Many times, during our 29-years of service with IM, we were asked, “Was it hard to leave your family, home, language, and culture and go to another country?” The answer is obvious. However, since things have come full circle and we have left our adopted country of Panama we can answer the question better. The response to the same question is now, “Yes, it was difficult to take three small children to a very different place where we really didn’t know anyone. However, it was much more difficult to leave that place than it was to go in the first place.”
Why is that the case? It took a step of faith for faithful believers to pray, send, and financially support missionaries. It is a step of faith for a missionary to launch out into the unknown. After more than 25 years, that “unknown” became our “known.” Panama was home. Panamanians were our adopted family. We were quite comfortable with the language and culture. Transitioning out of a ministry, particularly international church planting, requires another huge step of faith. It means taking a step back and trusting God to lead our dear Panamanian brothers and sisters to take what has been our life—not just a ministry—forward and accomplish even greater things for God’s glory.
Since missionaries transitioned their ministries away from Panama, the number of congregations has nearly doubled. Every organized church is starting at least one other church and in some cases two or three. The church in Chitré is supporting a young Venezuelan believer they sent back to his country to establish a Free Will Baptist church. The FWB Seminary is under Panamanian leadership and well on the way to becoming nationally accredited. Second and third generation believers are leading churches and ministries. Seminary graduates are initiating outreach ministries into remote areas of neighboring Colombia, well aware of the physical risks involved.
Each year Brenda and I return to Panama at least once to teach, train, and encourage those to whom we ministered for almost three decades. Our hair is gray and so is that of the leaders we met in 1986 when we first arrived. The FWB ministry in Panama is in the capable hands of those leaders. A younger generation is doing an outstanding job of allowing the Holy Spirit to fill, empower, and lead them as they lead the churches. To be quite honest, when I see what our precious brothers and sister are accomplishing for the glory of God with far fewer resources, many times I feel like I am now the disciple and they are the leaders.
Giving to the World Missions Offering supports ministry in Panama
This was excerpted from a ONE Magazine article. The full article may be read here.
Stan Bunch and his wife Brenda were appointed to overseas missionary service in Panama, Central America, in 1983. While in Panama, the couple and their three children Jonathan, Alicia, and Amanda helped start three churches. The most recent officially organized August 27, 2011.