And just like that the Continental Unity Games is underway. From the badminton and tennis courts to the baseball diamonds, from the basketball courts and volleyball courts to the swimming pools and soccer pitches, athletes are playing their hearts out.
But in a quieter holding room, Nelson Rivera, 67, from the East Coast is a decorated chess player, having won tournaments with the Armed Forces during his twenty-one and a half years in the US Navy. “In the military you want to beat the army, beat the airforce… but in the Unity Games it’s a friendly competition. It’s a competition, but it’s friendly.” Almost as if to underscore the friendly atmosphere, Nelson wore his baseball cap backwards as he played his matches.
Today, he shared this game he loves with his daughter Gail, 28, also representing USA East in chess: “It’s really nice to have my daughter play the game which I have a passion of, and I’m really proud that she made it here.”
She also took pride in being able to play chess alongside her father: “It means everything. It’s his passion, and I’m trying my best. I just want to make him happy, and it’s for the Church and for the brotherhood, especially since it’s the 50 Years in the West, and it’s a really big celebration.”
There’s no doubt that everyone here has come to play, but the desire to perform is balanced beautifully with the love of brotherhood. That moment when you run towards a familiar face across the field, the warm hug that follows; the times you literally bump into a stranger, only to realize it’s someone you know from many years ago. So many screams of joy and laughter, many of which aren’t preempted by sports!
TJ Lizardo from Canada 2 will be playing on the Women’s Basketball Team tomorrow, but today she was a spectator: “Scouting… Everyone’s bringing their ‘A’ game. It’s going to be good!”
April Justice of Midwest was one of the basketball players who did play today, and shared: “I still get nervous but it’s a testament of how much I love basketball. I’m glad I got to meet and play with this team, and we built up this chemistry in such a short amount of time.”
Kim Castellano, playing Basketball for USA East, echoed April’s sentiment: “This is so much fun! I love playing with the brethren!”
The intensity and fun carried over into the table tennis and chess matches. Jacob Ilagan of Canada 2, mentioned: “There’s lots of ways you can participate. Here, there’s lots of spectators, like my mom is watching, then there’s lots of media coverage, and everyone’s just having a good time. That’s what unity’s about, right? Being one and being together in unity.” He went on to take 2nd place in Table Tennis but was already victorious in upholding the unity that has prevailed over everyone here.
Eppie Ray, a Tennis coordinator from the local congregation of Redwood City, took note of Brother Neil Omelda’s admonitions before the tournaments began, “We’re all winners… so everybody wins already even though we haven’t played [yet].”
Back in the quiet holding room, although Gail felt a lot of pressure during her chess match, she mentioned: “It’s a competition still, but it’s a lot more relaxing knowing that we are all brothers and sisters. It just feels good to all be united.”
The elder Rivera expressed his gratitude: “I thank the Church Administration for allowing us to have Unity Games. It’s really important for brethren to play the games which they love -basketball, volleyball, all those sports- and it brings closeness to each other, and you see your friends from different Districts.”
As Brother Jojo Bayani mentioned during the Opening Ceremonies: “Unity is the quality of not being multiple. The quality or state of being made one. The unity we have in the Church Of Christ is not like any unity found on earth. You’re an INC Member –man, you’re here at 50th anniversary- man, you’ve already won.”
And to think, this is just Day 1.
Written By Myra Bigayan
Myra is a part time staff writer at incmedia.org and a high school teacher. She loves grammar, skateboarding and spends her days with her two kids Mateo, Micah and her husband Michael, a producer at incmedia.org.