Ngobu Madimiga!

{Overlooking the 15 acres that a Ngobe chief donated to Youth with a Mission}
Hola from Panama! I apologize for my lack of updates lately, but it has been quite hard to communicate without a computer. As you know, the-Diane-and-Steve-Schallert family laptop (along with a backpack full of various other things) was stolen just over a month ago on our first night in Panama. Because of the generous response of our wonderful family and friends we have just ordered a new one and will be getting it in August when we visit the United States on our way to South Africa! I am overwhelmed by God's faithfulness to us and the way he uses his people to practically love and help one another.

Our team is blessed to have the opportunity to work in many different parts of Panama. We stayed with an indigenous tribe, The Ngobe (sounds like No-Bay) for 9 days. In the region that we stayed for the majority of the time we were the first foreigners ever to visit. The Ngobe are a beautiful people who lead simple lives and cling to their indigenous culture. They are agriculturists and are entirely self-sustained. Their huts are spread apar
t from each other as they live off of their farm land. Their culture is conservative and very peaceful. Although Catholicism and Christianity are practiced amongst them, the most prevalent practice is of the occult, Mamatata. In attempt to develop th
eir community, the Panamanian government has set up a school system for the Ngobe. All children are required to attend school, despite the school house being a two hour hike from some of the students’ homes. They are not permitted to wear their indigenous dresses and they are forced to speak only Spanish instead of their native tongue.

{Our catholic church "casa" in Cerra Flores}
[Journal Entry - Cerra Flores, Panama: Ngobe]
6 hours on a bus `+ 30 minute taxi ride + 2 hour ride up a mountain, 15 friends in the back of a pickup truck through the most beautiful landscape any of us had ever seen. Another truck followed us with about 15 more. Above the clouds we kept driving...Up.Up.Up. Passing by serious women in long, colorful dresses and children who ran after our truck, waving and than shrinking back coyly when we would wave back. We stop suddenly and realize we have arrived at a simple home where a man named Rafael, his wife and their 5 children live. Rafael is an indigenous Ngobe Pastor who travels around and starts churches. As we greet his family from afar we have no idea what is in store for us in this unfamiliar place. As Pastor Rafael and his family exchange some words with our translators, we realize we have not yet reached our final destination. We negotiate with the drivers of our 4 x 4's to continue taking us higher into the clouds. Finally they agree. More mountains. More clouds. The cool air blowing our hair in its breeze. We stop and the drivers begin to unload our bags from the metal bars above our heads in the back of the pickup trucks. We are at our destination, Cerra Flores. We are led by villagers to a humble catholic church. 14 people spread their sleeping bags on the concrete floors and hang their mosquito nets from the ceilings. The married couples (Me and Steve, Ryan and Jeanette) pitch tents on a concrete slab outside of the church. It has a makeshift roof over it (in case of rain...we are in the rainforest). Night falls quickly and fireflies surround us as a full moon moves out from behind foggy cover. As we turn in for the night we are overwhelmed by the realization of the presence of God, in inescapability of who he is. We are here. Now. Ce
 la Vie. At the end of a long day of visiting homes, our group waited, the rain falling hard outside of our concrete church home, for those we had invited to our gathering. The time that the meeting was scheduled to start came and went. About an hour and a half after we had planned to start, we began to get discouraged that no one we had met that day would come. Then, slowly men and women started to come in, soaking wet from walking a distance to come, their small children trickling in behind them and their babies in bags strapped to their heads (yes, they put their infants in straw bags and wear them on their heads. Steve has his hear
t set on carrying our children this way in the future). We talked (triple translation- English to Spanish to Ngobe) about the importance of preserving culture. We spoke about how photography is such a powerful story telling tool and that we wanted to tell the story of the Ngobe with the rest of Panama and the world. As we explained how communicating the strengt
h of their culture to the government and to their fellow Panamanians, their view on photography shifted from a mindset that says “photography steals ones soul” to “photography brings dignity and life!” We shared about our cultures and how we feel God can be glorified through our languages and traditions, a concept that is foreign to a people who have been ingrained to believe that they must sing from a Spanish hymnal in order to glorify God. As we celebrated the Ngobe culture with t
hem, one of the village chiefs spoke up. He was so moved during the meeting that he donated 2 hectors (about 15 acres) of land in the Ngobe capitol of Tugri to Youth With a Mission to start a cultural preservation center, a medical center and a discipleship program there. Our team was elated and we knew then that we needed to go to Tugri where this center will eventually be set up. Although Tugri is the “capitol”, it is a much more remote village than Cerra Flores. We hiked 6 hours up and down mountains, sometimes in the mud, forging rivers, praying that the daily downpour of rain would hold off, and finally arrived in Tugri. As soon as 
we stepped onto Tugri land, the sky opened and the rain came down. Hard. We felt really felt blessed by the timing of it all. A group of 6 musicians from Mexico had traveled with us and planned to do a song writing workshop with the people. The workshop would encourage them to write songs that glorified God using the styles and traditions of their indigenous music. The workshop went really well and we believe it is just the start of something so powerful amongst the Ngobe. While we were there we were able to go to the place, att the highest point of the Ngobe land, overlooking the entire village where the YWAM Cultural Preservation Center
 will be. We prayed over the land, that it would bear much fruit and be a place of HOPE and PEACE for the Ngobe.
Straight from Tugri (the hike back took less time, we were proud of ourselves ; ) we met up with a medical team from Conneticut who set up a makeshift clinic in one of the government schools in another Ngobe province, Cameron Arriba, about two hours away from Cerra Flores. 

For three days our team worked alongside them to help organize the patient flow, assist in the Pharmacy, hold babies, cook meals for the medical workers, take photos, pray, love, be. It was quite different in Cameron than in the more conservative Tugri and I think we were all experiencing a bit of a culture shock (plus we were simply exhausted) but it was really incredible to assist a medical team of about 20 (Doctors, Nurses, a Dentist and a Pharmacist) see 2,000 patients in three days!

We found a beautiful gem within the Ngobe…in their culture, in the landscape all around us. Surely they carry a special part of his character within them. Surely they are his treasure. A treasure whose stories we are so excited to share with the world.

{Hope for the Ngobe}
We arrived back in Panama City and immediately began to prepare for the "Una Voz" (one voice) conference that was held the very next day (yes, we run a tight schedule). Over 50 different artists came together to act as ONE VOICE for JUSTICE. There was dancing, music, indigenous crafts, international cuisine, painting, scultping, multi-media presentations and our group had a photo gallery. Susi Childers,co-founder of PhotogenX, along with a few others from our group, shared about the Orphans Crisis and Human Trafficking here in Panama. At the end of the night we launched the 30 Days of Prayer for the Voiceless Prayer Booklet in Spanish for the first time! We really believe that the festival was the start of stirring people to action against injustice here in Panama. Please join with us in praying that JUSTICE and COMPASSION would flood this nation.

Ngobu Madimiga!

(God Bless You! in Ngobe).

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