STM’s

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the time, the Association of Rwandan Baptist Churches (AEBR) had only one staff person in the Accounting department and out of date financial management software.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. 

A few weeks ago, we posted photos about the long journey which led Doug and Annie Burt to Rwanda for a building project. Follow this link to read Building a Church Roof in Rwanda part 1. Also, Annie was busy visiting women’s groups while Doug was doing all this construction work. You can read about Annie’s adventures at A Week with Women.

Photo: Doug and Annie show photos of their family to Pastors Joseph & Anthony (Partially finished church stands in the background)

Preparing for Work in Africa

Despite having many years of experience building churches in Canada, Doug knows enough that you don’t just climb a ladder and start working on a church in a different country / continent. Building standards are different, tools are different, safety standards are different, and building materials are different. There is definitely a learning curve involved in this kind of undertaking.

Photo: Doug measures the wall for the proper positioning of the trusses

Fabricating the Building Trusses

The first order of business was fabricating the building trusses. In Canada you send the drawings to a shop and they get delivered to the job site. Here in Rwanda, you have to build them yourself. The process involves finding a level spot and carefully piecing together the first truss. Then, one by one, additional trusses are build on top of the previous ones. Once they have all been fabricated and welded, they are removed from the pile, flipped over, and the welds are completed on the opposite side. They are painted to prevent rust, and then carried by hand into the building.

Photo: Doug and the Engineer examine the fabricated trusses all stacked one on top of the other

Photo: A workman welds the truss together

Lifting the Trusses into Place

While there are cranes to do heavy lifts in Rwanda, these were not in our budget. So, Doug learned how truss lifting is done by hand. Once they were fabricated and carried into the church building, the crew prepares the tops of the walls to evenly carry the weight. Working together, a group of men lift one end up onto one side, then the other end onto the opposite wall (it is inverted when they begin). Next, they lift the truss until it is up as high as the men can lift it by hand. Then, they get long lifting sticks with a Y on the end. The sticks are carefully place into the truss, and the lifting continues. Eventually, the truss is lifted and secured just before it reaches 90 degrees (it will rest on the supports to keep it in place until they are ready to secure it later).

 

Photo: the workmen lift the first truss into place

Photo: The third truss is lifted into place

Fastening the Cross Members

Finally, the trusses are welded to each other using cross members. These cross pieces will eventually be used to hold the “iron sheets” on top to make the roof complete. But as you look at these photos below, you will see that this ‘high steel’ work is not for the faint of heart, nor those who are afraid of heights.

 

Photo: Cross members being fastened. Note the handsome guy in the overalls (front right). 

Photo: Climbing up to the very top with an arc welder to fasten the cross members in place

Photo: The view from the truss as it is being lifted into place

The Finished Church

Unfortunately, Doug’s month in Rwanda ended before the iron sheets could be fastened to the trusses — completing the roof project. However, the team appreciated Doug’s energy and enthusiasm, along with his wise advice on the job. Together, they build a structurally sound church building that will be a hub of spiritual growth and activity in the Musanze region for years to come.

Photo: The roof is beginning to take shape

Photo: Putting up the last truss

Photo: Doug and Simon, his translator for two weeks

Annie Burt came to Rwanda for the month of March.  As her husband helped build a church (see Jonathan’s blog), Annie walked alongside me and encouraged many of the women’s ministries.  Women’s Literacy, Guardians of Hope and Women’s Empowerment filled the week.  We ended by having a Girls Day and passing out Kits for Girls to 50 young girls and women.  Here are some photos of our time together.

Photo: Annie holding one of the youngest members in the  Literacy Class

Literacy

The week started with a “check up” to one of the literacy sites, Ndamirimirwe, with program manager Laetitia.  This is at the base of the volcano north of Rubavu (formerly Gisenyi).  The teacher has over 70 students in the morning and another 60 students in the afternoon. They come three times a week and range from 20 years old to 76 years old.  Literacy is not the only initiative in this program.  Encouraging the women to form cooperatives and work together to improve their lives is also preached.  “Open up your minds and dream big” is heard on a regular basis.  Last year’s Literacy graduates are now working together planting Irish potatoes and wheat.  They rent the two fields and rotate the crops.  It has been successful as everyone has a mattress now!

Photo: Teaching over 70 students at a time

Photo: Heading to the fields to inspect the Irish Potatoes

Guardians of Hope (helping those affected by HIV/AIDS)

Some of the Guardians of Hope groups have formed associations as well.  They have a system where everyone contributes a small amount per week.  It works like a small bank for the participants and both savings and loans can be accomplished.  Some associations work together and farm, sew or sell products.  They must report regularly to AEBR/CBM in order to qualify for  grant money.  This group pictured here was very sad as they had not qualified last year for the grant.  However, after a serious discussion and some directives, the women agreed to work together and try again.

Photo: Annie and Ernestine (Program Manager) with GOH group

Photo: Sharing some photos and seeing some smiles

Days for Girls Kits (Orphans and Vulnerable Children)

Photo: Girls watch Annie demonstrate kit

Above these girls are laughing as Annie actually puts on a pair of underwear over her pants to demonstrate the product.  I didn’t think Annie would appreciate the picture of her doing this in the blog so instead I am showing you the girls’s faces.  They were so excited to get these kits.  If you haven’t heard about this initiative, check out the website: www.daysforgirls.org.  Many girls miss school when menstruating as they don’t have any supplies.  When your family doesn’t have enough food to eat, it is too difficult to ask for money to go get Kotex.  So instead, they stay home in order to cope.  At the end of the session, the girls danced and sang to thank the givers in Canada.  One of the girls said, “Now we are rich!”.  Oh the things we take for granted…..

Photo: Esperence (Project Manager)explains some important information

Fifty young girls will benefit over the next 3 years from the kits Annie brought with her.  It is a great initiative and I encourage you to think about starting a group in Canada yourself.  Eventually we hope that the kits can be made here in Rwanda/Kenya but for now there are many more girls who could benefit from this gift.

Photo: A young girl receives her kit

Annie and Doug are back in Canada now but the impact they had continues on.  Many people think that it is better to “just send money” and not do Short Term Mission trips. But the ministry of presence is invaluable.  Building relationships with our sisters and brothers globally has long term implications for both those in Canada and those in Rwanda.