The Seventh-Day Adventist Church of Panama

Official logo of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Image.

Official logo of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Image.

Seventh Day Adventist School in Calidonia/Marañon Area circa 1945. Image thanks to our friend Carlos Cox.

Seventh Day Adventist School in Calidonia/Marañon Area of Panama City circa 1945. Image thanks to our friend Carlos Cox.

My encounter with the Seventh-Day Adventist community in Bocas Town sparked my curiosity as to the origins of this tightly knit group which, at the time, was mainly composed of descendants of West Indian people. As such, I’ve borrowed from an excellent account written by Clifton L. Holland entitled Status of Christianity Country Profile: Panama to provide you with a good historical background.

“The Seventh Day Adventist Church began work among West Indians in Panama when American missionaries serving in the Bay Islands of Honduras visited the Caribbean coastal areas in the 1890s. In 1901, regional headquarters for Adventist work were established at Bocas del Toro, where a small gasoline-powered launch aided missionary efforts. Although the work suffered a setback in 1902 when two medical workers died, by the end of 1903 there were three church es and four missions, with a total membership of 129 in western Panama. In 1907, an Adventist church was organized among West Indians at Mount Hope in the Canal Zone, about two miles from Colón. This church, with a membership of 40, provided numerous “canvassers” or colporteurs, who were sent throughout Panama to distribute literature, evangelize and plant churches, mainly among West Indians.

Several institutions were also established by the Adventists in Panama. From 1917 to 1955, the Inter-American branch of the Pacific Press was operated at Cristóbal, which exerted a stabilizing influence on early Adventist work in the Colón area. The West Caribbean Training School was operated by the Adventists from 1921 to 1931 in Las Cascadas, overlooking the Panama Canal. A coeducational boarding school on the senior high school level was opened in 1945 on a 154-acre farm in Pedregalito. This school, called the Panamanian Adventist Institute, is located at La Concepción, near Boquerón, in Chiriquí Province.

Several efforts were made by the Adventists to reach various Amerindian groups in Panama. In 1930, after several visits to the Guaymí Indians in Cerro Iglesia, Chiriquí Province, a church was organized with 33 members. An Adventist school was started there a year later. In 1963, there were 571 baptized members among the Guaymí in this region.

Adventist work began in 1962 among Kuna Indians in the San Blas Islands; by 1964, there were 31 baptized Kuna believers and an Adventist school with 68 pupils. Currently, there are two Adventist congregations among the Kuna. Ministry among the Chocó Indians in the Darien region of eastern Panama began in 1964. Soon, 259 Chocoes were enrolled in the radio Bible school and a small Adventist church was established. In 1967, the number of Adventists among the various Amerindian groups totaled about 1,200 members.

In the mid-1930s, the Adventists were actively engaged in evangelistic work in the interior of Panama among the Hispanic population, while continuing to work among West Indians and North Americans in the Canal Zone, and among West Indians in the provinces of Colón, Bocas del Toro and Chiriquí. Adventist statistics for 1935 reveal 1,639 members and about 5,120 adherents, among 25 congregations and nine preaching points. These efforts were led by 26 missionaries and 18 national workers.

In 1960, the Adventist Church reported 3,898 members a nd almost 7,000 adherents. About half of their 44 congregations and 15 preaching points were located in Chiriquí Province, which accounted for 1,113 members and 2,145 adherents. Eleven foreign missionaries and 34 national workers provided leadership for this growing work nationwide. Adventists were also well represented in the provinces of Colón and Bocas del Toro, in addition to the Canal Zone. Continued Adventist growth since 1960 produced a membership of 6,210 in 1967 and 11,735 in 1978. The period of most rapid growth was between 1960 and 1967 when Adventist membership increased 6.9% (AAGR).

The proportion of Adventists who are Hispanic increased from 40% in 1967 to 60% in 1978 , while West Indians decreased from 40% to 35%. The proportion of Amerindians also decreased, from 20% to about 4%. North Americans accounted for the remaining 1% of Adventist membership in 1978. Adventist work is strongest in the Inter-oceanic Reg ion and in the Province of Chiriquí, although Adventists are also well represented, proportionately, in the Eastern Region. Adventist headquarters are located at Balboa in the old Canal Zone. There were 69 organized congregations in 1978. Today the Adventist Church is the second largest Protestant group in Panama.”

This story continues.

18 responses to “The Seventh-Day Adventist Church of Panama

  1. Enlightening. As one whose Mother joined the Aventist church around 1955, I grew up an adherent to Adventism. Sixty years later I am still an Adventist 50 year resident of the U.S.

    • William,

      Glad to see you drop by and leave a comment. The Seventh Day Adventist Church in Panama has a long and important history in our country and we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share it with our readers. People like yourself and your memories of your church are vital to connecting the dots for our Silver People heritage.
      Thanks again.

  2. the single (quasi)SDA woman lolThe whole Sabbath issue comes from God rsenitg on the 7th day after creating the world, and the 4th Commandment keep the Sabbath day Holy . We don’t believe that the day of worship was changed at the Resurrection as this actually follows the idea of rsenitg on the Sabbath Jesus rested in the grave on Sabbath and rose on Sunday. Also from the words of Jesus were he says I came not to change the law, but fulfill it . I’m sure someone else could explain it better but that is how I think if it in my head For my friends I say I’m a cross between a Baptist and a Jew or a Jew for Jesus with a Baptist twist. I hope you your local SDA church is a good one and you enjoy your time with them!

  3. I would like to know if there are English speaking SDA churches in panama, if so where exactly. I grew up a SDA. My wife was born in Panama left as a little girl, and does remember much, however, Gods willing we are planning a trip for sometime in January 2017. Thanks in advance for your reply. God bless, and keep up the good work. Please feel free to email me at my email address. Thanks.

    • Thank you for stopping by with an inquiry. I am not totally certain but an Adventist friend of mine told me that she goes to the English meeting on Saturdays in the Balboa area but you can contact them here to confirm: Panamá, Balboa, Ancón, Calle Levy, Edificio 0844 507-228-4215 email:

    • Yes, they are 3 English speaking churches in Panama City:

      – Balboa SDA Church –
      – Carrasquilla Central SDA Church –
      – Berean SDA Church.

      • Cindy,
        Thank you so much for those confirmations. God bless!!

      • Wally Stander

        Hi Cindy,
        We are from South Africa and are thinking of selling up and emigrating to another country. Please tell me what is it like in Panama? Is it safe there, do you also have a problem with crime? We would like to buy a few hectares in the country but is it safe in the rural areas? What area is the weather more mild and not so humid and hot? We wouldnt like to be to near any big city.
        A ny suggestions? Can you please give us any information that you think can be of help to us.Thank you. Wally

        • Hello,
          we have to areas with a freshh climate BOQUETE, CERRO AZUL both of them are areas away from the city … not so far you still hve regular access to the main facilities..

    • Balboa Adventist Church
      Near Cable and Wireless in Balboa Ancon

  4. I grew up as an adventist in Panama, born in 1967, later came to the US in 1978. My entire experience in Panama was as an adventist, but never knew the history till now. I am an elder at my church and was asked to give an example of how missionaries helped influenced our lives as adventist in Panama, and now i have material to share. .. thank you

  5. Lance Griffith

    Great article! I did not know much of the history of Sda’s in Panama.
    I was born in Panama and attended the Berean SDA church in Parque Lefebre. My primary school was at the time called ‘Escuela Adventista Republica de Costa Rica which was located in Carrasquilla. I have great memories of that church , (Pathfinders club under the leadership of Ms. Beverly Brown) the school, playing baseball all day long.

  6. Are there any SDA churches in the Azuero region of Panama? In particular, along the eastern coastline

  7. carlos BELGRAVE

    THE SILVER PEOPLE CONTRIBUTION TO THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE PANAMA CANAL AND THEIR SUBSEQUENT PARTICIPATION AND Adaptation, assimilation to the Panamanian culture is second to none in the world.

  8. Carlos, I couldn’t agree more with you!!!!

  9. Thank you for this article. As a college student from Andrews, I helped worked on a Maranatha construction project at the school in David that I guess is the one mentioned near La Conception I knew it was in the area of Conception and the town we worked in was David We built a dorm in 1979/80.

    It is a good and bad memory for me. Good because as a college kid,I loved the work and learned Spanish(was fluent after 6 months, but can’t say that today so many years later. Bad because the construction family who led the project split and I traveled by vehicle with them from Panama back to the states.I remember it as a stressful trip , but interesting and sometimes scary as there were Sandanistas along the way mostly in Guatemala as I recall.

    • Greg,
      Interesting experience! Hope you kept a journal of that time. It would be interesting to know what you saw along the way. Thanks for stopping by.