Canada

IMG_9471 copy 3During Short Term Mission (STM) trips, we are always aware of God’s hand at work in Rwanda. Recently, we experienced an STM that illustrated for us the way in which God is intimately involved in every aspect of our work here in Africa.  When Jonathan first mentioned an IT STM to me, I rolled my eyes.  But he was right and my geeky husband’s idea has and will bear fruit for our partner here in Rwanda.

Photo: Scott Klassen and Jonathan

Scene 1: The Derksens Arrive in Rwanda

Ken and Wendy copy

Back in December 2014, Ken and Wendy Derksen arrived in Rwanda to begin their appointment as Global Field Staff with Canadian Baptist Ministries. Wendy is a CPA in Canada, and her role is to “Walk alongside African partners to provide support and guidance as they develop policies and procedures around financial management and operational systems.” 

 

At the time, the Association of Rwandan Baptist Churches (AEBR) had only one staff person in the Accounting department and out of date financial management software. And the AEBR is an organization with over 250 churches, 18 Schools, and dozens of projects funded by international partners each requiring different reporting standards. It was a huge challenge. 

Since STM’s work best when they originate from the partner’s need, Jonathan suggested we initiate plans for an STM to  setup and install a computer server with financial management software adequate to serve the needs of the AEBR. At first, the idea seemed to be more about Jonathan’s “geeky” side showing but over time it became clear that this was a significant need for the AEBR. 

Scene 2: Engaging Kanata Baptist Church

Our church in Kanata is in the middle of one of Canada’s high tech sectors and the church has a number of highly skilled IT professionals. It seemed like an ideal partnership for pursuing this proposed computer STM. In January 2016, Jonathan and I invited interested individuals to come and hear about this ministry opportunity. Thirty people showed an interest in the project, and a new “virtual” STM was launched with Kevin Burr coordinating the team and Scott Klassen designing and building and setting up the server (it was ‘virtual’ because most of the meetings were held by Skype each week). The Mission Council of Kanata Baptist embraced the project and soon efforts were underway to raise funds for this “Virtual IT STM.” 

Photo: Scott showing Jonathan how the Server is configured

Over the coming months, Annie Burt travelled to Rwanda to conduct a needs analysis, and a great deal of effort was spent investigating the software that would best serve the interests of the AEBR. As the research started to point to SAGE 300 as the ideal software platform, Scott mentioned that his mother had some experience with SAGE 300 and he was going to ask her about it. 

Scene 3: Enter Christine Klassen

To say Christine Klassen knows a little about SAGE 300 is a bit of an understatement. She is a CPA who works as an independant consultant configuring and installing SAGE 300 for clients in Canada. When Scott asked Christine if she would be able to offer some advice to the team she responded: “This is actually an answer to prayer. For the past few months, I have been praying for God to provide me an opportunity to use my gifts and abilities to serve him.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Christine embraced this project and gave her time and talent joyfully.  

Photo: Wendy & Christine spending hours setting up and configuring the Financial Software

Once Christine was involved things started moving forward quickly. Wendy Derksen and Christine began the long and complex task of setting up the general ledger accounts and all the details that go into a brand new financial system installation and configuration. They both invested long hours over the coming months to build things from the ground up. Meanwhile, Scott was assembling the server in Ottawa and preparing things for installation. 

Scene 4: Is there any work for an Electrical Engineer?

In the middle of all this work, Christine’s husband Clarence expressed an interest in helping out; “Do you have any tasks that I can help with? I’m an Electrical Engineer.” The answer was an emphatic “Yes!!”

Photo: Christine & Clarence Klassen at Lake Muhazi

This, despite a lack of knowledge concerning the specific causes of the AEBR’s head office electrical issues. All we knew was that many of the lights were not working, the building was prone to blackouts and brownouts, and generally speaking, the electrical system was in need of some expert diagnostics and repair. We were impressed by Clarence’s willingness to do whatever he could to help, and his insistence on having a Rwandan apprentice work with him in order to share some knowledge and experience with a young person. 

 

Scene 5: Putting it all Together

In January, after a year of planning, preparation, independent work, installation and configuration, it was finally time for the STM to travel to Rwanda for final installation and training. Jonathan and Ken Derksen had installed networking cables in the AEBR offices and converted a small washroom into a server room. The server had been sent to Rwanda in our luggage in November. Now the Klassens arrived with bags full of tools and equipment to bring everything together. 

Photo: The Klassens, the Derksens, Jonathan and the AEBR director of Administration and Finance, Berthe

Scott is a computer engineer, so the server setup went smoothly (apart from the times when there was no power in the building). Jonathan provided support, and learned how to manage basic configuration settings. Within a few days, everything was setup and configured, and working! Scott returned to Canada after only a week. On his last morning, the server had shut down because of a power outage. Scott turned to Jonathan and said, “Okay, show me how to restart it.”  And Jonathan did!  Very proud of this man of mine who has no formally computer training.

Christine had already finalized the chart of accounts with Wendy through Skype calls. Now the task was to give instruction to the AEBR financial department which had now grown to three people. They not only had to learn a new financial management software program but they also had to learn new principles and practices of accounting. 

Meanwhile, Clarence was working with Ken Derksen to diagnose and repair whatever they could in the two weeks they were here. His young apprentice, Jean-Paul had been trained in electronics but had very little experience. Because of a lack of hands on training at the vocational school, he had never actually used an electric drill, but he really wanted to as often as possible. So, Clarence patiently build up his repertoire of experiences through two weeks of electrical improvements. 

Photo: Clarence supervising the work of his young apprentice, Jean-Paul

Scene 6: Wrapping Up

After two very busy weeks, the Klassens boarded the plane on the way home to Peterborough Ontario. As we reflected on the events of the past year, we were all amazed at how God had orchestrated this major ministry project. Some of the ‘God moments’ we identified:

  • The Derksen’s appointment to Rwanda (contributing financial and technical expertise)
  • The connection we have with Kanata Baptist church and its IT professionals
  • Kevin Burr, Scott Klassen and Jim McMorine working for months on this project
  • The eagerness of KBC’s Mission Council to engage in fundraising and support
  • Christine Klassen’s involvement, in answer to her prayers
  • Christine’s donation of time and expertise, without which, this project would be impossible
  • Annie Burt’s availability to conduct a needs analysis in Rwanda
  • CBM’s willingness to try a ‘virtual STM’ for the first time
  • AEBR’s openness to embrace this new financial management software
  • SAGE approving Canadian licensed software being used in Rwanda
  • Special SAGE promotion: 4 seat licenses for the price of 3 (the week we purchased it)
  • Clarence’s willingness to serve and his expertise in diagnosing the AEBR offices’ electrical problems

We thank God for the dedication and hard work of all those who contributed to this plan.  Special thanks to Laura Lee Bustin for managing the finances and logistics here in Rwanda. And to Adrian Gardner in Canada for being such an encourager. It will take many more months for the staff to be trained and equipped to use SAGE 300 to its full capacity, but the journey to financial self-sufficiency has begun and we know this change will bear much fruit for the Kingdom of God. 

Photo: Clarence and Christine Klassen with the AEBR & CBM staff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When CBM sends a team from Canada to Rwanda a great deal of cultural adjustment is needed.  Our Rwandan friends are very gracious about all our faux pas but it always warms my heart when I see Canadians adjust culturally.  Recently 11 women came from different places across Canada with the She Matters STM (Short Term Mission).  They led seminars on Child Development, Women’s cotton sanitary products and ministered to women from the DRC (Congo) and Rwanda who are victims of wartime sexual violence.  They learned about women’s literacy and food security as well.  But more than anything, they learned to be Rwandan.  Below are some pics of the cultural adjustments that these women were able to make.

Photo: Julie greeting an elderly woman

Greetings in Rwanda can get quite complicated.  One has to remember if you are greeting a new friend, a old friend, a man, a woman,  an elder, a big man, or a child.  In this photo, Julie Hunt is greeting an older woman with a great deal of respect as she shakes hands but also puts her opposite hand on her elbow.

Photo: She Matters Group (Congolese, Rwandans and Canadians)

Women do not always keep their head wrapped these days but our African friends love it when the muzungus (westerners) try to be traditional.  It was a lot of fun having our head-wraps done.  Congolese and Rwandans showed us how to do different styles.

Photo: Laetitia and Anne dancing

The retreat for the women involved a lot of sharing, crying and praying.  But sometimes we all needed to dance.  This is an important part of healing here.  Talking is good but dancing and singing is even better.  It is good for the soul.

Photo: Karissa carrying maize

So what does one do when one is handed five stalks of maize? One puts it on one’s head of course!  Once again we were blessed with fresh corn from the field of a friend.  That night we cooked it up and we all had a taste.  It was the best Rwandan corn I have ever eaten.  Honest!  Accepting a gift graciously and carrying it away on one’s head is adapting culturally.

This was just a small glimpse into an amazing two weeks.  If you want to know more about this trip and see more photos, let me know and I will do a second blog about it.  There is always too much to tell in just one brief photo essay. If you want to learn more about CBM’s priority for empowering and improving the lives of women and girls, visit the She Matters page at our website. 

They often say that the best way to learn about your own culture is to visit a different one. This has been my experience as I have had the privilege of travelling extensively over my 50+ years. This truism was made even more clear to me as we visited Canada for our recent home assignment, which provided Jan and I the opportunity to travel extensively in Ontario and Alberta visiting churches and individuals to share about our ministry in Rwanda. Many times I thought to myself, how would I describe the Canadian climate to my friends in Rwanda who have never travelled outside central Africa (some have never travelled more than a day’s walk from their village). 

Today, I wanted to turn this question on its head, and describe for Canadians some of the different experiences of living in Rwanda’s climate. 

12 Hours a Day: 7 days a week, 365 days a year

Sunlight in Ottawa, Canada. 

In Canada, there are extensive changes in our experience of daylight hours because of our latitude in the Northern hemisphere. Summers are characterized by long, warm nights with spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Click in this Interactive Sunlight Graph for the city of Ottawa, Canada.  

Photo: a screen shot of the sunlight graph of Ottawa (click the link below for interactive data)

Move your mouse over the sunlight graph and you’ll see specific information for each day. At Summer solstice (June 21) Ottawa has 15:40 hours of daylight, and twilight lasts 1:15. In contrast, at Winter solstice (Dec 21), Ottawa only receives 8:42 hours of sunlight with 1:08 hours of twilight. 

Sunlight in Kigali, Rwanda

We live in the city of Kigali, Rwanda which is located just South of the Equator. Rwanda’s days are consistently 12 hours in length year round. Click this link for an Interactive Sunlight Graph for the city of Kigali. Notice how straight and consistent the lines are.

Photo: a screen shot of the sunlight graph of Kigali (click the link below for interactive data)

If you click on the Summer solstice for Kigali, the daylight hour figure is 12:00, with twilight of 45 minutes. At the winter solstice this changes to 12:14 hours of daylight (twilight is unchanged). The difference is barely perceptible. The passing of time becomes so routine that you really don’t need a watch as the position of the sun is a good indicator of the time of day. 

One of the difficult adjustments for North Americans and Europeans is the sunset at 6:00 pm every day, and short sunsets.

Photo: A beautiful sunset over the city skyline. Sunsets are shorter than in Canada, and seldom feature deep reds. 

Song Birds and Sunrise

The natural rhythms of nature also take on a predictability that is generally unknown in Canada. For example, the song birds begin their singing each morning just before dawn. We generally leave our bedroom window open at night, so when the birds begin their songs it can be quite loud. Generally, they sing between 5:15 and 5:45. I’ve included a few samples of morning bird songs to give you an idea (sorry, I don’t know which song belongs to which bird. I’ve included some bird pictures for fun). 

This first bird call is very beautiful and it is nice to awaken to it each day (even if it does come early at 5:30). 

This second bird call is also very beautiful (feel free to click your mouse to skip the quiet sections in the middle). 

Finally, a less interesting bird call, but a familiar sound for us each morning. 

Talk about the Weather

An unexpected corrolary to the consistent 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness is the consistent weather. While it is true that Rwanda has four seasons, they are very different than Canadian seasons. 

Canadian Seasons: Hot, Cooling off, Cold, Warming up. 

Canada is well known for its four distinct seasons. Particularly in places outside Ontario’s ‘banana belt’ (Southern Ontario), the cold winter weather makes for a very unpleasant season … if you don’t get outside and engage in winter activities and sports. Friends advised us to develop outdoor activities in Ottawa’s winter and we have found it makes the season much more enjoyable (although I remember a youth event skating on the Rideau Canal with a temp of -40 C with bone chilling winds. We lasted 10 minutes before going inside for hot chocolate and Beaver Tales!!). Canadians will tell you that there are some places in Canada where you can experience all four seasons in one day (Calgary, the Maritimes, etc). 

Rwanda’s Four Seasons

The four seasons we experience here are far less distinct. We really have only two wet seasons and two dry seasons. Rwanda is actually well blessed with rain because its altitude. Kigali is at approximately 1500 meters elevation above sea level. Musanze in the North is at an elevation of 1,860 m, with the summit of Mount Muhabura (a dormant volcano) rising up to a height of  4,127 m. The result is a much higher average precipitation in the North, with seasonal rains in the South. 

Photo: Mount Muhabura. The range of volcanoes forms a natural border between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The rains come suddenly and often violently.  But they are predictable for the locals and you get used to the patterns with experience. Most days (regardless of the season) begin with sunshine. During the rainy season, cloud cover builds throughout the day, and strong winds give warning of an impending downpour. In most cases, these storms pass quickly, often within 30 to 60 minutes. 

Photo: Heavy rains fall on our back yard, but in the distance, sunshine is already breaking through the clouds. 

Surprising, with the frequent experience of sunshine and rain together, one might expect us to see many more rainbows. But sadly, this is not the case. I think it is because the sun as so high above us (almost directly overhead) that the angle is wrong for seeing a rainbow. Nevertheless, I did capture one on my Blackberry just over a year ago. 

Photo: A rainbow over Nyarutarama

Aside from the rainy season, there is not much to talk about with the weather here. The temperature is very steady with daytime highs between 26 and 30 degrees C. We Canadians all have sweaters and light jackets, but we never wear them. 

On our most recent trip to Canada, we stayed from August to November. We soon got into the routine of checking the weather each day before going outside because it is important to dress for the conditions. 

Getting Ready for Christmas

Last night at 7:00 pm, as we were feeling very warm after a long sunny day, Jan said: “Do you feel like putting up the Christmas tree?”  We both decided that it didn’t feel very much like Christmas and we would put it off for another couple of days. It is very strange to have banana trees growing in the back yard during the Christmas season, but this is our home and this our reality. 

 

 

 

Homemade mandazi (Rwandan doughnuts) and a cup of fairtrade coffee made for the perfect start to our Rwandan night at Kanata Baptist Church. Over 100 people came out to hear about our adventures and to support the fundraiser.

Photo: Jonathan & Jan share some fun stories

Jonathan and Jan shared about some cultural adjustments.  Jonathan shared about different standards of modesty, and how he has felt “naked” both in Rwanda and Canada.  Jan talked about some of the differences between Rwandan and Canadian bathrooms.

If you missed the presentation here is a short clip:

Cultural Adjustment – Modesty from Jonathan Mills on Vimeo.

 

Sights and Sounds of Rwanda (and Burundi)

Photo: David Rukundo sings 

A friend from Matthew House Ottawa, David Rukundo, sang his original songs in English, French and Kurundi.  This young man sings from his heart with emotion and with his love for God.  It was a joy to see him again and see how God has blessed his life.

Photo: Grace and Christelle dance

Of course a Rwandan celebration is not complete without some traditional dancers. Grace and Christelle performed two beautiful dances to help the audience feel like they were in Rwanda.  “They were as beautiful as cows!” and even had the bells on to add to the music.

Photo: Sharing about the work of CBM and AEBR

The biggest part of the evening was sharing about the wonderful partnership between CBM (Canadian Baptist Ministries) and AEBR (Association d’Eglises Baptiste aux Rwanda). Integral Mission is key to everything we do together from Leadership Development to Food Security; “Embracing a broken world through word and deed.”   The ministries in Rwanda are a blessing to us as well as to the beneficiaries.

The IT Project

One Short Term Mission Team has been virtual until recently.  When the Mills asked members of Kanata Baptist Church to participate in building a server and network for the AEBR with enterprise financial software running on it, a number of IT professionals agreed to help. Over the past months this plan has seen incredible progress as the hardware, software and technical expertise have all come together.

Photo: Silicone Chip keychains. A perfect nerdy accessory

The Sept 23rd event at Kanata Baptist was a fundraiser to ensure there are sufficient funds to complete the server project. It is an exciting time for everyone involved in the project because the AEBR will finally have the right kind of software available to allow the Administration department to manage the finances of the organization efficiently.