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.

 

 

Sidebar: Inspiration

I have been in London this last week for the World Para Taekwondo Championships, 7th edition.  It was attended by 59 participating countries.  It has two disciplines competed: sparring for those with various arm impairments, including those with no arms at all; and there are Taekwondo form competitions for those with Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy.

I had four major takeaways:

Rwanda players are incredible in Taekwondo!  Rwanda’s journey in Para Taekwondo has been very short with only having competed on two occasions in the past seven months.  In fact our six Para Taekwondo players only began their official training in March of this year, just three weeks before their first event, the 2nd Africa Para Taekwondo Open.  There, they were competing against fifteen nations from Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa.  We were able to host that event here in Kigali, Rwanda. Out of those players we actually won six medals and bizarrely the championship trophy!  Even with those great results, I must admit that I doubted the possibility of such success in the World Championships, especially in the overwhelming grandeur of London for those that had never left Rwanda!  Instead, five of our six players all made it to the quarter finals.  To get there, they defeated players from Russia, South Korea, England, and other powerhouse countries.  Then to my great surprise and delight, our only female player, Consolee, became Rwanda’s first ever World Champion in any sport.  As well we won a bronze medal.  What can I say, except that, truly, Rwanda’s great sport is Taekwondo!

People without hands and arms inspire me.

Meet Dejana Backo.  She is a champion from Serbia. Not only did she win a silver medal at the World Championships this year, but she is truly a great champion of life!  She was born with no arms but that does not stop her from living.  Beyond being an elite world athlete, she has a designer line of clothes and is an internationally renowned artist!  She does all of this with her feet!  She is an amazingly beautiful young woman who not only has overcome her disability, but has now achieved much more in life with two limbs than most could with four!

Para Taekwondo Competitors are Heroes and Heroines!

Retired US Army Major Anthony Smith is a great hero and, as well, Taekwondo Champion.  I had the privilege of first meeting him in Kigali this April where he won a medal in Para Taekwondo for the US national team.  I liked him from the beginning.  He can be tough and raw, but he is passionate about life, as well he should be after an event in Iraq that should have killed him several times over.  Nicknamed A-train it takes more than an rocket propelled grenade to put this good man down.  As his unit in Iraq came under fire, he paused to force them into a bunker as they hesitated.  In that moment he was shot through with an RPG!  He should have died.  It took out his hip, kidney, and lower half of his right arm.  He stood there, surprised, and instead of taking it lying down, he picked up his weapon with his only remaining arm and returned fire.  He then was shot five more times.  He should have died.  He did finally go horizontal and when the medics came they thought him deceased and bagged him.  Forty-five minutes later they happened to notice his bag rising and falling with breathing.  He should have died.  Shocked they popped open his body bag and gave him a transfusion, of the wrong blood type!  He should have died.  They got him to Germany and, after many months in a coma for healing, he woke up to live as never before!  He is a Master of martial arts and teaches at his club, an avid one armed golfer, a preacher, and lives his life to the fullest.  Truly, you have to ask yourself, upon meeting he who should be dead but is so full of life, when you are going to start truly living!

Joy of competing expressed by those with Down Syndrome destroys me.

These young men have unquenchable joy and are limitless in encouragement.  They won the gold and silver medals at this world championships and are from Honduras and El Salvador.  I watched with tears them compete against, cheer for, and celebrate each other with the emotions and passion for sport of twenty men!  I watched until I bowed my head, ashamed that I live my life with pettiness and jealousy.  Yet, I was inspired by them to live as they do, loving deeply and rejoicing greatly!

This is the best of everything that sport could ever be and should always strive to be.  This is Para Taekwondo.

Building: 2012 and 2013

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Our first event outside of East Africa, the London Olympics Qualification Tournament in Cairo, Egypt!

Expanding the Sport – One thing I realized immediately was that we had to expand the sport of Taekwondo in Rwanda as quickly as possible.  We had too few athletes to make any kind of impact in international competitions and all in Rwanda didn’t even know the sport existed.  With that in mind, we encouraged each person, that as soon as they achieved a black belt, they should begin a club.  This later developed into our one adult master per club policy for expansion.  Before we realized the impact, we found ourselves having more than twenty clubs of Taekwondo and around four hundred athletes.  The previous year we had only forty athletes and three clubs.

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New Masters to train!

 

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Demonstrations of the sport assisted its popularity
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After every demonstration the children, boys and girls, gathered for their first lesson!

Buying and Making tools – At this time Taekwondo had just undergone a successful transition from being manually scored to electronic scoring making it a more fair and less subjective competition.  The problem was that the systems cost was on average $9000 of equipment for one mat.  A typical tournament needs at least three mats worth of equipment.  World Taekwondo, our new partner, had an annual development fund that you could request assistance for equipment.  We were able to use this for a few years and amassed about $40,000 worth of electronic scoring equipment.  This made Rwanda the first country in Central, Eastern, and Southern Zones of Africa to possess the system.  It also put Rwanda in a leading role for hosting the highest levels of competitions from among those countries.  Additionally, Rwanda has a big push for self – reliance as a nation.  Out of this we began creating and manufacturing our own equipment specific to Taekwondo such as uniforms and targets.

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Ready to fight for his country, future coach Alan Bagire at his first World Championships.
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In her first German Open, Zura Mushambokazi wins her first match against Germany.

Coaching the Sport – I was all we had.  At this point, I had to administrate the sport, fund the sport, work to expand the sport and coach the sport.  Out of this, though, I was able to bring a different perspective to the coaching.  As I had been a runner and cyclist and had also studied exercise physiology at the master’s level, I analyzed the sport and realized it was like racing three 800 meter races back to back with a one minute break in between.  Out of this we then took traditional activities in Taekwondo training and modified them to achieve results more like training for running the mile or two mile.  I loved this part.  I also loved the immediate impact on our athletes as they won much more easily and experienced less fatigue while competing.  I dearly loved getting to pray and study with the team daily and we really grew together in the sport, the art and life.

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Team Rwanda Taekwondo ready for its first big trip to Europe

Internationals Near and Far – From my experiences as an athlete, I realized that Africa, at that time, did not have enough high level events to prepare our athletes for winning on the international or world level.  Out of this came initiatives to send our athletes abroad to compete in Europe (German and Dutch Opens) as well as to begin hosting our own international events here in Rwanda.  I was aided by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, as they desired to sponsor an annual event honoring their Ambassador and their history of Taekwondo.  Our first event attracted five nations.  We added to this the annual event of the Gorilla Open which also attracted several nations to Rwanda.  Rwanda’s athletes won handily and they established themselves as the country to beat in Taekwondo for this part of Africa.  As well Rwanda was able to send two athletes to the qualification event for the London 2012 Olympics.  Sadly, we didn’t qualify, but our vision and goals expanded.  Our big event during that time was the World Championships of 2013.  This event was a real stretch for us as we sought to send seven athletes and it was the first time for the government of Rwanda to step up and assist with the cost of the flights.  It was a good thing they did, too, because for the team and myself it averaged more than $3000 per person and forty hours of travel to get from Kigali, Rwanda to Puebla, Mexico!  We performed well and our team was received wonderfully as superstars by the Mexican people.

Leveling Up – We now had some credible athletes ready to retire from international levels of competing and they had been identified as ready to take over roles that I was currently fulfilling, namely coaching and administrating.  This was timely as after I had presented a seminar to all of Rwanda’s sport federations on best sport practices, I was asked to become the CEO of Olympics for Rwanda.  During that same month, I received an invitation from the President of World Taekwondo Africa to attend the biannual general assembly on behalf of Rwanda and while there I was informed that I had been chosen to sit on the executive council for the continent of Africa.  These were two shocking and surprising changes for myself as a missionary and for Rwanda’s sports.  I interpreted these changes, though, as opportunities from God and we sought to make the best of it all.

It reminded me of John 3:8 where Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Truly, I was being blown around, and didn’t have much of a clue where I was coming from or going!

 

 

 

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.

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.

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

Rwanda

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.

Oops.

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