Competition, Performance, and Transformation

As I have stated before, I enjoy competing. I always felt as though it was directly linked to training. You always train better and more consistently when you have a competition to train for!

Good training is formative by design. It is purposed to make you better at what you are attempting to do. A coach, especially a good coach, knows your weaknesses and targets them; training you in such a way that you become stronger, faster, or generally better in those areas. It is more difficult to train well on your own as you are less aware of your weaknesses than others; you don’t have the technical skills to train and overcome those weaknesses; or you are not able to demand more of yourself to change for the better.

Performance is the important link in this self-perpetuating merry-go-round cycle. As you perform in competition motivates or de-motivates your training and your desire to compete. Winning can be just as detrimental to training as anything else, as you are often motivated to compete again for the glory, but not highly motivated to train and continue changing or being formed. Losing, on the other hand, often motivates you to train harder and undergo more formation as your glaring weaknesses become more apparent in the imposed vulnerability from defeat. Or you just quit altogether.

Sport is often a great and living example of life. It takes guts to compete. It is difficult to be formed by another person coaching you daily. The formation is painful and arduous as there is often the grind day after day with little apparent progress. Then there is the competition itself. Very often the first competitor to defeat or be defeated by is fear. The fear of loss or the fear of harm or the fear of disappointment and embarrassment sideline many would be competitors with defeat even before the race or event begins. In order to compete and perform in sport as well as life, fear must be faced and dealt with. A coach can sure help with that!

So, am I saying life is a competition or am I saying it is like a competition? The latter is the case. Many do mistake it for a competition seeking to defeat known and unknown adversaries daily as their life’s performance and judgement hangs in the balance. I can tell you that is no way to live. The opposite, though, is also true. To not live in the moment and take advantage of the few days we have is no real life either. The fullness of life rests on the intentionality to train and be trained in life, to be in community with others performing alongside as you compete against your weaknesses and to be transformed, oh, to be transformed, by life in Christ. This is fullness. This is counting your days and making them count.

Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy; but I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.

Jesus is the best Coach, ever!

Considering Development – Start to Finish

As I consider the processes learned over the last twenty years of work in Africa, I count myself very privileged that I have been able to experience the handover of two separate works, first in Togo and secondly, here in Rwanda. Out of transitioning from these works with their required handovers to nationals (by our choice, mind you), the principle of the three E’s has emerged for me as necessary for lasting development.

Equipping, Empowering, and Entrusting (aka – Letting Go) or the 3 E’s of Development – It just kind of rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? I learned very early on, in management, that you really can’t develop alone, not for significant development, that is. As well, I have found that the investment giving the best returns is the investment in people. Equipping and empowering are often tossed around as terms for development and management, but in truth there has to be great intentionality as well as meaningful steps taken to ensure that they occur. Additionally, you must be able to choose wisely those people you invest in. As for entrusting, my wife debated me on its inclusion, as she believed that it is naturally included in the process of empowerment. I believe, on the other hand, that it is anything but natural. Entrusting is important to consider apart from empowering because, in truth, people are prone to make mistakes and it is difficult to not rescind empowerment when those mistakes are made. This becomes the intimidating and sometimes scary process of “letting go”.

Being a bit of an entrepreneur and a bit of a parent – It is not all fun and games and it is definitely not easy. For both the entrepreneur and of course for parents to be successful, there has to be a transference of knowledge and building of capacity in order for those you are guiding to mature. Additionally, with that newfound capacity comes responsibilities to carry out tasks that reflect the maturity in that development. You, are smart, I know, you get the analogy! Important to note, though, the level of responsibility has to match the capacity previously built. A little stretch is good, but too much stretch and snap!

Investing in others (Equipping and Empowering) – Whether it has been teaching people to study and teach the Bible, lead others to become disciples, build their own fuel efficient cooking stoves, improving their farming techniques, or become leaders in sports, equipping and empowering have been the most rewarding aspects of my work. To build capacity into people’s lives is an incredible and life changing experience not just for them , but for you as well. You will also find that by investing in others and building their capacity you become free to continue the investment in, well, others. Of course, an important part of this process is being able to assess the gifts or talents people have and equipping them for roles that they will be successful in. The empowering of others by giving them responsibilities becomes the “rubber meeting the road” moment. Patience is the order of the day as the shifting of responsibilities, or empowerment, begins to occur. Mistakes will be made, to be sure, some of them even high cost, but this is when your perseverance as a leader and developer come into play. You have potentially invested months and possibly years in these individuals and sometimes it will require starting over with someone new, but most of the time this will not be the case. Honesty will always be required and with that truth must come the grace to grow, believe, and help others to mature beyond the mistake.

Giving it all away … a bit terrifying (Entrusting) – Oh, the stories I could tell about how challenging this can be, especially as you see a project or initiative or perhaps your entire decade long work going south from some poor leadership decisions. This is when I have found myself praying and fasting the most! So, often it is born out of fear of loss or of shame. Some of this can be avoided through “risk management” of your organization or project and by developing good supporting structures, policies, and procedures. All are necessary to guide the organization beyond you, but still mistakes are going to occur and you have to be ready to keep your hands off the organization and let it potentially experience some loss. As we have seen through sports, we learn most not from our victories but from our losses. This is true for the organization as well. Can you trust those you have equipped and empowered to do the job? If you can, then, your developing journey is complete and you have crossed a finish line that is very elusive for so many others.

In reality, this is, in a nutshell, the process that God has gone through in His great investment in us. He paid the great price in Jesus’ death on the cross. He empowered us by our faith through His word. He equipped us through His Spirit. Now He has entrusted to us this great joy of investing ourselves in other. This is the amazing treasure found in jars of clay – the hope of Glory, Christ in you!

Developing – Administrating 2014 – 2015

I had some major gaps in the development of sport for Rwanda.  In truth, Rwanda Taekwondo Federation had very little form to go with its intense functions.  It was expanding quickly and it was performing well, easily defeating the surrounding nations in a sport the other nations had competed in for more than thirty years., but it was lacking structure, and in truth, at that time I had no idea how to identify or develop those missing elements.

The best things happened, though.  I had hired a coach and an administrator from within Taekwondo and I was training them to replace me.  We had always known that our time in Rwanda would be limited and we worked very hard to ensure that all we did was sustainable and that the locals had full ownership.  In other words, we saw it as our role to equip and empower.  The problem was that this was my first stab at sport management, especially on a national and international level.  Two wonderful things happened to stretch me and equip me so that I could equip Rwanda.

I was appointed to join the executive committee of World Taekwondo Africa by the Vice President of World Taekwondo.  I look back at this now and still cannot believe this happened.  I knew so very little about the work of Taekwondo even on the local and national levels, much less the continental and world levels.  Yet, there I was sitting on the committee and wondering what next.  At almost the same time, I was asked to become the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee.  Without a doubt, I have no idea what prompted the then President of Olympics for Rwanda, Robert Bayigamba, to ask me to fill the role, except for the obvious answer, God.  As I saw opportunity, though, to influence sports for the entire nation of Rwanda by overseeing not only the Olympic development and preparations but also the sum total of all sport federations for the country, I agreed.  

In process this caused a chain of events within the sport I was developing for Rwanda, Taekwondo, that revealed several structural and administrative deficiencies.  Additionally, I was pressed to evaluate and strategize all the efforts for sports in Rwanda as well as Taekwondo for the continent.  I was able to see the good as well as the bad of sport in Africa and work towards low cost solutions.  Probably the one thing that stood out most was the lack of competitions available that elite national athletes could take part in both locally and abroad.  For most athletes in all sports of Africa, in order to compete at a high level event the average cost of travel and participation ran about $2000 as most events were held in Europe or Asia.  For an athlete in Europe or Asia to attend those type events travel costs would average around $500.  Developing the infrastructure necessary to host such high level events became a priority and the success in participating became a driving force to develop sport on the national level. 

We suffered a little in Taekwondo during those years, but after my tenure was up with Olympics in 2015, we were ready for the next phase in developing the sport.   The spiritual element of discipleship was always present and we continued to evaluate how to best present this to the many clubs and masters.  Most, were already praying together when they gathered for training and some had made studying the Bible part of their weekly times together as well.  Still, though, we needed and wanted to do more to maximize the impact that the opportunities for community had been afforded to us through Taekwondo.

Looking back now I realize that I needed that time, particularly as Olympics CEO to become a professional in sport management and to establish sport in Rwanda in such a way that it would be sustainable and grow.  Now, also, I can look back and see the impact of salt and light.  I wasn’t planting churches as I had been in Togo, but we were definitely preparing fields of faith in which God’s Word would be planted.



I didn’t want to do this Part 3a – Launching

It was actually not an easy transition from Togo to Rwanda.  Rwanda, even though it had undergone such tragic events between 1959 and 1994, was a much easier place to live than Togo.  It was immaculately clean, the people were, for the most part, very reserved and soft spoken and the country itself is one of the most naturally beautiful countries that I have ever seen.  “So, what made it difficult?”, you may ask.  It was that our work was needing a complete overhaul.  In Togo, it was very straightforward.  You go to a new village that had never heard the gospel.  You asked if you could teach about Jesus.  If they agreed you then began teaching and with time a church was born and then … It was traditional missions, only with the challenges of Southern Togo, which were many.


Typical village in Southern Togo (photo credit to Radford University)


Rwandan landscape

Rwanda was a different story.  It had a very complicated history.  It was one that also included great fault and guilt on the traditional church and missions for not only aiding colonialists to set up and grow an ethnicity division campaign but, also, during the genocide many churches actually assisted the killers by inviting in those being hunted under the guise of protecting them only to then call in the perpetrators to murder them in the churches themselves.  Like, I said, complicated and tragic.  We were told that we would need to prove social and economic benefit to Rwanda before being allowed to obtain long term visas.  In doing so, it also necessitated us forming an NGO (non-government organization or as we would say a non-profit organization) instead of coming in as a church group.  We were left scratching our heads and then scrambling to figure out what each of us had to offer Rwanda, that Rwanda itself would value.

The thing is, it fit as a different model of missions that we were actually shown the year before at a conference that presented a “Church Planting Movement” model.  It had been very effective in India and in other nations that stood opposed to traditional church planting methods.  Oddly, even though in the early 1990’s Rwanda had been considered the most Christian nation in Africa, the post genocide Rwanda definitely seemed “fed up” with church.  As well, in this model you focus on relationships through service that is valued and in those relationships you are provided the opportunity to initiate studies that are led by others and not yourself and have all the “DNA” of what church should be but often falls short of.

Still we were left with the perplexing question of: ‘What do we have to give?’.  I chose to build rocket stoves initially.  They are these great cooking stoves that cook in half the time and use half the fuel.  We could get really bogged down in the science of it, but I just knew everyone in Rwanda would want one!  They didn’t.  Their list of complaints was long and I found out that Rwandans don’t change traditional things very quickly.  I then jumped on the environmental and economic opportunity bandwagon and quickly developed a press for making biomass charcoal.  It provided businesses, utilized waste wood and field cuttings, and was a low cost startup.  It was a bust.  Turns out they didn’t want to change their cooking fuel either.

The problem with all of this is, that God had already told me what I would do that Rwandans wanted, but my issue was that it just didn’t make sense, and I was a bit terrified that all our supporters would call it quits when they found out.  In my sons’ first week of school they came home incredibly excited to tell me that there was a Taekwondo club at their school.  I decided to visit.  In visiting, I observed that my 13 year old son was a better instructor than this young man.  I asked him for his credentials and he asked me for mine promptly as he didn’t have any.  After inspection and his agreement for me to teach him how to teach he then asked me if I would be the grand master for Rwanda and start a federation here as that is what the people really wanted.  I laughed and said, “No way!”

John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.


Too many words!  Story to be continued in next post …. 3b – Launching