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It takes a village: After years of building trust, Christians win souls among Panama’s Kuna people

IPETI KUNA, Panama — Women in this tiny Central American village put on their Sunday best — blouses of brilliant purples and blues, skirts with bright prints and hundreds of tiny beads, woven together in intricate arm and leg bands.
The dresses are a tradition for the Kuna, an indigenous people who have lived in Panama and neighboring Colombia for centuries. In the 1920s, Panama’s colonial authorities tried to repress the Kuna’s autonomy and traditions, leading to revolt. As a result, the Kuna often distrust outsiders.
A medical team from Alabama-based Panama Missions first visited Ipeti Kuna in the 1990s with permission from village leaders, said Larry Brady, the mission’s director. The village had one convert at the time.
Christians continued to visit, offering medical care and building relationships with the village’s residents — especially the children. In recent years, children who grew up knowing the missionaries have asked to be baptized.
About 25 adults comprise the congregation, Brady said. A church member from Long Beach, Miss., gave funds to help construct a meeting place on the outskirts of the village, near the highway. Now, one of the first things passers-by see in the village is a large, lilac-colored building emblazoned with the words “Iglesia de Cristo” (“Church of Christ”).
“It’s been a very difficult work,” Brady said. But church members slowly have gained the trust — and love — of the Kuna people.
“That’s what the Gospel does,” Brady said.

Filed under: Global South

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