Here to Stay
Panama Central District Going Farther with Strategy
Four percent of the world’s trade passes through the Panama Canal, but market goods are not the only thing moving through the country. According to Amable Polanco, Panama JESUS Film Country Coordinator, “Some say, everything goes through the Canal, including different beliefs.” Over 4 million people reside in Panama, a melting pot of different races and faiths.
District Superintendent Carlos de la Cruz, Polanco, and other JESUS Film leaders on the district have been making strategic plans to evangelize key areas outside Panama City, where a larger concentration of Christians have been located for more than 60 years. There couldn’t be a better time for the Good News to be shared, either!
“Many people are coming to Panama because of the current economic prosperity from the Canal. Whether they are indigenous, in small towns, or in the big cities, people are very open to the gospel,” Polanco said.
He calls their openness “a moment of opportunity.” In 2014, there was only one active JESUS Film team in Panama. Today, 15 teams are evangelizing, discipling, and planting churches with a renewed vision. Polanco explained their focus is going where the church is not yet and “reaching the lost” because “all people are important.”
The teams’ unique strategy acknowledges that people spread across wide geographical areas — and so must the gospel.
“The JESUS Film ministry, synced with other ministries that we host it with, is a movement ministry” Bernie Slingerland, Mesoamerica Regional Coordinator said.
Teams are expanding the church outward in every direction from Panama City. In the last year alone, 138 Preaching Points were planted and 4 churches have been organized in the Panama Central District.
Polanco gives credit to Slingerland’s Missional Zone Planter strategy and the JESUS film. “It is growing the district and helping us go into indigenous zones because we have the film in the needed languages,” he explained.
One goal of the Panama teams is to reach indigenous groups like the Kuna and Emberá people groups by starting training centers as new churches are planted. There are roughly 90,000 Kuna people who are spread out throughout small villages in Panama and Colombia. Approximately 83,000 Emberá live along river systems in the Western region of Panama and Colombia.
JESUS Film leaders in Panama are taking movement to the next level. Ofelina Moreno and Eliud Toro are two JESUS Film team leaders who have moved to new homes specifically so they can assist in planting new churches.
De la Cruz and the district pastors offer their full support of these strategic moves.
“The district has been praying and seeking the Lord. We believe this is what the Holy Spirit wants us to do…God prepares the team members’ hearts for moving,” Polanco said.
Moreno is a grandmother and widow who recently became a JESUS Film team leader. She wanted to be a missionary since she was a young girl, but never thought it could work. After attending an evangelism conference, she now serves the Lord as a missionary in her new neighborhood.
“There are so many houses and streets, so we always need the Holy Spirit to guide us to where He wants to work,” Moreno said.
Through this strategy, Polanco noted, “The Church is entering locations it has never been.” This is making an eternal impact on communities across the country.
A new believer in the Colón province watched the JESUS film and is now experiencing a transformed life. He said, “It’s about time for this community, which everyone thinks is only a drug and crime community, to be something different. We know only Jesus can make the change in this place. That is why today I opened up my home for a Preaching Point.”
Polanco also excitedly reported about the new church on the Panamanian island of Chepillo. Many people on the island work in the seafood industry and used to waste away the time they weren’t working with drinking. “Their lives had no purpose and hope,” Polanco said. A citizen of Panama City accepted Christ and returned to Chepillo to share the gospel through the JESUS film.
The church of more than 50 people continues to grow and is helping give many “hope and strength to live the life of holiness.”
The Panama Central District teams realized simply reaching the lost is not enough. Offering ongoing discipleship and growth for individuals is a priority. They are making it clear that the Church is here to stay.
An earlier version of this story appeared in Holiness Today.