Serving in Panama — Meet Ryan and Kelly Skinner
The Skinners (Anna, Jake, Ryan, Kelly, and Nora) are one of thirteen families serving as our ambassadors in Central and South America. Partnering with Operation Mobilization and WBC, Ryan and Kelly serve the growing evangelical church in Panama by mobilizing, equipping, and sending out Latin Americans as missionaries to the unreached world.
The Skinners’ current role includes recruiting Latino missionary candidates, training, preaching, and helping coordinate OM Panama’s “International Intensive School of Missions.” This three-month training program equips Latin Americans who are interested in serving as missionaries.
A couple of months ago, our missionary Ryan Skinner and eight students in OM Panama’s School of Missions attended a conference in Panama City designed to equip Latin American Christians to effectively reach out to their Muslim neighbors in that part of the world. Their afternoons consisted of going out into the many ethnic neighborhoods of this bustling city to intentionally approach Muslims in conversation about spiritual things – a first- time experience for all of our OM students.
Here is Ryan’s account of one afternoon…
The afternoon heat beat down on us as we walked through the humid streets of Panama City in search of people who would be willing to have a conversation with us about their spiritual beliefs. Accompanied by Juan, a young Colombian from OM Panama’s School of Missions, we had intentionally gone into a business district which is home to many stores run by Asians and the Middle Easterners.
At one of the first businesses we visited, we encountered an elderly blind man with a long white beard seated under the front awning. We learned quickly that he was a Muslim and asked if we could ask him a few questions about his religion. Speaking with a thick Spanish accent, he communicated he was from India. While we were rebuffed on every attempt to learn more about his faith, he suggested: “If you want to find out about Islam you need to go to the mosque down the on the corner and ask there.” We thanked him and trudged back out into the blinding mid-afternoon sunlight in search of someone of similar background who might be receptive to talking with us.
Soon we encountered a middle-aged man from India who owned a used car lot. He was too busy to talk but at the car lot further down the street, we found the opportunity we were looking for. In a small air-conditioned office was a thin young man with a scraggly beard and prayer cap. Upon learning that we were looking to have a conversation with someone about their Muslim faith, he casually motioned for us to come into the office.
“You’ve come to talk about Islam?” he asked. If he was at all surprised to have two foreigners walk into his business on a weekday afternoon and ask about his religion, he didn’t show it. “Come on in,” he said in perfect Spanish. “Please have a seat.”
Mohammed’s family is from the province of Gujarat, India, but he himself had actually been born in Panama 26 years earlier. Seated in the office with him were two other Panamanians who worked at this same car lot. We explained that we were followers of Isa (Jesus), but that we were interested in conversing with Muslims in order to learn more about the distinctives between our faiths. No sooner had we begun than the older of the two Panamanians loudly interrupted. “Look, there are only two things that separate their religion and ours. They don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross, and there’s also that disagreement over Isaac and Ishmael. Other than that, the two religions are basically the same.”
Our purpose for seeking out these conversations was to begin to build relational bridges with local Muslims, so we didn’t jump to correct this Panamanian’s limited understanding of the two faiths.
Instead, it was Carlos, the younger of the two Panamanians who offhandedly commented: “I used to be a Catholic, but I was never really a believer. I married a Muslim girl and I then converted to become a Muslim. My name used to be Carlos, but now it’s Abdullah (servant of Allah). It’s a beautiful religion” he added casually.
As our conversation with these three men at the used car lot continued about some of the commonalities and differences between Islam and Christianity, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how God had brought about this unique encounter in Panama: a Christian missionary from the US, a missionary in training from Colombia, a middle-aged Panamanian who was nominally Catholic, a Muslim of Indian descent, and a young Panamanian convert to Islam.
Praise God for opportunities like these to interact with others about the gospel right here in Panama! And thank you for your prayers, support, and encouragement to us as we seek to mobilize, equip, and send out Latin Americans as missionaries to the world yet to be reached with the good news of Jesus!
An Update from Ryan & Kelly….
While Ryan will continue to serve with OM Panama as their Missions Trainer & Mobilizer, he will also begin a new part-time position in August as Missions Pastor for Crossroads Bible Church in Panama City. In this capacity he will work to strengthen the Panamanian church’s overall missions focus and capacity to send out and support more global missionaries. In mid-May the Skinners will come to the U.S. (and Wheaton Bible Church) to spend two months reconnecting with family, friends, and supporters before returning to Panama to in August.
Panama City — but not the one in Florida! Situated at the mouth of the Pacific terminus of the Panama Canal, PC is a booming cosmopolitan melting pot.
Will you pray?
- Pray for Juan and the other 7 students in OM Panama School of Missions, that the Lord would use the experiences they’re gaining in Latin America to stir up a long-term desire to minister among Muslims around the world.
- Pray for Mohammed, Abdullah, and Adan, three Muslims in Panama we’ve met during our time in Panama City. Please specifically pray for Adan, who was willing to accept a New Testament (in Spanish and Arabic) and that the Lord would stir his desire to read it.
- Pray for God to increasingly mobilize His church throughout Panama and Latin America to reach out to the growing Muslim communities within this part of the world.
- Ask the Lord to orchestrate all the details for the Skinner’s time in the U.S. from May to July and that they would use that time wisely.
- Pray for wisdom for the Skinners as they transition to new roles with OM Panama this summer.