An Agua Panela Experience
By Merlin M. | Volunteer
Every Wednesday night is a special time for Ciudad Refugio because without fail Agua Panela takes place. For those of you who are unaware, Agua Panela is the ministry where local believers and volunteers from the church head out each week (rain or shine) to hand out bread and hot sweet water on the streets. In many ways, I would consider Agua Panela the heartbeat of the ministry here. In fact, Ciudad Refugio began because Pastor Douglas was obedient to the voice of God and went out alone to minister on the streets; and one soul at a time, the work of God began. Thankfully, now a days we don’t go out solo but in groups. Whereas Pastor Douglas was one single man shining the light of God into total and utter darkness, these days we are an army bringing the hope that only Christ can offer to the souls living and using drugs on the streets.
I wanted to share an insider’s look at what it means to serve with Agua Panela to give a glimpse of what we encounter. Before heading out each week, the team always meets to pray together. We ask God to guide and lead us to the individuals who need Him the most and every week He always answers our prayers. Next, we pile into the vehicles to drive to the area where we minister. This week we were able to pack 13 people into a minivan, no space including the floor was wasted. That alone is a miracle in itself!
The street where Agua Panela takes place is dark in both the physical and spiritual sense; there are no street lights to illuminate the way. Men, women, and animals are just walking around aimlessly and many are openly using and selling drugs. For the most part, they are like zombies and not in their right mind. I cannot explain it in better terms than-it’s like walking straight into the pit of hell, despair and hopelessness all rolled into one small street. You have to be careful where you step because there are just piles and piles of people with their things just sitting or standing or others are walking around in a frenzy but with nowhere to go. There is an energy here that I have only encountered on this street and nowhere else before.
Before we begin to minister, everyone gathers and prays one more time. Then volunteers have two options for what they can do. You can either stay and pass out the bread/drinks or go out in groups to talk to people. This particular night, I went with a group of four women and right away we saw a woman, I’ll call Jo, sitting along the edge of the street all by herself. We approached Jo and started a conversation with her. We started by just introducing ourselves and mutually shared information about our lives. They key here is to build a connection with the person and not just to throw a tract at them and walk away. Jo began to open up bit by bit and shared of a painful past with abuse that led her to start taking drugs. The most heartbreaking thing she shared was how she wished she would die because of the loneliness plaguing her day in and day out. Our group shared as much as we could about the hope that Christ can bring. Eventually we prayed with Jo, embraced her, and reminded her she is not alone. By the grace of God, we were able to spend a good 30-45 minutes with Jo and really converse to build a connection with her. We encouraged her to seek help when she is ready. Like everyone we meet on the street, she promised to come the next morning to the foundation because she wanted a life free of drugs. (Spoiler alert: Jo hasn’t come…yet!)
The team has a hard and fast rule that when all the food items have been given out and no more remains, all the volunteers should return to the vehicles and prepare to leave. The group gathers once again and prays for each person we encountered. We share the names of each individual and lift them up before heading home. As Rebekah from the foundation calls it, ” We hope to leave drops of grace as part of the work we do.”
Agua Panela is the hardest and grittiest area of ministry I have ever encountered. But each time I go, I am reminded that my life is meant to be a light that shine in the midst of darkness. What point is there to light a candle in a room that is already bright? As the lyrics of the song “Mighty to Save” states: “Shine your light and let the whole world see.” Can I encourage you to shine in the darkness? In the areas of your city and town where many are living in pain and hopelessness? Offer hope and simply with your actions demonstrate the love of Christ. Because that’s closest to the heart of God and that is what we’ve all been called to do!