The Nazarene Church is using the JESUS Film to carry the message of hope to broken cities.
Four percent of the world’s trade passes through the Panama Canal, but market goods are not the only thing moving through the country. According to Amable Polanco, Panama JESUS Film Country Coordinator, “…everything goes through the Canal, including different beliefs.” Over 4 million people reside in Panama, making it a melting pot of different races and faiths.
District superintendent Carlos de la Cruz, along with Polanco and other JESUS Film leaders, has been making strategic plans to evangelize key areas outside Panama City, where Nazarenes have been located for more than 60 years. There couldn’t be a better time for the Good News to be shared!
“Many people are coming to Panama because of the current economic prosperity from the Canal. Whether they are indigenous, in small towns, or in the big cities, people are very open to the gospel,” Polanco said. He calls their openness “a moment of opportunity.”
In 2014, there was only one active JESUS Film team in Panama. Today, 15 teams are evangelizing, discipling, and planting churches with renewed vision.
Because of Polanco’s belief that “all people are important,” the focus of the Panama outreach team is to reach the lost by going where the church is not yet.
The team’s unique strategy acknowledges that people are spread across wide geographical areas and that the gospel should follow. Teams are expanding the Church of the Nazarene in every direction from Panama City. In the last year alone, 138 preaching points were planted, and four churches have been organized in the Panama Central District.
“The JESUS Film ministry, working together with other ministries, is a movement ministry” Bernie Slingerland, Mesoamerica Regional Coordinator said. Polanco gives credit to Slingerland’s missional zone planting strategy and the JESUS film. “It is growing the district and helping us go into indigenous zones because we have the film in the needed languages,” he explained.
One goal of the Panama teams is to reach indigenous groups like the Kuna and Emberá people by starting training centers as new churches are planted. There are roughly 90,000 Kuna people who are spread throughout small villages in Panama and Colombia. Approximately 83,000 Emberá love along river systems in the western regions of Panama and Colombia. In order to reach these people, JESUS Film leaders in Panama are taking the movement to the next level.
Ofelina Moreno and Eliud Toro are two JESUS Film team leaders who have moved to new homes specifically so they can assist in planting new churches. District leaders offer their full support of these strategic moves. “The district has been praying and seeking the Lord. We believe this is what the Holy Spirit wants us to do. God prepares the team members’ hearts for moving,” Polanco said.
Through this strategy, Polanco noted, “The Church is entering places it has never been.” This is making an eternal impact on communities across the country.
Moreno is a grandmother and widow who recently became a JESUS Film team leader. She wanted to be a missionary since she was a young girl but never thought it could work. After attending an evangelism conference, she now serves the Lord as a missionary in her new neighborhood. “There are many houses and streets, so we always need the Holy Spirit to guide us to where He wants to work,” Moreno said.
A new believer in the Colón province watched the JESUS film and is now experiencing a transformed life. He said, “It’s about time for this community, which everyone thinks is only a drug and crime community, to be something different. We know only Jesus can make the change in this place. That is why today I opened up my home as a preaching point.”
Polanco also reported about the new Nazarene Church on the Panamanian island of Chepillo. Many people on the island work in the seafood industry. Alcoholism was prevalent among the workers. “Their lives had no purpose or hope,” Polanco said. That is until a citizen of Panama City accepted Christ and returned to Chepillo to share the gospel through the JESUS film. The church of more than 50 people continues to grow and is helping give many “hope and strength to live the life of holiness.”
The Panama Central District teams realize that simply reaching the lost is not enough. Offering ongoing discipleship and growth for individuals is a priority. They are making it clear that the Church of the Nazarene and the love of Christ that is offered is here to stay.
Joy Forney is Communications Coordinator for JESUS Film Harvest Partners.
Holiness Today, March/April 2018
Please Note: This article was originally written in 2018. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication but may have since changed.