Canterbury UMC
Saturday, April 19, 2014

Panama Mission Trip 2011

Jennifer Garcia; Phyllis Klock; Ernie Wood; Anola Ennis; Jane Malloch; Sallie Clark (South Carolina); Jinx Watson (Tennessee);
Mark Wilstrup (Florida); Deb Welsh; Rachel Estes
Day One: Monday, October 10, 2011

Today we arrived at Cieneguita after two days of traveling. Arriving in Panama on Saturday, our team went to the canal...delighted to watch as four ships passed through.  For many of us, having studied this in school, it was an amazing sight!  We had hoped to be loud and proud that night at the Panama verses USA baseball game, but the pouring rain won...we called it an early night which wasn't terrible after having started our journey at 3am!

Church was familiarly confusing as we sang favorite hymns along side our Panamanian brothers and sisters who were singing in their native language.  It was great to see Virginia, Jacinta, Raul, Victor Manuel...all church members who accompanied Canterbury on other missions!  They eagerly asked after Canterburians by name!

A seven hour drive included a nice lunch at an outdoor restaurant where platters of chicken, rice, tamales and plantains were served as the cages of toucans chattered all around us!

First day of clinic brought us 49 patients...the rain that prevented the baseball game also washed out a bridge and has made the river so swollen it is dangerous to cross.  There are three options people are using to go across:  a cage suspended by a wire that takes incredible arm strength to maneuver, a bridge consisting of a tree from either side of the river tied together in the middle...and "reinforced" with bamboo, or the traditional method of walking across in water up to your shoulders...maybe with a child on your shoulders.

Again, we were grateful to see faces of Bella, Fina, and Paula...the women that make our stay comfortable at the mission.  Bella is the mother of Javier, the nursing student in Panama that Canterbury assisted through school. He has a very good but dangerous job in the Darrien jungle on the Columbian border...he has delivered 4 babies, three of whom have been named Javier! Imagine that kindergarten class in five years! A class of all Javiers!

We weighed, measured, prescribed and cared for women, children and elderly men today.  So many, too many, of the ailments could be prevented by access to clean water and medical care.  Rhett and the folks with whom he works have done gracious plenty towards these issues...even today, a line was being connected between a well and the mission site so that potable water could be available.

We ended our day eating dinner at a Lebanese restaurant...delicious food...and even better company.  During our reflection, the team members spoke of their appreciation for one another...for the good work they witnessed by someone or the extra effort out forth.  Our doctors, Dr. Ernie Wood and Dr. Mark Wilstrup were accompanied by Sallie Clark, a pre-med student from SC and Jane Malloch, They were joined in direct patient care by nurse practitioners, Anola Ennis and Jennifer Garcia.  Deb Welsh weighed and performed intake procedures.  Diana Marbury Sharp and Phyllis Klock were the dynamic duo in the pharmacy as they dispensed, double checked and educated patients of medicine usage.  Jinx Watson entertained the children by re easing and making gods eyes and then assisted with interpreting in the medical sessions.

The first day is complete...we are grateful, tired and full of hope for another good day!

Our meal time blessing...

Te damos gracias o señor.
Por estas pruebras de tu amor.
Sed nuestro huesped o Jehovah.
Y danos celestial manna.  Amen.
O God we give you thanks
For these gifts of your love
Be our guest, Jehovah
And give us your heavenly

Day Two: Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Started earlier today because we didn't have to set up the clinic. Some of the same mamas were there today with different children...the river is so swollen that they are only able to bring a few across each day.  We were joined today by the doctor who oversees the health of the community..he brought several nurses and they administered immunizations.  Following is a sample of cases we saw today:

A young man complaining of tingling feet that often went numb.  When this twelve year old was asked to remove his rubber galoshes for a look, it was quickly prescribed "needs new boots" , necessary because those were three sizes too small.  This led us into a discussion about bringing socks next time...that even collecting mismatched socks would go a a long way to helping foot blisters, health and pain.

However, that might have been the most clear fix.  Sadly the woman who came with her three year old daughter had one of the saddest stories Anola and Jennifer heard.  Five months ago she was bitten by a snake which ended the pregnancy of her fifth child..the operation was painful and complicated.  She lost a lot of her vision due to the poisonous snake but the situation worsened three months ago when her husband was swept away by the river.  Anola and Jennifer worked hard to get an appointment arranged with an eye doctor several towns over and to get care for her four children.  Canterbury paid the fare for the taxi ride to and from the appointment.

Case after case of cough, cold, poor eyesight damaged by smoke and fire...headaches caused by hunger and thirst and young women with many many mouths to we saw 69 patients before 1:30pm.  

One sweet moment occurred when 9 year old Maribel received a bright pink stethoscope from a previous mission team.  She had expressed interest in being a nurse but was having a hard time going to school.  A member of a team from Louisiana promised to send her a gift if she kept going to school.... So with great pride Maribel received her stethoscope and agreed to continue her great attendance.

The children here are like our children everywhere.. Born eager, loving, engaged and ready to absorb...creating the opportunity for growth and access to good health care is what this mission site, Cienaguita, helps to provide...

Rhett, Chalino and Paula are making amazing strides in this community! Dios te bendiga!
 Day Three: Wednesday, October 12, 2011

We are talking a lot about relational outreach these days at Canterbury...people to people...meeting folks where they are and how they are...listening and more importantly, sometimes, not immediately speaking! This has been crucial for our medical team...greeting patients who have literally crossed rivers, mountains and rough terrain when they heard the medical clinic would be staffed. Listening carefully to not just what was said, but watching body language, hearing the story behind the words...treating with careful dignity all those who come in our makeshift clinic and providing care for whole families.  Jennifer Garcia commented at breakfast.. "the women SEEM intially so different from us, and yet, really they are doing exactly what I, or any other mama I know would do...walk hours to get my children vitamins, antibiotics and immunizations."

Phyllis Klock shared her joy at connecting with people, one on one as stories are told and care is offered. This was a familiar refrain. We found ourselves watching for specific children today..."has anyone seen Mario?". Where is Maribel? "Hey! Did you know Henrique is Armando's big brother?!" in a few short days we are calling by name and being called by name.

Today, Rhett Thompson and I walked the very backroads near the mission site to find a boy named Alan to tell his family that hearing aids would soon arrive for him.  We visited awhile before moving to another home to chat briefly with the grandmothers there.  On Monday, I presume I would have wanted to hurry these visits to get back to the clinic...because that is what we are Supposed to be doing...luckily it is Wednesday!  And along with Wednesday comes the realization that our visiting...our relating IS ministry.  I am meeting people and sitting with them as their curiosity of me mirrors my own about them. With my very little Spanish, I stretch to share about my daughters and my family as I meet theirs.  The relational model is one that ministers long after an antibiotic is given...this is confirmed as a package is thrust into my hands to take to Katherine Hunter...a Canterbury member who hand sews play clothes for Madelaina in Panama.  Katherine and Paula send each other short letters and gifts to express their prayers for one another.

Another day has ended and I am grateful for this team of amazing servants and for our friends at Cienaguita . 
Day Four: Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rev. Buechner: The vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world's deep need meet — something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done.

It would be remiss to not comment on vocation during this mission.  During our March mission trips, any personality, any skill and any age can come join in building, playing and is a mission trip with connectional aspirations first and very close but second, VBS or light construction.  Those March experiences are amazing...but this October one is fascinating as people bring their vocations WITH them and use their deep gladness to provide comfort and health - some of the deep needs here in panama.

If you don't know Anola Ennis in action as a nurse practioner, you are missing one of the best visuals of Reverend Buechner's concept of vocation.  Her energy and knowledge are pure power as she treats families who are exhausted and yet perk up by the end thanks to Anola.  Dr. Ernie Wood brought WORMING handouts to DINNER one night because of his passion to eradicate parasites for these communities. Two years ago he was a catalyst for coming back to Panama and he is invested here.  Dr. Mark Wilstrup not only provided his amazing medical skills but mentored Sallie Clark, a young woman heading to med school...he patiently explained, modeled and listened to her as they visited with patients.    I am so glad that Jennifer Garcia is able to casually talk to a pregnant mama about her concerns about her other children....Diana Marbury Sharp stretched herself to serve not in her typical role as an ER nurse...but rather as our pharmacist...dispensing meds and keeping the docs up to speed on inventory.  I know that if I were ill, having Jane Malloch by my side would be the most calming balm...all of these people immersed in their vocation (or on their way, like Sallie!) who can blend their deep gladness with the world's deepest needs...taking their craft and serving is beyond powerful.

What about the four others on the team? Well, as we drove on the 7 hour bus ride to the mountains of Chiriqui, Phyllis Klock shared that someone had said to her..."your fascination with the Spanish language is deep...keep studying but also look for ways that God is leading you to use it."  Her work in the pharmacy this week was a beautiful blended dance of her language and her passion for organization and systems.  Deb Welsh (many of you know is a minister) but she is one who has served at Children's Hospital as a Chaplain and as one who has  nursing assistant experience.  As she checked in patients today, a man's heart didn't sound right and she was able to connect him with the caregivers for a referral for follow up.  I know that the combination of her passion for healthcare and her passion for ministry blended at the right moment to be fully present listening to his heart and because of that, there will be action.  My Mom, Jinx Watson, who has been a long time professor, teacher and presenter worked with the children...singing songs, encouraging readers and just as importantly listening to the other grandmothers share stories of their muy intelligente ninos!  Her language skills provided her access to another level of intimacy.

My own deepest gladness?  Organizing people in service and facilitating connectional opportunities.  I can doubt myself often especially on a team where so many serve so adeptly, competently in professional roles, but my hope is that by taking care of details, of infrastructure, I am clearing a path with my passion for those to move forward on their journey of gladness.  

Of course our most clear example of vocation where deep gladness meets the world's deepest needs is Pastor Rhett Thompson.  Greeting young and old, Spanish and Gnobe, team from Trinity or Canterbury, he is fully present as he gathers and assesses needs, wants, hopes and fears.  Walking up a road he is talking with a young man who can't afford the .15 bus fare and in a fluid manner, Rhett is able to provide funds with dignity and grace.  This scene is repeated over and over as the week goes by or as we realize yet another initiative he has put into place.  I sometimes think you know you are in the right vocation when it doesn't feel like least most of the time...

A team works when the deepest gladness of each individual intersects with the deep needs of the world...for right now, our world is Panama and we are here with great joy....this week felt like a privilege and not work and so we were called.

Dies te bendiga.....God bless you.
Day Five: Friday, October 14, 2011

We have spent our day traveling...a 7 hour bus ride back to Panama City. Time to quietly reflect as we sleep, read, look out the windows and chat. We pass waterfalls that tumble out of the mountains; we pass families walking on the highway with children, packages and miles to go before they arrive; we pass Gnobe women at bus stops; and as we approach more populated areas, we pass shops with fruit and handmade crafts.
One thing that stands out for me this week is an echo of Canterbury.  In meetings at Canterbury, during prayers or congregational concerns, we weave together how families are connected in our church.  As we submit prayers of praise for Ann Sisson and her amazing athleticism, we connect the dots for each other between Ann Sisson, Lois Caldwell and Maria Alexander...the same is done in Panama.  We joyfully meet Paula who is the aunt of Nellie, the daughter of Elvira and the sister of Fina.  Methodism is connectional for many reasons and one fun piece is figuring out "who everyone's people" are!
For me it is hard to leave Panama.  There is a fierce passion I have for this mission that builds with every team.  I love watching Canterburians grow deeper in their faith, deeper in connection with each other and deeper in love with this country who welcomes us.  Walls are down a little more on a mission trip and so relationships build a little stronger between, among, and within ourselves.  I appreciate the braveness it takes for someone to leave their comfort zone for a week...make plans...plunge into a way of living that is alien to us (our team called it our "ISH"  as in:  dinner is at 6ISH, we'll for sure need to be on the bus by 7ISH, Rhett will meet us at church at 10ISH!!!  This seems like a little thing but for our society who is pushed by moving forward...and is as important a lesson for us as our instructions on how to take scabies meds is to the Gnobe mamas.
Friday night, we have been stuck in traffic for a long time. As we pull in to the church/school dorms, the thought of going out for dinner is a little overwhelming so Rhett and I head back out to bring back pizza, M&Ms, diet coke and water.  You would have thought I brought back crab cakes and brie!  Our last meal as a team was shared in a meeting room, handing each other pizza, passing a styrofoam cup filled with candies, and breathing deeply.  Our best reflection happened that night.  What happens in Panama stays in Panama in terms of reflection...but how I wish the thoughts, feelings and reflections could be bumpersticked across Birmingham.
Thank you, Canterbury for the time, love, and commitment you have for Panama.  Thank you Ernie, Sallie, Phyllis, Jane, Deb, Mark, Jinx, Jennifer, Anola, and Diana.
Tentatively, our next Medical Mission trip is October 20-27, 2012....Dios te bendiga.

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