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 –

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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.

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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.

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Myself with now World Taekwondo Secretary General and my dearest of friends Hoss Rafaty
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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

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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 …

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

So, as it was, because I just couldn’t conceive, as a missionary, giving Rwanda what it wanted, Taekwondo, for nine months I absolutely rejected the idea.  I kept pushing the other projects of rocket stoves and biomass charcoal.  

Sometimes we need additional voices. So, God, in His mercy kept prodding me.  Two particular events occurred to push me over the edge to “go for it”.

The first was in September of 2009 when after being cajoled by at least five people, I finally agreed to meet with those interested in Taekwondo and saw they had the skills to actually be masters of the art. Twenty of them gathered and they were great.  As well, even now, I remember how they began to share with me, that as a small group they had trained together for several years and the sport had helped them overcome many of the challenges they faced after the genocide.  

The second occurred the following February.  I had since agreed to dabble in the idea of Taekwondo but was not fully committed as the other projects seemed more plausible and more deeply impacting.  I had gone to Kenya and Uganda and while there had made time to train with a Taekwondo master, Peter Kamau.  He knew my history as a runner and if you know much about sport physiology, running and Taekwondo can be very incompatible as running can really decrease flexibility.  As we trained together, he asked, “Martin, why are your kicks so bad?  Have you been running again?” I answered that I had, yes, been running a little (in truth I had been toying with the idea and treating with God, that if it be sport, then why not the sport I was best at, i.e. running).  In reality, I had trained over one hundred miles the previous week driven by pride and human intellect for sure.   Peter then stated, oh so very boldly, “Listen, running is not what God has given you to do!  It is Taekwondo that he has given you to give to Rwanda!”  I considered this for a couple of weeks, but kept running hard daily and trying to get “in” with the national athletics federation.  Promptly, I was injured in my right heel, and couldn’t run a step; but irony set in, when I realized, even with the injury, I could do all the Taekwondo I wanted!  

Wow, am I hard headed or what?  Oh, for the day, when God doesn’t have to use a plank of wood across my head to get me to listen!

So, we gathered them, began training them in ernest, and waited on God to see what would happen next.

Isaiah 55:8,9.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In defense of Taekwondo … on World Taekwondo Day

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…as if it needed to defend itself

I remember a conversation with Kevin and Katey Deasy in Huntsville, AL where they were extolling the positive impact of martial arts on their sons.  I took that back with me to Togo and mused about the reality of having four very strong and physical sons, but I had no idea how to proceed.

When we’ve been flummoxed in such ways while serving in Africa, we prayed.  So, on a day as I was driving through Lome, Togo in February of 2004, I prayed that somehow God would help me find a master to teach my sons the martial art of Taekwondo.  I looked down the road within thirty seconds, truly, of finishing the prayer and saw a huge sign just off the road for Taekwondo.  I stopped by and had a discussion with the owner of the Dojang and within thirty minutes we had a plan for a master to come to Tabligbo, an hour away, on Tuesdays and Thursdays and teach my sons and myself, of course, I can’t let them have all the fun, along with anyone else interested.

You see, I had been a boy many years prior, and found myself testing the limits of my strength in sports, but that didn’t seem enough for me.  In junior high we humored ourselves by arranging fights for ourselves after school, of the bare knuckle variety, to give additional proof that we were stronger and tougher than the average Joe, not GI Joe mind you, just the average one.  I didn’t want that for my sons, to fight that is.  Yes, you are beginning to smile at the irony.  “Teach your kids how to fight so then they won’t fight?” you ask sardonically.

In reality, most martial arts are not about fighting, but instead about defending, and violence, particularly against those who are vulnerable is not tolerated.  My sons had the same question I had as a young man.  They asked themselves continually, “Am I strong?” And, they sought to prove it.  Also. we didn’t want them fighting each other, so, as we began Taekwondo, I warned them that now they were trained martial artists and soon to be masters and they were now very dangerous people and capable of inflicting great harm on others if they used their learning inappropriately.  Smile.  Yes, some weeks later I heard my third one goading the first born physically and witnessed my first born explain to him in no uncertain terms that he would not hit him as he wanted.  He proclaimed, “I am now a yellow belt, and I will not hit you, because my punch could possibly kill you.  I am too disciplined for that.”  Yep, it had worked!

You see, Taekwondo is based on five tenets of Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and an Indomitable Spirit.  All of which interestingly enough you can find scriptures to support in the Bible.  It has had an amazing impact on my sons and ultimately myself.  They grew up and were required by myself to compete internationally. You should have seen the African boys looking forward to taking out on my sons all the ills of African Colonialism; yes it took them a bit of courage to take the mat.  As well they had to stay in until they completed their second degree black belt as there is such a difference in maturity between the first degree and second.

This courage and inner strength empowered them to not react violently to not only each other, but more importantly to the many aggressive people that asserted themselves against them during our twenty years in Africa as well as to not be fearful for themselves.  If you know any of them, they have not suffered from that, but have walked with great self assurance and held their heads high.

I am thankful, looking back retrospectively, to God, for giving us the art and sport of Taekwondo and I had no idea that after our time in Togo it would come to have such an impact on not only our lives but the entire country of Rwanda and even advance the sport for Africa as well.

Romans 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds then you can test and approve what God’s will is; his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

I can attest that not only God’s Will is good, pleasing and perfect, but that bizarrely it was His Will that we did Taekwondo.

More on that in the next post.

 

 

I didn’t want to do this Part 2 – Being

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One of my great fears in coming to Africa was that my children would not have the opportunities to develop as I had growing up in the USA.  One thing, of many, that I have learned about God, though, is that He specializes in not just overcoming fears but more importantly in giving fullness and abundance to our lives.

Sports had been such a huge part of my development.  The learning of perseverance through pain, teamwork, discipline, overcoming loss, winning with humility, and the courage to take the field or run the race were so instrumental in teaching me authentic manhood.  How could we live in the bush of Togo, West Africa, raising our four sons and persist without sports, without the opportunity to teach the great lessons of life within the context of training and competing?

P1010420When our oldest son was seven, we had our first sport camp for our kids.  It was pretty simple, just introducing them to football, basketball, baseball, and soccer.  More importantly, it was a building of faithful character through sport.  Whereas my development in sport had not been with spiritual intention, it now seemed such a natural extension; to take the lessons of sport and apply them spiritually to life itself.

The good was obvious and I wanted to delve more deeply into it.

A couple of years later my initiatives to give opportunity to my sons to enjoy and grow through sports spilled over into our community.  We had an unused soccer field near our house and after I received permission from local authorities, I cut out a baseball field.  That year, titanium bats had been removed from high school baseball and friends in the US promptly had sent two teams worth of equipment to us in Togo.  We bribed the local kids that for every month of baseball they gave me, I would give them two months of soccer.  And, thus it began.

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A short while later, we started Taekwondo for our sons and myself.  This quickly became inclusive of our neighborhood friends.  Bible study and prayer very naturally integrated into the sports and the impact of the training, competing, and studying affected our sons and all other participants deeply.

Little did I know what God  had in store for us in our transition from Togo to Rwanda.

I Corinthians 9:25  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown  that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.