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Celebrating Partnerships: Panama

Celebrating Partnerships

What happens when God brings together a missionary couple from Colombia, a church family in Saskatoon and indigenous communities in Panama?

We experience the joy and blessing of being a part of the global family of God!

More than ten years ago, Forest Grove began to explore what a partnership could look like with a couple from Colombia named Einer and Girlesa Zuluaga who had just arrived as missionaries in Panama, serving among the Wounaan and Embera indigenous peoples.

We longed for an ongoing relationship that could develop over time through short-term mission teams going to the same place, where there would be discipleship and mutual support. We didn’t know what to expect. We had no idea how that partnership would grow into a very special relationship today with not only the missionaries, but the Wounaan church in Panama as well.

I have treasured the warm words of Obdulio Isarama, a leader in the MB Church Conference in Panama, as he spoke about partnership. Obdulio said, “We want to be in relationship with you, like family. When family is hurting you hurt with them, when family celebrates you celebrate with them. You visit one another and share life.” I share these words with every short-term team that is sent out from Forest Grove.

Our focus is relational – we have experienced the mutual benefit of this partnership. The Zuluagas have discipled us as much as we have supported them. Many strong friendships have been made over the years.

In eleven years, over one hundred people from Forest Grove have visited Panama on intergenerational short-term teams. Some individuals have gone back several times, including four young adults that have been discipled by the Zuluagas through the TREK program.

The Forest Grove teams have been able to share in celebrations and struggles in Panama. When a Wounaan community lost its leader in an illegal logging conflict in 2012, we sent our lead pastor, Bruce Enns, to mourn with them. When the Zuluagas adopted their son from a Wounaan community, we were there to rejoice with them after years of praying with them for a child. In 2014, another team was there with a small community when their chief passed away suddenly. We changed our plans and shared in the mourning and the preparations for his funeral. What an honor it has been to share in the journey with our family in Panama.

The Zuluagas and Wounaan church leaders have also had the opportunity to visit Saskatoon and share life with us at Forest Grove. These visits have impacted our whole church. They’ve given not just the goers but the senders too an opportunity to get to know our partners and hear their vision and struggles firsthand.

In September 2015, we invited our dear friends, the Zuluagas, to come to Saskatoon for a celebration, a reunion of sorts! The theme of the celebration was Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name goes all the glory for your unfailing love and faithfulness.”

Our God is a relational God, and he invites us to be in partnership with one another in the global body of Christ. What an honor it has been to be on mission together in Panama these past ten years! We join with many others who have gone before us to serve among the Wounaan, including our missionary God! We have learned that mission is not something you do to one another, but what you do with one another.

By Maryanne Berge,
Missions Pastor, Forest Grove Community Church,
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan