Maryland church groups in Panama headed home amid civil unrest

Construction union workers protest in support of striking teachers in Panama City, Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Panamanians have taken to the streets in protest for more than a week, building upon anger over fuel prices that have nearly doubled to make known their general dissatisfaction with the government of President Laurentino Cortizo. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

Around 30 missionaries in Panama, including 17 teenagers and their chaperones, are heading back home to Maryland after being trapped in a compound for over a week by social unrest in the country.

Since July 7, the missionaries had been staying at a compound in Las Lajas, near the Costa Rican border, but were cut off from their final destination where they had planned to assist in building a school.

The group includes 30 teenagers and adults from four Maryland Seventh-Day Adventist churches  — the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Frederick, the Atholton Seventh-day Adventist Church in Columbia, the New Hope Church of Fulton and Spencerville Church, who are all under the Chesapeake Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists.

Protests erupted in Panama two weeks ago, focusing on inflation, labor rights and skyrocketing fuel prices. These protests led to blockades on many major roads in Panama, including the route the group needed to reach a school construction site in the nearby mountains.

A spokesman for the Chesapeake Conference told WTOP that all the missionaries had found a “brief window” to travel early Saturday morning and were currently safe.

The mission trip organizer, Keith Blair with New Hope Church, informed the Chesapeake Conference that all members of the group were doing well.

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department released a situational awareness notice on the protests, stating visitors should exercise caution near any large gatherings and that “protests and road blockages are a part of life in Panama.”

The statement also said that, although most demonstrations have been nonviolent and anti-U. S. sentiment is rare, police have often used tear gas and riot munitions, particularly when roads are blocked.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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