By: Pastors Carlos De Gracia Alvarado and Gaby Bustos Salazar
A month ago, we posted a testimony about a church that is using many creative ways to reach its urban community. Today we want to share more of their story. May we be encouraged to pray for them and implement creative methods to touch our cities as well!
The Church of the Nazarene Bread of Life began with the sending of missionaries Marleydi Sánchez and Ingrid Jocholá as part of the Genesis initiative in 2018. Their work has progressed according to God’s plan in a sector called Los Libertadores, in the center of Panama City. This community of eight buildings of 14 floors each and eight apartments per floor was our focus. Almost a thousand families live there; it’s a large population needing to hear the word of God.
When we were exploring the buildings, we saw that the population was very young and involved in drugs and informal jobs. A high percentage of the residents are immigrants from countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Colombia. On the other hand, we see many Panamanians who have also immigrated from surrounding provinces and found in this area a place with low rent and a very central location.
After being assigned as pastors, my wife and I thanked the Lord for the opportunity to serve. We began to reach out to local leaders who immediately identified us with the missionaries. We got permits to meet on a ranch in the sports area and we became frustrated with the loud music that was everywhere. The screams of soccer players and other groups getting drunk competed with our gathering that was designed to praise God.
During the pandemic, the Lord has been merciful to the Church of the Nazarene Bread of Life. We were taken into account by a national aid program that helped us deliver bags of food to very needy families at the most critical moments. The blessing was so great that we shared bags with other churches in our area.
We grew so much that our church was officially organized in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in a virtual service on November 28, 2020.
After the reopening of the quarantine, we resumed visits and face-to-face services in the community. In the month of May, we realized that the needs of our teenagers went beyond a simple class or the well-known “kids’ worship services”. They had many negative options of how to spend their spare time. So with that purpose, we started youth classes on Friday afternoons.
One of the things we saw in them and was very popular was dancing: they recorded themselves with their phones doing TikTok dances. We made contact with one of the leaders of the Hip-Hop movement in Panama and we started basic breakdancing classes. This action turned the small group of five into sixteen teenagers who participated in discipleship every Friday and then practiced their urban music steps.
We ended the month of July with a celebration of Children’s Day, where we all delighted in the talents of the teenagers. Soon after, we conducted a survey with the teens. We found that they wanted to learn cooking, painting, and of course soccer. We decided to take advantage of the sports areas and start soccer training sessions. With God’s help, four practices and a competitive match have been held so far with 20 teenage boys and 15 girls.
In this project we have discovered many needs common amongst the participants: healthy eating, health care, academic reinforcement, and some children even need special psychological attention. All of this has prompted us to pray for each one of them. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we know that God will give us strength. Most parents see our church as a good option for their children to grow and learn. Our prayer is to be able to reach not only the teenagers, but also their families and the community.
We want to thank each of you for including us in your prayers. Our great challenge has become evangelizing upcoming generations through sports.