Central Panama Conference

Photo courtesy of Central Panama Conference.

Central Panama Conference

By Ismael Saldaña

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Ismael Saldaña Escobar, B.A. in Theology (Adventist University of Central America, Alajuela, Costa Rica), is the executive secretary of Central Panama Conference. He has served as pastor, ministerial secretary, and family departmental director at Panama Adventist Conference. He is married to Shirley Garita Chaves and has three children.

First Published: May 12, 2021

Central Panama Conference is an administrative unit of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Panama. It is a part of Panama Union Mission in the Inter-American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

Territory and Statistics

The territory of Central Panama Conference includes Coclé, Herrera, Los Santos, and West Panama provinces with a population of 947,158.1

The region’s official language is Spanish. The Guna language is also spoken in Veracruz in the district of Arraiján by important immigrants from the Guna Yala indigenous region. Other languages, such as Chinese, French, Italian, English, and others are also spoken in the region.

Central Panama Conference has 71 churches and 15,180 members.2 It also has an elementary school, a high school, and a trade school. Its administrative offices are on Third Street Matuna, Building #2635, Barrio Colón, La Chorrera, Panama. It is a part of Panama Union Mission of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Inter-American Division.

Educational Institutions

Colegio Adventista de La Chorrera offers elementary to secondary education levels in Nuevo Limoncillo. It was founded on August 4, 1994, and currently has ten elementary teachers, 17 secondary teachers, and 417 enrolled students. This school began in the classrooms of the children’s department of the Central Church of La Chorrera. The educational facility was constructed thanks to Panama Conference and Maranatha Volunteers International, a non-profit organization that builds “strong, dignified structures for worship and education.”3

Centro Adventista de Estudio Laboral is located on the premises of the Colegio Adventista de La Chorrera educational center. It was founded on April 4, 2005, and has five teachers and 129 students.

Origins of Adventist Work in Central Panama Conference Territory

Around 1942, Brother Barrington Russell, Sr., of the Cabo Verde church moved to Vista Alegre and committed to sharing the Word of God in the area where he lived. He began meeting with the neighboring English-speaking Romelis and Kennedy families. Interested in the fruits of his efforts, he decided to establish a new church and solicited the help of the La Castellana Hispanic church brethren; Sister Consuelo Maduro; her sister, Sofía Castellano; the church youth; and the local Adventist school teachers.

In their free time, school teachers served as Bible workers. Teacher Eduardo Ruiloba, coordinator of these driving forces, found support in the teachers, Nicolasa Ríos, Berta Zárate, Narcisa Guerrero, and Josefina Howard; and the members of La Castellana Church, Eusebia Guerrero, Rosario Britton, and Samuel Britton. With these seven, he started a small group in Nuevo Emperador. This group was led by the young Diogenes Centeno and traveled in a truck owned by Samuel Britton, Dr., named La Misionera every Thursday. They thought that only angels pushed such a truck.4 They then went to Nuevo Guararé, gathered under a nance tree on the Vaz family’s property, and fellowshipped there until they were able to construct a modest place of worship. This place would be recognized as the first church in this field on December 20, 1952.

The first pastors who visited this church were Mario Robinson, Dellaphile, and R. R. Drachenberg. Later, Pastor Adino Rodríguez was appointed to sustain the faith of the new believers. The first baptisms in Arraiján were carried out in Rio Aguacate Vista Alegre, and the first baptized was Reinaldo Pérez.5

In 1949, Teacher Eduardo Ruiloba went to Río Grande, province of Coclé, to visit the Bible student, Justo Saldaña, who had been baptized in the La Castellana church on November 20, 1945. Saldaña indicated that he had taught his relatives what he had learned. As a result, his brothers, Bolivar and Luzmila, were baptized by Pastor L. Miller.6

On August 3, 1953, Pastor Folkenberg baptized Lucía Emilia Guerrero and her daughter, Enilsa. These new believers moved to the city of La Chorrera, which would become a place for a new church for the first Adventists.7 A few years later, church work reached the provinces of Herrera and Los Santos.

Church members who lived in La Chorrera but worshipped in the Nuevo Guararé church decided to expand and establish a new church in La Chorrera. With a spirit to evangelize, they planned a campaign led by Pastor Norberto Quiroz. The evangelistic campaign was successful; but, in the midst of its progress, Pastor Quiroz fell ill and died without seeing the results of his work. Pastor Carlos Abbott, with the help of Brethren Rosario de Britton and Pedro Bolívar Saldaña, concluded the evangelistic efforts.

As a result of the campaign, Pastor Drachenberg baptized new converts, which allowed for the church of La Chorrera to be organized on July 25, 1953.8

From 1942 to 1953, youth, teachers, and pastors followed a vision and their mission, and these churches in Nuevo Guararé and La Chorrera became banners of the Adventist work being conducted in the area to the west of the capital city.

Events that Led to Conference Organization

Central Panama Conference began as an experimental region of East Panama Conference. President José De Gracia saw the need to readjust the territory due to distance and evangelistic strategies and in order to better assist its members. He developed a strategic plan and presented it to the board of directors of the Central Panama experimental region. The pilot region project would have two zones, 26 churches, 22 groups, and six branches. It would cover the entire western area of Panama City and the central provinces of Coclé, Herrera, and Los Santos.9

In 2004, East Panama Conference asked South Central American Union Conference to create the experimental region beginning on January 1, 2005, with offices in the facilities of the La Chorrera Adventist school.10 Hard work and commitment to the mission and vision inspired church leaders, pastors, and administrators to join forces to see that the change of status would become a reality.

Central Panama Mission became the third field in Panama on July 8, 2007, with Pastor Olvenis Gómez as its president, 12,017 members, six ordained ministers, eight licensed ministers, five Bible workers, 34 organized churches, and 32 groups. Its administrative offices were located in the district of Barrio Colón, Avenida de Las Américas, in La Chorrera, Panama.11

East Panama Conference gave support with regulatory appropriations for the young mission to properly function, leaving operating capital at 100 percent. Also, a plot of land located on the main road on the Inter-American Highway at a cost of $125,000 USD was donated and allotted for the construction of offices that would cost $150,000 USD. It also gave support with financial resources for constructing countless “floor and roof” structures to be used as churches in the provinces of Coclé, Herrera, and Los Santos.

Its first four-year term session was held on July 31, 2011. In attendance were Inter-American Division Vice President Myrna Costa; South Central American Union Conference’s President Wilfredo Ruiz, Secretary Earnal Scott, and Treasurer Silas Martínez; East Panama Conference’s administrators; leaders from other fields; and 90 delegates. At that session, Pastor Carlos Alberto Saldaña Álvarez was appointed president of Central Panama Mission.

Due to the work of pastors and laity, and thanks to the growth and consolidation of the field, 5,047 persons were baptized from 2007 to 2010, and Central Panama Mission saw the organization of 11 new churches. Overall, the mission had 45 organized churches and 28 groups by the end of 2010.

On September 16, 2014, an extraordinary congress was held with the presence of Inter-American Division President Israel Leito, South Central American Union Conference’s administrators, East Panama Conference’s administrators, West Panama Conference, Atlantic Panama Mission, Southeast Panama Mission, and 110 delegates. On this day, Central Panama Mission changed its status to Central Panama Conference, and Pastor Carlos Alberto Saldaña Álvarez was named its president.

From July 2011 to June 2014, the field experienced growth, 2,890 new members were added, and ten new churches were formed. At the end of 2014, President Saldaña was called to occupy another position, and Pastor Abdías Enoc Gómez Moreno was elected president.

On June 12, 2018, Central Panama Conference held its first four-year term congress with Inter-American Division Vice President Tomás Torres de Dios; Panama Union Mission’s President José De Gracia, Secretary Carlos Saldaña, and Treasurer José Smith; and 144 delegates present. Pastor Abdías Enoc Gómez Moreno was elected president with Pastor Ismael Saldaña as secretary and Osmel Serrano as treasurer of Central Panama Conference. In a short time, 3,649 new members joined, and 19 new churches were established.

Developments in Central Panama Conference

Central Panama Conference’s vision for growth and institutional development has proven fruitful thanks to the commitment of conference administrators and union support. Panama Union Mission’s initiatives and strategic planning have resulted in financial and missionary gain, strengthened institutions, and access into new fields.

On July 31, 2016, the new facilities of the La Chorrera Adventist school were inaugurated. The school offers preschool, elementary, secondary, and occupational education. It has a modern auditorium with a capacity for 450 people. It also has a gymnasium, new classrooms, a dining room, and administrative and service offices.

In 2008, an Adventist Book Center was inaugurated as part of the evangelization program. Colporteur work has impacted the territory from West Panama to the central provinces.

In 2017, the construction of a new building next to Central Panama Conference’s administrative offices began. This building would house the new facilities of the Adventist Publications Agency of Central Panama Conference. The new bookstore building was inaugurated on February 22, 2018.

In April 2017, frequencies 1560 AM in Panama City and 105.1 FM in the province of Colón began broadcasting to the Central Panama Conference territory thanks to Panama Union Mission’s radio and television communication system, “New Dawn.” Sponsor contributions made possible the approval of construction for a modern radio and television studio the following year.

On June 14, 2015, Panama Union Mission called a meeting to be held in Santiago, Veraguas province, with the constituents of West Panama Conference and Central Panama Conference. In accordance with Panama Union Mission’s 2015-2025 strategic plan, the territorial adjustment for the formation of a new experimental region was voted.

In this territorial adjustment, Central Panama Conference yielded part of the provinces of Coclé, Herrera, and Los Santos with a combined total of 21 organized churches, 19 groups, 2,273 members, one ordained minister, and two licensed ministers. Its offices were located in Chitré, Roberto Ramírez de Diego Street. The Central Pacific experimental region was named, and Pastor José Daniel Sánchez was named its coordinator.

Central Panama Conference is committed to fulfilling the ideals expressed in its Mission, Vision, Administrative Vision, and Values.

  • Mission: Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, every member transformed into a disciple

  • Vision: Every member winning a soul, and every church planting another in every neighborhood, village, and city

  • Administrative Vision: The field forming a Region, a Region transformed into a Mission, a Mission transformed into a Conference

  • Values: Unity, Respect, Integrity, Excellence, Spirituality, Fellowship, Serving with love

Future Projects

  • To inaugurate new radio, television, and multimedia offices

  • To build an Adventist school in the community of Princesa Mía in Arraiján district for a population of almost 300,000 as of 2019

  • To establish 13 congregations in the middle of La Chorrera district

  • To financially support the beginnings of Central Pacific Mission

  • To acquire a radio frequency for the territory

List of Presidents

Olvenis Omero Gómez Rodríguez (2004-2010); Carlos Alberto Saldaña Álvarez (2011-2014); Abdías Enoc Gómez Moreno (2015- ).

Sources

“About Us.” Maranatha Volunteers International. Accessed December 3, 2020. https://maranatha.org/about/.

Central Experimental Mission Executive Committee minutes. December 15, 2014. East Panama Conference secretariat archives, Panama, Panama.

East Panama Conference Executive Committee minutes. “Panama Central Experimental Mission Creation Request.” November 24, 2004. East Panama Conference secretariat archives, Panama, Panama.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Accessed 2021. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

South Central American Union Conference Executive Committee minutes. “Central Panama Mission.” May 29, 2007. South Central American Union Conference secretariat archives, Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Notes

  1. “Central Panama Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, accessed 2021, https://www.adventistyearbook.org/entity?EntityID=31357.

  2. Ibid.

  3. “About Us,” Maranatha Volunteers International, accessed December 3, 2020, https://maranatha.org/about/.

  4. Xiomara de la Rivera Guerrero, interview by author, La Chorrera, Panamá Oeste, May 26, 2019.

  5. Jean Russell Golbuel, interview by author, Nuevo Arraiján, May 22, 2019.

  6. Pedro Bolívar Saldaña, interview by author, Ollas Abajo, Capira, April 23, 2019.

  7. Enilda Edith de Sucre, interview by author, La Chorrera, Panamá Oeste, April 21, 2019.

  8. Pedro Bolívar Saldaña, interview by author, Ollas Abajo, Capira, April 23, 2019.

  9. Central Experimental Mission Executive Committee, December 15, 2014, 051, East Panama Conference secretariat archives.

  10. East Panama Conference Executive Committee, “Panama Central Experimental Mission Creation Request,” November 24, 2004, East Panama Conference secretariat archives.

  11. South Central American Union Conference Executive Committee, “Central Panama Mission,” May 29, 2007, 067, South Central American Union Conference secretariat archives.

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Saldaña, Ismael. "Central Panama Conference." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. May 12, 2021. Accessed March 01, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=1G2T.

Saldaña, Ismael. "Central Panama Conference." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. May 12, 2021. Date of access March 01, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=1G2T.

Saldaña, Ismael (2021, May 12). Central Panama Conference. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved March 01, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=1G2T.