Tierra Oscura

When we started this blog, one thing we wanted to make sure we do is be authentic and transparent.  This blog entry is just that, raw transparency.

We re-packed our bags for our trip from Panama City to Bocas, loaded them into a truck and suburban at 7:20am and headed off to the airport.  Our flight didn’t leave until 12:50pm but in order for our numerous bags to make it, we had to get them in line early since we were shipping them cargo, which is half the price of normal.  Alejandro, who works in cargo explained that all of our bags needed to be unlocked, opened, inspected, tie-wrapped, taped and labeled and would probably not make it to Bocas for a few days or a week.  After talking with Alejandro and getting to know him, suddenly those “rules” changed.  No unlocking, opening or inspecting needed.  We worked together to tie-wrap, tape and label all off them, weigh them, and stack them in the cargo area.  After his significant help, I gave him a significant tip, hoping that he would somehow be able to get all of our bags to us within a day or two.

We walked down to the terminal about 9:30am to wait for our 12:50pm flight.  Now for all of you single people you may be thinking, no big deal, I’ll check Facebook, read my kindle, or SMS 17 “friends” while waiting.  With 3 kiddos the goal is stated best with one word, survival.  We packed light, just carry-ons and two guitars and 3 kiddos.  Just in case our bags we didn’t see our bags for days, we packed a few changes of clothes, well, I didn’t, I have a secret.  Ok, this is a side story, a rabbit trail… I try to wear merino wool, a friend of mine, Selim, got me hooked on it.  I usually wear merino underwear and shirts.  The beauty of merino is you don’t ever have to wash it and it never stinks.  I read a story of a guy who traveled the world for six months with just two pairs of merino wool underwear, alternated every other day, and never washed them.  He claims they didn’t stink, although now that I think about it, he was single, maybe that had something to do with it.  Anyway, I love merino wool, God creates some incredible stuff.

Ok, back on task here.  We waited, we survived, went through security (which is awesome compared to the US!) and just before boarding the plane.  Shirlene spots Alejandro jumping and waiving on the other side of security, trying to get our attention.  I run over, he’s super excited, he’s says, its all on there, I got all of it on your plane!  We gave air high fives over the security area and we were all smiles.  We boarded the plane, a very loud prop plane I might add, you could hardly hear anything.  The flight was short and sweet, and yes Ethan did poop, again, must be related to the air pressure changes.  We deplane, and wait in the luggage room, where I watch one guy, with one big cart, fill the cart with only our luggage.  I’m looking around the room at the 40 or so people who are waiting and waiting and all that has come off the plane is our luggage.  Then because there are only two carts, one for incoming bags and one for outgoing bags both which are full at this point, he’s not sure what to do.  Eventually he unloads the outgoing bags and gets everyone else’s bags which took probably 40 minutes or so.

I called my new friend Tyson, who I met on the scouting trip, and he offered to come meet us at the airport to help us out.  And its a good thing he did.  All road taxis were on strike that day and Tyson had a car.  We loaded up what we could and dropped Shirlene, the kiddos and some of the luggage off at the restaurant, which is right on the water.  We made another trip, dropped off the luggage.  And yet another trip and dropped off the luggage.  Tyson was a life saver, he really helped us out.  Ate, and saw some more people we knew there, the YWAM Bocas directors, Kim and Dale.  Shirlene then went shopping with them while I waited with the kids and luggage in the restaurant – it was a sight to see.  After that I called Ponte the water taxi driver, loaded all of the luggage onto the dock, then onto his boat and we were off.  about 40 minutes later, after a bumpy ride with two kids asleep and sprayed with salt water, we were “home”.  Tierro Oscuro (Dark Lands) is where our new home is located.

We unloaded and were greeted by the care taker, he helped us a ton, hauling the luggage up the hill, and I mean hill, in the heat and humidity.  I unlocked the house, hooked up gas, turned on water, solar, etc.  I noticed when I opened the front door there was a lot of pieces of something on the floor, I looked up on the ceiling / wall and there was a medium watermelon sized termite nest.  I kind of just ignored it, since I had no idea what to do with it.  I then checked out the back porch / shower / bath / laundry area and noticed a wasp nest.  Now we all have mental pictures of a wasp nest, take that mental picture and take the wasps and multiply their size by 10.  Some of these wasps were two inches long!  They were quite intimidating.  In Spanish, I asked Alvaro if they were dangerous.  He said, in Spanish, yes, especially to children.  I then asked him to come into the house and take a look at the termite nest, all he said was, woah.  I turned to him and said, can we kill them, and the wasps too?  He said yes, and then said he needed to leave for home.  I was thinking, ok.

Soon after that he showed up again, with a backpack sprayer, he put the wand up to the wasp nest and misted them, most of them died quick, then he shoved the wand into the termite nest and filled the thing with the same solution.  This created quite a mess in the house, and promptly he was off for home.  While he was doing this I was hoping it wasn’t this super insecticide they have here in Panama that’s illegal in most every country in the world but, it was, I found the bottle in the bodega (the shed).  Hmmm, part of the problem was it made a muddy mess in the house, the ceiling, wall, trim, couch and floor.  And this stuff is toxic, I was thinking mainly of the kids.  Well, I cleaned it up as best I could.  Praying for no health issues, especially for the kiddos.  After that I wanted to get rid of the wasp nest, but new wasps returned and they were huge!  After psyching myself up, I finally decided I would hit the nest down with a broom and run.  Well, I hit that sucker hard, also knocked down the shower curtain, went to run, fell off the deck and twisted my ankle on a tree root.  I looked up to see the nest still hanging there, then looked down at my ankle in pain.  To be honest, at this point I was just plain mad.  I got up, busted that stupid nest down and stabbed the dazed wasps with my knife.  I then washed down the whole shower / deck so no one would get stung.  I went inside and told Shirlene I was quite disappointed in myself for being such a wimp (I used another word), afraid of the wasps, leaf cutter ants, termites and the 1000 other things current crawling on me.

At this point we put the kids to bed in the bedroom and Shirlene and I have a bed set up in the living / family / dining / office / kitchen room.  I decided I wanted to take a shower, went out to the back deck to experience some minor gasping in the cold water.  But, it was refreshing, I liked it.  Shirlene and I turned in to the sound of howler monkeys in the trees outside our house and the incredible stars that were so clear it felt like you could reach up and grab them.  A few hours into the night we had some, well, how would we call it, spiritual warfare.  I often forget there is a spiritual side to things, I live mainly in the physical.  But, in my limited world travels, I have seen scary, amazing and unexplainable things outside the US, that are no doubt spiritual.  Most of the world does not have a problem with believing this, but we Americans sure do, and that is satan’s plan for the US.  Covert evil.  This was not the case this night, we saw things, prayed things away and eventually fell to sleep.  Praise God we have power in the name of Jesus Christ.

The next morning we woke up.  I wanted to get everything at the house working, cleaned, the boat up and going, get the cell signal booster working and the internet set up.  After getting the stove working, Shirlene made an awesome french toast meal, seriously the best french toast I have ever had.  I went to work on the boat and found the batteries to be dead.  I needed to get to the neighbors so I took the trek through the jungle and after some time, found their house, only they weren’t home.  I did however find their groundskeeper, and nice guy who when I explained the boat problem took me through the village and the swamp.  Then asked me if I could swim, I said si.  He then had be get into his cayuco, which had many holes in it.  The boat was filling with water fast so a could of local kids threw pieces of cloth and garbage into the boat, I shoved those pieces into the holes and most of the leaking stopped.  He paddle me through the mangrove, which was incredible.  I tried not to move too much because the edges of the boat were only about two inches above the water line, they’re not built for gringos.

I then got dropped off at a house / shop on the water where I met Mario, his wife, children and a host of other kiddos.  I told Mario the problem and he and his family took me in their boat over to ours to get it started.  Mario took one quick look and flipped a hidden switch inside one of the panels and the boat had power.  I then started the boat, it started easy and 20 seconds later, it made a bad sound and the engine seized.  It was totally locked up.  Mario took his family back and went to get tools.  He came back and we eventually figured out the problem, the flywheel totally shredded internally and jammed all through the stator.

I was beaten at this point.  Termites, wasps, toxic chemicals, no cell, no internet, hot, bug bites everywhere, too much luggage, Ethan burned his hand, 4-wheeler broken, tools that I bought all missing, and now the boat motor has a pretty bad problem – we’ve only been here a little over a day!  With all of these things going through my head Mario turned to me and said his brother had a similar motor that sunk, that he could probably take the parts off of, he lived in the jungle about 30 minutes away.  I started to feel like, there must be purpose in these problems.  After a time we headed over and through the mangrove we went, it was like something from Disneyland or Indiana Jones, we arrived to an old boat, surrounded by huts and pigs – awesome!  Eventually after pounding and prying we got the flywheel off and headed back to our boat.  Well, to make a long story short, after about 8 hours, we got the boat running again.  Although I’m not super confident in the motor now, since it caused some minor damage that I can still hear, we are up and going.

All throughout the day I prayed, God, why are you allowing these things to happen?  Why is everything so hard here?  Did we make a mistake?  All day wondering why God doesn’t just heal the boat, the 4wheeler, kill a bunch of these bugs, etc.  At the end of the day, I can see His hand in all of these things.  I met so many people today, I got to talk with them, walk with them, boat with them, learn their life, and learn their struggles.  I made some true friends today and I wouldn’t change the “bad” things that happened today, however, these last few days have been hard.  I have a new appreciation for the people here, on one hand it is paradise here, raw Creation, on the other, it is a super hard place to live.  In fact, even as I write this blog posting, with no working internet, no cell service, my macbook totally failing twice and just turning off, about seven insects bouncing off the screen right now and about 38 other creatures crawling on me, (and yes, I am only in my merino wool underwear), stinking hot and conserving power so I can’t use a fan.  The only thing I know, is this is exactly where God wants us to be.

By the way, we still have no internet or cell service.  We just took the boat about a 1/2 hour away to Bocas town, I am in the center square tethered to my phone for internet.  ;)


  1. Mom
    Mar 31, 2012

    I am praying for you guys! Be safe and healthy! This is scary stuff! Yikes! I love each of you sooo much! We miss you here!

    Praying praying praying! Trying not to be too worried.

  2. Paula & David
    Mar 31, 2012

    Bobby & Shirlene…. so happy to read about your first few days of your new home. Thanks for sharing and in so much detail, makes us all feel like we are in some ways there with you. We have been waiting to hear all of these things and it gives us an idea of what we can continue to pray for! We love and miss you but are truly thankful that you are in your new home in Panama, where we know beyond a shadow of a doubt, is where you are supposed to be. We are with you in Spirit and think of you each and every day. I’m glad to hear that Shirlene got to go “shopping” :)

  3. David Greene
    Mar 31, 2012

    AWESOME! God use you problems to give you connections, I feel silly that I didn’t see that coming! Awesome man your blog is my favorite novel right now! My prayers go with you amigo

  4. Angie Boehm
    Apr 1, 2012

    Oh boy! Sounds like an eventful time to say the least. We all just took a moment and prayed for all of you. I hope that your boat starts behaving itself better after this. =)

  5. David Greene
    Apr 2, 2012

    Hey Bobby, can I share the testimony you gave me during c.h.e on my site? I will include your prayer needs as well as anything you want me to add or subtract.

    Thanks In Christ,
    David Greene

    • Bobby
      Apr 2, 2012

      Share away brother. ;)

  6. meta mourton
    Apr 2, 2012

    As hard as it is and as much as we all miss you , I know those you touch will be better for it.

  7. Debbie Skinner
    Apr 3, 2012

    So glad to hear about your first days there! we are praying for safety, connections, and God’s plan to unfold before you!
    Jamie and Debbie Skinner

  8. Lyn Johnson
    Apr 4, 2012

    So super proud of you! Thinking of you and loving you and wanting you to know that you are our heroes! Love to the kids too.
    P.S. Now you know why you learn ALL those different skills through the years! They are being well used!

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