
Now that we know where we are, we can begin.
Tomorrow we will paint a church in the village of Lajas Lisas. We'll be on the bus by 5:30am so we can start painting at the crack of dawn -- because, you guessed it.
It will be hot.
Bishop Julio Murray, two members of his staff, Carmen and Recito, and long-time Trinity parishioner Evelyn Moss greeted Trinity's mission group at the Panama City Airport late last night. Their welcome infused the group with much needed laughter and energy after a long day of travel.
For some, this is a second mission trip to Panama--Omayra Rivera, Roz Hall, Cindy Jay, Matt Heyd and Maggy Charles. First timers are Michael McGuinnes, Patrick Castel, Marta Nieves, Martha Crum, Maribel Ruiz, Linda Hanick, Rita Lopez, Rebecca Sang, Yvonne Bloch-Lugo and Paul Lugo.
Linda Hanick is the Chief Communications Officer for Trinity Wall Street. This is her second mission and service trip with Trinity, and her first time blogging.
If you are interested in learning more about mission and service trips through Trinity Wall Street, let us know.