In August, 150 volunteers returned home from the 25th annual Ultimate Workout, Maranatha Volunteers International’s mission trip for teenagers. From July 22 to August 3, the project invited young people to serve in Panama on a variety of projects.

The 2015 project was based in Changuinola, a town in the northeastern part of Panama. Volunteers divided into teams to work on multiple projects, including the construction of two classrooms for the Changuinola Seventh-day Adventist School.

Maranatha volunteers built the main part of the school campus nearly twenty years ago as a response to a request from the Adventist Church in Panama. The Changuinola Adventist School started at one of the local churches in 1992. They soon outgrew the space and needed a proper campus. Already working in Panama to build churches and schools, Maranatha agreed to assist Changuinola and constructed a multi-classroom building.

Since then, the school has flourished with more than 450 students currently enrolled. Over the years, the school has added numerous classrooms to the Maranatha building, and this year the Ultimate Workout volunteers constructed two more classrooms to their expanding campus.

‘We are very happy that Maranatha came back after 18 years, and we are very thankful for the Lord and for Maranatha volunteers who have had the willingness to help us,’ says Nebelka Reid, principal of Changuinola Adventist School.

The school has also sparked a growth in Adventism in the surrounding community and has been linked to the establishment of two new congregations, Finca 6 and Las Tablas—both of which were part of the Ultimate Workout project. During the week, one of the volunteer teams constructed a new church building for the Finca 6 congregation. This group had been meeting without a church home for eight years; they met in homes, a community center, and most recently in a vacant grocery store. On the final Sabbath of the mission trip, a joyful congregation worshipped with the young volunteers in their new church home.

‘I feel very happy, excited, thankful. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry,’ says Melania Peña de Barria, founding member of the Finca 6 church. ‘These young people have taught us many important lessons. They give their money, their time, to come do something for people they don’t know. They inspire us…to see them, that they do it from their hearts, renews our energy.’

Another team focused on the Las Tablas church, located in the heart of Changuinola’s banana plantations. Earlier this year, Maranatha volunteers constructed a sanctuary for Las Tablas, and Ultimate Workout finished the project with a beautiful coat of paint. Down the road from Las Tablas, volunteers also gave a fresh coat of paint to an existing church called Guabito.

Aside from construction, the young volunteers also got to assist with medical and veterinary outreach, and children’s ministries. Each day, the outreach teams organized in various neighborhoods to offer care and programming. This is the first time Ultimate Workout has included a veterinary outreach component, and it was inspired by a direct request from the Changuinola community. Maranatha recruited Becky Childers, a veterinarian from California, to organize an animal outreach program. Working with a local vet and other Ultimate Workout staff, Childers and a team of teen volunteers saw more than 300 animals over the course of two weeks!

‘The amount of animals we’ve seen has been pretty incredible… We’ve seen anywhere from 30-90 animals a day for a total of about 300 animals over the course of our clinic,’ says Becky Childers, a veterinarian from California.

Veterinarian outreach is an unusual ministry, and Childers says it offers the teens another way to look at service. ‘I think it’s really showed that by taking care of animals or something that is important to other people, you can actually love and care for a person by caring for things that are important to them.’

The diversity of outreach also offered teens the opportunity to experience service in many forms. For some, the activities gave a sneak peek into possible career options. But the most enlightening moments of Ultimate Workout didn’t take place on the worksites but back at camp, where volunteers worshipped morning and night. Each program was filled with heartfelt song services, intensive Bible studies, and raw testimonies from volunteers.

‘The worship experience is the best experience—I can’t even describe how [moving] it is to just come close to God and approach His mercy throne. Because when you’re around all these people who love God and share the same faith, your faith will be anchored even more in God,’ says Trishany Adams, a volunteer from Jamaica. This was Adams’ second time on Ultimate Workout; last year she served in the Dominican Republic. She said returning to the mission trip helps to give her fresh perspective. ‘It’s not always about looking at myself and my life, but to look at these people in Panama… to serve them and it helps to build my character in God.’

This is the 25th anniversary of Ultimate Workout. The goal of the mission program is to stretch teenagers physically, mentally, and spiritually by placing them into a situation outside of their comfort zone, where their main focus is only on service and Jesus Christ. The Panama project was the second Ultimate Workout project of the year. In June, another team helped renovate Milo Adventist Academy in Oregon, United States.

Watch a 90-second video on UW 25 Panama