“Don’t give Juan your watch, and don’t let Omar bite you.” Thus began director Julia Estela Castillo Bryan’s orientation for the third annual Mission of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament parish, Bayside, to the Mustard Seed Communities of Nicaragua.
Fifteen missioners, under the guidance of Margaret Brower, arrived Nov. 7 in Nicaragua. Each member had paid his or her own airfare and the team had raised more than $49,000 for the mission. Brower explained that many of the children had to beg in the streets to support themselves prior to being welcomed by the Mustard Seed Community. Our fundraising helped us to understand what it is to beg.
The team and luggage, containing medicine, toiletries, clothing and other needed supplies, were transported to the Mission House in Diriamba, where the missioners would spend the week. The group consisted of parishioners as well as their friends and acquaintances, all brought together by a desire to serve the abandoned, developmentally disabled infants, children and young adults who have been entrusted to Mustard Seed for care.
The remainder of Saturday was spent acclimating to the mission house and getting to know the children. Each of the 40 children has his or her unique physical and mental issues, but they share a typical child’s need for unlimited love and attention. And the missioners supplied that in abundance.
On Sunday, the team accompanied the children to the Church of San José in town, where the pastor was joined by Father Mark Matthias, parochial vicar of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, in leading the congregation in a spirited liturgy. This was followed by a leisurely walk to the town center, a visit to the Basilica of San Sebastiano, and a bus ride back.
That evening, Julia surprised and honored the group by inviting them to be godparents for the children who had been prepared for baptism and First Communion. She proposed a lottery to determine who would be each child’s padrino or madrina on Friday. Over the next few days, they joined the children in their morning reflections as they prepared for this important step.
On Monday, we gathered for Mass in the beautiful sunlit chapel on the site of the residence. This was followed by quiet reflection, breakfast and a bus ride to the other Mustard Seed site in Managua. Hogar Belén Managua is the residence for the younger, and in many cases, more severely disabled children. After delivering supplies to this home, we visited with the children in their dorms, fed them in their dining room and accompanied them to the park for fresh air and rides in their wheelchairs.
The following two days were spent completing work projects at Diriamba. Half the group was assigned to creating a protective wall consisting of 80-pound cement blocks around the base of three trees. The others were asked to paint the exterior and interior of one of the girls’ homes. Both tasks were completed by the middle of the second day.
On Wednesday, the team visited the sewing center – a project of Mustard Seed Communities – that offers an intensive course in sewing that culminates in a graduation ceremony and the presentation of a new sewing machine to each graduate to help make each of them more self-sufficient. Baking and English classes are also provided.
On Thursday morning, those who submitted their names for the lottery were introduced to the child they would sponsor. The remainder of the day was spent exploring the beautiful sights, and meeting the affable people of Nicaragua.
As the journey began, the driver and tour guide, Fernando Bosques Flores, displayed his vast knowledge and love of the country, helping especially the newcomers to more deeply appreciate the history, land and people of Nicaragua. Lunch at La Abuela’s, a lagoon-side restaurant, was accompanied by swimming and relaxing in the hazy sun. The evening meal was taken in a lovely eatery in Grenada. Perhaps the highlight of the day was the twilight boat ride on Lake Managua, during which Lucy and her daughter, two monkeys, jumped on board to eat offered tomatoes and melon slices.
Friday was the day of the children’s first sacraments. The local pastor and an associate presided at the liturgy, accompanied by Father Matthias and assisted by OLBS Deacon Bill Molloy. The children, dressed in white, were received into the Church with water, oil, song, tears and laughter. The other children were all dressed in new, donated clothing that had been brought by the missioners.
The liturgy was followed by a feast of barbecued meats, vegetables and cake. Then came a fiesta provided by the mission staff that lasted the rest of the day, with music, dancing and several piñatas in the recreation center. During breaks in the party, we played soccer with the children on the lawn or walked quietly with them, holding their hands. It was clear our time together was coming to an end.
On Saturday morning, the group awoke early for a final Mass and following breakfast, many bid a tearful goodbye to the children and staff.
Several members are already looking forward to next year. They miss the blackouts, rice and beans. But mostly, they miss the children. Julia taught us that the only two things you can give to God are your love and your time. It was an honor to give them both to His children.
Mustard Seed Communities is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to caring for the most vulnerable populations in society. It was founded by Msgr. Gregory Ramkissoon in 1978 as a home for children with disabilities on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica.