Living Hope Church missionaries travel to Panama

Several area teens give testimonies and perform skits for students at Juan Diaz School

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Several members of the Living Hope Church’s Motion Student Ministry program joined 24 other teens on a trip to Panama from June 15 – 25. The group had been asked to extend their mission work to Panama City with the Ambassadors In Missions (AIM), a Minnesota program.

The Living Hope Church in Little Falls sent several young missionaries to Panama City, Panama, to work with teens at the Juan Diaz School. Pictured at the ruins of an old cathedral in Panama Viejo are front row (from left): Alyssa Thompson, Raina Lojovich and Kelsey Thompson. Second row: Danae Karow, Emma Von Wald, Sarah Bobick, Kaitlyn Hintz and Josiah Lojovich. Back row: Sam Muhlbauer, Callan Drill, Luke Majerle and Jake Loukinen.

“Every year teens from Living Hope Church go on a mission trip, alternating foreign and domestic travel,” said Youth Pastor Sam Muhlbauer. “Members of the church prayed about where we were needed when we received a request from missionaries Gerritt and Tara Kenyon, a young missionary couple in Panama City.”

The Little Falls group, along with groups from six other churches, made the decision to go to Panama where the Kenyons worked. They were housed in the Aramo Hotel and spent five days at the Juan Diaz Area school where they spoke about hope, choices and spiritual principles to mostly teenaged students.

Little Falls missionary Alyssa Thompson, left, shared her faith with a room full of Panamanian teens. Standing with her was Rodrigo Fernandez.

The first day they arrived at the school, the young missionaries set up an empty room to accommodate an assembly situation including a stage area. That week they interacted with groups of students, a total of about 500, in approximately one-hour increments.

“When the Panamanian students would come into the room, we formed a tunnel with our arms at the doorway so the only way they could enter would be to go through it,” said Alyssa Thompson, one of the Living Hope students. “We yelled encouragement and greetings which excited some and scared others.”

The students were shown a video about creation, God’s love and an explanation of the Trinity. Some of the missionary students gave testimonies on how God had touched their lives.

“We then did one of four dramas which we had perfected before we traveled to Panama,” said Muhlbauer.

Another testimony was then given by a Little Falls teen and another drama was performed by the group.

While there, the young missionaries learned a troubling aspect about the lives of the Panamanian students. Many were abused, either emotionally, verbally, psychologically or sexually by members of their families or friends. It’s a fact of life in Panama, and while it is well-known, everyone turns a blind eye to the situation.

During each of the four or so gatherings with students, the kids from the school were asked to come to the front of the room to accept Jesus.

“We would ask them if they wanted Jesus in their lives,” said Thompson. “We would also ask who was being abused. We would go to them and pray,” said Thompson. “At times, the room was so crowded it would be hard to physically reach the kids. We would stretch our arms over the heads of others just to touch them.”

She said there were times when the students would break down in tears.

“We believe that God still gives us words of encouragement. We believe that God still speaks today through the Holy Spirit,” said Muhlbauer. “It was great to see our kids reaching out to the others.”

“I am very thankful for my life here in Little Falls and for my family,” said Living Hope Church member Jake Loukinen. “I feel blessed. There is a huge difference between us and those teens. There was so much hurt and crying.”

During the first week in August, a Girls Conference was held in Panama City. Because about 50 percent of girls in Panama are being abused, the Motion Student Ministry promoted this conference to the entire school. It was being put on to uplift the girls, pamper them and make them feel special and important, things that don’t occur in their daily lives.

Muhlbauer said the Kenyons were working with government officials to purchase a building to create a home for these girls.

Another activity the Little Falls students participated in was assisting with two Sunday services at the Panama International (PAINT) Church. They also saw the Panama Canal, the ruins of the original Panama City, the local market and spent a day at a Christian Skateboard Club park.

“The Juan Diaz School asked the Kenyons to continue their program with their students,” said Muhlbauer. “This is the first time that has occurred. It made the Little Falls missionaries feel very good about what they had accomplished.”

Panama City is the largest city of Panama and its capital. It has a population of 1.2 million people and is located on the Pacific Ocean side of the Panama Canal.

The city was first developed in 1579 by the Spanish and was on the trade route that took the Inca’s gold and silver back to Europe.

In 1673, the pirate Henry Morgan set fire to the city, destroying it. Hence the ruins the missionaries visited, now call Panama Viejo. The city was re-established in 1673.

The missionaries were in Panama during its wet season and said it was very hot and humid. The average temperature stays fairly constant at 81 degrees.

“A lot of relationships were formed with the other missionaries,” said Thompson. “I needed them to build me up and give me the support I needed. They were all there for me when I needed it.”

Thompson said she would hug the kids as much as possible for they did not get that closeness at home. When it was time to leave, her shoulder would be wet from the tears.

“During our time with the students, I was being pulled emotionally because there was so much hurt,” said Loukinen. “It was hard to say good-bye each day.”