Students Serve on Mission in Panama
Bluefield College students spent their Spring Break in March on mission in Panama and in its northeast province of Kuna Yala serving and ministering to the indigenous people of the Kuna tribes.

Students Serve on Mission in Panama

By Student Marketing Associate Whitney Browning | October 18, 2017 | RSS

In 1922, the Baptist General Association of Virginia founded Bluefield College in southwest Virginia with the hope that “young people who attend the institution be strengthened in their faith and trained for Christian service,” and that “earnest efforts be made by the school to bring the lost to Christ.”

Today, nearly a century later, Bluefield College remains committed to its relationship with the BGAV and the cause to advance God’s Kingdom, oftentimes demonstrated best in the mission efforts of BC students, including a recent Spring Break mission trip to the Central American country of Panama.

In fact, nine Bluefield College students, along with campus pastor Dr. Henry Clary, spent their Spring Break in March on mission in Panama and in its northeast province of Kuna Yala serving and ministering to the indigenous people of the Kuna tribes.

Among the BC missionaries: seniors Whitney Browning, Rebekah Ivester and Gabrael Spencer; junior Ellen Johnson; sophomores Evan Abbey, Nicole Benedito, Allyson Carter and Sarah Westfall; and freshman Christalyn Doig. The team spent their time supporting the efforts of several churches in Kuna Yala, including First Kuna Baptist Church, Vista Alegre, and Nueva Antioquia Baptist Church. They worked alongside Kuna Baptist youth facilitating worship services and sharing their testimonies in the churches. They also participated in door-to-door ministry sharing their faith and distributing the Gospel of Mark to more than 100 households within two different Kuna reservations, where they also hosted Vacation Bible Schools.

“The most impactful part for me was doing street evangelism in the Kuna village,” said Carter. “We went out to share our stories of how Jesus has impacted our life, but one man in particular decided to share his story and was a great encouragement. He quoted scripture from memory, sharing how God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses.”

Carter noted that the verse the man shared was a theme verse for her in the week leading up to the mission trip, “so it was neat that God would have this man recite that specific verse.” During the trip, Pastor Clary also preached five times at four different churches. The result of the team’s efforts: two rededications to Christ and six new professions of faith.

“The spiritual growth among the group during the week was palpable,” said Clary. “The first-hand contact between our students and believers in another country from a distinct people group was an occasion for both personal and spiritual growth.”

The mission team also spent time in public schools teaching English, playing games, singing songs and sharing the Gospel. Connecting with the Kuna children, they said, was an intricate part of their mission.

“The best part about the experience was spending time with the kids,” said Spencer. “I could not speak the same language as them, but just showing them that I cared about them was all they needed. They were so grateful to be able to play soccer and dance with us. Seeing their faces when we would walk into a room is something I will never forget.”

While ministering to the people of Kuna Yala, the BC team stayed on an island, where the men slept in hammocks in the church and the women in hammocks in a local pastor’s house. There, they lived as the Kuna lived, sharing meals, taking boats from island to island, and learning about the Kuna lifestyle.

“It was a very humbling experience,” said Spencer. “The Kuna people are so grateful for every breath they receive, every break of day they get to experience. They are not worried about what is going to be occurring in the next hour or next day or week. They are just grateful to be alive, living in a place that most United States citizens would not dare go, on an island in the middle of the ocean as big as someone’s yard.”

The experience, the students said, provided them the opportunity to learn more about not only the Kuna culture, but also God and each other as they grew closer to one another throughout the week working toward the common goal of sharing the love of Christ.

“The team I was blessed to travel with became closer than I could have imagined,” said Johnson. “It was clear that even though God had called each of us to go for different reasons, it created an incredible dynamic between us. The new friendships that were created and wonderful experience I had revived the fire in me, and I want to share that with everyone back home.”

The students said they also learned much about themselves over the course of the week as they used their gifts and talents to serve and witness. Each member of the team, they said, brought a different skill set to their ministry, and they were able to advance the kingdom of God, despite the language barrier.

“We were given so many opportunities to serve the Lord, develop and cultivate wonderful Christ-centered friendships, and really witness how big and inclusive the family of God really is,” said Ivester. “It’s kind of hard to grasp that God is the God of every person and every language, but truly seeing that in action, I don’t think I could ever forget that.”

And while the Spring Break mission trip is over, BC’s work with the people of Kuna is not. Leaders of the association of Kuna Baptist churches have formed a training institute to equip pastors, teachers and missionaries, and have asked visiting professors from Bluefield College to come alongside them to help train those leaders, which will begin first with Pastor Clary returning to lead short-term courses.

“I can honestly say that I experienced a new freedom in Christ while I was in Panama,” said Johnson. “It is so easy to let the pressures and struggles of life tear you down and discourage you, but God offers an unexplainable peace through it all. God does not expect us to be perfect; he expects us to be willing. If we can take that first step, God will meet us where we are and use us even in our brokenness. It is through our weakness that God’s strength shines through.”