Loma Cova, Panama, is a dusty, humid place. Village streets are unpaved, and cold-water showers are set up outside.
"Everything is muddy," said Peony Park, 15, who spent a month in the Central American country among the Kuna tribe as part of the Teen Mania Ministries missionary expedition.
"Some of them are modern but a lot of them, (the women) still wear the traditional Kuna outfits," the junior at John. S. Davidson Fine Arts School said.
Along with immersing herself in the culture, Peony spent her time in Panama sharing her faith and strengthening it.
"It was really life-changing. The whole trip just humbled me," she said. "To see people who lived so much worse than we do. Yet they are still so happy even though they have so little, And us, we take so much for granted."
There were houses that were as big as her bedroom, no plumbing and teens already into drugs. Peony was ready for all that, she said.
"I wasn't going to go have fun, but to plant a seed in everyone of those people's hearts in Panama," she said.
As part of her outreach, Peony ministered through drama and Bible study.
"It was physically and spiritually draining every day, moving around and taking everything to the people," she said. "A lot of amazing things happened."
She has stories to tell about demons being cast out of a young girl, a man who asked for prayer and got the job he so desperately needed the next day, elders who had their sight restored and a translator who had a tumor healed.
Villagers weren't the only ones to be affected by the trip.
"My faith has grown so much," Peony said. "Before I went, it was more of an up-and-down and up-and-down kind of thing; I only looked to God when I was down or needed something."
Her stay among the Kuna changed all of that, especially one encounter with an employee at the gasoline station the group frequented.
"He stopped and asked me one day did I know about God and I told him, 'Yes,'" she said. "I talked to him for 40 minutes about God, without a translator, it just seemed the words came to me."
By the time the conversation was done, Peony said, the man seemed changed. When she saw him at the end of her trip he had a message for her.
"He said he's going to say, 'A girl from Teen Mania came all the way from another country to tell me about God,'" she said. "And just those words, when I heard them it was as if God was telling me that 'I'm not through with you yet. The journey has just begun.'"
From that moment, Peony said, she realized she'd be coming home for another mission.
"I don't think of the mission trip as being the climax," she said. "It's changed me. I've come back to do better. I've a hunger to help people around me."
Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or email@example.com.