Dear Panama

{We gave the kids mini cameras so that they could "photograph" us}
Our team is working alongside Heart's Cry Ministry, run by Matt & Misty Hedspeth and their friend Ari Herrera, to help create efficiencies for Orphans in Panama. There are over 50,000 institutionalized children in Panama and an adoption system that is almost nonexistent. There are nine known foster care families in the entire country. Matt and Misty (Misty is a former family rights lawyer) have submitted a proposal for implementing changes to adoption and orphan care systems to the Panamanian Government and JUST last week, after two years of them working tirelessly, the proposal was accepted!!! Thank you so much to those of you who have been keeping up to date with our outreach here in Panama and for your prayers on the day that the proposal was accepted. Our team is putting together a full fledged publication to spread awareness about the current law, the proposal and conditions in orphanages in Panama. The book will be distributed to the government and the public of Panama and hopefully will be sold in the States to help support Heart's Cry Ministry. We have been working in several different orphanages during our time here to be connected with the people at the heart of the issue; the orphans themselves.
{Storyboards for the publication, "Dear Panama; A Letter from Your Children}
Below is a journal entry from a few weeks ago when our team spent several nights at an orphanage about two hours from our "home base" in Gamboa, Panama. The twenty three 3-5 year olds who there are staying at the house while their usual facility in Panama City is being renovated.

27. July. 2009 early AM
In a beautiful house on top of a volcano in El Valle I am once again amazed by my God made so evident in his creation all around me. The sun rises and as our team slowly wakes from slumber in the loft we see the sky turn from dark blue to pink to blue again. SO much beauty. Below us twenty three 3 to 5 year old's sleep side by side in their "beds" on the floor. As they wake from sleep and inundate us with a chorus of "Buenos Dias!!!" they steal our hearts. They are precious. They are innocent. They are abandoned. We played games and sang songs and ran around the beautiful green yard, picking limes from trees and scooping up mangoes that have fallen from their branches. Towards dinner time, Sia, Ana and Maria made "birthday cakes" , with twigs for candles, in the dirt in the driveway. Over and over we sang "Cumpleanos Feliz" to each other and took turns "blowing out" the twig candles. My heart exploded with J O Y as Sia sang to me over and over and over. Later I found out that it actually was Sia's 3rd birthday. She celebrated it with nothing more than a cheery disposition and a birthday cake in the dirt. At dinner time all the kids sat around their giant picnic table and sang a song about being quiet at dinner time. When the song was over they all gave themselves a hug and recited together, "we are important people who are loved very much". I teared up as I translated this to my team (I understand poquito espanol). When our team was praying together later that night I cried as I prayed to God, please bring people into these children's lives who will hug them and remind them that they ARE important people. That they ARE loved. I believe our team is here for a crucial purpose and that we can communicate something so profound of the character of God. I believe our photography can empower them and that change can come through telling their stories. But there is only in just a few short days. With every encounter with these lonely babies we are made continually aware of how important the work that Matt, Misty and Ari are doing with their ministry here, Heart's Cry. They are making
H O P E an option for these precious little lives. Jesus, be here. Amen.

{Happy Birthday to YOU!}
"When we commune with one another we respect the image of God in others to protect it in ourselves. Communing together reminds us of our own humanity." - Rob Bell

**The names of the children in this story have been changed to protect their identities**

© 2010 unless otherwise stated all photos are copyright diane schallert and may not be used without permission. thanks.

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