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Diocese of Rockville Centre

Kyle Blackmer

Sunday morning we attended mass at the church in Misahualli. Madre had enlisted the help of many of our fine musicians to provide the music for the celebration. My teammates worked for hours the previous night rehearsing countless new Spanish songs - I'm sure that their accounts will do more justice to their struggles than mine does. The work paid off, though, and provided the mass with a beautiful soundtrack.

Pununo SchoolAt the end of the mass, we invited all of the kids to a youth night that we were hosting that evening. I was able to speak with several small groups and those who did not live in Palmeiras or in other far-off villages promised to return for the fun! Matthew, Justin, and I had a conversation with two boys upon leaving the church. We talked for fifteen minutes about our homes, towns, and parishes: trying to get a sense of each others' environments. They were surprised that our towns were as big as Tena and that thousands of people attended mass in our parishes. The three of us were getting a lot better with our Spanish, but the kids in Ecuador spoke so rapidly and we had to ask for repetitions constantly.

My group traveled to the nearby village of Pununo after mass. This was a community right outside of Misahualli - right before the scary bridge on the way to Palmeiras. When we arrived, Madre asked us to invite people to the school for prayer. This was our first true outreach of the trip and several of us were definitely stepping outside of our comfort zones. But this, we realized, was a huge part of what missions is, and why we had traveled to the middle of the Amazon - so we dove in. With Rosie and Justin, I went from house to house - though really their homes double as shops and makeshift businesses - and asked individuals and families to come pray with us. the first woman said that she was busy, probably minding her shop. The next building, however, was a general store where a woman stood with four or five small kids watching a t.v. blasting the sound effects of a violent cartoon. The woman seemed very excited and eagerly agreed to have the family join us. The two caballeros next door did not seem so keen on the idea because they had already been to mass in Misahualli.

Pununo FutbolSo we headed back to the school, not knowing if anyone would actually show up. We passed four young men, with whom I had juggled a soccer ball earlier, and reminded them to come pray. They seemed almost entirely uninterested and I began to wonder if anyone would be at our meeting.

Slowly, children and their parents began to enter the small classroom. The school was a long, one-story building consisting of three or four classrooms with a few small wooden desks each. There were no windows (as is common among all buildings throughout the region) but instead, openings were covered with wire fencing that kids climbed on and fell off during our prayers and games. In our meeting room, a large metal door sat on the floor surrounded by long pieces of rusty rebar and metal wires. We cleared as much out as we could, but most of it was mangled into shapes too big to fit through the door. Parents watched as a little two-year old played amongst these materials as we prayed that day.

We played Simon Dice (Simon Says) and Ting Ting Tan (hot potato) and sang songs and danced. The kids were full of excitement and the parents enjoyed watching and threw in suggestions for punishments (usually the performance of a song or dance) for losers in hot potato. When Kevin returned we sang three of the Spanish songs that we knew and began our time of prayer.

We heard testimonies from Justin and KK as Stephany translated into Spanish. Justin spoke about the fullness and happiness of a life with God and the example that his brother Sean - a discerning seminarian - provides to him and to us all. KK urged everyone to trust in God to get us through difficulties and to give up saying "I can't." After these powerful testimonies, we all joined hands and offered our intentions up to the Lord.

Pununo ClaireIn front of the school was a large patio with two large rocks at each end demarcating futbol goals. The surface of the "pitch" was covered in small rocks and huge puddles, but we got a game going anyway! The large boots that I was wearing were not very good for controlling the ball - my foot skills are bad enough to begin with - so I took them off and played barefoot. I was excited that the young men I had juggled with before came to prayer and were playing with us now. We had a tremendously good time, even though we got soaked and I cut up my feet a bit, and the kids really enjoyed themselves as well. I was amazed to realize that we could spread Christ's love to these people even while doing something as simple as playing futbol.

After a long tiring game I put my boots back on. Justin, Kevin, Kiera, and I were forced to accept our defeat while the rest of the girls said goodbye to the young kids they had been coloring and taking photos with, and we all headed back to Misahualli to prepare for youth night.

-Photos by Stephany Velosa, Claire Flynn, Danielle Natorski, and Rosie Scavuzzo

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