My First Panamanian Church Experience

I’ve made a local friend called Christian who’s always hanging out at our hostel because he knows the staff here, and I mentioned to him a while ago that I wanted to go to church here because I go in London, and he said he’d take me with him next time he was going.

This evening he appeared at the hostel and asked if I wanted to go because the church he goes to has a service on Wednesdays at 7:30pm, so of course I said yes. He said its denomination is Adventista (I’m guessing this translates to Adventist in English but I have no idea because my church doesn’t have a denomination and I don’t know much about them).

The church is near the baseball field, in the more local end of town without so many hostels etc. It was really nice walking past all the young people playing on the streets but I don’t know if I’d feel safe walking through those places in the dark by myself.

The church was painted white (inside and outside) and it was quite formal (like a traditional church I guess), with the wooden pews and flowers at the front etc. Thankfully there were fans so it wasn’t too hot. It was less than 1/4 full, and it was a mixture of black and latino people of all ages. Apparently the Saturday service is a lot busier (and longer, like 1 and a half hours). This one only lasted about half an hour.

When we arrived we were like 5 minutes late so we just sat at the back. People had started making testimonies and everyone was saying “AAAMEENNN” loudly like they do in stereotypical black churches in movies. After about 5 testimonies they sang, but I didn’t have a hymn book (because I was late I guess) so I just stood there. They were really good at singing, and loud, like a choir! (Again, completely opposite from my church).

After the hymn, the pastor said (in Spanish) “everyone who’s made a testimony already, sit down. Everyone who hasn’t, remain standing because you all have to make one” or something. This was definitely not what I was expecting!!! I was quite nervous because 1) I’ve never made a testimony before, 2) Spanish isn’t my first language, and 3) Everyone there knew each other and they’re kind of “a family” and I was the odd one out.

The pastor pointed his bible (or hymn book, I dunno) at who he wanted to make the testimony next, and eventually he pointed it at me. I’d already planned what I was going to say but I was still kind of scared and I paused and said “umm” before starting, but then I basically said I wanted to give thanks for the opportunity to travel and help people here through the volunteering I’m doing. It got the big “AAAMEENNN” so I guess it was ok and they understood my Spanish!

Next the pastor gave a talk but rather than what they do in my church, which is use one Bible passage and discuss the meaning of it, he had a topic he wanted to discuss and used tiny parts from all over the Bible as evidence/explanation for the points he was making. I understood a lot of it but I found it hard to pay attention 100% of the time because it was more effort to keep up with than it would have been if it was in English.

The talk only lasted about 20 minutes and then they sang again (I just stood again) and prayed and that was the end. Everyone shook hands with each other outside and said hi/bye etc then we left. I’d hoped there’d be a bit more socialising at the end but maybe on Saturdays there is. Everyone seemed quite friendly.

On the walk back we passed the indoor market and there was a group of about 20 guys with big drums strapped around them practicing for independence celebrations next month. Their rhythm was AMAZING, I couldn’t believe it, and the sounds they were making made me want to dance right there on the street. Their friends were there too, sitting on their bikes eating and watching etc, and a couple of girls were dancing. It reminded me of some of the groups in the parade at Notting Hill Carnival :’)

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