In 2014, I went on a mission journey to Santiago, Panama as a member of a construction team. At that time, the Punta Delgadita Church that the missionaries were building was just a foundation and partially built walls. Actually, it looked more like a bombed-out ruin than a building. It was difficult to see how this rough, unfinished space filled with grass, weeds and sprouting trees could ever become an actual worship space
Fast forward to April 2017—I returned to Panama and WOW! I was so surprised!! What a transformation. There were walls, doors, windows and a roof! There was even a kitchen and a bathroom with running water!! And, most importantly, we worshipped in the very space that I couldn’t even imagine three years before! It was amazing to see what missionaries David and Cindy Ceballos, with the help of construction teams and local workers have accomplished in just three years.
At one point during the week, I was talking to one of my team members about how different this building process is from how we get buildings built in the United States. I don’t know much about construction, but from what I’ve seen, you start with a plan, a blueprint. Then you clear and level the land. Then you lay the foundation, making allowances for the plumbing and electricity that will go in later. Then comes the framing and the roof and so on until the building is complete. To me, the construction process seems very methodical. You do this—then this— then it’s time for this— which, I assume, is most efficient way and saves money. Plus it’s FAST! Who among us hasn’t been driving along and said, “Where did that building come from? It wasn’t there yesterday!”
That’s not what’s happening at the Punta Delgadita Church! Yes, there is a plan—but that plan changes—much more flexibility. Yes, there is a method and order—there are things that have to be done before other things can be done—but, again, MUCH more flexibility. And, yes, it is important to keep construction costs low because money is tight for those in that community.
So, there are similarities, however, in many ways the building of this church is different in the following ways:
- Time is not an issue—at all. According to missionary David Ceballos, the church will get built—maybe not this week or this month or this year, but it will get built.
- What gets accomplished often depends on the gifts and skills the construction team brings to the task. My team had people who are great at laying tile—so tile was laid in the bathrooms, the office and the kitchen. That may not have been what was next on the list, but when you got people with skills, you lay tile!
- Often, you don’t see the completion of a project—you have faith that someone on the next team will see it through. That can be frustrating for us goal-oriented folks who are programmed to get things DONE. We North Americans LOVE to check things off the list!
- The more people involved in the construction, the better. Hundreds of people have traveled from all parts of the US to help build this church and more will continue to come. Hundreds—maybe thousands—of people have given money to help build this church and more will continue to give. Many Punta Delgadito church members are helping build the church and will continue to help. Spread the love! The more people involved, the better!
- And, most importantly, it’s not just about building the building—it’s about building relationships. Little by little, as the church is being built, the congregation grows. We met women who come to the church for art classes and children who come to just hang out and eat mangos and families who come to worship. When we arrived, we were told that it is ALWAYS OK to STOP painting or grouting or sweeping and visit with the neighbors who come to visit. At Punta Delgadito, it’s all about relationships!
I’ve learned so much about life, faith, and myself the two times I’ve traveled to Panama on a mission journey. This time I bring back the realization that building this church is like building the kingdom of God. It’s going to take time, so be patient. We each have valuable gifts and graces to offer. We plant seeds knowing that we may not get to see and taste the fruit. The more people involved the better. And, finally, the kingdom is all about relationships. It is ALWAYS OK to stop working and chat—with God or each other.
Looking at our world today—I can’t imagine how God’s kingdom can be built out of this mess, this chaos. But, when I think of what God and faithful people have done and are continuing to do in Punta Delgadito—maybe anything’s possible…