Panama was awesome! We were due for a visit since the last time we went was when we had our second reception in 2010. That’s seven years ago! They’ve been asking when we were planning to return.
My husband asked his friends if they could gather everyone together at the same time. When we got to the location, it was a huge party in a beautiful rental hall with lots of people and a beautiful table dedicated to us. They gave us a beautiful send-off-to-Portugal with speeches and they even went as far as to put to together a folk dance (baile tipico) for us. (For those of you who may not know, Latin American countries all have folk dances, but Panamanians are extremely proud of theirs.).
Immigration changes and our needgreaters
Panama has always been a melting pot. When you go into the city you can see all the different nationalities that immigrated to the country. In the past three or four years, there has been an influx of Venezuelans coming to the country. The first wave of Venezuelans were multimillionaires, with lots of power to make demands and complaints and change things to their liking. This drove the prices on food and housing way up since Panama now had to meet these demands. Panama used to be so cheap, but in a matter of only a few years food now costs as much as it does in the U.S. Housing has also doubled in price. (You’ll find better prices in the countrysides still.)
After the multimillionaires, there was another huge wave of middle class to poor Venezuelans that came in. (Venezuela is in a state of crisis and we need to keep them in our prayers.). Unfortunately, A large number of them began to put themselves above the Panamanians instead of being thankful for the hospitality shown to them. Some of the friends told us that they had even been approached and rudely insulted about their culture and nationality by some Venezuelans. The icing on the cake was when one of them took to twitter and insulted the people of Panama which then incited others to join in. This moved the government (who was already growing wary of the the immigration issues) to say enough is enough and change immigration laws, disallowing anyone who is in the country with a tourist visa to leave the country and then immediately return getting a new visa stamp, as was the case for years previously. What needgreaters (and others) would do is enter panama on a visa and then leave the country for a few days, then reenter and pay for a new visa and stay until that one expired and repeat the process. The difference between our needgreaters and others is that needgreaters obey the law and do not work in the country. Working without permission is illegal for foreigners and this added to the immigration problem. This new law is being enforced heavily. On our long bus ride back to Panama City from Chiriqui, the bus was stopped by the authorities and they wanted to see everyone’s cedulas or passports. Two women were detained and the bus left. We felt bad.
I met an american sister there who was asking me about Portugal because she has to figure out where to serve now. She called me a few days after and told ne that a couple in her congregation from Spain is going to be serving here in Portugal. She thinks they may be serving with a different group though. Spanish groups are on the rise here! She is interested in coming to spy out the land. She is very welcome to come give us a hand.
I’ll keep them all in my prayers.