Hundreds of children and teens ages 7 to 14 traveled from every corner of Panama to take part in a country-wide congress, where they were taught biblical principles and learned more about Jesus’ love and purpose for their lives.
Youngsters came with their teachers and leaders to spend two days taking part in a series of spiritual messages, prayer, and social activities at the Metropolitan Adventist School’s auditorium in Panama City, Panama, September 22-23.
“For us this is a crucial and very important event to help children and adolescents grow their faith and strengthen their relationship with God from an early age,” Rosalinda De Gracia, children and adolescent ministries director of the Adventist Church’s Panama Union Mission, said. It’s about investing time and resources so they can learn to trust in God, gain confidence to lead as they grow, and become spiritual leaders, she added.
Reaffirming that Jesus Is a Safe Refuge
Themed “Jesus Our Eternal Rock,” the event was intended to give a clear message and provide tools so children and adolescents can make wise decisions and be assured that Jesus as the “Rock” is their protection and salvation.
“We wanted to reaffirm to them that Jesus is a safe refuge, our strength, our helper, comforter, defender, and the best guide and friend they could have,” De Gracia said.
The young delegation represented the nearly 13,000 children and adolescents spread across churches and groups in Panama, De Gracia said. Nearly 50 of the children in attendance were not Adventists, she added.
The congress saw the young delegation dressed in white and each wearing a crown during the opening night program, pointing to the white robes the redeemed will wear in heaven. “I loved how we all looked dressed in white,” nine-year-old Sofia Hernández said. “I want to go to heaven and see all the children and see Jesus dressed in white like me.”
It was about leaving lasting impressions, De Gracia said. Youngsters learned about the benefits of hug therapy, creation, and the importance of Sabbath rest, the use of social media and its dangers, and the importance of marriage as a biblical institution established by God between a man and a woman.
Living in a Confused Society
“We live in times of depression, harassment, violence, bullying, anxiousness, divided homes, suicides; we live in a confused society,” De Gracia said. “In the programs and movies that are projected on the screen we see and feel the bombardment with the new fad of same-sex marriages.” It was important to point to what marriages were meant to be like, she said.
Children and adolescents jumped to their feet, applauding and shouting for joy when they heard the wedding march song play as four couples marched to the platform to renew their wedding vows.
“It was so interesting to see how the couples were transmitting that love they felt for each other, and a good way to show children a sample of the family God established,” Mirna Belford, children and adolescent ministries director of the Berea Adventist church in Panama City, said.
At the Prayer Tent
Young delegates lined up for the prayer tent, where pastors were ready to listen and pray for their specific concerns and requests. “The line became so long that two more pastors had to assist in the prayer tent,” De Gracia said. Many of the prayer requests included prayer for their parents to find employment or not to divorce, and prayers for healing, she said.
“One particular child asked for prayer so that he and his family could have food because his parents had not been able to find work and were starving,” De Gracia. Soon after, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Panama leaders were notified to visit the home with food and assistance.
Among the five pastors praying for the children was Jose De Gracia, president of the Panama Union Mission. He said it had been a blessing to support the children who need prayer. “Some of the best testimonies and stories come out of prayer tents like these,” he said. De Gracia recalled how nine-year old Rosendo Sanjur, who had attended the church’s first Children and Adolescent Congress held in 2018, came to be prayed for because he didn’t want to become a thief like his grandfather. Union leaders moved quickly to visit the family and enroll the boy in an Adventist school. Today, Sanjur continues to attend the Chorrera Adventist School in the West Province in Panama and is an active child leader in his local field, De Gracia said. His parents are now members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Jesus as the Foundation
Keynote speaker Edith Ruiz de Espinoza, children and adolescent ministries director for the Inter-American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, challenged young delegates to cling to Jesus and make Him the foundation and source of wisdom in their life as they navigate through their daily activities. “You are a light for Jesus and need to shine to those around you,” she said to the gathering.
“I have never seen such a large congress just for children,” Espinoza said. Seeing their smiling faces and their love and devotion for Jesus and the church touched her deeply. “Many unions hold congresses for teachers in the children and adolescent ministries, but this investment in so many children gathered with such a beautiful program, where Bible principles are reaffirmed, is a real blessing for the church and the community they will impact when they go back home.”
Young delegates together with their teachers reported on their activities in the church and throughout their communities during the past year. Each delegate was given a medal for taking part in the congress event and challenged to trust in God as their Eternal Rock, be active in serving their communities, become agents of change, and study their Bible daily.
“We have the responsibility to mark these young lives with options so they can make the right choices in life and give them the assurance that everything will be fine when God is with them,” De Gracia said.