Panama – A request for prayer for land struggle was the main request that a Mennonite World Conference delegation heard in a February 2015 visit with church and indigenous community leaders in Panama.
Leaders of the MWC member church, Iglesia Evangélica Unida Hermanos Menonitas de Panamá (United Evangelical Church: Mennonite Brethren in Panama), invited the MWC delegation to inform them about the long struggle to have legally establed titles to ancestral land recognized and enforced.
Despite existing constitutional guarantees of land ownership, the government is doing little to prevent illegal settlers from taking land, logging and selling trees – especially the cocobolo tree – and using the land for herding.
The delegation included four persons jointly sponsored by the MWC Peace and Deacons Commissions – Joji Pantoja of the Philippines, Jack Suderman of Canada, Gladys Siemens of Brazil and Henk Stenvers of the Netherlands.
They met for a day in Panama City with church leaders who are also providing leadership to the National Congress of the Wounaan people. And then they visited three villages by boat, timing their departures and arrivals according to the rising tide in the inland rivers.
In each village there was an evening worship service and an overnight stay. In the morning the delegation heard stories of how encroachments on indigenous land are causing many to lose hope and patience because it seems to them that their pleas for help are going unnoticed.
The delegation heard repeatedly a resolute belief in the power of prayer and advocacy by the global faith community. The attached prayer reflects the specific prayer requests that were named in the many conversations in which the delegation engaged.
“They understand – at least in part – the limits of our capabilities,” noted Suderman in his draft of the delegation’s report. “They also understand the power of God in God’s praying people. The idea of allowing the story to become known is, in itself, the highest hope of the leadership. There is a profound sense that truth will eventually win out, but that it needs to be exposed and become known.”
Church leaders also asked for help in training of leaders in areas such as conflict resolution, identity formation, restorative justice and nonviolent strategies. Further, they asked for advocacy in international forums such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the government of Panama.
The Commission of Diaconia and Peace of the Iglesia Evangélica Unida Hermanos Menonitas de Panamá (United Evangelical Church: Mennonite Brethren in Panama) has requested that God’s people, around the world, pray this prayer on their behalf.