Valle Hermoso - Panama

Autumn 2020
Written by Byrne & Lois Foreshew - Panama

Valle Hermoso - Republic of Panama
Byrne and Lois Foreshew

The last Sunday we gathered on March 8.

Sunday, March 8th was a beautiful Lords Day. The believers in Valle Hermoso had gathered again to remember the Lord. We were looking forward to a young lady's baptism after the Breaking of Bread, followed by a meal for everyone. We didn't know that this would be the last time the assembly would gather publicly to date. With words like lockdown and quarantine, the world is now a very different place.

Byrne, Lois Foreshew & children

Since Covid-19 was identified here in early March, we have been locked down for over 172 days (almost 50% of the year), restricted to our homes, yards, apartments, and rented quarters, some of the most severe restrictions in the Americas. Until last week we were only allowed out two to three hours a week. Women were allowed an hour Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and men were allowed an hour Tuesday and Thursday. Your hour corresponded with the last digit of your ID card. The penalties were severe if caught outside of your hour. You were arrested, car confiscated, and driver's license removed for three months and up to a thousand dollar fine. If you were caught on foot, you were arrested, charged, and given a broom to clean the streets. The Police had set up checkpoints in multiple areas, so you were constantly being monitored.

Trying to buy the necessities is a challenge for most. By the time you get to the nearest grocery store, wait in a line of 50 to 250 people, your hour is gone before you reach the door. You're not allowed in because your hour has passed, and you have to return home to your hungry family with maybe some fruit you purchased at a roadside stand. That must do you for two more days until your "day" comes around again, or maybe your neighbour will share some of their rations.

Only essential stores were open, like grocery and pharmacy. Most people haven't worked for five and a half months, with little help from the government to help feed the people and meet their basic needs. It's very much a hand to mouth culture, with no idea of "savings," so you can see that their needs became very real after the first couple of weeks of the quarantine. The Lord was gracious to the believers here in that only one family in fellowship was left without someone working. When most lost their jobs, the Lord kept the believers at work. They recognized this grace, and we witnessed spiritual growth in their confidence in God and His care for His people.

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. 1Peter 5:10

In a small country of only 4.1 million people and only a small portion of that population working, our economy is flat, and our health system is collapsing, medical workers not being paid for weeks nor given sufficient personal protection equipment as they treat thousands of COVID cases. Just last week, four more nurses died of the virus. While COVID cases and deaths are continually rising, violence increasing, and hunger being the new normal in many families, the government is involved in several corruption scandals where many millions of dollars are "unaccounted for." It's heartbreaking to hear there were no more funds to help feed the people while officials in "high positions" fill their pockets.

We asked ourselves the question, "How can we help being locked down 97% of the time?" There are no assembly meetings, no visiting, no public preaching, no distribution of gospel literature on the streets or in schools, no children's outreaches, and no bible classes at the boys' home. Then the Lord opened a new opportunity, distributing food to those in need. We started with a few boxes to some families we knew. Then there were more calls coming in with more families in need. Now we had some new challenges, how can we purchase this much food when you're limited to the quantities we can buy? How will we be able to deliver the food being allowed out only a few hours each week?

As the Lord opened this new door of opportunity, He also provided the means of going through it. With the relationship we had developed with a local store, once they knew what we were doing, they allowed us to buy rice, beans, oil, milk, eggs, and many more necessities without limitation. Other stores began to provide such services, even buying online and waiting only a few minutes to pick up your order without wasting hours in line ups. Now we had the food, but we didn't have enough time to deliver it.

Through a contact from a few weeks before the quarantine, we obtained the personal phone number of the Sub Commissioner of Police. I contacted him with our dilemma; he remembered us and said he was pleased to hear what we were doing, and he said, "I'll write you a letter, sign it myself, so at any police check, you won't have any problems." In less than 3 hours, he delivered the letter to our house, and we continue to use it. If God has a plan, though it seems impossible to us, He will bring to pass.

In each of the many boxes delivered weekly, we put gospel literature and try to have a little word with the people who receive the help. Often there are multiple families we are helping in one area, so we arrive with the truck loaded, the folks come out, and we have a short gospel message and then hand out the boxes. This new opportunity has taken us to new areas, making new contacts with the gospel. We've even been able to go to places where the people were protesting because of no food or help from the government and giving them all a box of food and God's Salvation message.

Concerning the assembly in Valle Hermoso, we have had four cases of COVID, but thankfully all have recovered. It has been challenging as some of the believers have lost unsaved family members to the virus. Sadly, this week a sister in fellowship, 82 years of age, was called home to glory. Benilda passed away in her sleep of natural causes. Though her family is not saved, we know them well, and they've asked for us to organize the funeral service. We are grateful for this opportunity to share the gospel with the family and the genuine faith of Benilda.

We also keep in contact with the believers via "Zoom gatherings" at least four times a week and daily devotions via WhatsApp. We have been encouraged to see spiritual growth in the believers in these times of testing. We recall the words of the Apostle John, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." 3 John 1:4

We value very much your prayer for the Republic of Panama and the results it produces when you fervently lay hold on God for guidance, protection, wisdom, help, care, and grace. Thank you for praying His Grace is Sufficient.

Autumn 2020
Written by Byrne & Lois Foreshew - Panama