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Volunteer adds funeral to partnership duties

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Missions volunteers are warned to be flexible. But a Baptist volunteer to Panama never imagined he would be at the head of a funeral procession.

Phil Duckett, a retired pastor and director of missions, volunteered to lead an evangelistic campaign among the Guymi Indians in Tole, Panama, a mountainous area in western Panama’s Chiriqui region, in connection with the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s partnership with Panamanian Baptists.

On the second day in the country, Duckett and his team began visiting among the thatched-roofed huts and led a workshop on personal evangelism.

That night they held their first evangelistic service. Duckett preached in English, Southern Baptist missionary Allison Holman translated into Spanish and Martin Gonzales, the Guymis’ pastor, translated the message into the Indian language.

The next morning Duckett found Gonzales weeping. The Guymi pastor had learned his mother had died.

Gonzales asked Duckett to preach his mother’s funeral, the missionary to translate and another team member from Virginia, Donna Hughes, to play and sing.

“This man amazed me with his stamina,” Duckett recalled. “He was leading the crusade; his wife, expecting to give birth to a child was with her mother; and now his mother had died. All I could say was, ‘God help him to bear this great burden.'”

Twenty-four hours later, the team traveled to the Indian village for the funeral. According to Duckett, about 200 people attended the “orderly and somber” service in a tin shed in the village. Duckett spoke, followed by messages by Gonzales and one of his sisters, and songs by Hughes and a member of the Guymi tribe.

Following the service the family and friends gathered for “a feast,” which Duckett said consisted of “the biggest black pot of rice I have ever seen.” As guests, the Virginia volunteers were served on plates, while others were served on banana leaves.

During the week the team led a dedication for a new church in the area, worked with children during the day and held evangelistic services each night. Fourteen decisions for Christ were recorded.

“I shall never forget this experience as long as I live,” said Duckett. “These fine people accepted us and treated us as their special guests.”

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  • Michael Clingenpeel