Keynote Speaker Edith Ruiz de Espinoza (left), children and adolescent ministries director of the Inter-American Division, prays for on stage during the opening ceremony of Panama Union’s Children and Adolescent Congress takes place in Panama City, Sep. 22-23, 2023. More than 1,200 youngsters traveled from across the country to take part in a series of spiritual messages, prayer and social activities. [Photo: Panama Union]

October 5, 2023 | Panama City, Panama | Kayc James and Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

Hundreds of children and adolescents ages 7 to 14 traveled from every corner of Panama to take part in a country-wide congress where they were taught biblical principles and learned more about Jesus’ love and purpose for their lives.

Youngsters came by with their teachers and leaders to spend two days taking part in a series of spiritual messages, prayer and social activities at the Metropolitan Adventist School’s Auditorium in Panama City, Panama, Sep. 22-23, 2023.

More than 1,200 children and adolescents gather at the Metropolitan Adventist School in Panama City, Panama during the congress.[Photo: Panama Union]

“For us this is a crucial and very important event to help children and adolescents grow their faith and strengthen their relationship with God from an early age,” said Rosalinda De Gracias, children, and adolescent ministries director of the Panama Union. It’s about investing time and resources so they can learn to trust in God, gain confidence to lead as they grow and become spiritual leaders.

Reaffirming that Jesus is a safe refuge

Themed “Jesus our Eternal Rock,” the event was meant to leave a clear message and provide tools so children and adolescents can make wise decisions and be assured that Jesus as the “Rock” is their protection and salvation. “We wanted to reaffirm to them that Jesus is a safe refuge, our strength, our helper, comforter, defender, and the best guide and friend they could have,” said De Gracia.

Dressed in white robes and crowns children enjoy a special heaven-themed program on Sep. 22, 2023. [Photo: Eric Rodríguez]

The young delegation represented the nearly 13,000 children and adolescents spread across churches and groups in Panama, said De Gracia. Nearly 50 of the children in attendance were non-Adventists, she added.

The congress saw the young delegation dressed in white, each wearing a crown during opening night pointing to the white robes the redeemed will wear in heaven.  “I loved how we all looked dressed in white,” said nine-year-old Sofia Hernández. “I want to go to heaven and see all the children and see Jesus dressed in white like me,” she said.

Children huge each either during a hug therapy segment during the event. [Photo: Eric Rodríguez]

It was all about leaving lasting impressions, said De Gracia. Youngsters learned about the benefits of hug therapy, creation and the importance of Sabbath rest, the use of social media and its dangers, and the importance of marriage as a biblical institution established by God between a man and a woman.

Living in a confused society

“We live in times of depression, harassment, violence, bullying, anxiousness, divided homes, suicides, we live in a confused society,” said De Gracia. “In the programs and movies that are projected on the screen we see and feel the bombardment with the new fashion of same-sex marriages.” It was important to point to what marriages were meant to be like, she said.

Four recently married couples renew their vows during the event as a testament of God’s biblical example of a marriage between a man and a woman. [Photo: Panama Union]

Children and adolescents jumped to their feet applauding and shouted for joy when they heard the wedding march song play as four couples marched to the platform to renew their wedding vows.

“It was so interesting to see how the couples were transmitting that love they felt for each other, and a good way to show children a sample of the family God established,” said Mirna Belford, children, and adolescent ministries director of the Berea Adventist Church of Panama City.

A young girl takes part in a activity during Sabbath afternoon activities Sep. 23, 2023. [Photo: Eric Rodríguez]

At the prayer tent

Young delegates lined up for the prayer tent where pastors were ready to listen and pray for their specific concerns and requests. “The line became so long that two more pastors had to assist in the prayer tent,” said De Gracia. Many of the prayer requests included prayer for their parents to not divorce, prayers for their parents to find employment, prayers for healing and many others, she said.

“One particular child asked for prayer so that he and his family could have food because his parents had not been able to find work and were starving,” said De Gracia. Soon after, ADRA Panama leaders were notified to visit the home with food and assistance.

Pastor Jose De Gracia (right) president of the Panama Union prays for a teenager’s requests in the special prayer tent. [Photo: Eric Rodríguez]

Among the five pastors praying for the children was Pastor Jose De Gracia, president of the Panama Union. Pastor De Gracia said it has been a blessing to support the children who need prayer. “Some of the best testimonies and stories come out of prayer tents like these,” he said. De Gracia recalled how nine-year old Rosendo Sanjur, who attended the church’s first Children and Adolescent Congress held in 2018, came to be prayed for because he didn’t want to become a thief like his grandfather. Union leaders moved quickly to visit the family and enroll him in Adventist school. Today, Rosendo continues to study at Chorrera Adventist School in the West Province in Panama and is an active child leader in his local field, said Pastor De Gracia. Rosendo’s parents are now members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Rosalinda De Gracia (left) children and adolescent ministries director of the Panama Union addresses the young delegation while she presents Rosendo Sanjur (second from right), a participant in the first congress in 2018, who has been sponsored by the Panama Union to study in Adventist School. Pastor Jose De Gracia (right) Panama Union president stands next to Rosendo. [Photo: Eric Rodríguez]

Jesus as the foundation

Keynote Speaker Edith Ruiz de Espinoza, children, and adolescent ministries director for the Inter-American Division, challenged young delegates to cling to Jesus and make Him the foundation and source of wisdom in their life as they navigate through their daily activities. “You are a light for Jesus and need to shine to those around you,” she said to the gathering.

“I have never seen such a large congress just for children,” said Espinoza. Seeing their smiley faces, their love and devotion for Jesus and the church touched her deeply. “Many unions hold congresses for teachers in the children and adolescent ministries but this investment in so many children gathered with such a beautiful program where bible principles are reaffirmed, is a real blessing for the church and the community they will impact when they are back home.”

Three boys take part in a bible text activity on stage during an interactive segment led by Edith Ruiz de Espinoza (left), children and adolescent ministries director of the Inter-American Division, on Sep. 23, 2023. [Photo: Eric Rodríguez]

Young delegates together with their teachers reported on their impact activities in the church and throughout their communities during this year.

Each delegate was given a medal for taking part in the congress event and challenged to trust in God as their Eternal Rock, be active in serving their communities, become agents of change, and study their bible daily.

A group of adolescents take part in a special report during their conference delegation’s segment. [Photo: Eric Rodríguez]

“We have the responsibility to mark these young lives with options so they can make the right choices in life and give them the assurance that everything will be fine when God is with them,” said Mrs. De Gracia.

To learn about Panama Union’s Children and Adolescents Congress, click HERE

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