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!

Will it make it without you? – Sustainability

As I travel to world events this year and share with other leaders that we will depart Rwanda and Africa in 2019, I am asked this question again and again: “Will Rwanda Taekwondo make it without you?” Boy, I sure pray to God it will!

I really like things that last. As you may know from previous posts in 2017 that I really am proud of my big Toyota 70 series Land Cruiser. It is the type that the United Nations uses for ambulances. It is simple, highly functional and strong. It has seating for 15 and once I even took it on a safari with 14 people and all the camping gear as well! It is a beast and it is resilient. It will last. As now it has been revived from last years’s “death in the river crash”, it seems almost indestructible.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our work in sport development could be that resilient, that it would continue on long after our presence here has ended? First, you initiate a work or project by pouring yourself into it. Then, along the way, you find worthy individuals to invest in through equipping and empowering them to partner with and work alongside you. Eventually, you become so busy, developing, leading, experimenting, and forming as well as trying to pay for it all, that you quickly forget that one day you will be gone, donors will grow weary, and the project, sport, or initiative could come to a very sad and abrupt end.

Sustainability via transference of ownership – The first and most important step in establishing sustainability is the transferring of “ownership” for the project or sport from the developer to the beneficiaries. Hopefully the developer will consider this before initiating the project; clearly establishing that the initiative is not only needed by the potential beneficiaries but is highly desired as well. As local beneficiaries of the initiative are brought on board in the equipping and empowering process, ownership naturally transfers with the entrusting of responsibilities from the developer to the beneficiary leadership. An ownership transference on the intellectual, technical, emotional, and physical levels ensures that longevity will occur.

Sustainability from good governance – Governance, particularly good governance in sport is one of the hottest topics in lectures generated by the International Olympic Committee and the world’s top sport federations. This has occurred mostly because of the plethora of scandals that has rocked the sporting world from embezzlement and bribery to doping in the previous five years. As I personally met several of these scandal ridden leaders in the past few years, I was motivated to assist Rwanda Taekwondo with leadership structures that would result in good governance and ultimately scandal prevention. One of these measures I took was to write a policy and procedures manual that supported their federation constitution statutes. In the manual we attempt to address as many issues of governance as possible in addition to establishing procedures of risk management. These will go a long way to help foster sustainability.

Financial Sustainability specific to sport – Most organizations, when quizzed about the necessary components of sustainability, will begin with their financial concerns. In reality, though, if the controls provided by governance aren’t in place, then no matter how strong the financial investment is, all will be eventually lost and a few people may wind up in jail.

For Rwanda Taekwondo, financial sustainability happens on two levels. The fist level is that of daily operations. This is being established in Rwanda through its building up of a membership system. It will pay for the national staff and coaches as well as seminars and local events. It also highly motivates the national leaders to focus on growth and expansion as their salaries are dependent on that and this in its own way ensures additional sustainability.

The second level is that of high performance. This is the most expensive aspect of a national sport body and for it to occur properly, even for a small sport in a small country like Rwanda it carries a price tag of around one million USD per Olympic 4 year cycle. By the way, that is very inexpensive for such high potential of medals on the Olympic and world levels. This can only occur, in the short term via large private and public sector stakeholder gifts. Ironically, it won’t occur without initial investment and high level performance, which means you may be putting your next world event on your Bank of America credit card and praying hard for a few medals so you’ll get reimbursed when you get home.

The lasting impact of sport – Beyond the governance and fundraising efforts, sport is a living organism that displays great resilience and has the potential for impact on an entire nation. Over the years, I have been amazed by the rapid growth and successes for Rwanda Taekwondo. Here with only one year to go, I am full of hope that it will last beyond me and by God’s grace continue to have a lasting impact on healing Rwanda from the genocide of 1994 as well as helping to write a new story for the Rwandan people.

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.



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

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.

New Masters to train!


Demonstrations of the sport assisted its popularity
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.

Ready to fight for his country, future coach Alan Bagire at his first World Championships.
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.

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!