"This mission trip really changed my life," said Chris Woods. The six other members of First Baptist Church, Maryville, who recently returned from Colon, Panama, echoed his sentiments.
Four volunteers from Laura Street Baptist Church, Maryville - Charles and Norma Fattig, Ken Thom and Dean Heflin - were followed by seven members of First Baptist Church - Jim Wilson and his teen-age son Alan, Bobby Morrison, Steve Runyon, Keith and Chris Woods and Ron Christian.
First Baptist raised $10,000 to buy supplies and materials so the volunteers could spend a week pouring a concrete slab and preparing the site for steel work.
"It was almost miraculous how the concrete trucks would arrive just when we needed them," said Runyon. "You could see God's hand at work."
After each day's labor, the group joined the local church in worship. They also showed the "Jesus" film, projecting it onto a blank wall outside. People were eager to hear the gospel.
Now comes the task of raising funds for the steel. The Panama church has almost no resources, and they are hoping several churches will contribute as the need becomes known.
All the members of the group say they are willing and even eager to go back to Colon even though the work was grueling. They see it as their Christian mission. The school is located near an area where a large mosque has been built. Although the school will be a humble building, it will spread God's word.
For many of the volunteers, the construction trips have been going on for several years.
Laura Street pastor Paul McKim and Charles Fattig headed the groups; local contractor Randy Jackson joined them as they visited places like the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Occasionally, two or three men from First Baptist joined the group.
The Colon Christian school project began with the 2003 trip. Colon is in a poverty-stricken area near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. Tourists are warned to stay in a limited area. It is a city of around 200,000 with unemployment running close to 50 percent.
Last year, the crew worked on the lot and began to dig footings for the school's foundation.
In the spring of 2003, Dr. Bruce Twaddle, a dentist and member of First Baptist, felt led to join with a physician and several assistants to conduct free medical clinics in Colon. All the supplies and much of the equipment had to be transported from the United States.
They made arrangements with the pastor of the local church where the school is to be located to set up the clinics. They were well received with families waiting patiently the entire day to see the doctors. Each patient and his family was given Gospel of John tracts. For many, this was their first exposure to the written Word, and they seemed eager to read it.
In speaking of the experience, Dr. Twaddle related how fellow church member Eva Lloyd had inspired him to go.
"Eva had prayed for me to work in the mission field for many years," he said. "She talked to me at length of the importance of sharing our talents with others and the doors it would open to share Christ."
The dentist found the children of Panama in great need of dental work. "These people were very appreciative of the work and time we gave to them."
Carole Zahnd submitted this story for Word&Way.