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Day 10: Saturday, March 22, 2014

Today was the day that we had been waiting for. No, not the day we go head back to the United States to see family and friends, but the day we worshipped and fellowshipped with the people we had been building a church for. After eating breakfast and having Sabbath School at the hotel with our own group, we boarded the bus and headed to the newly built San Jose Las Lomas Seventh-day Adventist Church. Needless to say, it was a full house on the very first Sabbath. Conference officials from Panama City were on hand; there was a quartet that did a special music as well as our very own WA students. The girls’ trio, consisting of Keturah Wilkinson (’14), Michaela Wilson (’14) and Madeline Miranda (’14) sang “Wonderful, Merciful Savior” and several members from Choralaires sang “The Stone That The Builders Rejected.” The local pastor introduced the members of the local church and had everyone come up front. It was truly amazing to see all of the people that have sacrificed and prayed so diligently for this very special day. Because of the local international festival that takes place in David every year, we were not able to achieve the attendance at the evangelistic series that we were hoping for. And some nights, some of us wondered if there would even be enough people to fill the church. So imagine our surprise when we enjoyed seeing a full house! The service was a blessing, and the topic “Is Heaven Real?” was a perfect opening message for the new congregation, as Elder Alan Carlson preached, while our in-country coordinator from Maranatha, did the translating.

Following the church service, many hugs and handshakes of gratitude were shared amongst all present. A group photo in front of the church with the mission project team, local church members and Conference officials was taken from atop of a ladder. While taking the group photos, the smells of potluck wafted through the air as some people were expressing the fact that they were extremely hungry. The fellowship lunch was held in the Sabbath School division, and provided the perfect place for all of us to fellowship. As was expected, leaving after the potluck was a very difficult task as the group was bombarded by hugs, handshakes, and blessings. To be honest, the people here in Panama have been amazing, and it has been such a blessing to broaden our horizons and meet our brothers and sisters in Christ, and share this experience with them. The connections we have made and the blessings we have received will not be soon forgotten!

The group was able to continue enjoying the Sabbath at La Playa La Barqueta, a beautiful beach on the southern side of Panama. The beach offered the perfect atmosphere for the team to enjoy God’s creation. From walking on the beach and collecting shells, to dodging the surf, the team enjoyed the laid back pace after a very hectic week of service for the cause of the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. While at the beach, the team met a group from Palisade Academy in Washington State that had just started working on another church not far from us. It was fun sharing our experiences with them and what they have to look forward to. Following supper on the beach, the group enjoyed a sunset worship, and then headed into town to enjoy some treats at Dairy Queen. Tomorrow marks our last day in David, and we start the long journey back home as we head to Panama City to check out the Panama Canal on Monday as well as Old Panama City before flying back to Chicago. We are so excited about reflecting on how God has led throughout the entire process of this entire project, and we praise His name for allowing us to be humble servants to help the people in need. Until later…

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter

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Day 9: Friday, March 21, 2014

            With hopes and aspirations of finishing our tasks early, the group headed to the job site bound and determined to make it a half-day of work. With visions of finishing the church project and then taking the afternoon to do some shopping, the group did their best to finish. However, around the 10:00am the group realized there was more to do than they thought. After fueling up with some authentic Panamanian cuisine across the street, the group got back to work and focused on cleaning up the site and preparing the church for the grand opening on Sabbath.

Friday night brought many tears as the team led out in their last evening programs. Bryan Quiej (’14) preached on the Second Coming and the VBS crew finished up their “Creation Week” theme with the importance of the Sabbath. Several of the team members were visibly saddened by the fact that this was the last time they would see some of the children from Panama that they have grown so close to during this week. The same feeling was shared by many of the children, as was evidenced by the multitude of hugs and pleas to stay. As has been shared before, the people in Panama have worked their way into our hearts!

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter

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Day 8: Thursday, March 20, 2014

            Work continues on both churches. The trusses were put up on the second structure with hopes that roofing will start tomorrow. Blocking was completed on the main church, while half of the roofing was completed. Quality control has also started on the main building and team members are adding grout to fill in holes, while other team members started cleaning up the job site. There is something for everyone, as the team is very motivated to finish this project before we leave. (Some secretly, or not so secretly, have ambitions making Friday a half-day.)

Eric Carlson (’15) preached on the topic of hellfire and what it is and isn’t for the evangelistic series tonight, and offered a message of hope to those that believe God tortures people endlessly throughout eternity. And as usual, VBS was a hit again. The number of students that are attending is increasing daily, and our team members are connecting with the kids more and more each day. After our worship and return to the hotel, realizing that Friday night would be the Sabbath, most of the group returned to Dis Frutas in order to partake of what might be their last smoothie while in David. Once again, the Lord has truly blessed our team with another great day and opportunity to serve the local congregation here in David. The anticipation and excitement about the grand opening of the church is growing daily. Thank you for your continued prayers as we get closer to completing our project.

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter

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Day 7: Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Praise the Lord! Elvis and his family attended the evening meeting tonight. He seemed fully engaged in the message for the evening. And he also continues to work with us on the job site. The team accomplished laying block on the sides of the church, and now only has the gabled sides and rooftop to complete. Work also continued on the additional One Day Church structure that will house the Sabbath School classes. The church community is very excited about the progress and many even stopped by to help build their own church as well as take pictures of our team and the progress. So much excitement has been generated from the project that even school children run to the church to check on the progress as soon as they are dismissed. In fact, one girl told us she would rather be helping us build the church than to attend the annual International fair held in David! Day by day we are learning more and more about how important this project is for the local church family, and how this project has been made such a matter of prayer. Many of us in the United States wouldn’t struggle at all to come up with $750. However, this church family had to save for years in order to raise the $750 that was reportedly needed to even get their name on the list for a church. The purchase of the land; the continued sacrifice of Anita; the prayers of the church family that someone would come and build them a church for the glory of God, all of these stories humble and amaze us that we have this incredible privilege to be a part of. The more we interact with the people of this great country, the more we come to love them and their country. And the more we interact with everyone that comes to the construction site, the more we realize that we are all brothers and sisters through the blood of Jesus Christ!

The blessings on this trip are continuous. The work has been arduous for many, but the results of seeing the progress on the church and the faces of those that come around and share their stories has been absolutely priceless! Another blessing from today is that there was a refreshing breeze that came helped cool us off. (This is very important since it was around 105 degrees with the heat index today.) This breeze came right about the time a lot of people “hit the wall.” After several days of working in extreme heat, it was very difficult to feel motivated. However, after some motivation from team construction leader Bob Sachse, the group switched into high gear.

After fueling up at Mundo Vegetariano again, the group headed back to the church to conduct VBS and the evangelistic series. Kenneth Beltran (’15) preached this evening on the subject of what happens when you die. And of course after the evening programs, Dis Frutas was on the agenda once again. Thank you for your continued prayers for our safety, the completion of the church, and for the lives of our team members to continue to be changed.

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter

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Day 6: March 18, 2014

From the two-foot iguana that came to “visit” us to fetching water from the river to mix our grout and mortar, day six served up some doozies! The team started their day off with a very thought-provoking worship by team member and Student Association VP, Suny Gomez (’15). Her worship was very appropriate as she discussed the rebuilding of the wall as found in Nehemiah and paralleled it to what we are doing. She drove home the point that just the like the Jews, we too are building walls for the glory of God, but that they are more than just physical walls. The Jews needed to be rebuilt spiritually as well. We are building walls for the church, but this church has literally been praying for years that they could afford to build a house of worship. The matriarch of the local church in San Jose Las Lomas, Anita, informed us that the land where the church is being built was purchased five years ago, and that the members of the church have been praying fervently that a church building would be constructed for the honor and glory of God. For the past seven years, the local congregation has been growing and has been meeting on Anita’s front porch. When the attendees hit about twenty-five, it was time to “expand” the church. This meant finding several smaller trees to cut down, trim, and use as “columns” to support the tarps that would be stretched out over the porch. The church now will accommodate about 45-50 people. So Maranatha’s approving this project, and us coming to build this church has been an answer to prayer for this local congregation. But the story about Anita doesn’t stop there!

As the matriarch of the local church, Anita is totally sold out to God and His cause! Because the people in the local community have not approved of the building of an Adventist church in the community, Anita and other church members were concerned that someone might do something to hinder progress of the building project. So even before our team arrived, Anita has been staying on the property, and sleeping very little, in order to keep the property and the project safe! This woman is truly committed to God and an inspiration to her local community and us. Then, after having hardly any sleep at night, she gets up early in the morning, loads five 55-gallon drums into a truck, drives them down to the river, and then takes 5-gallon pails, scoops up water, and then fills all 55-gallon drums with water so we can have water to mix mortar and concrete! God has truly blessed Anita with a heart of love, self-sacrifice, and service. By the end of the day, the team had completed laying eleven rows of block.

The Lord continues to bless the team with people and situations that increase our faith in Him and make us realize the value of this mission project. The next-door neighbor continues to attend the evening meetings, and we hope he’ll continue to do so. Elvis is a local twenty-three year old gentleman that has been helping our group out. We learned that he is not a Seventh-day Adventist, but after working with us, he said he is “listening.” Someone took him up on that offer, and invited him to our evangelistic series. So tonight, when Suny Gomez (’15) presented a talk, we noticed that Elvis showed up for the meeting. Please pray that Elvis will continue to attend the meetings, and then the church community after we leave.

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter

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Day 5: Monday, March 17, 2014

After a good Panamanian breakfast and a thought provoking worship by Pastor Greg Taylor, the team loaded up to head to the job site. A group of eight Spanish-speaking students, along with Chaplain Carter, went to the local Catholic school where the VBS team has been conducting their meetings in order to present some skits to communicate the importance of sleep, proper nutrition, temperance, water, and exercise. The school accommodates about 1,000 students, and they attend on a split schedule like the students at WA. The group is scheduled for five more hours of presentations throughout the week. Please pray for the elementary students to be open to the messages that the team is delivering. During the evening meetings, Emily Laurence presented the evening message entitled, “Move Your Hand” (topic: salvation) and the VBS crew covered the third day of creation…plants. And of course, after the return to the hotel, most of the group frequented the local smoothie shop. (The good news is that the team is having lots of fresh fruit, and we have become friends with the local owner!) Until tomorrow… What was the most unexpected thing that happened yesterday? “Seeing a mass that spilled out into the street.” Cole Berger, ‘15 “Having a conversation with two of the Spanish kids and completely understanding everything they were saying.” Dalton Doolin, ‘14 “The next door neighbor came to the evangelistic series.” Kamille Thompson, ‘14 “Finding an English-speaking channel on the TV.” Hailey Hilgart, ’15 and Emily Thompson, ‘15 “Getting more kids to come to VBS.” Diano Lazo, ‘14 “Showing one of the Maranatha workers how to do something.” Suny Gomez, ‘15 What has been your greatest blessing so far during this mission project? “Water!” Michaela Wilson, ‘14 “Helping the children.” Baylee Wright, ‘15 “Having the evangelistic series.” Eric Carlson, ‘15 “Preaching!” Tania Martinez, ‘16 “I love working on the site! The Maranatha workers are so nice.” Danielle Willer, “15 What has pushed you outside of your comfort zone during this trip? “Driving through the mountains.” Javier Salgado, ‘14 “Trying to communicate with people in Spanish.” Keturah Wilkinson, ‘14 “Playing piano with four seconds of preparation.” Jared Marsh, ‘15 “The heat!” Alan Carlson, Adult Team Member “Being the only translator for a whole group of people who don’t speak Spanish.” Bryan Quiej, ‘14

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter

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Day 4: Sunday, March 16, 2014

By Monday morning, there was much excitement as the entire team was anxious to get started on the building project. The lack of knowledge and intense heat didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s excitement as everyone worked together to accomplish the construction goals associated with our project: 1) Build a One Day Church, 2) block in a One Day Church, and 3) perform quality workmanship. With team members Bob Sachse and Dave Wilson as the leaders of the construction crew, they quickly and efficiently managed to get the different crews started on the various projects. Throughout the day, each team worked in their various areas. Some team members were cutting block, while others tried their hand at mixing mortar.

During the evening meeting, Tania Martinez (’16) preached for the evangelistic series and the VBS team covered day two (air) of creation. One of the highlights of the evangelistic series was seeing new attendees and the neighbor that lives next to the church that according to eyewitness accounts has been adamantly opposed to the building of the church the team is involved in. The team continues to pray for the outreach efforts in every aspect of our project.

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter

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Day 3: Saturday, March 15, 2014

After two very busy and intense days of traveling, the group enjoyed sleeping in a little on Sabbath. Following an 8:00am breakfast, the team assembled together for a very interactive Sabbath School class sprinkled with singing, reading Scripture, applying Scripture, discussion, and journaling. Following Sabbath School, the group loaded the “coaster” (what they call the local bus we reserved for our local transportation) and headed to church to worship with the local congregation.

Once at church, after an introduction, our team led out in the worship service. A group of girls helped lead out in vocals for song service as Jared Marsh (’15) played accompanied the group along with Pastor Greg Taylor and his wife Kim. Kenneth Beltran (’15), an ELL student from Mexico, played his soprano saxophone for special music. Jared Marsh then presented the morning message, based on Daniel 2, while our in-country coordinator, Manuel Brenes, interpreted for him. The church was packed, and even though it was hot and crowded, the church service was such a blessing that many wondered how it could be over so soon.

Following the church service, the group headed back to Hotel Castilla to change, eat lunch, and pack their sack suppers before heading out on their Sabbath afternoon excursion. Once again, the group loaded their coaster to start their one-hour journey towards the border of Costa Rica. On the way to their destination, the group noticed a Seventh-day Adventist school. We were informed that the enrollment was six hundred students. Continuing our journey down the Pan-American Highway, and quickly approaching Costa Rica, the group was stopped at a checkpoint. Group leaders quickly realized that we were missing something very important: passports! Only certain people had their passports. Prayers were sent up with the request that we be allowed to pass through the checkpoint. God obliged, and we continued our trip to our destination. However, we must add that the trip was absolutely breathtaking! We won’t mention whom, but going up the mountainside and looking over the edge was scary for some. Adult leader, Paula Sachse, was always ready at the shutter (of her camera) to capture some photos while photographer and team leader, Chaplain Carter, was sitting in the front seat trying not to get motion sickness.

On our journey, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery of God’s creation and how even in a sin-filled earth, His creation still reveals His creative power and love for us. New additions to our out-of-the-ordinary journey were cows in the middle of the road as we attempted to reach our destination. Once the road reached a grade that the bus driver no longer felt his bus could handle, we all disembarked and started the walk towards the falls. It was evident that some had never been “boulder jumping” before, but we all finally made it to the falls and enjoyed the refreshing water. Regarding the Sabbath afternoon hike, Michaela Wilson (’14) commented, “This has been the best Sabbath afternoon activity ever!” And although some dubbed the Sabbath excursion the “torture hike,” the team had an enjoyable time together in God’s creation.

Saturday night brought about the second night of VBS, but the first night of the creation story, while Baylee Wright (’15) presented the evening message at the church. Following the evening meetings, the team went out for a “night-on-the-town.” (Don’t worry: it was kosher!) Everyone has familiarized themselves with the local bakeries and the smoothie shop. The more adventurous ones explored the town square in David.

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter
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Day 2: Friday, March 14, 2014

Considering the exhaustion of traveling, Friday started with a late morning brunch, worship, and then a team organizational meeting. The majority of the day consisted of Chaplain Carter finalizing project materials, the VBS and evangelistic teams working on their programming, and the medical team organizing supplies for the health expo and outreach project.

For those that are scared by the word “vegan,” they had concerns about where we were eating dinner. However, after the wonderful food prepared by the kitchen crew at Mundo Vegetariano, tummies were satisfied and the team was ready to lead out in the evening meetings.

The evangelistic series was held in the new, and as-of-yet unfinished church in San Jose Las Lomas. Members from our group conducted the song service, while Chaplain Carter started the series, “With Jesus There Is Hope!” Our condensed evangelistic series will feature ten speakers, with nine of them being students from Wisconsin Academy. The goals of the evangelistic series are to further God’s kingdom, help grow the new local church in San Jose Las Lomas, share Jesus as the only hope for humanity, and to provide students the opportunity to preach the Word of God.

The VBS team enjoyed getting to know kids through games, songs, and stories at the local Catholic school down the road from the building site. Although the school was originally very unwilling to open their facility to the group since we are Protestants, after much prayer the principal finally yielded to what we believe were the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Because of our location, the school, which is roughly 200 yards away from the building site, provides the best location to conduct the VBS meetings. Roughly twenty-five students attended on the first night, but the group is not discouraged with these numbers as they know and believe that the Lord will lead many more young children to the VBS programs. The theme for VBS is “Creation.” Adult leaders, Pastor Greg and Kim Taylor, are very excited about ministering with the rest of the team as they share the power and love of God in and through creation.

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter

Day 1: Thursday, March 13, 2014

After many months of prayer and preparation, the 2014 mission project team started their journey early at 1:30am by loading the Wisconsin Academy bus. For many, the excitement of serving others by going on this project overshadowed the fact that some would not sleep for the next twenty-four hours. After loading, taking check, and praying, the group departed for the first leg of their journey.

When arriving at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, jackets were left on the bus with the expectation of experiencing warmer weather while in Panama. When we arrived at the airport at 4:30am, we were the only group there and first in line. During our quest to seek bathrooms, several in our group noticed homeless people sleeping in the terminals, which seemed rather strange. After noticing ten sack meals were left unclaimed, Chaplain Carter asked if some of the team members wanted to distribute the sack meals to the homeless sleeping in the airport. Several volunteered, and thus the “mission” of the mission project started even before we left American soil.

For some in our group, flying was nothing new. However, for a few of our team members, flying was something they had mixed emotions about. After some discussion about flying, the group learned that junior, Jared Marsh, was emotional about flying as his father had told him that he would one day be able to fly. Once we boarded our Copa 737-800 plane, we started heading toward warmer weather. However, upon reaching this “warmer weather” in Panama, we were greeted by a two-hour exit process through immigration, luggage claim, and then customs. Loading the bus outside of the airport also proved to be an adventure as many in our group questioned whether or not all of our luggage would make it on our bus. Once the luggage bays were full, and luggage still remained on the sidewalk outside of the bus, we started passing luggage through the side windows. Once all of the luggage and team members were loaded, we started what we thought would be a six-hour journey to David, our final destination.

There are two things that don’t mix well: Hungry and sleep-deprived travelers. But I must share the fact with you that we have a great group of young people, and I didn’t hear hardly any complaining during what ended up being an eight-hour drive to David. After our food and water sources had been depleted, we stopped for water, and then later we stopped for an incredible authentic Panamanian meal at a hotel en route to David. After stretching and fueling up with some great food, the group was ready to continue the rest of the journey. After a three-hour bus ride from WA, a five and one-half hour flight, and then an eight-hour bus ride from Panama City to David, Panama, the group finally arrived at our destination at 1:15am. Needless to say, after being up for at least twenty-four hours, our team was ready to get some much-needed rest.

~By Chaplain Jimmy Carter