The last rule of a mission and service trip: Grow.
At first glance, it may seem like a questionable venture: ask a group of strangers to travel, live, eat, and work together for six days in a country where the majority of them don’t know the language or the culture. With so many unknowns, how can it work?
Organizer Maggy Charles will tell you mission trips are all about strengthening relationships and growing as a person. And with just those criteria, the trip to Panama was a success.
It was a bonus that the group painted the exterior of a children’s home in three days, put plants out in front of the building, planted a garden, and played games with children.
This was Cindy Jay’s third trip to Panama, but her view of life has changed, she said: “I see the world as a circle full of trust and a patient place. I view inner balance more about helping others than about reaching something only within ourselves. I realize that if a group of 16 can have as much honest happiness, caring intent, talent and determination as ours did, it can do anything.”
Barbara Inniss said she felt cared for by the team. “I will go on a mission trip with all of you any time again.”
PANAMA CITY—It’s hard to say goodbye, even if you’ve known your new friends for only a few days. There were tears because we wouldn’t see each other again soon. There was joy because we had had such a good time playing, laughing, and getting to know each other during the time we had together. And there was the hope that one day we may see each other again.
Once the girls left for school (it begins at noon), the team finished painting, and placed new plants in front of the building. Dean Wiltshire and Michal Leach put the final touches on the school’s logo, now plainly visible on an outer wall.
A final project was completed, one that was suggested only the day before by Trinity staff member Omayra Rivera. An empty patch of land behind the home was plotted, dug, and planted with spinach, tomatoes, and fruit trees.
While Franklin, a representative of Promesa, a program that teaches families how to grow their own food, cut branches from nearby trees to make cages for the saplings, other members of the group dreamed more dreams for the land. Let’s cut steps into the hill at the back of the property and grow yams and yuca. What about a banana tree?
After an afternoon trip to the Panama Canal, the group had dinner at the home of Bishop Julio Murray. The food was delicious and the dancing joyous. It was the same friendly hospitality we had experienced all week, and would miss when we left.
PANAMA CITY--Sunday was a day of pleasant surprises and armfuls of joy.
At 7:30am, the group attended a worship service at Saint Christopher’s Episcopal Church, where traveller Genara Necos was confirmed by the Rt. Rev. Julio Murray, Bishop of Panama.
Genara came to Trinity in January, where she often prayed with Sister Promise Atelón. In the spring, Genara decided to attend the Commitment to Discipleship, Trinity’s series of classes for those who want to join the church or renew their commitment to Christianity. After she realized her confirmation and the trip would conflict, Bishop Murray, on behalf of the Bishop of New York, agreed to confirm her while she was here.
The service also celebrated the accomplishments of black Panamanians, part of the country’s month-long Ethnia Negra celebration, and included spirituals and songs from the Civil Rights movement.
Dancers wearing traditional Panamanian dress were part of the procession, and at the Gospel reading wore fire on their heads in the form of candles on their hats.
After coffee hour, the group took to the road, bound for Santa Clara, a beach on the Pacific Ocean a couple of hours west of the city. The plan to meet with the girls from the home where the group painted on Saturday was changed when the van carrying the girls broke down, so the 19 girls joined Trinity’s travellers in their bus.
Several hours later, the group loaded up the bus. What’s left to do when you’ve eaten mangoes from the trees, walked to the beach, run fully clothed into the ocean, played in the sand, gathered sea shells, and eaten chorizo dogs and potato salad?
Sing songs on the way home.
PANAMA CITY—The second rule of participation in a Trinity Wall Street mission and service trip is to have fun.
On Saturday, our third day in Panama, the missioners experienced fun both in small drips, like the paint flicked from a coworker’s paintbrush, and in torrents that mirrored the afternoon rains here.
The group’s task: paint the exterior walls of the Place for Girls from the Capital, a home for at-risk girls ages 5-18, and, for a smaller group, spend time with the girls making crafts and playing games.
The painting began without a hitch, but about a third of the way through, the team discovered the new paint wasn’t sticking properly. After some investigation, and a little more discussion, the group decided to concentrate on scraping the unpainted walls to prepare them, and determine whether to strip the already painted walls of their new coat.
Idle hands aren’t just the Devil’s playground. Members of the group played Twister and Uno with the girls. Others danced with them. Still others read stories and played with cameras and camera phones.
PANAMA CITY—When most people think of mission trips, they often think of those who traveled to the wilds of Africa to convert the natives. Outside Panama City on Friday, some missioners from Trinity were themselves, if not converted by natives, given some food for thought.
Our group visited two communities of indigenous peoples, the Embera and Kuna. Although the two live just across the two-lane Panamerican Highway from each other, their most visible similarity is the materials they use to thatch the roofs of their homes. There is no relationship between the groups.
On the southern side of the highway, the Embera Indians are governed by their women. Families live in small huts on stilts, but their community buildings are large round thatched structures. While Trinity’s missioners met with about 15 members of the community, the president explained how nature provides them with food, but also the materials they need to make the jewelry they sell to send their children to school outside the community.
On the northern side of the highway, the Kuna Indians are led by a male chief, and the women also sell jewelry and molas, black cloths embroidered with colorful designs of animals, flowers, or other local symbols, that the women wear as symbols of their spirits. All the buildings sit on the ground, and have earthen floors. The chief alone welcomed the group, and through two interpreters, asked for news of Trinity’s leader.
It was a day of new sights and sounds, and for some, a little discomfort. Although we were welcomed graciously by the Embera, how did they feel as we took photos of their homes or the animals in their yards? Were we gawking? Are we intruding? Are visitors so common that this is their way of life now?
Cindy Jay is processing all these questions. Although she has travelled on five continents, Friday’s experience gave her pause. When missioners from Trinity have met the Embera before, the women wore no tops, per their tradition. On Friday, the women had intricately beaded halters covering them. Has contact with outsiders, including us, changed their habits, their culture, their lives?
Maggy Charles, Trinity’s associate for mission and service trips, explained that Trinity's relationship with the Embera has become stronger over the last three years. On the first trip, there was no dancing or hospitality, but on Friday the women and children invited the visitors to dance and served freshly cooked tilapia wrapped in banana leaves.
“I think it’s important for people who come here to see them,” Maggy said. “These people are the root of Panamanian culture…They are fighting to keep their identity.”
The Embera show their willingness to be friends in the increasing openness they show when Trinity missioners visit, she said. Friday’s meeting was the most open and friendly and giving since the relationship began.
Cindy Jay enjoyed the meeting, but will continue to think on these big questions about travel and influence for a while. And just considering the questions, not necessarily having the answers, is okay.
“This is good. We should ask these questions. It helps us realize life.”
Author: Lynn Goswick
Created: May 25, 2012
Sixteen members of Trinity's staff and congregation traveled to Panama on May 24, 2012 for a Mission and Service trip hosted by Trinity's partners in Panama.