No Draft Picks, No Egos, Just Love

August 1, 2018 San Mateo, CA – Planes, trains and automobiles; the wheels are turning, the Continental Unity Games are on all gears. But before sneakers start squeaking on gym floors, how do competitive games in the Church Of Christ stay Christian? The answer was at San Mateo High School.

“I left my house to get to the airport at 6 am Orlando time, and then my flight was delayed so I started thinking whether I would make it to the service. So I got into another flight but my bag was already checked in on my original flight, so I got here in San Francisco earlier than my bag. So we waited a bit for my bag at the airport, changed real quick and here I am.” Eager athletes like Basil Bonifacio from Orlando were scattered across the room.

Among the athletes was Mark Angelo Balos who was fresh off the celebrations that just happened days ago in Hawaii.

“Everyone greets you with such open arms,” he says. “The Unity Games and the 50th celebration is huge. [We] have been planning months ahead of this; for me, the one thing most I’m looking forward to is all the brethren under one roof.”

But first things first. Whether their first time as an athlete, or taking their seat as a spectator, hundreds gathered at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center for the same reason: to put God before their egos.

Ejay Gonzales from Mid-Atlantic, like everyone in the room, focuses on his priorities. “Today is the special worship service for all the athletes and their families; we’re taking our oath for sportsmanship.”

A worship service was held for the athletes – a reminder of the gameplay guidelines that matter. The theme of the year was emphasized – the many ways we can keep the fire of the Holy Spirit ignited within us. The worship service was officiated by Brother Artemio Pilon Jr. and was followed by the opening ceremonies of the Continental Unity Games.

Brotherhood – the term is commonplace within the Church Of Christ, but during events like this it is further amplified.

“I was blessed to attend the International Unity Games in 2015, and just meeting people around the world and now meeting people from all over the continent. Some of us haven’t seen each other in [a while], so that reunion part… that’s when the fun begins,” beamed Johansson Sidayo who traveled all the way from New Jersey to play volleyball with his team in the 2018 Continental Unity Games.

Just a few feet away from him a group of Canadian athletes from both ends of the country are embracing; some in the group haven’t seen each other in more than 20 years.

“They beat us last time during our National Unity Games,” said Ryan Miranda of British Columbia, Canada, of his Eastern Canada childhood friends, who took the Buklod Men’s Basketball Championship. “So this time I’m coaching volleyball.” He says with a smile.

Amidst the bursts of joy were veterans who weaved through the crowds behind their children. Among them was Anthony Darling from Southern California.

“I don’t recognize anyone. This is a whole different generation from when we had the 30th and they were all youngsters, some of them, but still it’s good to see that the Church has grown so much,” he says, now attending as a spectator. “I was a torch bearer, back in the 30th Anniversary celebration of the Church in the west. So many sports activities and I was the torch bearer. They asked me and at that time I could carry that torch and run that lap and even wear those shorts.” He laughs.

When sports isn’t about the glory, it becomes a teachable moment and an opportunity to take care of one another, as was noted by Alan Domine, who’s coaching a men’s volleyball team.

With sports we have a common goal, and because of the sport I am able to build trust with the athlete.  When brethren trust me, I can help guide them physically and spiritually as well. With all the church teams that I’ve coached, we always incorporate brotherhood and prayer.  That teaches the team to unite as a team and to trust in prayer.”

Closing the gap on thousands of miles to compete in eleven events, for now the hundreds of athletes keep their guards down and enjoy the evening. But tomorrow – they make history.

Keep up with the events here, and check the score here. Can’t make it to California for the games? Send your message of support to your home team on social media and tag it using #inc50west. Participating or spectating? Add your story to the celebration by sharing it on social media using #inc50west or submitting here: http://iglesianicristo.net/50west/submit-story/

Written by: Mar Gutierrez

Mar Gutierrez is a staff writer for incmedia.org. She is also the producer of the INC50west Blogs and a host on Faith and Family’s Tired Mom Podcast. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her two kids and her husband in the SF Bay Area.