Beloved brethren in Christ,
May our Heavenly Father bless you immensely today and always. Be our first words to ask you to please read this letter as if the writer is a very close friend that you are looking at his eyes and he is talking to you directly instead of just reading a PC, tablet, or cell phone screen or a piece of paper. This letter comes from the deep of the heart of a Christian family who is suffering and struggling, seeking help from their brethren.
We all know the tale of the genie in the bottle or the lamp, and the three wishes. What would be the one and only wish these servants would ask? It would be, without hesitation, “No missionary should beg for help in order to do the work of the Lord wherever he or she is”. In this letter, we will say some things that, probably, missionaries do not like to tell, but they need to do it.
We need money, but that is not the only thing…
Please pay attention that in that wish this writer is not asking for financial help only, but help overall. Financial help certainly is the first and biggest of the needs, but it is not the only one.
We have been back in Panama for almost a year and a half. During all this time we have been experiencing ups and downs. We have been received with open hands by some local brethren, and we have been rejected by them too. We came with a lot of ideas and plans to develop, some of them were well received, others not, some of them have been successfully implemented, some others are still in progress, or waiting to start soon. We know who the father of lies is (John 8:44), and for that reason, this writer cannot lie. I tried to find secular work as a way to provide for my family, but it did not work. I have been rejected or have not heard anything from job postings in which I applied and was supposed to be more than qualified. Apparently, it has become a popular thing in Panama that companies do not ask prospects that are were qualified if they are willing to negotiate their salaries, they just ignore them (read about it a couple of weeks ago at LinkedIn). So, there was a time when people were not hired because of a lack of experience, and now, having experience is a disadvantage. Sadly, things are not getting any better in Panama or near countries.
Dear brethren, we knew that coming back to Panama and working for the Lord was not going to be easy. We knew about the challenges, and the biggest of them is that the local brethren cannot afford (or has not been taught enough) to pay for their preacher. Some local congregations can barely pay for a place and its utilities. I want to clarify that while we are locals, we were not working in the ministry before we went to study at the Memphis School of Preaching, so while we are locals we are also missionaries because we came to put into practice everything we learned there, and not what has been practiced here since the church was established in our lands. It is hard to be a missionary that cannot visit congregations in America to present a report and seek support as other missionaries are blessed to do. It is hard to be a local pulpit preacher without having brethren that can sustain the needs of the preacher and his family. It is hard to do the work of an evangelist when you do not know if you can get to buy the groceries that your family does. We want to teach our brethren how to be indigenous, how to cover the expenses of the congregation, how to be self-supported, but we need help before getting able to achieve all of that.
We are thankful to our heavenly Father for the brethren and congregations that took the challenge of helping us not only financially, but by their prayers and words of encouragement. We can count them by the fingers of our hands. They are not too many, but they are doing a great effort in helping us, and we certainly appreciate it. But, and I hate to say there is a but, we need more help. Our income is lower than 50% of our budget. Our bills started to pile, the bank started to call us to know when we will pay our mortgage, the credit cards started to be our enemies again, and even when we try not to use them, we needed them to survive. This is not only stressful but also painful, especially when we have been people that always paid their duties on time. We understand that money is always a problem, and that even when there is a lot of people that want to support us, they just cannot do it. If you are able to help finance a mission work, please do it, if not, let others know about it and they might do it.
We need to hear from you.
I said it earlier and will repeat it again, it is not just about the money. We need it but the biggest difficulty of a missionary is to feel forgotten. During three years at Memphis, not being our land, culture, or language, we did not feel alone. The brethren at Forest Hill as well as our supporters always made us feel at home, loved, they took good care of us and always let us know that we can do it. Please, do not forget about your missionaries, let them know that you are thinking on them, that you love them, that you appreciate what they are doing, WE NEED TO HEAR OR READ THAT. Sometimes the local brethren do not do that because they have not learned how to do it. We understand if they are not as open with their ways to express sympathy or empathy to others, because that has not been taught in several years. But we were in America, we got not only to know about your culture, but to live it, and we love it and that is one of the many things we have been working on to let our local brethren know that they can do it too. If you ever have an opportunity to visit the mission field, do it, it might sound like a cliché but it is a life changing experience.
We need your prayers.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was very clear when He promised that He is with us, “alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). He also let us know that our lives are not going to be easy as in this world we “shall have tribulation”, but He overcame this world (John 16:33). The writer to the Hebrews reminded us that God will never leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Paul wrote to the Romans that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). The wise James wrote that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
We might be more than 3000 miles apart, but we are in the same boat. We are all giving our best to be faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10). Let us always remember the words written by the inspired Paul,
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
He also wrote,
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).
We know that God is in control, He has provided for us all this time as a loving father provides for his children. We know that we are not alone because He is with us, and, as His word states, we know that “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). We keep asking for more opportunities to do our work, seeking for brethren who can help us and work with us, and knocking doors that can be part of the new congregation we are planting. We just know that we are simply servants, planting the seed of God, and waiting for Him to give the increase.
We love you, dear brethren, and always keep you in our thoughts and prayers. We hope we can meet again one day, whether in this part of heaven or the one that is promised to the faithful children of God. Please pray, not only for us, but for every missionary you got to meet in your life.
This decaying world is needed of the Gospel, Panama is a good soil, and we are thankful to our heavenly Father for the opportunity to be here. We will not quit. I said this, many many times, and will say it once again, “God has been so good to me, even when I was lost, that the least I can do in gratitude to Him is to serve Him as best as I can, all the time I can”. This is not just a wish as the one from the tale, but our most sincere way to seek to obey and serve God in every possible way.
Please help us in any way you can, we hope and pray you can join us in our efforts.
To God be all glory.
Your loving brethren,
Marlon, Jacky, and Jonathan Retana.
P.S. In the case that you can and want to support our work, the information about our overseeing congregation is available in this link.