How should a Discipleship Training School outreach team seek to reach the Ngobe Indians of Panama? Try being a good neighbor. That’s what members of the Panama outreach team from Port YWAM Kona discovered. The team — sent out by the winter Justice DTS — found that the Ngobe people respond to basic friendliness just like everyone else.
Greg Murphy, of Washington state, said the Ngobe people expressed deep appreciate for his team’s ministry to them.
“One of the personal highlights for me is when one of these guys we were pouring into told us how he saw in us what he only read before in the Bible. He had never really experienced unconditional love and sharing and expressing Jesus’ love in practical ways,” said Murphy, 56, who co-led the team. “He had never seen that — he’s only read about it and he said ‘Now, I’m encouraged to do the same with other people.’”
Some of the “practical ways” the team served the Ngobe people were digging wells, planting pineapple trees, building homes and teaching the Bible. They were based out of Outpost Panama, the YWAM Ships base on Bastimentos Island. Kathlene Soo, of New Zealand, agreed that a fundamental tenet of relationship-building — the establishment of trust — is what makes the difference in outreach to the Ngobe people.
“They’re kind of a closed people, but if you just show them what you’re there for — which is to show God’s love — they’re pretty open about it,” Soo, 28, said. “Just treat them with the respect that they deserve (because they’ve never seen that before) and they’ll open right up.”
Murphy said it also pays to be adventurous.
“We just asked God to lead us. We’d take off in the boat and we’d end up at a house and just knock on the door and meet the people who live there and become friends with them. Five minutes later, 10 people are inside their house sitting down and telling their story and we’d love on them. Later we would go back and have a little church in that little village there,” Murphy said.
Members of the team said there are three places where they saw considerable opportunities for future outreaches to connect with the Ngobe people: Isla Tigre (about an hour away from Outpost Panama), Red Bay Village and schools in general, where English teachers are needed.
Soo said the main focus of ministry to the Ngobe’s, for now, should be to show them their worth.
“God’s really just showing them the reality of His love for them because they are a very oppressed people group,” Soo said. “They are the most looked down upon and God is letting them know how valued they are.”
Murphy said that kind of discipleship is largely absent in Ngobe churches.
“They feel so bad about themselves. We heard from some of the pastors and some of the locals that there’s no life in a lot of these guys. They’re so suppressed and oppressed that if you can go and love on these guys — have fun with them and laugh with them and joke with them and bring joy to them — that’s what they need so badly,” Murphy said. “And even the local leadership — the Christian local leaders — saw that in their people.”