Diocesan News

Flushing Parish Returns From Annual Mission Trip

By Anthony S. Ercolano

The children and adults of the Mustard Seed community in Nicaragua gather with volunteers from St. Kevin’s parish, Flushing, during the Queens’ parishioners week-long service stint in the Latin American country. (Photo Courtesy of Anthony S. Ercolano)

The bus carrying the 10 missioners from Queens back to Augustino C. Sandino Airport in Managua, Nicaragua, was uncharacteristically quiet.

They had also spent part of each day in prayer and reflection. But all agreed that the highlight of each day had been the opportunity to be with the children.

While traveling between the two sites, the bus was often filled with songs, jokes and spirited conversation. But the reason for the subdued atmosphere on the day of departure was that the missioners had just bid an emotional farewell to the children, even as many in the group resolved to return next year.

A week earlier, upon their arrival, they were met at the airport and were welcomed by Julia Estela Castillo Bryan, director of the Diriamba site. Each team member had paid his or her own airfare and had been responsible for raising funds and collecting resources to transport to the mission.

Volunteers of Service

The group was made up of parishioners and friends committed to spending a week in service to the infants, children and young adults who had been entrusted to Mustard Seed for care.

Kaitlyn Kundmueller and Joanna Daly, two students from The Mary Louis Academy, Jamaica, were the youngest members of this year’s mission team.

Under the direction of Margaret Brower, the team collected more than $25,000, and brought along 500 pounds of supplies. Brower explained that the fundraising not only raised needed money for the children, but also helped the team members personally share the experience of the children, many of whom had to beg in the streets prior to coming to the Mustard Seed Community.

On the way to the team residence in Diriamba, Bryan told the missioners about the children, their needs and something of the history of Mustard Seed. She also advised them to drink plenty of bottled water and to stay nourished – important advice for those new to a tropical climate. After reviewing the “rules of the house,” the team arrived at Hogar Belén.

Even though most had never before, the children came out to greet the team like long-lost friends. The rapport between the missioners and the children was immediate and palpable.

Each of the children has his or her unique physical and mental issues. Many had been the victims of abuse, making their unhesitating trust of the team that much more remarkable. The remainder of the day was spent moving into the mission house and getting accustomed to the facilities.

On Sunday, the team accompanied the children to the Church of San José in Diriamba, where the local Franciscan pastor led the team, the children and the congregation in a spirited liturgy.

Labor Days

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were days of labor. Each day began with a Communion service in the beautiful, sun-lit chapel in Diriamba. Breakfast was followed by a bus ride to Hogar Belén Managua, the residence for the younger, and in many cases, more severely disabled children. Pillars and walls, victims of the tropical climate, needed to be restored.

Following chores, the team had time to visit with the children in their new recreation center. Wednesday was spent washing the chapel windows, gardening and running errands in Diriamba.

On Thursday, the team met its tour guide, Fernando Bosques Flores, who was proud to share his vast knowledge and love of the country, helping especially the newcomers to more deeply appreciate the history, land and people of Nicaragua. He brought the group to a home where nacatamales, a traditional weekend fare, are made.

Following a relaxing boat ride on Lake Managua, lunch was taken in a lovely, new outdoor eatery in Grenada. Later, a light repast at La Abuela’s, a lagoon-side resort, was accompanied by swimming and lounging in the fading daylight.

On Friday, the team went to Managua to visit the sewing center – a project of Mustard Seed Communities – that offers an intensive course in sewing that culminates with a graduation ceremony and the presentation of a new sewing machine to each graduate to help make them become more self-sufficient. Baking and English classes are also provided.

The day concluded in Diriamba with a fiesta for the children and the staff that was hosted by the missioners. The celebration included pizza, cake, a piñata, music and dancing – accompanied by Juan, one of the older residents, on the bongos.

Tearful Farewell

On Saturday morning, Aug. 19, the group awoke early for prayer and following breakfast, many bid a tearful farewell to the children and staff. Several members are already anticipating next year’s visit.

Bryan taught the team that there are only two things you can give to God – your love and your time. The missioners were delighted to share both with God’s beloved children.

Members of the team expressed their gratitude for the backing of Bishop Ray Chappetto, St. Kevin’s pastor, and the entire parish community for their contributions and prayerful support of this year’s mission.

Mustard Seed Communities is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to caring for the most vulnerable populations in society. Initially established by Msgr. Gregory Ramkissoon in 1978 as a home for children with disabilities on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica, the communities have since expanded into Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe and Malawi.