Participation – Just Doing It

Surviving coups – Lately, as knowledge of my upcoming departure made its way through the Taekwondo family in Rwanda, a few individuals decided to flex their muscles and attempt a leadership coup d’ etat. This has been very difficult on me, to say the least, as I have watched those I consider as sons and daughters attack and malign each other. Their efforts are mostly rooted in jealousy and selfish ambition and by God’s grace the federation has survived and the family itself is putting the pieces back together. The structures in place have mostly worked. The education provided did expose some needed risk management changes (another post on another day). Importantly, it showed us that if you are not busy building; others will busy themselves to begin tearing down and building sport means engaging the sport or in other words, actually participating.

Not too old to play – I have always enjoyed competing, and especially have enjoyed competing well. I love the training! I always knew I could train harder than others and have a good chance to win on the day of competition. I am relatively new to the sport of Taekwondo and must say I have thoroughly enjoyed learning how to train in it and train others as well. So, when this year’s African Championships came along in Morocco at the end of March, I jumped at the opportunity to represent Rwanda as one of the old guys on the team. Not to worry, my wife ended my days of sparring after me breaking my arm while competing against one of the world’s better players in the Rwandan national championships two years ago (I did get bronze, and did show them that age is a number BTW). Now I am relegated to competing in poomsae (or forms), routines used for advancement. You will be spared the technical details of the preparations, but I must say that I really have missed having something to train for. Well it all paid off and I won third place against the continent for my beloved Rwanda and helped bring home a third place trophy as well. Yeah, Rwanda!

I guess that makes me a true international sportsman as I have competed while in Honduras in soccer, Togo in golf, Rwanda in Taekwondo, and of course the US.

Remembering the why and finding the joy – You see, if you aren’t actively participating, you might forget what sport is about, particularly about having fun! Sport management can too quickly become about budgets, events, sponsors, expenses, and strategic plans. Ideally, those should all be secondary as tools or particular means to an end.

Yesterday, I gathered several masters together and we participated. We did the sport, together. We had lunch together. We dreamed together. We kicked and hit each other too (the pure fun of Taekwondo to be sure). It was all smiles by the end. That was our aha moment. When we remembered what made us a family in the first place. We remembered that this particular sport in this particular country had been used by God to make friends out of enemies and to build trust where fear had reigned.

All smiles,

so we will just do it next Saturday too!

Time to write again

My apologies to all of my five readers along with my Mother, of course.  It is hard to believe that my last blog was in the fall.  It is a really good thing that I didn’t quite my day job!

In some ways, there was just too much going on to stop and write about it.  In other ways, I found myself at a sticking point in trying to explain this bizarre story of sport development that God has had me doing in Rwanda for the past ten years.

Well, anyway, I am back at it now.

We have had some incredible events occur in the last few months that I will touch on.  We won medals at the World Para Taekwondo Championships after only having Para Taekwondo for seven months prior.  We were able to start a partnership with the powerful sports nation of Egypt.  We had a peaceful general assembly and election of a new president and executive committee.  We sent two athletes to South Korea for a world event and brought home a silver medal.  We were able to join the World Police Taekwondo Federation to support the development of Police Taekwondo in Rwanda.  We were able to help another nation develop Taekwondo for those with disabilities.  We were able to participate in the Africa Championships in Morocco, winning thirteen medals and a third place trophy as well as the World Junior Championships in Tunisia.  At the Tunisian event, I was even asked to address the general assembly of all the world’s nations and share principles of development we have learned in our journey.

Wow, I guess we have been busy.

What grips me most when I read this synopsis, are two things.  First, is that this work is only eight and a half years old.  I shake my head in disbelief.  Second, is that this was all done with power and design that are well beyond me.  God has blessed this work and I can only hope that as I now continue the endeavor of writing, reporting, and story telling; He will be glorified and you will be inspired.

A tall order indeed!  Prayers and readers appreciated.

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.

 

 

Embracing: 2010 and 2011

Being recognized –

403
First International Event in Mombasa, Kenya pictured along with Team Uganda

The first Taekwondo Master (black-belt) Dan certificates arrived from Korea and the Kukkiwon (agency overseeing accreditation for Taekwondo) in November of 2010.  It was a great moment for Rwanda and a great step in our journey.  Until this point, all that had been done with Taekwondo in Rwanda had been on a very small scale.  In fact, if I look back now, this was the moment when the vision for Taekwondo turned from something simple into something very complex and far reaching.

I’ve often thought about that point when I could have just worked and focused on a single club of Taekwondo.  In the more difficult times, especially the expensive ones, I find myself wishing that I had.  In reality, though, God, who knows me better than I know myself, knew that I just wouldn’t be able to do that.  It was the “all in” moment where the dream of impacting Rwanda through the sport of Taekwondo began to emerge.

180920111044
Participation in All Africa Games 2011 Maputo, Mozambique

I had been advised to meet with KOICA (the Republic of Korea’s International Aid Agency).  I had no idea where they were in Rwanda, but on our first Boy Scout camp out, I just happened to be wearing a Korea Tiger’s soccer shirt, and the head of KOICA was walking out of an office.  In that moment the Republic of Korea entered mine and Rwanda Taekwondo’s lives.  At that time also, we received recognition from the Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee.

2011 held many incredible firsts: our first national championships, first international events (there were three), first international medals, first All Africa Games, and our entry into World Taekwondo as a national federation.

Bear with me as I relate that experience:

It was March of 2011 and Rwanda Taekwondo had been invited to join World Taekwondo (the overseeing body for the sport).  Travel would be to Eastern Kenya with our small team for an event and then on to South Korea for the World Championships and the General Assembly where we would become members of the then 187 member nations.  The trip was going to cost about $7000 and in truth we really didn’t have it.  On top of that, we were scheduled to take our family back to Togo that summer and I knew it would cost around $10,000.  So, here I was about to use $7,000 for some crazy trip to South Korea?  I kept thinking as I discussed this with my wife that there would be push-back from her or from others, but everyone just kept giving me the go-ahead.  So, I did.

I packed up our small team and we all struck out for Mombasa, Kenya.  I even road the famous train called the Iron Snake from Nairobi to Mombasa, an experience in and of itself.  We learned so much as a team, won a match, and even got a little trophy (I think for furthest traveled).  While there, though, I was concerned about the money and found myself kneeling in the hotel room, asking for God’s affirmation for this trip through somehow supplying the money needed.  In the middle of the tournament, I received a message.  A church had given an unsolicited gift to our work of, wait for it $16,800.  The exact amount needed to cover both trips!  Affirmation had come.

30042011327
Myself with now World Taekwondo Secretary General and my dearest of friends Hoss Rafaty
402
Myself with the President of Iran Taekwondo, two great masters, and World Taekwondo SG

Two days later, I arrived in Seoul, South Korea.  I traveled on to the city hosting the event and waited in my hotel, wondering what next, as I still had three days until the General Assembly.   There I would stand up when Rwanda’s name was announced and then sit right back down.  That would be it.  It seemed so little reward after such a great cost to come.  So, I knelt in the room and prayed.  I was prompted to make my way to the hotel for registration and to get my credentials.  As I waited in the lobby I was prompted, yet again, to introduce myself to a gentleman sitting across from me.  At first, I hesitated, but eventually, I got up and made my way over.  As I presented myself to the gentleman, he became really excited and informed me that he was the head of the expansion committee and they had been trying to initiate the federation in Rwanda for more than five years, unsuccessfully.  Here I was and had done it for them!  Within 36 hours, I had met with the Executive Committee for the world, had been given VIP credentials for the event and dinners, and even began having meetings with vendors.  The rest of the week was spent meeting with the world’s best coaches and directors of all the top programs.  It was a PhD in sport management particular to Taekwondo, compressed into one week.

I see, now, in retrospect, that it had all been by God and for God, for Rwanda.

I am still shocked at the telling of it.

Ephesians 4:20-21    Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Part 4 Embracing – Testing the first masters

DSC_0826With the help of the Uganda Taekwondo Federation and Master Lee (the founder of Uganda Taekwondo); in March of 2010 we tested our first masters of Taekwondo in Rwanda.  We had trained them for seven months after they had trained on their own for four years.  It was more a filling of gaps and an updating of techniques that was needed.


Seven of the original trainees were ready, more than ready actually.  They had waited since 2005, when a master from the Republic of Korea had arrived and spent six months training whoever was willing in the art of Taekwondo.  After he departed, they continued on their own training daily and holding onto Taekwondo as a source of hope for themselves.

You see, each of them, had been affected deeply by the genocide of 1994.  For example, the future president of the federation who later became a neurosurgeon, was sustained and overcame much of his grief through practicing Taekwondo.  In his story, his family had gathered at their home on the fourth day after the genocide had begun.  His neighbor, if I remember correctly, was the Secretary of Education and had put this then teenager’s family on a list to be killed.  On that day, the killers entered the compound and killed all they could find.  This young man, with great heroism hid three of his siblings in the attic.  Every day for the next ninety – five days, until the genocide was stopped, he would leave the house, walk past the bodies of his family and search for food in order to sustain his young siblings.  God had used Taekwondo in those years afterwards to help him face his trauma and build confidence as well as come to trust in other people.

We must realize that the story of Taekwondo in Rwanda and sport development here was much greater than any initiative of mine, for it was intertwined with the stories of all these future masters as well as that of Rwanda.

 

Witnessing the joy for these young men as they took off their red belts and put on black belts instead is something I will never forget.  They had overcome such incredible obstacles to arrive at this point.  They had overcome a history, oh too recent, of prejudice to the point of genocide, and now welcomed all Rwandans to train and be in this new family.

I never could have imagined, just seven years later, as I write this blog, what God would do with them to not only bring hope to their lives but as well to many more in the nation of Rwanda.

Part 4 Embracing – A visit to Uganda

Photo-0045

After the first two training sessions in Kigali in September of 2009, the group of twenty trainees, asked me to start a federation for Taekwondo in Rwanda.  I quickly informed them that I had no idea how to do that.  They replied that Uganda had a federation and that maybe I should go and speak with them.

So, on the 30th of October, 2009, after locating the federation training center in Kampala, Uganda via the Web, I boarded a bus.  It probably wasn’t that simple and if I had written this eight years ago, I am sure that a very colorful commentary of this journey could be given.  Now it is just a blur.  I think, in looking back, I was hoping for someone on my team or maybe my wife to pull the plug.  It seemed very ludicrous to board a bus, barely knowing where you are going, into an unfamiliar country, to meet with people who not only don’t know you but that don’t even know you are coming.  Nevertheless, I went.

After a restless night in a hotel, that I promptly checked out of the next day (a different blog – maybe a how not to travel in Africa post), I took a long walk in search of the training center for Uganda Taekwondo.  I found it and happened to be the second one in the gym that day.  I was a bit early and the other person there was a professional kick boxer.  He didn’t think too much about me being there, so I dressed out in my uniform and waited and waited and waited.  I do wonder often if that was why God brought me to Africa, to teach me to wait.  After about two hours some children showed up along with four Taekwondo masters, Peter Kamau, Judith Aujo, Andrew Mugisha, and Badru.  They had just returned from the world championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I was in awe.  They welcomed me and, to expedite matters, asked why I was there.  I quickly caught them up and informed them that I came so they could teach me how to start a national Taekwondo federation.  As well, I asked if they would let me work out with them, as I was suspicious that the Taekwondo I had learned in Togo might not be of the highest quality and up to world standards.  They had me warm up with the kiddos and I was admittedly ashamed of the quality of my kicks; and then I worked with Peter Kamau for four hours (yes, four hours) on all the forms of Taekwondo!  We had a meal together in the afternoon and they shared with me all they had known about the processes of a national federation, including their statutes.

My mind was blown.  It was classic African hospitality.  Knowing me not, they trained me, hosted me, fed me, befriended me, and educated me.  It became reciprocal as I began having them come to Rwanda and help me to train our athletes.  In many ways, I have since found out that this is inherent to the Taekwondo culture.  Yet, looking back, I also realize that this was extreme and unique.   The only way, I can explain it, is that God made them favorable towards me, not for me, mind you, but for Rwanda.  I had not taken this trip on my own behalf and it was the first of many sacrifices I was to make in this sport development for discipleship journey.  Yet, God affirming the journey by numerous unmerited graces, or as I like to put it, favor; has been and continues to be a constant that prompts me to take that next step of faith into the unknown.

Isaiah 30:21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Well, all of this was very unknown, but it was with a lot of encouragement and now I had help from those I find myself eternally grateful to: my friends Peter, Judith, Andrew and Badru.  Looking back, I also realize that all we have done in Rwanda could not have occurred had they not taken me in.

Hebrews 13:2  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers …