Sharing the Good News in Panama
Panama became the focus of Free Will Baptist missionaries in 1936. Reverend and Mrs. Thomas Willey, Sr., ministered among the country's Indians in the interior. Political instability forced the Willeys to leave Panama after only a few months.
Twenty-five years later the Willeys’ children reopened the Free Will Baptist work in Panama. By the end of 1969, six congregations gathered regularly for worship. In 2012, the work celebrated its 50th anniversary. Today three missionary couples serve in Panama.
Geography and Climate
Panama is the crossroad of the world. The sprawling S-shaped isthmus in Central America runs east and west, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by means of the Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal flows through an area of land 10 miles wide and 40 miles long. The Canal is flanked by Panama City, the nation's capital, on one end and the city of Colón at the other.
Located 600 miles north of the equator, Panama is 480 miles long and varies in width from 30 to 120 miles. Her neighbor to the east is Colombia. To the west lies Costa Rica. The Caribbean lies on the north and the Pacific Ocean on the south.
The country has a tropical climate marked by two seasons: rainy and dry. Both coasts have an average temperature of 80 degrees.
Approximately 3.6 million people occupy the isthmus nation. Over 30 percent of these live in Panama City and Colón. Three distinct population groups make up the majority of Panama: the cosmopolitan urban group, the agricultural group, and the Indian tribes.
The cultural impact of the Kuna, the Guayami, and the Chocó tribes is still evident in Panama. Because of Panama's strategic location, many foreigners have also influenced her citizens.
In 1501, Rodrigo de Bastidas became the first explorer to visit Panama. Columbus claimed the territory for Spain in 1502. Panama assumed added significance in 1513 when Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean.
Due to dissatisfaction with Spain's colonial policies, the Department of the Isthmus (Panama) joined the Republic of Greater Colombia (Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia) in the late 1800s. In November of 1903 Panama became an independent nation known as the Republic of Panama.
The nation's economy is closely tied to the operation of the Panama Canal. The Canal was jointly administered by Panama and the United States Panama assumed total control over the Canal at the end of 1999. In 2006, Panamanians voted to expand the Canal by adding two additional locks, which will allow even larger ships to pass through. Work began in 2007 and is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
Panama boasts a literacy rate of 93 percent. The government provides free and compulsory education for children between the ages of seven and 15. And although Spanish is Panama's official language, English is widely spoken.
Panama has been plagued by political turmoil and economic instability. Missionaries report that believers have experienced suffering as a result of this combination. Occasionally, strong anti-American sentiments surface.
Nominally, Panama is Roman Catholic. Practically, Catholicism is an irrelevant cultural heritage. Only about 19 percent of the country's 3.6 million "Christians" are evangelical Christians or are at least considered part of the evangelical community.
Guarantees of religious freedom allow Free Will Baptists to minister without restraint. Unfortunately, this same freedom has made the spread of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. possible.
Free Will Baptist Ministries
FWBIM missionaries currently work in three cities in the interior of Panama: Chame (seminary), Penonomé, and Santiago. As of 2012, the work consists of 10 organized churches, 1 official mission work and over 40 preaching points around the country. Films, music, radio, and special community services have been effective in opening doors for evangelism.