The Mennonite Brethren church in Panama is concentrated in Darién province, a jungle zone bordering Colombia. The region’s indigenous groups and Afro-Panamanians were thrown together during December flooding caused by heavy rains. In the port town Yaviza – where many fled for shelter – water reached the roofs of houses and businesses and stayed up to 15 days, leaving destruction in its wake.
An English-language Panamanian news service estimated some 10,000 Darién residents were driven from their homes, the Ministry of Agricultural Development reported 225,000 farm animals drowned, and MB Mission and Service International (MBMSI) missionary to Panama Einer Zuluaga estimates 90 percent of the region’s plantain and yam crops were destroyed. “Discrimination, isolation, poverty have been high in recent years,” writes Zuluaga, and this flooding is a major setback to recent gains made in the local economy.
The tiny Mennonite Brethren church among the Embera and Wounaan of the region has responded, initially mobilizing funds and people to Yaviza, then welcoming 70 people to the relative shelter of the high ground at the conference’s camp once the town was overrun. They also operated a community kitchen at the camp and in town.
Local Youth With a Mission workers and Baptist churches have joined with the Panamanian MB United Evangelical Church to respond to the needs, both in the immediate wake of flooding, and in the longer term cleanup and re-establishment of farms and businesses.
Zuluaga reports no lives from the region’s MB congregations were lost. He invites “gifts” for the people of Darién as the churches help rebuild houses and crops “while explaining the salvation our Lord Jesus Christ gives.” MBMSI is working with local leaders on a response strategy.