When we first started looking into moving to Panama we wrote the Branch Office in Panama for more information on helping the English field and where there was a need. In the letter it gave us four locations, three in the Bocas Del Toro province: the town of Bocas Del Toro, Almirante, Changuinola. The other location was in the Chiriqui province in Volcan. We did some searching on the Internet and the Bocas Del Toro region seemed to be more of our style. It was a little more of a Caribbean style and feel. Also the people there seemed to speak more English in the general population, almost everyone who is of African decent there is from one of the islands and they speak a Jamaican style of English.
So we decided to call the brother in Changuinola to get some more information. (We eliminated Bocas Del Toro really fast because everything and everyone said it is really expensive, it is an island.) The brother there gave us some really encouraging information about the territory and the congregation and how much help they need there. I (Tyler) felt that this was the place we really needed to go, and I really wanted to go to Changuinola. I heard from some friends that visited Bocas Del Toro, the town, that it was a difficult area but that Almirante was even harder. At the same time I was not really interested in talking to ex-pats in the Volcan area. So we decided to go to Changuinola for 3 months and check things out.
However, as most of you know, Michelle found out that she had to have surgery and that the recovery time would be 4-6 weeks. We were planning to leave 6 weeks from that date. After her surgery she didn't feel up to spending a lot of time in Panama and didn't want to go to Changuinola at all now, but wanted to go to Volcan because it is easier here (the water is OK and there is more amenities). As it got closer to our new date to go to Panama she felt better and we decided to spend most of the time in Volcan but still visit Changuinola. So we took off for Panama and Volcan.
I think it took less than a week for us to decide that Volcan was not for us. As previously stated it is really wet, cool and cloudy. The town is small the territory is absolutely huge and so you basically have to have a car or ride with someone who does. We can't afford the upkeep or insurance here for a car on our budget, so we knew that Volcan was not for us.
We decided to try Changuinola on our third week in country. So I found the contact information for the brother currently in Changuinola. (The original brother and his wife were in the states working to support themselves here in Panama) We asked if he knew of a place we could stay for a week and check things out. He offered to let us stay with him and his wife during our visit. (Everyone here is really good about letting brothers and sisters they have never met stay with them) So we set things up, he gave me the assignments for the Bible Study reader, and the Bible Highlights, Announcements, another Service Meeting part, the Public talk for the Bocas Congregation on Saturday, the Public Talk for Changuinola on Sunday Morning and the Public Talk for Almirante Sunday Afternoon. And Michelle a number 2 talk. This was all just one week, he was the only brother covering Changuinola and Almirante at the time.
Everything was set and I was really happy and looking forward to it because my heart had always been drawn to Chanquinola for some reason.
However, the week before we were to go to Changuinola a demonstration in the Bocas Del Toro Region turned Violent with clashes between the Police and Demonstrators. The Government passed a 9-in-1 law (9 different laws were in this one bill) that included things that tried to weaken the Unions. The Unions lied to their members telling them that the government was taking away their holiday and overtime pay along with giving the guys alcohol to drink thus setting a match to things. The demonstrators blocked all the roads going in and out of Changuinola thus making it so the buses couldn't run. I wanted to wait and see if things got resolved but Michelle didn't want to risk it, also the brothers all urged me to reconsider going over there for the time being. So I emailed the brother over there to let him know we were canceling our trip to Changuinola for the time being.
After things calmed down Michelle asked me if I still wanted to go to Changuinola. I thought about it and said I don't think so. Little did I know that Michelle had just been praying about the idea of going to Changuinola and prayed that if it was not where we should go that I would have a change of heart and mind and no longer want to go to Changuinola.
It was interesting talking with the Circuit Overseer later about the Changuinola incident and how we were blocked from going there. We jokingly said, "of course Jehovah wouldn't start a riot just to keep us from going there." He said, true but he could have moved things so that we picked that week or that things finally boiled over at that point. (The law had been passed over a month before.)
So we were never able to visit Changuinola.
For three weeks in a row we tried to go and visit Boquete to check it out. Boquete is where an English group that started up out of the congregation from Volcan was recently formed and they need help there. But every single time we had plans to visit something happened and we were not able to go to Boquete. A couple in Boquete are ones I grew up with in Independence, Missouri so I was looking forward to seeing them, they also were a great source of information for us in our plans for Panama.
Boquete is apparently one of the most beautiful places in all of Panama. It is called little Switzerland because apparently it reminds people of that type of area. There are a lot of English speakers there because a lot of retired Americans have moved there. It sounded really nice and we would have really liked to go there but it just never worked out.
We ended up finding a place and deciding on a territory before we were ever even able to visit Boquete.
As I said at the beginning the Branch gave us four places to check out. The three in Bocas del Toro province and Volcan in the Chiriqui province. I knew about Boquete from my friends that were here. We had never heard of David as a possibility until we arrived in Panama.
Our first day in service here in Panama was with the Volcan Congregation as they came down to work David as part of their huge territory. After that Michelle kept saying, "I wish there was a need in David because I just like this town." David is the third largest City in the country of Panama after Panama City and Colon. It is also the 1st or 2nd hottest place in Panama from what we have been told. On Wednesdays the Volcan congregation works David for half the day and then goes shopping in the afternoon for the things they can't get in Volcan. With it being so large and the capital of the Province there are buses and taxis everywhere there. The bus system is great they follow certain routes and you can get on or off anywhere along their route by waiving them down to get on and calling out your location to get them to stop.
There are two sisters that were assigned as temporary Special Pioneers to check for English in David. After their assignment was over (temp Special Pioneers are for 3 months here) they decided to stay. The week we were supposed to visit Changuinola originally ended up being the week that the Circuit Overseer and his wife (they are a missionary couple) were visiting the sisters in David. The English Circuit Overseer covers the entire country and there are not enough congregations in the country to keep him busy so he also visits every group or possible group. In addition they receive special assignments to cover other territory, their last assignment was three months working high-rise office buildings in Panama City. So we decided to support his visit during the week.
He had been kind of talking up David during our times in service so we asked him if he thought there was much of a need in David or was Changuinola a place we should focus on. He said that he feels that David is the largest English territory in the country and that he could see a congregation forming there very quickly, once they had an appointed brother to take the lead that would commit to David. Most people find David to be too hot and so they end up in one of the mountain towns, we think it is hot but not as hot as the states in the summer.
Once he found out we were interested in David and that I am an appointed brother he suddenly changed tune. Next thing I knew he was stopping in the grocery stores to look at the bulletin boards to see what houses are for rent. He would ask what places we were interested in and then he would call and talk to the people for us to get more information and pricing on the homes. We decided on 3 places to look at the next day, so he arranged to work with us again the next day so that we could go look at the houses and he could translate for us.
The next day we went to look at the places, one was a two bedroom one bath for $150. At first the CO and Tyler didn't want to go there, but Michelle reminded them of the experience of a friend of ours who found a place in another country for $100 where rent is really expensive and the place was nicer than most of the ones they had looked at. So we went and the house was nice and cute and well cared for. The CO was in a hurry to see the next place because we had an appointment there to see the house. We went and looked at that house and it was a 3 bedroom 2 bath for $350, but it was not very clean and there were some other issues. Later Michelle told the car group that she had been praying for a house that was $150 so that it would be easier on our budget. The house we looked at was the only house we have seen listed as low as $150, so the CO said, I wish you would have said that earlier, I think you have found your house! So we called the lady the next day and arranged to meet her and pay the deposit and rent.
So we are going to settle in David and help start and English group there with the Spanish Congregation. We will be working closely with the CO and his wife who are missionaries and with an Elder and his wife in the Spanish congregation that will sponsor the group in English and they are also missionaries.
We really feel that Jehovah has directed our steps and helped us to see where he wants us to go here in Panama. I can't even relate all of the little details about what happened in this course, things like other peoples specific prayers being answered, but the people involved here all feel that this is Jehovah's direction for us. One of the days for field service the CO used Acts chapter 16 talking about the work here, we really feel that something similar happened with us so I have the Evans version below.
The Evans version of Acts 16:6-7, 9-10
Moreover, they went through [Panama City] and the country of [Panama] because they were forbidden by the holy spirit to speak the word in the district of [Bocas del Toro]. Further, when getting down to [Volcan] they made efforts to go into [Boquete], but the spirit of Jesus did not permit them... And during the [visit] a [Circuit Overseer] appeared to [Tyler]: a certain [Missionary] standing and entreating him and saying: "Step over into [David] and help us." Now as soon as he had seen the [Circuit Overseer], we sought to go forth into [David], drawing the conclusion that God had summoned us to declare the good news to them.