As promised, here’s a look at what the second half of our days were like after each soccer program.
Christian Stuff like Vacation Bible School
Each afternoon, we rode our bus to a very small schoolhouse (3 classrooms) to run a VBS (vacation bible school… Basically a 5-day, 3-hour church camp for kids). The schoolhouse was located in a nearby rural area, Subiditas (until this, I didn’t realize that Santiago is considered an “urban” area).
From Motels & Bars to Dirt Roads & Scattered Shacks
To get there, we turned off the smooth paved roads of Santiago and onto a long bumpy dirt road. Scenery instantly switched from gas stations, motels, bars, and auto shops to open fields, trees, scattered shacks, and minuscule signs of life.
Grouping 100 Panamanians
Around 3 pm, about 100 Panamanian kids met our team at the schoolhouse. With the help of Spanish translators, we split them up into four age groups and lead them to the first of four activity stations (my group included about 20 or so niños, age 13-17).
My group started with a pickup soccer game, rotated to snack time, a bible story, a Jesus-related craft, and then ended with worship music.
Asking Girls If They’re Men
During snack on the first day I asked some of the girls in my group, “Tu tienes hombre?” (“Are you hungry”?… or so I thought). They widened their eyes at me, then laughed at each other (the first of many recurring occasions). Later I found out “hombre” is man and “hambre” is hungry). A great way to build trust is to ask girls if they’re men. Try it sometime.
Christian Stuff like Testimonies
We ended each VBS with a testimony from a member of our group. Christians use the word “testimony” to refer to the story on how they became convinced of their sin, asked for divine forgiveness, and committed to pursue a spiritually refining relationship with Jesus.
How to Become a Christian
Students and teachers from the Penfield Charles Finney School, along with adults from my church, all shared their testimonies throughout the week. Afterwards, we asked the Panamanians (kids and parents), who were convinced of their sin, to accept Jesus’ execution as their own punishment, and to start a new pursuit of divine obedience through use of his sinless life.
Not Excited About New Christians
These invitations often leave me wondering if those who say they do really do become Christians. Many Christians get very excited about those who respond to these invitations, but I usually don’t. It’s hard for me to be instantly excited because Jesus taught that a true believer will naturally produce evidence of their new decision (John 15:1-8). And I believe this evidence may take time.
Excited About Cleaned Hearts
So I didn’t get very excited when many of the Panamanians showed they wanted to become Christians. But I am excited when I see Panamanians like Yorniel who responded to Jesus last year.
Our first year, Yorniel made a joke of our program and kept teasing others about masturbation and homosexuality. But after responding to Jesus, I haven’t heared him make any more dirty jokes. Instead, he’s always smiling and patting others on the back.
This year, Yorniel brought his friends and biked nearly 2 hours outside of his hometown to come and support our VBS. Instead of crude jokes, he made quick friends with anyone there. It’s like his heart has been cleaned.