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Omar Gil crosses a river to reach a remote village in the mountains of Panama.
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Photo provided by Lisa Carter

Reaching the (nearly) unreachable

Family makes monthly trek to teach Jesus in remote Central America.

Once per month, Omar and Aryssa Gil load big bags with clothes, food, camping supplies, teaching materials and Bibles. 

With their five children, they take an hour-long bus ride down the mountain from their home in El Valle, Panama — 80 miles west of the capital, Panama City — to the Pan American Highway. They transfer their bags to a second bus, which takes them another hour westward.

Then they board a third bus, riding into the lush countryside of the Central American nation’s Santiago district. There they hire a four-wheel-drive truck to take them into the mountains. 

Omar and Aryssa Gil and one of their five children cross a river during their monthly trip to remote villages.

Omar and Aryssa Gil and one of their five children cross a river during their monthly trip to remote villages.

When the truck can go no farther, they hike for two to three hours, crossing wide rivers and following narrow trails, to reach a small community where they teach Jesus.

“Ever since my father gave his life to Christ, he taught me how to take the Gospel to different places, especially out-of-the-way places,” Aryssa said.

Her father, Carlos Magallón, preaches in El Cope, Panama. He heard about an area in Santiago where there were “no churches at all — not even Catholic,” said Lisa Carter, a missionary to Panama. 

The family trekked into the mountains and found “many people who were very, very poor but welcoming and enthusiastic to learn about Jesus,” Carter said. “They kept returning, and their work spread to several more towns. The family named their effort “Semillas de Cristo,” “Seeds of Christ.” 

Omar Gil teaches a Bible class in the mountains of rural Panama.

Omar Gil teaches a Bible class in the mountains of rural Panama.

The El Valle Church of Christ, where Omar and Aryssa are members, embraced the ministry and hosted a celebration to initiate it three years ago. “We patterned that night after how we imagined Paul and Barnabas being sent off on their journeys,” said Carter, alluding to the missionary duo chronicled in the book of Acts.  

The family serves in at least five remote villages. Aryssa and her mother teach classes for children and women. The older children help. The local schools welcome them to teach. 

“Sometimes, they take enough food with them to have big meals of chicken and rice for entire communities. Of course, they teach Bible classes for all who come. They also pitch in with community projects like harvesting rice or picking coffee beans.”

“Sometimes, they take enough food with them to have big meals of chicken and rice for entire communities,” Carter said. “Of course, they teach Bible classes for all who come.  They also pitch in with community projects like harvesting rice or picking coffee beans.” 

Omar Gil crosses a river to reach a remote village in the mountains of Panama.

Omar Gil crosses a river to reach a remote village in the mountains of Panama.

Recently, the missionaries took 60 boxes from Larry Brady’s Operation Christmas Joy ministry, provided by the Greenville Oaks Church of Christ in Allen, Texas.   

“I feel like their ministry is so similar to the ministry of Jesus, Carter said. “He walked from town to town, was with the people, talked with them, ate with them, served them and taught them. That’s what Omar and Aryssa are doing in an area that has never heard of Jesus — never.”

The Gil family en route to the mountain villages of Panama.

The Gil family en route to the mountain villages of Panama.

After three or four days among the villagers, the family packs up and makes the long return journey to El Valle, where they work and their children attend school. 

“Imagine doing this with your family every month!” Carter said. “That’s dedication!”

Omar said that the family’s inspiration is Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

“Even though I haven’t been able to go out into the rest of the world,” Omar said, “I can help these people.”

“Even though I haven’t been able to go out into the rest of the world. I can help these people.”

Filed under: Central America Churches of Christ in Central America International missionaries Missions News Panama remote missions Top Stories

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