Sometimes people ask if it’s safe to go to Panama for mission trips. They’ve heard stories of high crime rates and gun violence, and worry about their security. It’s a legitimate concern. Yes there are anecdotal incidents. We even heard some on this trip.
One involved the Y-junction near the church. During the day it is extremely busy with traffic jams, but at night the intersection is quiet with little traffic. Recently a car was waiting at the lights when another car bumped into it. The driver got out to assess the damage, but two people came out of the other car, pointed a gun at him, took his wallet, and drove off with his car.
A second incident happened in the hair salon on the ground floor of our apartment building. Usually there is a watchman on duty, but one night near closing time while the guard was briefly away a robber came in, grabbed the money, and also took the keys to the building. That’s getting close to home.
A third concerned a Chinese man running a convenience store behind a steel cage, handing out merchandize and receiving payment through a small window like old style banks. He kept late hours hoping to do more business, despite the fact that the later it gets, the more dangerous it becomes. One night a man came up asking for a can of pop but had no money to pay. The store owner refused, so the man pulled out a gun and shot him dead.
The last serious case involved a lady we visited in old Chinatown. She and her husband ran a convenience store. One night she received a phone call from Spanish-speaking thugs who claimed that they had kidnapped her husband. She demanded proof that he was safe, and her husband was allowed to speak to her in Chinese. He told her to give them the money so they would release him. She complied, but two months after she paid the ransom there was still no sign of him.
All the Chinese merchants we knew had been robbed at some point. It is not a matter of if they had been robbed, but how many times. It is true that parts of Panama City (e.g. Chorrillo) and Colon has a high crime rate. But if you look up the statistics there are far more violent cities in Latin America, such as Caracas (Venezuela), Rio (Brazil), Acapulco (Mexico) and Guatemala City.
So is it safe? I believe for a Christian, his safety is in God’s hands. He could be safe in dangerous Honduras, or in danger in “safe” Toronto. Nothing will happen to him without the Lord’s permission. I am not saying that God will always protect and preserve His workers, as there are plenty of missionary stories to show that God does allow bad things to happen to His servants. But what I am saying is that for a Christian worker on kingdom mission, God will keep him safe until he has accomplished His purpose. That could be a short or long time, but in the final analysis, that’s the only thing that matters, not our comfort or happiness. I hope we can all learn to trust in the Lord for everything, including our safety and security. That’s basic discipleship.