Kingdom Preaching in Parts of Panama
WHAT would you be willing to endure to serve God? Would you walk through a jungle? What about facing the possibility of encounters with wild animals? Would you brave the sea?
My wife and I invite you to come along as we visit some of the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in just one circuit in Panama. Then you can see for yourself what Christians in that Central American land are doing to serve their God, Jehovah.
In Cayo Paloma and Tobobe
Our first visits are in the province of Bocas del Toro, along the Caribbean coast. Here live the Guaymí Indians, a short, dark, robust people with straight, black hair. In Cayo Paloma and in the nearby congregation of Tobobe, most Kingdom preaching is done in the Guaymí dialect, although some witnessing is necessary in both Spanish and English. One of our Guaymí brothers named Ignacio speaks all three languages. He and his wife, Virgilia, have three children; yet they are special pioneers, full-time proclaimers of the good news.
To reach the people in the preaching work in this area, we must walk along the beautiful beaches and over rocky hills and cliffs. Other areas are reached by sea. So Ignacio travels to these in his motorized cayuco (dugout canoe). Since it is the custom here for people to go barefoot, often my wife and I are the only ones wearing shoes. But we soon learned how practical it is to walk along the beach without them.
Upon arriving at our first house in the territory, we observe that there is no door on which to knock. Most houses have just an open doorway, and some have few, if any, walls. This is practical in the warm tropical climate. The houses, made of bamboo and with thatched roofs of palm branches, are built on stilts. A notched log serves as a ladder to enter the home. Visitors customarily walk right in, perhaps taking a “seat” on the floor or on a bench before greeting the householder. Then generally all those present courteously pay attention as a witness is given. Being an agricultural community, often those who do not have cash will exchange produce for our Bible literature.
Another pioneer couple here are Natanael and Oliva. They regularly travel from Cayo Paloma to their territory in Buena Vista, a small coastal village in the Chiriquí Lagoon. It is a real adventure for my wife and me to share with them in their preaching work. We cross the peninsula by walking for about three hours through thick, dark jungle, filled with the sounds of tropical birds. We must use boots, because of the mud and the snakes. Also, it is necessary to take along a machete for use in an emergency. At times, we must contend with hornets or other insects. And many streams must be crossed by using “bridges” of fallen logs. Natanael and Oliva carry needed items in a chacara, a loosely woven handmade bag. Whereas he carries it over his shoulder, she puts the strap across her forehead, carrying the bag on her back.
After the long walk, we arrive at a virtually still, green river. By cayuco we travel a half hour downstream, first through shallow waters under the shade of huge moss-covered trees. Then the river widens out and we come to the sea. In Buena Vista, Natanael has a second house on a hill near the shore. This home serves as the local Kingdom Hall, where forty or fifty persons meet regularly. Even in this faraway place our Christian brothers who have parts on the meeting programs wear suit coats and ties. The meetings are held partly in Spanish and partly in Guaymí.
To get to Chiriquí province from Buena Vista, it is necessary first to travel about five hours by cayuco through shark-infested waters. Next comes an hour ride by train, and then a half-hour flight by small plane over the mountain range to the Pacific side of the country.
High up in a cool mountain pass lies the picturesque town of Boquete. Associated with this small congregation is a Christian sister who certainly sets a fine example of endurance. Even though her husband is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she regularly attends the meetings on Sundays. Generally, she is accompanied by most, if not all, of her five children. She lives high in the mountains and must walk to the meetings, not just for a few minutes or half an hour, but for almost three hours! Often she and her children arrive home after dark, having walked uphill all the way in an area where there are snakes and sometimes puma. But she joyfully does it all the time in order to receive spiritual benefit from the meetings.—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
In another part of Chiriquí called Bijagual, sometimes the house-to-house preaching work is done on horseback. However, when a person is walking, during the rainy season he must plod through mud and jump puddles, whereas in the dry season he treads through fine, powdery dust. Despite such conditions witnessing here also has its blessings.
This is a tobacco-raising area, so, upon learning the truths of God’s Word, many have given up the growing of tobacco, their only previous means of livelihood. (2 Corinthians 7:1) This has been the case with a certain Baltazar. After quite a period of indecisiveness, he quit planting tobacco, legalized his marriage and was baptized along with his wife. After the first season of planting other crops, he said that he was even better off economically than he was formerly.
On the Sea
My wife and I would like to introduce you to Luís, Gumercinda and their three children, who are associated with a congregation along the Pacific coast. In January 1974 a special pioneer named Antonino rented Luís’ house in Horconcitos, doing so through his father. Since Luís had a small farm on the island, he did not come into town until four or five months later. Antonino then began witnessing to him. When Luís returned to the island, he began reading the Bible literature left with him and telling others about what he was learning. Eventually, he and Gumercinda studied together, and each time they returned to town, they would ask Antonino questions. Despite much opposition and ridicule from family and friends, they expressed their desire to get baptized.
Their baptism was to take place at a circuit assembly in February 1975. When assembly time arrived, the whole family boarded a little boat and left the island on Thursday at two o’clock in the morning. But in February the sea gets very rough. So they had to return and wait. By 11 a.m. the breeze and sea had calmed, and they left again. At 2 p.m., almost in the middle of the bay, the sea again got rough, the little boat bounced about and the waves came inside. Since the coastline still was far away, they rowed the boat to a place of refuge behind some huge rocks. By eleven o’clock that night the wind had calmed somewhat and they were able to reach Horconcitos by 5 a.m. on Friday. Although sunburned and tired, they caught a bus to the assembly location the next day and happily presented themselves for water baptism on Sunday.
Has Jehovah blessed them for such effort? He certainly has. For instance, Luís now is a ministerial servant in the congregation. And he has been able to help one of his brothers to progress to dedication and baptism.
In Camarón, located in Chiriquí province, there is a congregation composed almost entirely of Guaymí Indians. To visit them, first we go as far as we can by car, about half an hour off the highway. There the brothers meet us with horses. After crossing a river, we ride up into the mountains. Almost two hours later we arrive at the home of fellow believers who give us a small house to ourselves for our stay. After a delicious meal and a bath in the creek, we rest up for the meeting the next morning. From here, it is about an hour and a quarter walk uphill to the Kingdom Hall in Camarón. To get there, other brothers also have long distances to walk. You notice that the tin-roofed Kingdom Hall has no walls. But it has a sign, the year’s Bible text and a battery-powered record player for the Kingdom songs.
After the meeting, we go to the nearest witnessing territory. It is only a twenty-five-minute walk away. Soon we have finished the few houses there. Where is the next territory? About another hour’s walk farther away!
Do you sometimes find your preaching territory difficult to work? Then my wife and I invite you to share with us in preaching the good news at Tolé. In hilly terrain we turn off the Pan-American Highway. Soon we are entering the town of Tolé, where the Kingdom Hall is situated along the main road. Often Catholic nuns here have followed the Witnesses so as to take away Bible literature placed with householders. In spite of this, however, several sincere persons have accepted Bible truth.
For example, there is an older Witness that we would like you to meet. He became interested years ago because a Witness store owner would not sell him tobacco. Appreciating the Christian meetings, he used to ride horseback for six hours one way in order to attend. However, he decided it would be better if he were to move closer to the Kingdom Hall. Now he lives only four hours away! On his way to meetings he crosses a river three times on horseback. Does he do this all the time? Yes, he has been doing it for over ten years now!
My wife and I have enjoyed giving you an idea of what it is like to visit congregations and share in the preaching work in parts of Panama.—Contributed.
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Bocas del Toro
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On the way to our preaching territory
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The Kingdom Hall in Camarón