Of the countless places I've been, Panama is like no other. I haven't figured out if it was my expectations or experience that caught me off guard. I supposed Panama to be another Third World destination, with a more convenient language and location. But what I found is quite different.
When I arrived in the capital city late in the evening, all I could distinguish from my taxi cab window were massive illuminated skyscrapers. "Hmmm," I thought, "interesting metropolis." The following day with a few hours to kill before our local flight departed my host and I went to the mall. It was MASSIVE, (the biggest shopping mall in all of Central America in fact).
We were joined by one of her friends (from Argentina) and chatted about the disparity found in the culture. But as disconnected as the availability of "Hello Kitty" and "Apple" products found in the expanse made me feel, my mind and body refocused when we departed for the domestic airport.
While we were enjoying the food court a torrential rainstorm blew into town; bad weather and flying make even an experienced traveler nervous. Our flight was scheduled to take off at 4:00, but two hours later we were still waiting and watching the water pool on the runway in ever increasing depths!
The deluge let up long enough for us to finally board and be on our way to the northern part of the country. When we arrived at the archipelago of Bocas del Toro it was pitch black and still raining. We loaded our luggage into the back of a pickup truck taxi, and headed to the hotel. The rain would return again when we were making our departure a few days later.
Island life has its share of seductions; gorgeous scenery, mostly favorable weather, and the appearance of a simplified, stress- free environment. But as Shakespeare said in his famous soliloquy, "There's the rub."
One of my favorite books (Jacob the Baker by Noah ben Shea) says it another way, "the first person you meet on the road running away from your problems, is yourself."
In my few days here, I've encountered many "runners" in the growing ex-patriot community. They come from countries as distant and diverse as the reasons for their departure.
The "easier, simpler, stress-less" Island Life is not the one to which the community of faith are called. My friend and host commented her experience with ex-patriot groups has been, they stick together; while they fled the nation they still crave the nationals. It seems at the core of our humanness we are fundamentally tribal, longing to belong, to feel companionship in our "different-ness"
"You are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other. So because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out." Revelation 3:15-16
I've heard it said, the opposite of hate is not love - it is apathy. It would be easy to leave the world, the flesh, the devil and the political climate to "work itself out." Who among us hasn't dreamed of living in a tropical paradise away from "IT" all, whatever our particular "it" happens to be? I want to be mindful about my time these days, engaging and befriending the hateful or the apathetic; sharing and showing the love and grace I experience in the Kingdom to come.
I'm leaving Panama refreshed but reminded, this "world" is not my home. My "alien" nature serves me well on foreign soil. I also know the things I am passionate about have little to do with me or my comfort, and everything to do with the One that I love and who deeply loves me. He had difficulty with people whose lifestyle appeared to need no Savior. They were the religious comfortable, their lives were good, like many of the people I found in Panama. But...
Leaving a fragrant aroma of The King to those who are living,
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