“This beach is beautiful! I feel like we’re in a movie,” I shout excitedly. It’s Sabbath in Panama and our study group grabbed a boat ride to enjoy a gorgeous day at the beach.
Riding the waves, a little ways out, our enthusiasm is interrupted. Bang! Was that a gunshot coming from the beach? Looking into the trees, further inland, I see people in uniform. It looks like someone is being stomped and beaten to the ground. Can this really be happening?
We start to wonder what’s going on. Angela’s alone on the beach and our stuff is right next to the people. Our hesitant voices echo, “Should we go be with Angela…is our stuff okay?”
Wading our way to the shore, I see 2 policia and a young man in handcuffs leave the jungle’s edge. The kid’s head is bloody. It’s hard to tell how badly since he’s keeping his back to us. Was he shot? Not enough blood. I don’t know what to think. Panic or be calm…are we okay? We notice the policia have Angela and Micah’s bags. Turns out the kid had stolen them and we had no clue until now.
“Thanks for getting our stuff back, we really appreciate it!” They look upset and frustrated. “Who’s stuff is this?” Angela and Micah speak up, claiming their bags. “They need to come to the station with us. “ Thinking we were done with this situation, my heart drops. We realize Micah and Angela need to fill out a police report. Agreeing hesitantly, we all decide to go—staying as a group to be safe.
We walk down the beach–leaving all signs of civilization. Wait, why are we going this way? To disappear into the jungle and know one has a clue where we are? Feeling the same uneasiness, Sara voices her apprehension to my relief.
“We should go in two big groups so we can let the others know what’s going on.” Everyone seems to agree. We want to trust the officers but they wouldn’t show us their badges earlier. Got to go on the safe side, you never know.
Michael, Micah, Angela, and Janelle go with the polica. The other five of us start walking back toward the water taxi. Sara starts to voice her apprehension again. “You guys, I’m scared. I think we should all go back on the boat together.” There’s second-guessing and confusion. I still don’t know what to think. I’m an outsider. How would a local handle this? I have no idea.
Sara runs to catch up with Michael. They talk for a moment. He tells the policia that we all want to go on the water taxi—staying together. They look frustrated but agree to our request.
The small boat just got smaller. From 10 to 13 people, we’re crammed on this sketchy boat that had creaked the whole way to the island. I hope we make it back!
Sitting in the middle of the boat, next to Zach and Zach, my heartstrings start being tugged. The boy and two policia are sitting right behind me. I don’t have the guts to look back and get a better look. I can’t believe how young he is.
Holding my bag, I remember I brought my Bible. I have my water bottle. He has nothing. Just with these two things, I have all I need. He has nothing. Spoiled. One word to describe myself. How much do I take for granted? Everything. Who knows if people can afford a Bible, yet I have like three at home. Full of emotion, I feel like yelling. I can’t explain it. Anxiousness, compassion, sympathy, disgust at my American dream. It’s too much.
I glance at Micah’s back in front of me. I long to reach around his shoulder and extend my hand. Comfort from a friend, I need it. I need human touch. Only a little to get me by. God wrap me in your loving arms. Why do I have to be from America? Where touch is not without strings. Where people aren’t comfortable with it unless they’re old chums. Or it’s superficial. We’ve built up walls impenetrable. Africa, you taught me so much but why can’t I get myself to do it. I feel powerless.
My mind is going a million miles an hour. Tears start to fall. “Are you okay?” Zach asks me softly. “Not really, but I’ll be alright.” I don’t know how to explain my feelings, so I leave them unsaid. “Okay, but if you want to talk later, I’d be happy to listen.” I’m glad to hear his caring words.
The tears won’t stop and I realize why. I want to give the young man my Bible and water but I feel torn. I feel fear. But why fear rejection or man’s interpretation of what’s right or wrong? What’s more important, the chance for this boy to see who Christ is, or me saving face? My dad passed away without warning. I know the value of life and how soon that flame could be quenched. This may be this boy’s only chance to feel the love that God intended for him to know. The forgiveness that’s already been given. I may be that messenger God sent today. The reason I accidently brought my Bible with me to the beach—ready to be given away.
I go for a drink of water and toss it the floor. I can’t drink this! He has nothing. It wouldn’t be fair. I’ve gotta save it for him. Not sure how or where, but I have to!
Arriving at the dock, I see the words “Policia Nacional.” We’ve made it, now what? “Fallow,” the policia states as they take the young man off the boat. I fallow closely behind Micah and Angela, not caring if I’m supposed to go with them or not—I’m on a mission.
Walking down the dock we arrive at a tall metal fence, doorway open. I continue to fallow and the main group stops at the gate. They say, “We don’t go inside too.” I say, “I’m gonna go.” I wish they knew what I’m trying to do but I don’t have the time or the words.
We walk through a small courtyard and enter a big yellow building. Inside we go down the hall into a room that opens to the street—a fence in between us and the world. It looks like a courtroom because of the elevated platform where the officers are standing. A prisoner stares at us from behind cold, grey bars.
The rest of the group joins us, coming from a different way. The policia need Micah and Angela’s passports so they escort them to get their documents at our hostel down the street. The group hangs back and we wait.
Everyone is sitting on the steps outside, a calm in the storm. My moment that God’s granted. Apprehensively, I go up to the guard that speaks English. “Can I give him my water?” I ask, hoping for a yes. “Go ahead,” he says in a stern, yet kind voice. He seems curious.
Standing at arms length, not sure how he’ll react, I present my water bottle to the young man. “Would you like some water?” He nods in agreement, taking the bottle. He drinks until content, leaving some left for me. Wow, he has nothing yet he’s still thinking of this selfish American’s needs. Would I do the same?
Seeing his smile I feel at ease. “Thank you,” he says. Next, I hand him my Bible. With his right hand, handcuffed to the bench, he uses the other to unstrap the cord holding it shut. He opens it and flips through the pages meticulously. His eyes show deep thought and tenderness. Something I didn’t see in him before—his anger dissipating by the moment.
I take a seat next to him. “It’s a Bible,” I tell him, “I want you to have it. My life use to be a mess and I’d always get into trouble. God changed my life and I know he can change yours too.”
“I can’t read English, but I can try to learn,” he answers. His eyes don’t wander from its pages, as if mesmerized. “What’s your name?” I ask. “Anthony,” he looks up at me smiling.
We talk about God and the Bible, for how long, I’m not sure. “Would you like to pray?” Nodding, he lowers his head slowly and softly. It feels like we’re the only two people in the world, my attention totally focused on him and my prayer. “Amen.” We lift up our heads. I feel at peace and a strange calmness surrounds us.
“Have you heard of Jesus before and what He’s done for you?” He answers, “I’ve seen Him on TV. He died on the cross for our sins, with blood and scars on his back.” Hearing this, I’m amazed. We talk more about the Bible and what Jesus has promised us.
I wonder more about his family. He tells me he’s the oldest at age 16. His favorite Futboll team is Brazil. He asks me which one I like and I have no idea! I don’t watch Futboll but I try to talk sports with him for a bit. It seems to be his passion.
“What’s your dream? If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?” I’m curious to hear what he says. “I’d play Futboll for Brazil! I want that more than anything!”
“I tell you what, you wanna play Futboll for Brazil, God can make your dreams come true.” I try to encourage him. That he’s been created for great things in life. God’s given me so much hope and love, I can’t help but share it with this young man. He needs to hear it.
Changing the topic, I ask him if you knows any Bible stories. “No, but I’d like to hear one.” I try to think of a good one. “Okay, I’ve got it! There once was a man with really long hair,” interrupting he says, “I know this story. He had long hair that was to always grow. Then if it were cut, he would loose his strength.” I can’t help but smile. I’ve been caught off guard again! Assumptions blown out of the water.
“What church do you go to?” he asks me smiling. “The Seventh Day Adventist Church.” Without hesitation he responds, “I’m a Seventh Day also. I didn’t go today though. I’ve been going there since I was five, for eleven years off and on. I went more when I was younger. To the Friday and Saturday night meetings too.” Seriously! Did I just hear that? I feel like this is God acknowledging me even more. He wanted me to meet Anthony today. To take a step of faith and reach out. I’m honored for God to use me—a servant. The sinner that I am. I don’t know if I’ll look at life the same and I hope Anthony doesn’t either.
Anthony, I’ll be looking for you at the World Cup! Most importantly, I hope to see you in God’s heavenly paradise one day. The seed has been planted; pray that it continues to grow.