Finding a Church in Panama

December 16, 2011
Finding a Church

Among the many things on my list of things to do as soon as I arrived in Panama (find the location of the nearest mall, find a hairdresser, budget accordingly) was to find a temporary home church. As told in my previous blog, “I’m Not a Quitter, I’m a Survivor,” things didn’t quite work out the way they were supposed to…in the beginning, at least.

However, upon moving to my “deluxe apartment in the sky-y” with my new, improved, and extremely accommodating host family, everything seems to be going right: I can see the mall from my house, I can do my own hair now, and yes, I’ve found a temporary home church.

They classify Albrook, the neighborhood in which I now reside, as a “quiet, slightly upper class residential area” (my section at least)–I agree, for the most part. The day I moved into the new apartment, I went for a walk to check out the neighborhood and ended up going to the grocery store to buy some necessities. I passed a church on my way there with a sign out front reading, “Panama International Church, Sundays, 5:30 p.m.” I checked the time. It was 5:00 p.m. so I thought I’d stop by and check it out on my way back.

Perishable groceries and clouds signaling a chance of rain prevented me from actually attending the service, but I didn’t let that stop me from at least peeking my head in the double doors. I’m glad I did.

It was then that I met Mrs. Amy Lugo, who happened to be the wife of the pastor. After engaging in brief dialogue and getting good vibes from her warm personality and her sweet southern accent, she promptly invited me to join them the following Sunday after I told her that I couldn’t stay for that particular service.

Fast forward a week: I went, I loved it. Fast forward another week: I invited others, they loved it.

Now under the leadership of Reverend Nelson Lugo II and his wife, Panama International Church was founded by Chad & Amber Burgbacher, missionaries to Panama from Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM), a world evangelism organization that is about to celebrate their centennial in the coming years.

Before learning this information about Panama International, I didn’t know much about missionaries. On one hand, I’ve never really given them much thought. On the other hand, when I did give them thought, I’m pretty sure I had that stereotypical view of a group of go-getters for God traveling to a foreign, “uncivilized” land, preaching and teaching their beliefs to people who’ve either never encountered Christianity or have (through another two-week missionary group). Bottom line: they “save souls” and then return to their own civilized countries after a month’s stay (if that).

I will admit that, in the case of Panama International Church, I was wrong. The Lugos have been missionaries in the country of Panama since 2008, working both in the city and outside the urban area with indigenous groups as well.

Their mission statement: to be a church that exalts the Lord, edifies one another, evangelizes the lost, and equips the body for service in the Kingdom. And, according to Reverend Lugo, “All are welcome. It doesn’t matter what country you are from or what your first language is.”

That said, services are translated from English to Spanish and the members of Panama International Church are from a little bit of everywhere around the world. Reverend Lugo encourages the surrounding community to be a part of an international family that loves the Lord.

If nothing else, I can say that Panama International Church both defies and exceeds my preconceptions of missionary work. They are obviously here to stay, a beneficial decision to the tons of young women just like me who have been waiting to check “find a temporary home church” off their to-do list.

About Sierra Leone Starks

Sierra Leone Starks is a multimedia journalist, fashion blogger, and social media junkie. Her work can be found on the print and web pages of some pretty fabulous women’s and lifestyle magazines and her footprints have graced numerous states and landed in several Latin American countries. Following her last extended stay abroad, she now lives by the motto, “If I made it through Panama, I can make it through anything.”

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