“I was kind of excited to go see a different culture,” said West, 17, of North Fairfield.
Kimberly, 44, said he decided to go to help the less fortunate, but also help spread the word of God. His 18-year-old daughter Tiffani Morris also went on the trip.
“I wanted my daughter to experience a different culture,” Kimberly said. “It was exciting to see how she’d react to things that were so different . … It was exciting to have her try new foods.”
From June 10 through 17, the 15 church members performed religious dramas during various school assemblies. The dramas were set to music. They also shared their faith testimonies after the play and asked if anyone wanted to pray with them. The team performed five different dramas, mostly two per day.
“The dramas didn’t need any translation because they are performed to music,” Pastor Jeff Watson said. “They are cross-cultural dramas.”
Before and after the dramas, the team — which ranged in age from 17 through 61 — connected with elementary through high school children through handshakes, high-fives, music and playing games. The local residents had three translators — brothers who ranged in age from 11 through 15.
“We made a dance circle. We did handshakes. We played soccer with them one time,” said Mya Ray, who noted those experiences created a special bond with the students.
“One boy told me seeing an American here was like seeing an Indian on the moon,” the 18-year-old Norwalk girl added.
Adrianna Rodriguez, who was on her fourth mission trip with The Foundation Church, said the language barrier was a challenge since “we don’t speak Spanish and they don’t speak English,” but they found ways to make sure they understood each other. This was her first international mission trip.
Getting hugs from the children after the dramas was fairly common.
“It was a good representation of God’s love. It was really special; it will be something I will always remember,” Rodriguez said.
Doing God’s work overseas isn’t a new thing for Michael Kegyes. The 24-year-old Willard resident has been a full-time missionary since his first week-long trip to Jamaica in 2012.
“I lived in the Middle East for the last four years — Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan (and) Iran,” he said.
Kegyes, who finds it most fulfilling to help people understand who Jesus Christ is, said it’s great going to a different part of the world, finding someone who believes in Jesus and becoming very close with them.
Enthusiastic new convert; bonding over meals
An off-duty police officer hung around after one of the dramas in Panama. After speaking to the mission team, “he accepted Jesus as his lord and savior right there,” Kimberly said, adding he planned to share the Gospel with other officers.
“He was being called to something,” he added. “He was (so) excited to share the word (of God) right then and there.”
One night the mission team bonded with various, local families by having dinner in their homes.
“They made an American dinner; it was ham and cheese sandwiches. It was cute,” said Rodriguez, who expected Panama food to be spicy, but it ended up being more flavorful. “The family I went to had the same last name (as me). I said, ‘Mi familia’ and they would laugh.”
West, Libbie Ramsey and Taylor Tanzillo had dinner with a family, which included three children who were 13, 17 and 20 years old.
“The oldest son would tap his phone to get the translation (of what we said),” West recalled. “We told them about our sports and they told us about about their sports.”
West shared her experience about power lifting at South Central High School. She later became friends with one of the sons on Instagram.
Being international witnesses
The local females stayed at the Free Baptist Church of Chame while the men stayed at the home of the man they called Pastor Uriel.
Kimberly said he noticed that being poor in Panama is a different standard than in the United States.
“What we consider poor here would be middle class there,” the North Fairfield man said.
Watson said one of the reasons The Foundation Church goes on mission trips is to fulfill God’s call to use the Holy Spirit to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth,” a reference to Acts 1: 8, 9.
“We need to be witnesses nationally, locally and internationally,” the pastor added.
Rodriguez has found her calling through the church mission trips. She wants to be a missionary-teacher in third-world countries.
“It was my first step in my future, God willing,” the 19-year-old girl said.