From Derald Billings: I served in the Canal Zone, Republic of Panama in the Army 1959-60. While there I had the privilege (when duty permitted) to serve in the Panama Branch as a Sunday School, Primary, and Mutual teacher. We had several LDS servicemen who did the same thing, again when their service duties permitted.
We had quite a conglomerate in the Branch of nationalities and ethnic groups that met in a modern (for then) chapel which had been built and would hold about 250 people. As I remember, we had: Caucasian, Black, Castilian Spanish, Mexican, Panamanian, German, Portuguese and others that I cannot remember. English speaking was at a premium. Some how we were all able to communicate without getting lost.
The Branch President was a brother from the United States that was teaching in the University of Panama. I wish I could remember his name because he was a very dedicated man to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and loved dearly by his sheep. With the ragged attendance by the servicemen, because our duties came first, it is a wonder to consider the things he accomplished. We had, as I remember, at any one time, 40 to 50 in attendance. If everyone would have been able to attend at the same time, I would estimate we would have had 150 or more.
Never, even on my mission, had I had the privilege to be among more faithful and deserving Saints than the wonderful Panamanians I had the privilege of helping teach. The children were joys to be among and they would exhibit their love constantly. Even in their ragged English or my VERY ragged Spanish, we were able to communicate our love of the Gospel and for each other. The Branch was a haven from the outside world until the uprising of Fidel Castro made attending untenable. It was with real sorrow that I had to forgo attending the Branch on Sundays and Tuesdays (for Mutual) because of the terrorism of communism, and an edict from Command putting Panama off limits to servicemen.z