I’m spending another summer taking students and church groups into the country of Panama. Most of the time, I’ve lived either in the jungles or on the islands of Kuna Yala, otherwise known as the San Blas. Our teams have worked both inside Panama City and with indigenous people groups: the Kuna, Wounan and Emberá tribes.
When we work with indigenous people, we give up many creature comforts. They have no electricity and no running water. The lack of these two simple things leads to many logistical nightmares.
Not long ago, I took a group to spend five days on Mulatupu. Two soccer fields long, this island has 700 residents. To use the bathroom, we had to walk on a plank to a little hut built over the ocean. We looked down the hole (no further explanation needed) to the beautiful sight of brightly-colored fish and coral. The students renamed the bathroom “The Aquarium.” (I’ll post a picture of it on the Baptist Messenger Facebook page).
During our time there, if I saw a student walking through the island and asked, “Where are you going?” the standard answer was, “The Aquarium.” There was always a long line to get in!
Through my years of missionary work, I’ve spent many years sleeping in a hammock. Once you get used to it, it’s a comfortable way to sleep. This summer, the adult sponsors who had back problems or trouble sleeping were amazed by the good night’s rest they could get in a hammock.
Our first night in Mulatupu, I climbed into my hammock and slept like a baby. When I woke up, though, my seat was completely on the ground, my feet only a few inches from my face. During the night, the rope I used to tie up my hammock had stretched until it gently lowered me to the dirt floor. That morning, I reattached my hammock.
The second night, I was about to go to sleep when I heard a “KRRRPING.”
“That’s not a normal island sound,” I thought. A strange feeling overtook me as I dropped like a rock from about three feet in the air and landed on the ground. I hit so hard one of the lenses popped out of my reading glasses. Never in all my years of mission work have I had a rope securing my hammock snap like that. People came running over to ask if I was all right. “I’m fine,” I assured them.
I got some new rope and reattached my hammock . . . again. Settling back in, I was enjoying the swaying benefits of hammock life when I heard a second “KRRRRPING!”
I looked around to determine whose hammock was falling when I experienced déjà vu. For the second time that night, I found myself flat on my back in the dirt below my hammock.
This time, the rope hadn’t broken, but the hammock itself had. I guess it was so old that the cotton rope inside had rotted. Never have I had a hammock or its string break on me once, let alone twice.
But the story gets stranger. There I lay in my new hammock, feeling the soreness in my back and trying to get the rattle out of my teeth. But it didn’t take long to fall asleep. When I awoke the next morning, nothing looked right. I was staring up at the ceiling at the hut’s center pole, but the view didn’t seem right. I’d attached a big clock to the main pole so that whenever I awoke, I could see the time. Now, the clock was missing. “I must have taken a harder fall than I thought,” I mused.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. In the middle of the night, I had somehow turned 180 degrees. That would be the equivalent of my hammock and me starring in a Cirque du Soleil show.
That week, I may have been bouncing up and down, but God was busy using our team. Our missionaries traveled from island to island lifting up the name of Jesus. People were saved and churches were planted. But all good things must come to an end.
As I was loading up the boats to head back to the mainland, I saw young men with tears in their eyes, sad that we were leaving. Their lives, their families and their destinies had been forever altered as God used us to enlarge His Kingdom. Suddenly, a wave of joy came over me and tears rolled down my cheeks onto the sand. God brought a verse to mind, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall … (James 1:2, KJV).
I didn’t need to finish the verse. I knew that out of the hurting back, bruised seat and broken glasses had come the greatest joy.