First let me tell you about our team. There were 16 of us in total, two leaders, and 14 summer staffers. Before the trip started, for the most part most of us knew each other, some better than others. There were maybe one or two people who I didn't know very well going into the trip. Either way, it was cool that we got to cultivate deeper relationships than we would have if we were at camp, because our team was so small and we spent so much time together. Throughout the 10 days of our excursion, you could really see how the team was growing closer and closer as group. Some of my favorite moments from the trip were when we got to worship together, just us, during our nightly team meetings. Singing praises to our Father all together in such a small group is really a tender experience. It does so much more for the heart than a 200 person session of corporate worship could ever accomplish. It was also great to meet back up every night and hear about where everyone's hearts were, how they were feeling, and where they were seeing God moving.
As I said the trip lasted 10 days, and was broken up into a couple different segments. When we first arrived in Panama on the evening of the 3rd, we moved into some rooms at a local seminary. The church we were partnering with was based in a school just outside of Panama City, called Arrijan. The seminary was just down the street from the church, and this is where we spent our first few nights. We stayed in Arrijan from Friday until the following Monday. Most of that time was just spent building community with the leaders and members of the church and cultivating relationships so we could be better prepared for camp.
Our first full day in Panama (Saturday) we got to tour the city. I don't really know what I was expecting Panama City to be like but I was definitely very impressed with it. The city is so expansive and so beautiful. Their downtown is gorgeous. There are dozens on dozens of sky scrapers and they have such rich and interesting architecture. But of course there is much more to Panama than just downtown skyscrapers. The first stop we made was the Panama Canal. To be honest, it is exactly the same as it looks in all of the textbooks. There are something like three different sets of locks along the Panama Canal and we went to see the Miraflores Locks. There was basically just a building right next to the locks where the boats went through. It was four stories tall and it had an observation deck on each of the levels so you could essentially just chill and watch the boats go through. Essentially. It was a tad crowded so we just got some peeks here and there, but it still really was incredible! Some of the other major stops of the day included a park with an incredible view of the skyline, the old streets of Panama City with their historic, European-looking buildings, and we ended the day with riding four person tandem bikes on the causeway, watching the sunset.
On Sunday, we got to experience Sunday church with our partner church. It was so cool to see how they worship and what their Sunday routine is like. After church, we relaxed, hung out, and played a little soccer with whoever was still around. It was supposed to be a chill, no fuss day. Around 3pm, we found out it was going to be so much more. We all piled into a few cars and started driving to an undisclosed location. Half an hour later, we were piling out of the car onto the side of a mountain. Our car got there a bit ahead of the rest of the pack, so we spent some time overlooking the peaks and the valleys and singing bilingual worship songs. What a sweet sweet moment with those friends.
Once the rest of the crew got up on the mountain, we snagged some delectable cheese empanadas and headed to the lookout point. It was breathtaking. From the viewing platform, you could hike down a ways and see the bottom of the valley, and then you could hike up to a peak and get a full 360 view. We were standing on a mountain, the wind whipping around our faces, looking out over the majestic green valleys and peaks which eventually gave way to the coast and the ocean as far as you could see. I mean come on. You can't make this stuff up.
After our glorious afternoon on the mountain, come Monday we were headed to camp. It was about 2 hours outside of Arrijan. I was paired up with a wonderful Panamanian co-counselor, Ilian and we had six 13 year old girls in our cabin. The camp was positively beautiful. It was a paradise. There were palms everywhere and the scent of honeysuckle would catch you whenever the breeze blew by. And the beach was right at our doorstep.
For the sake of time management, and to spare you from a five page blog post, I'm going to save all of my stories about camp for the next post. Sometimes it's best to take great things a little bit at a time. Unless it's chocolate.