(Byrnell and Lois were commended to the work of the Lord in Panama by the assemblies in Brampton, Bolton, and Arnstein, Canada and Lossiemouth, Scotland.)
Panama - the indigenous meaning is "Abundance of Fish". Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4.19).
It was November, 2005 when the work in the small village of Valle Hermoso, 30 minutes west of Panama City, commenced. Since then, weekly gospel meetings, Bible studies, Sunday School teaching meetings, door to door distribution, and a number of gospel outreaches in and around Valle Hermoso have continued. The work has not been rapid in growth, but it has been steady and we are encouraged that a number of those who were saved at the beginning are still with us and spiritual growth is evident.
At present, the average attendance for the Sunday School is 35-40, with over 90 on the attendance list. On Friday evenings for the Young Peoples meetings, we usually see 18 to 22 teenagers and 3 or 4 adults. The majority of these teens have no moral standard, nothing to guide them except their own desires; this leads them in the way of sin and the ways of their parents. We count it a privilege to be able to teach them the Word of God, show them the way of salvation - a life of purpose, joy, and purity. At the gospel and teaching meetings during the week, the numbers range from 25-40, with several unbelievers in attendance.
There are a number of believers who have been baptized and are going on well. Lord willing, at the end of February we plan to have another baptism with at least 5 believers desiring to take this step of obedience. Also, for the past number of months we have been encouraged as two local brethren have begun to share in the responsibilities of preaching the gospel and speaking to the children and teenagers. The Apostle John said, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (3 Jn v.4).
With each believer there is much confusion and false teaching that has to be sorted out. We make a real effort not to say, "We believe that ", or "I think this ". Rather, we say, "The Bible teaches that ". Then, we reference chapter and verse to show them examples, principles, and truths directly from the Word of God.
Oftentimes, the believers past has been checkered with attendance at various churches and subjected to wrong teaching and unbiblical practices. One has to be wise and act with kindness in undoing these teachings by simply presenting the truth of Scripture, step by step, remembering that they are babes in Christ who need continual, small feedings of the milk of the Word. Please pray that there would be wisdom granted to be able to deal with the many difficulties, questions, and problems that arise.
We would also value your prayers that we would be examples to the people of what a true Christian relationship is all about and what the Bible teaches about commitment and responsibilities in marriage. For the most part, they have no example of how to treat or respect each other in a relationship. What they practise has been passed on from parents and family who did not really know either, so you have a long line of dysfunctional relationships and so-called families. In the Sunday school, only about 10% of the children live with both of their biological parents and have a healthy home atmosphere. A little respect and kindness go a long way in reaching the hearts of these people. Its so true that "the truth shall make you free" (Jn 8.32). Sin is a terrible master and the effects of its rule are devastating. Only the Word of God and obedience to it, starting with salvation, can bring real freedom, liberty, and peace.
The area where we are working presently, made up of four villages, has become more dangerous and the social landscape is changing. Robberies, muggings, and assaults are common on the streets. The increasing street gangs are now using guns rather than machetes to settle their differences. In the last number of months there have been gun fights in the area where the meetings are held, and just two weeks ago a security guard was robbed of his gun and shot just down the street from where we meet. A number of the people who attend the meetings have to walk through these areas and it poses a great danger to them and their families. Many residents work very long hours, leaving their homes before sunrise and returning well after dark, so much of their commuting is done walking in the dark. Please pray for their safety as they travel each day and attend the weekly meetings.
Presently, there is no assembly in Valle Hermoso, but we look forward to the day when we can sit down with these believers and break bread. We continue with assembly teaching and the believers are gradually learning and developing. Please pray that they will continue to grow, hold fast that which they have learned, and continue steadfastly in the teachings of the New Testament assembly truth. In the various provinces, cities, and villages that have been travelled and the people that have been contacted we have yet to find a group of Christians gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus, following the guide of New Testament teaching.
Over the past many months there have been a number of saints from various countries who have come to help. For the most part the help has been appreciated, but it gives a feeling of instability to the work and at times the believers can sense it. The Lord answered prayer and we were encouraged that two couples from Venezuela were exercised about coming and working full-time. This encouragement quickly changed to shock and deep sadness when, on 8th December, the husband of one of the couples was shot several times, in front of his family, during a car robbery in Venezuela and died on 9th December. They were due to arrive in Panama on 31st December with a view to moving here permanently. We know that our God is in control and that there are no mistakes in His will, but we are still feeling the hurt and the loss. The other couple, Lord willing, have plans to arrive on 10th March of this year. They will be facing new immigration laws which, as of August, 2008, make it more difficult for people to enter the country, other then as tourists. We would value prayer as we seek to navigate the uncharted waters of these new immigration laws.
Please continue to pray for Panama. Yes, there is an abundance of fish, but there are also many religious lures. We preach joyfully and without shame "the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth" (Rom 1.16). Our work as fishers of men is simply this: daily seeking worshipers for the Father (see Jn 4.23).