The first time Alex Taylor was in the Ngäbe-Buglé region of Panama, he saw a rutted dirt road rising high along the ridge and into the clouds, past a mix of homes made from bamboo, tin scrap, and refuse. The people on this reservation had economic limitations, but worst of all, they were almost entirely unreached by the gospel.
Twelve years later, their road is paved, electricity is up and running, and many homes have been replaced with concrete structures. And Taylor, a missionary pastor who moved his family to the region, is seeing churches develop along the ridgeline, down the Pacific side of the mountain. Women over 40, who were denied the opportunity to attend school, now have Messengers to teach them the Bible. And 12 young women, abandoned as little girls, are being tutored and cared for in the Taylors’ home. Today, many of them are teaching Sunday school classes.
Religion was widely practiced on the reservation, but little pointed to Jesus. So Taylor began with the gospel of salvation—that eternal life is a gift, bought by Christ. At first the people were hesitant to abandon their ritualistic practices and old ways of thinking, but soon eyes were opened and families transformed.
Taylor, who uses YouTube to keep up with Dr. Stanley’s weekly messages, has held regular pastor training on the reservation for years. Now, with a new dormitory in his church at the foot of the mountain, Taylor can train full-time students dawn to dusk for months at a time. As each pastoral student plants a church, Taylor anticipates that in 10 years there could be 100 new communities of believers.
On the mountain’s Pacific side are growing churches, but elsewhere the work is just starting. Taylor and the Ngäbe-Buglé pastors will gradually make their way down the Caribbean slope to plant churches. One man has already come from there; learning he can have the assurance of salvation in Christ, he’s invited Taylor and the others to his community to share.
Still, there are miles to cover, most by foot, to villages 10 hours away or more. These days, the Messenger often travels ahead of the pastor—through a pair of girls, for example, who are no older than 14 and have walked four hours from Hawk Hill to shop for produce at the top of the mountain. While Taylor has never heard of their community, he knows that a Messenger and a copy of the book of John will bring the gospel to them sooner than he can get there.
Photograph by Johnathon Kelso