Thursday, March 5, 2015

{Mission Highlight} Rhett Thompson in Panama + the Importance of UMVIM Teams

Panama is the little Latin American country that connects North America to South America. You could just about stand in the middle with your arms reached out and touch both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Famous for its canal, sure, but ask anyone connected to United Methodist missions, and they will immediately think of Rev. Rhett Thompson

Rhett has been serving in Panama since 1985 as a General Board of Global Ministries missionary, and we’d love to tell you a little more about some of the incredible projects he has implemented alongside his UMVIM partners.  

Public Health Training
One of Rhett’s goals in Panama was to establish a community-based health program, but he was having a slow go of it. Two nurses from the North Central Jurisdiction answered the call to collaborate, and the three of them designed and implemented a public health curriculum that they then taught to the locals. Given the literacy limitations of those with whom they were working, they used methods such as storytelling, games, and demonstrations rather than setting a textbook in front of their students. 

More than 2 dozen indigenous Ngabe have been trained through this program, where they have learned key public health practices such as first aid, sanitation and disease prevention, and sexual and reproductive health. More than half of their graduates remain active in their communities, teaching these relatively simple but essential skills to those around them.

Bridge to Dental Health
Rhett grew up at Canterbury UMC in Birmingham, Alabama, and his stateside congregation really rallied around him and his efforts to promote dental health to the Ngabe people. Church member Dr. Kevin Alexander recalls the first time they were in the remote village of Cienaguita in 1999, saying “the kids had to swim across the river to get to us. The dental office was the porch of a 3 room house and the dental chair was an old Adirondack-type chair with flashlights held to see. We had to purify our water, or bring it ourselves.” 
Nearly 16 years later, with the support of his UMVIM teams, there is a full-fledged dental clinic with modern day equipment, rather than a porch with flashlights. There is a even a bridge in place now, so no one has to swim across the water to maintain their dental health.

A Place to Call Home

For two solid decades, Trinity UMC in Homewood, AL has been in a covenant relationship with Rhett. In 2013, they worked with him to come up with a very specific and detailed plan for 6 houses to be built over the next 3 years. But rather than parachute in with hammers and nails, Trinity’s intentionality to work long-term with Rhett, the local Ngabe community, and the Panamanian government is why this initiative has been such a success. 

All of these initiatives embody a healthy mission model: short-term teams partner with a long-term missionary who understands the locals and their needs, they empower and educate while keeping native traditions in-tact, and all parties work with the government to achieve their goals.

To learn more about what it means to be involved in healthy, covenant relationships with long-term efforts, including opportunities with Rhett Thompson, please reach out to our office. UMVIM, SEJ harnesses the strong connectional nature of the United Methodist Church, connects teams to sustainable mission opportunities, provides in-depth leader training, and offers supplemental health insurance to short-term missioners. 

Special thanks to Jane Dunn, Dr. Kevin Alexander, and Nathan Carden for their contributions to this article. 

Words: Malinda Kay Nichols | Photos: Courtesy of GBGM, Jane Dunn, and Rhett Thompson

No comments:

Post a Comment