July 25, 2009

The Ngobe, Orphans & The Continuing Saga of the Stolen Backpack Adventure

So it seems I have finally found a free 20 minutes to send out a well needed update to you all. First of all I want to say a huge thank you from Diane & I for your response to the announcement that our pack was stolen late last month. There has been such an amazing outcry of love and words and giving. It's really been overwhelming. Once again we feel so overjoyed to know the loving bond in Christ Jesus with you all. I also just wanted to share that just this week we were able to purchase a replacement laptop for the one that was taken from us WE DID IT!

I wanted to ask you all to join us in dedicating this new machine for the work of the gospel. So many of you have a claim in the work that it will accompany. So join us in prayer to commission it's use for the sake of justice and good-news to the poor, broken, hopeless and forgotten. Thank you all so much.

- Onward -

So what a crazy adventure we had last week. On July 9th our team headed 6 hours north to the land of the Ngobe. I really don't know where to begin, because my mind still can't really grasp all that happened. So let me just give you a play by play in hopes that some of our excitement will translate. The Ngobe are both the largest and most impoverished indigenous people in Panama. Almost 150,000 people totally marginalized, mostly forgotten by the rest of the population and left to fend for themselves for almost 400 years. They have become an entirely self sufficient agriculturalist society, living off the land and trying to survive.

On a hot wednesday afternoon our team drove six hours by bus, half hour by taxi, and two hours straight up the crazy mountain trails by 4X4 until we reached the village of San Felix. San Felix is probably the most beautiful place I have ever been. It looks far more like Nepal than Panama, as mountains peek through the cloud line bellow and the temperature drops 20 degrees. We spent the first night in a small catholic church praying for purpose and the hopes to see God move. The following day we split up into smaller groups of 2 or 3 and wandered the valleys and mountains (cameras in hand) meeting people and listening to stories.

I met a beautiful woman that day named Maria who was a mother of 7 and very alone. Three of her kids were terribly sick (one so sick that he had to be taken to a christian feeding center 3 hours down the mountain) laying in their little hammocks hanging from her humble home made of sticks and metal roofing. We began to talk (Translating from English to Spanish to Ngobe) and soon my heart broke for her. Almost a year ago her husband left to go find work, but never returned. Since then she has been struggling to find food to feed her amazingly cute kids and has become so lonely. She holds onto hope that one day her husband will return, but  hat hope is quickly fading. I had no idea what to say to her, no idea what to do for that matter. So I asked if I could pray for her...she agreed and we bowed our heads. I prayed for love to come and fill her and for the God who created the mountains to move in her life. I prayed for healing of her sick children and for their joy to fill their home... 

After a while I could think of nothing else to say and so we all just cried together. Afterward we talked about hope, love and Jesus and asked if we could take her family's picture because she was so beautifully made in the image of God. Maria blushed and said absolutely, but that we should go and come back in an hour so she could get her and the children cleaned up. So we did and that afternoon was one to remember as joy and thoughts of worth and dignity crept back into memories that had long forgotten what it feels like to be loved.

{Maria & a few of her little ones}

All of our groups decided to invite everyone we met to a community gathering back at the little catholic church that evening. So as the night rolled in we waited around praying that anyone would show up...then the rain came. The clouds dumped so much water on us I began to fear the church's collapse! The evening went on and we began to think we would be alone...but slowly off in the distance flickers of light appeared...then they came. Walking for miles through the pouring rain, with children tied to their heads and at their sides they came. Almost 20 people came that night including the regions mayor! We spent hours sharing storied together and singing songs.  We even sang "How Great Thou Art" in seven languages (including Ngobe). The mayor told us about their struggles as a people. He told us about how they are loosing their language because the government's mandatory spanish schools forbid their children to speak Ngobe in class. We heard about domestic abuse, the loss of culture and wide spread poverty. We shared our hopes in Jesus and said we would help however we could. It was a blessed night.

That evening we also met a Man who would change our plans for the rest of our time in the Buggle (Reservation). His name was Pastor Rafael. Rafael is a Ngobe believer who had started a church a number of years ago a few miles down the mountain. He has since become a Paul to the Ngobe, wandering the mountains and sharing the gospel no matter the cost. A few months ago He and his wife, along with their three week old baby, walked to a village called Tugri and slept outside in the mud for three days until the village would let him in. He told us about this village and how it was becoming the Capitol of the Ngobe. The Mayor of San Felix also chimed in and said if we wanted to go there he knew the Village Elder well and could call him.  So we felt God was doing something and the next morning decided to head to Turgi with our new friend Pastor Rafael. 

Little did we know that Turgi is a six hour hick from San Felix. We walked and walked and walked, up and up and up. By the end I think most of us nearly passed out (a few may have along the way). But alas just over one last mountain pass there is was, Turgi. We were the first foreigners ever to visit Turgi. I can't explain how that feels, to know so few eyes have ever seen such a place. When we arrived we were welcomed. The Mayor had sent a man on a horse the night before to let the Village Elder know we were coming and they had already found us a place to stay. We bunked up in a humble 10 foot by 10 foot hut (16 of us mind you) just before he rains came.  I can't go play by play of our three days in Turgi or else you shall read for hours. Plus I would hate to ruin all the stories here. But our three days were filled with amazing hope. We met together with families as well as the whole community a number of times. We sang songs together and talked about faith, creation, community, development, culture, grace and Jesus. The most amazing thing that I can't wrap my head around is that by the time we left the village had donated 15 acres of land to YWAM & Pastor Rafael to start a Church, YWAM Base, Ngobe Cultural Heritage Center and Ngobe Speaking Primary School! So Rafael and his whole family along with a few people from the Panama City YWAM base will be moving to the mountains of Turgi to begin a new adventure.  I believe this is called "Fruit that lasts."

So amazing to watch God orchestrate our time and energy.

After we left Tugri we walked back to San Felix and drove two hours to another village called Cameron. There we met up with a medical missions team from Connecticut. We spent four days loving people, trying to organize the chaos, holding screaming babies who were getting injections, working in the pharmacy, praying for people, getting beat in stick-ball by kids half our age and occasionally taking some pictures. We saw
2,000 people in three days with a medical team of 10 people (two Surgeons, a Dentist, a Pharmacist, and a handful of Nurses). It felt more like a refugee camp than a Ngobe village, but regardless I think we all felt a persistent presence of peace in Cameron as we reached out to hurting communities.

We were all rather tired in the end (rightly so I believe). We arrived back in Panama City on the 17th with just one day to spare before we held a conference called One Voice. The day was really something else. Music, dancing, photography, painting, culinary arts of all kinds dedicated entirely to the cause of bringing a Voice to the Voiceless. A number of organizations and churches representatives were present along with most of the major press outlets in Panama. We had a gallery and many of us spoke throughout the day about voiceless issues from Human Trafficking to Refugees to the Orphans Crisis in Panama. I shared a good deal about Afghanistan and my hopes for reconciliation and enemy-love, praying for the Church to stand up for peace. We also launched the V
oice for the Voiceless: 30 Day of Prayer book in Spanish (if anyone is interested in having some in spanish let me know and I would be happy to bring some back to the states with us). That night our own Susi Childers (founder of PhotogenX) gave a key note address and call to action. I don't think any of us will ever know how much of an impact or hope was sparked that day. So join us in praying that the love of Christ will ripple across this country, compassionately calling others to work for the cause of justice & love.

The past week we pretty much just slept. Our remaining six weeks here will be spent working on an Orphans Rights project alongside Hearts Cry. Tomorrow we are actually going to live at an orphanage for a good part of the week. From what we have seen so far, the institution itself is so broken. If you are committed to praying for us, pray our effort will bring "Fruit that lasts." That in our short time we can aid Hearts Cry in such a way that the lives of
50,000 orphans can be changed. That they can find love and families in the future. That the government would recognize the problems and seek to regulate and revise a system that is causing so much hurt. Pray that love would be given freely and for our cameras to capture God's heart. Much more on this to come....

Thank you for reading this novel. I will try and be more regular with updates. But I suppose this is a beautiful problem to have...God moving and working so much that updates get longer. In fact lets pray these e-mails get longer and longer and longer until we have to find a new medium to share what God is doing. Thank you for your love and support. We can't wait to see a number of you in early September when we stop through the US Mainland on our way to South Africa. You are all in our thoughts and prayers...

Nobu Modeemiga ("God beless you" in Ngobe)

July 1, 2009

Join in the Jubilee (updated again)

WE DID IT!!! - Updated July 23rd!
(this is a secure giving account)

So here is the game. Diane & I currently live in Gambo, Panama on the floor of a church office along with the rest of our vagabond PhotogenX Team whom we are leading clear around God's Green Earth. Last Friday on the very first day into our journey, our laptop-backpack was stolen from us at the Panama City Airport. Beyond anything, our present circumstance has made us even more aware and determined to see life brought back into the darkness. Our hearts go out to the people of Panama who are so desperately marginalized by the advancing world around them that they steep to becoming criminals of survival. So in many ways our stolen laptop confirms the absolute NEED for journeys like our own and for missions of justice and reconciliation. It has given Diane & I a lot more fire for what we are doing!

So amazingly in just the past two days, with only a few quick e-mails we have been given $436 towards a replacement of our stolen laptop. In all reality it's basically impossible for us to work on our coming projects without one. So the outpour of love from many of you has been amazing. In just two short weeks we will be leading our team far far away into a distant indigenous village working along side a medical team. These people have been pushed decade after decade further and further from their original homeland and now live in the most desperate of conditions. Many of the children are malnourished and most families live side by side in tinny makeshift huts. Incredibly most Panamanians from the city probably don't even know these people exist! So we will be going with our cameras to tell their stories and give them a voice!

Once we return from this village (on July 17th) we will begin working on creating awareness tools, as well as starting on a number of other very practical projects. OUR GREATEST HOPE IS TO BUY A REPLACEMENT LAPTOP BY THE TIME WE RETURN TO PANAMA CITY. Bellow & Above I will keep a running tally of the donated amount and the remaining amount needed to buy a replacement (which is around $1,400 USD). We ask you to intercied for us. If you can give and feel lead to great! Perhaps also you might feel lead to simply share with your friends or church about what we are doing and our need, that would also be great. Perhaps your church or youth-group of bridge club would care to take up a donation or have bake sale, this is also great. Get the word out, as we are far away in the jungle and now need you in turn to give us a voice!

WE DID IT!!! - Updated July 23rd!

We love you so much and again and again are reminded of how incredible it is to belong to the Community of God.

(love reconciles all)