My name is Byron Willis, pastor of The Bible Baptist Church of David, which is located in The Republic of Panama, where I have been serving as a missionary pastor for The Open Door Baptist Church of Mesquite, Texas since 1989. While I’m a native Texan, Panama has been our family’s home for many years.
The Bible Baptist Church of David, more commonly known here in Panama as “Iglesia Bautista Biblica de David”, is located in the western province of Chiriqui in the Republic of Panama, Central America. We are about an eight hour drive west of our capital, Panama City….very near the border between Panama and Costa Rica.
POVERTY IS WIDESPREAD
Like much of Panama, the economy of Chiriqui province is primarily supported by agriculture, but our economy is gradually becoming more diverse. While the area in and around the city of David is becoming increasingly modernized, by North American standards, the area is still quite economically disadvantaged. Conversely, by Central American standards, Panama is considered by some to be an “upper-middle income” country, but poverty continues to be a very real national challenge. Its effect upon many of the children of Panama is heartbreaking.
According to the most recently available UNESCO statistics, almost 35% of Panama’s population is made up of children from 0-17 yrs of age.
Children and adolescents make up the group most severely affected by poverty in Panama. Half of the Panamanian children under the age of 6 live in poverty. While 25% live in extreme poverty.
According to these same statistics, almost 44% of all Panamanian children under the age of 18 live in poverty, while 21% live in extreme poverty.
While the Panamanian government is aware of these challenges and continues to seek effective solutions, government resources are extremely limited and thousands of Panamanian children still go to bed hungry every night and every morning thousands of them wake up not knowing when or where their next meal will come from.
CHILD LABOR: A DANGEROUS BY-PRODUCT OF POVERTY
In 2015, Panama made significant advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The Government ratified ILO Convention 189 Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers and adopted a policy framework document on the elimination of child labor in domestic work.
Despite these well-intentioned efforts, many children in Panama continue to engage in the worst forms of child labor, including in agriculture and in various commercial forms of sexual exploitation, sometimes as the result of human trafficking. Panamanian law does not adequately define light work and allows minors under age 16 to engage in a variety of hazardous work assignments within training establishments.
SEX-TRAFFICKING & HIV/AIDS….A SERIOUS THREAT
According to the U.S. Embassy in Panama, Panama is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.
Statistics from Panama’s Comptroller General show that 75 percent of children born are outside of a stable relationship, and one in five of those births are to a teenaged mother, while 70 percent of the fathers are over 20 and are among those most affected by HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS is the third leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15 to 24 years in Panama.
Children trapped in the bondage of poverty become vulnerable to all manner of ugliness that plagues our world today. Just turn on your TV or browse the Internet news stories , or pick up any newspaper from around the world and you can readily see the plight of children trapped in poverty.
ALL IS NOT LOST!
Although it may seem like I am painting a very gloomy picture of of our beloved Panama, we have worked very hard to be a beacon in the midst of this darkness.
For several years now, with God’s help and the faithful generosity of other supporting churches and organizations, our little church in David has been able to shine the light of hope and love of Christ by feeding as many of these kids as possible, on a daily basis, through the use of four separate area feeding centers.
Through each of our feeding centers, we have been able to provide at least one meal a day for an average of 40 boys and girls, while still managing to keep the monthly expense down to approximately $25 per child. In some of our poorest areas, the generosity of others has occasionally allowed us to provide breakfast, as well.
This $25 covers the cost of the meal, its preparation & distribution costs and the occasional modest maintenance of the feeding center where the food is actually distributed. But for these feeding centers, many of these kids would not eat even one full meal a day.
In addition to our feeding centers, about ten years, in an effort to provide safe haven for some of Panama’s children who, for a variety of reasons, do not have a safe or healthy home environment, we opened a children’s home or orphanage that we named Hogar de Niñas y Niños Amados (Home of Beloved Girls and Boys).
Working with various agencies of the Panamanian government, over the years we have been able to identify many “at risk” children and provide them with a safe place to live, learn and grow without fear of what trouble tomorrow might bring.
Today, we provide a safe and loving home environment for an average of 30-35 children. This includes food, clothing, formal classroom education, recreation, health/medical care and biblically based spiritual guidance at an average monthly cost of only $200 per child.
While our ultimate goal is to be able to eventually expand this ministry to the point that we can provide this kind of love and support to approximately 100 children, for now, our immediate prayer is to effectively maintain that with which God has already blessed us.
OUR MOST RECENT CHALLENGE
Sadly, with the national and international economy being as it is today, more and more charitable organizations are vying for fewer and fewer available donor dollars. Consequently, over time we have gradually lost a significant portion of our outside financial support.
Unfortunately, ours is not a financially wealthy congregation. The basic financial needs of this type of ministry, as conservative as they may be, are quite significant. Therefore, our continued success is very dependent upon outside contributions and donations.
Recently, our external support has dwindled to the point where we could actually be faced with the difficult decision of closing some or all of our feeding centers in order to continue taking care of the children living in the “Hogar”.
We know that is not God’s desire.
If we are forced to stop or even suspend the food distribution at the feeding centers… or worse yet, close the doors of our children’s home, every single one of these precious children will still need to be fed and many will still need a safe place to lie down at night.
GOD IS ABLE!
This is where we need your help. We know that Our God is able and we also know that God’s people are faithful. I believe that we can all agree that no child should have to worry about having a safe place to sleep or go to bed hungry.
Our GoFundMe goal for 2017 is to cover our basic monthly operating expense for the entire year. In order to maintain our current level of assistance to the children of the children’s home and at the feeding centers is approximately $10,000. Thus, our stated annual goal of $120,000.
For $10,000 per month, we are currently able to feed approximately 160 children daily through our four feeding centers AND provide a safe Christian home environment for an additional 30-35 children.
While no individual donation is too small, for a monthly donation of $25, you could have the personal satisfaction of knowing that at least one child will be blessed with one healthy meal per day.’
For as little as $200 per month for 12 months or a one-time contribution of $2400 you, your company or your Sunday School class or group of co-workers can help ensure that at least one child has a safe and loving place in which to live, learn and grow for an entire year.
Won’t you please, prayerfully consider what God would have you do to help us care for these children.
Additionally, if your church, Sunday School class or youth group is interested in sending a summer mission team to personally help us spread some love among the children of Panama, or you personally are interested in serving as a volunteer, please feel free to contact us through our website at www.mannapanama.com for more information or to make arrangements for a visit.
On behalf of Iglesia Bautista Biblica de David, the Willis family and the children of Panama, “Thank You and May God Bless You!”
Ministerio de Niñas y Niños Amados de Panamá
David, Las Lomas, Mata de Limón, entrada por el Súper Económico a 2.75 km
Tel. (507) 776-7780 Cel. (507) 6501-7595