Situated between Guatemala and Columbia, Panama serves as the land bridge between North and South America. Flanked by the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the narrow land has long been marked by trade routes to move goods from one ocean to the other. During the Spanish Colonial period, the route became known as the Camino Real (Royal Road), and much gold and silver made its way across the isthmus before departing for Spain. Having endured nearly three centuries of Spanish rule, followed by dictators, Panama has more recently enjoyed relative peace and democratic rule.
An ethnically diverse nation, Panama emboldens its people by its motto: “Panama, Bridge to the World, Heart of the Universe.” Indeed, Panama exists as a bridge -- both geographically and ethnically. With Mestizos, Caribbeans, Panamanian Caucasians, Amerindians, and other immigrants from around the world, Panama represents a diverse cross-section of the world’s population while maintaining a strong, nationalistic identity. The Panama Canal stands as the people’s crowning achievement. Spanning 52 long miles, the canal enables seagoing vessels to cross between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans without taking the long and more dangerous route around the tip of South America. As a testament to the canal’s influence on global shipping, seagoing vessels have long been built to its dimensions, specifications known as Panamax. A $5.3 billion plan to double the canal’s width was approved in 2006.
Of Panama’s 3.2 million inhabitants, over 90% claim Christianity. Most of these are Catholic, though Evangelicals have grown from 5% of the population in 1970 to nearly 20% in 2010. All but two languages have Bible translations, and Panama is now sending missionaries to other nations. Despite the Christian majority, the local churches lack vision and unity, while widespread nominalism skims effectiveness. While Amerindians have responded positively to the Gospel message, morality problems plague Panama, including divorce, illegitimate children, domestic violence, immorality, and drug use.