Panamaniacs On a Mission

We join the Newsboys and 50 students on a Central American adventure.
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My clothes were soaking up the Panamanian humidity like a cracker in a bowl of simmering soup. It was very hot. Puffy, white clouds floated in a too-blue-to-be-true sky. Not far from where I was standing, the Newsboys were waiting for several American high-school students to put on a pantomime drama for some rural villagers.

Without their guitars, drums, keyboards, stage smoke and shiny suits, the 'boys of "alternative pop" looked strangely out of place. In a real sense, they were out of place.

They hadn't flown to this Central American country to put on one of their glitzy concerts. Their main purpose for the trip was to show support for teen missions-Teen Mania missions, in particular.

Yet along with offering encouraging words and pats on the back to some 50 student missionaries, they were also being challenged by their own words. After all, these are the award-winning artists whose song titles proclaim loud and clear: "Take Me to Your Leader" and "God Is Not a Secret."

No doubt about it. These 'boys were learning even more about what it meant to reach out to the world around them.

John James stood open-mouthed, gazing at the student actors as they performed their dramatic skit for the villagers. Chief songwriter Peter Furler was close by, looking just as intently at the performers. In the skit, called "The Journeyman," the students acted out different ways people attempt to find personal fulfillment. In its concluding scene, the drama showed that only Christ can fill a person's emptiness.

Leaning against a pole in a tin-covered bus shelter, John hardly moved, his eyes fixed on the performers. In fact, both John and Peter seemed totally drawn into the skit. And into the crowd.

"I gotta be honest," John tells me later. "I've never really thought much of using skits to spread the gospel. They seemed kind of, well … " John pauses, apparently searching for the right word.

"Cheesy?" adds bassist Phil Urry with a slight smile.

"I just didn't have a great attitude about them," continues John. "But after that skit was over, so many people in the crowd raised their hands to find out more about Jesus. They were hungry for the message the drama team offered. …

"I guess I needed to realize there are so many ways to spread the gospel. I know it sounds weird, because I use music to spread the gospel. But we all have our 'blind spots.' I'm just glad God allowed me to see him use these students. Really, I must not limit God by my own limited thinking."

I was walking with the Newsboys along a red-dirt path, through an impoverished village. Lush, tropical foliage peppered the thick grass that grew along the road. To the far left of us were several small concrete buildings with cone-shaped, grass roofs-homes of the Kuna Indians. We stopped at a sheltered area where the local villagers were gathering. The mission team began to set up its sound equipment for another performance-and for another opportunity to share the message of Christian hope.

While I waited for the skit to begin, three small children approached me and pointed at the camera hanging around my neck. They chattered excitedly in their native language. While I had no idea what they were saying, I could read their broad smiles and sparkling dark eyes: "Take our picture! Take our picture!"

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