Blog #15 -- Day 13, July 22 -- Ending with Showers of Blessings!

Ida KAASTRA MUTOIGO

Blog #15 -- Day 13, July 22 -- Ending with Showers of Blessings!

Well, I reached the end of my part of the Sea to Sea journey today. What an ending it was too! We had a fantastic push of tailwind behind us for most of the way as we cycled for 113 kms from Portage La Prairie to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Liz Grootenboer and I reached the Calvin Christian Collegiate destination at about 12:30 pm (about 5 hours from when we started). With many thanks to the tour manager, Ed Witvoet, and Sarah Brooks who assisted with marking the roads along the way; we ended with a scenic tour of Winnipeg as we passed through the bike path along the Red River and Assiniboine River.

Since my flight back home was today, I said my good-byes last night. I talked a lot about blessings that I experienced during the past two weeks with amazing cyclists, new friendships, a loving Christian community, dedicated volunteers, God's amazing creation greeting us each day and the safety we experienced along the way. I shared a story of Irene from Uganda and how she was starting to come out of poverty with her beekeeping project because of the financial support raised by the Sea to Sea campaign. As I ended, I gave a very loud Ugandan ululation as a THANKS on behalf of the many people like Irene who are being helped because of Sea to Sea campaign. Someone told me afterwards that I just invoked the heavens with that cheer.

Another thing I did was confess that my name "Mutoigo" means long rainy season which seems to mean that rains often follow me around. It rained the first day I did my two-week cycling journey. The Sea to Sea cyclists who had started from Vancouver had not encountered rain until that point. And guess what happened today on my last day of my 2-week part of the journey? Within about 10 minutes of arriving at Calvin Christian Collegiate with Liz, there was pouring rain!! God sometimes does such surprising things. Needless to say, the other cyclists that came after us were not as amused by the rain because they got caught and were soaking wet.

In many developing countries, especially where I worked for 15 years in East Africa; rain is considered a huge blessing. As World Renew has provided disaster response assistance to thousands of families affected by the drought and famine that has been happening in East and Southern Africa, we are immensely grateful to hear that the rains have finally come in many parts of these communities we've helped. I was told by farmers here in western Canada that they have also been praying for rain and feel blessed by God's abundant provision of rain today.

As I end the Sea to Sea tour, I am both overwhelmed by the blessings of God and the challenge to keep sharing them with others in word and action. The words of Isaiah 58:6-12 from our devotions today are etched in my heart and mind with a renewed sense of calling for my work with World Renew:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

May God bless you richly, may you see his rich blessings always and may his Spirit stir your heart to be a blessing in all you do and say!

ida


Blog #14 -- Day 12, July 21 -- Headwinds for Humility

What a workout we had today! There was a strong headwind as we traveled 133 kms from Minnedosa to Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. I was part of a group of four cyclists who helped with drafting each other along and prevent cycle-out (another term I use for burn-out while cycling). One of the cyclists in our group who rode most of the time in the “bull” or front position and set the pace was named Doug. I told him that his size was deceptive to his strength because of the way he persevered cycling against the wind. When he told me his story of why he is doing the ride, I was very moved. His wife had a double lung transplant about 22 years ago when they had children that were quite young at about six to eight years old. He made a pivotal decision at that time to lose weight and quit smoking. He started cycling and participating in many fundraising events that included cycling, especially ones that encourage people to donate their organs. I was very saddened to hear that Doug’s wife passed away last year. In gratefulness to God for the many years she lived and in her memory, he now cycles the entire Sea to Sea journey with determination.

One of the other weather factors affecting us today was rain. It was enough to make the pavement wet and puddled. When I was behind another cyclist as I tried to avoid the headwinds or beside another cyclist as I tried to avoid the crosswinds, the muddy water from their tires sprayed me right in the face. I eventually discovered that the best way to prevent muck all over my face was to keep my head down so my helmet would get the spray. That also meant I had to make sure my eyes were always on the back tire of the cyclist in front of me. I did not want to hit their tire with mine or we would both crash down.

The experience of our ride today reminded me that while many of us as cyclists felt we reached the end of our reserve tanks of strength, we serve a limitless God. Many times as I pedaled, I kept saying, “who am I, Lord, in your sight for you are the Almighty powerful God?” When I had to bow my head to prevent the muddy watery spray from tires getting into my face and eyes, I kept thinking about the verse from Micah 6:8 about God requiring us “to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly before our God.” That includes cycling humbly before our God. That includes cycling humbly to end poverty as God would want it to end. That includes wearing His helmet of salvation to get rid of the muck or sins that so easily mess up our heads or that have contributed to injustice and poverty in the first place.

In many ways, this Sea to Sea journey has been a humbling experience. We live in simple tents as our homes like nomads instead of fancy houses. We depend on daily provisions of food that we do not have much choice about. We ask for support from donors without much expectation and then are very humbled by the generous expressions of prayer and financial support that comes. We humbly depend on more experienced cyclists to help with repair and maintenance of our bikes.
When World Renew works with churches and communities around the world to end poverty, we need to take a posture of humility to listen carefully to what God’s story is in a community and then work with his plan for restoration. We need to humbly ask for help of many volunteers to do our disaster response and ask for advice from local church and community leaders as we do community development work. We have to humbly request for support from donors and develop our plans and budgets according to what is received. As a director of World Renew, I need to lead in ways that humbly serve those who ultimately we are trying to reach with God’s message of hope and actions of deep compassion.

As you go through your day, what helps you to understand and live in humility as you seek to do justice and show God’s mercy? As you do, may you grow from strength to strength to face whatever headwinds may come your way!

Blessings,
ida



Blog #13 -- Day 11, July 20 - Refreshment

What or who helps to refresh you in body and soul? In our Sea to Sea ride today for about 140 kms from Russell to Minnedosa, Manitoba I was reminded several times about God’s gift of refreshment as I noticed the many beautiful still waters in ponds and at our final resting stop at the Minnedosa campground. While it did not feel so refreshing to ride on bumpy paved shoulders for most of our journey, we were refreshed by the snacks and drinks that were so wonderfully provided by volunteers like Christina, Mega, Diane and others. My cycling partner, Liz, tried to encourage me to go a bit faster today so that we could be at camp early. We managed to do the distance in about 6 hours thanks to refreshments at five rest stops along the way.

There is a wonderful reference in 2 Timothy 1:16 where Paul notes the refreshment that the family of Onesiphorus gave to him, even though he was in chains. As we were driving chains with our pedals on bikes for most of the day, there are volunteers who feed us not only on rest stops but also do a host of other tasks that make Sea to Sea go so well. Ricco Ricketts helps with driving vehicles or campers that some of the riders came with so it is ready for them at camp. Royce and Jytzke are drivers for the gear truck and food truck. This week, we have about ten volunteers helping with food preparation and clean up. Each one of them provide us with a refreshing experience when we our energy is spent out from cycling. We thank God for each of them!

World Renew’s work is essentially a ministry of refreshment for people who are also trying hard to end their cycle of poverty and injustice or recover from disaster. God has given us a unique opportunity to bless others with food, water, shelter and other essentials during disaster. We use the gifts of donors to refresh and free families and communities from poverty through training and other human development initiatives provided largely through church partners.

What is most rewarding in the Sea to Sea experience as well as our work in World Renew is having people, whether they are cyclists or volunteers or community members or church members or staff, find the refreshment for the soul that only Christ can give. As Psalm 23:1-3 says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pasture, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (NIV)

As you reflect on your day today, how has God refreshed your soul through people or experiences that have come your way? May you continue to be inspired to share his refreshing Spirit with others!

Blessings,
Ida


Blog #12 -- Day 10, July 19 - Fruitfulness

Today was a fruitful day! I cycled with our Sea to Sea group for about 104 kms to travel from Yorkton, SK to Russell, MB. It is amazing to think that I have managed to cycle through one entire province! I even have photos in front of the sign for Manitoba to prove it. One of the highlights of our journey was when one of the area farmers who happened to be driving a huge John Deere tractor decided to slow down to a speed of about 33 kms per hour so we could go behind him and get pulled by a powerful draft. So for about 10 kms, I hardly did anything except sit on the bicycle and make sure I kept my balance and avoid hitting any of the nearby cyclists in our group of about ten Sea to Sea riders taking advantage of this gift of draft pull.

We were hosted by two churches today with incredible hospitality as well as an abundance of food like I have not seen in quite some time! One was the Lutheran Trinity Church in Churchbridge, SK and the other was the Alliance Church in Russell, MB. As we saw the bounty of food on our tables and the beautiful fields full of canola, flax, wheat and barley; I was struck by a theme of fruitfulness. Even the tractor driver was fruitful in sharing his draft energy with us so that we could in turn be more fruitful and arrive at our next rest stop more quickly.

I am reminded of a passage from Colossians 1:9-10 that talks about how it is possible for us to bear fruit:
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (NIV)

As I cycle with Sea to Sea to raise awareness and donations for ending poverty, I want to do bear fruit in ways that increase our knowledge of God’s will. That is why I am very grateful for the times of fellowship in the evenings after supper, especially with our small groups. We share our reflections about the day and how particular passages in the Bible speak to us through experiences during the ride. Today we focused on training as an essential part of being able to be fruitful.

In World Renew’s programs, we do a tremendous about of training in order to follow our values for effectiveness and nurture a learning culture in our organization. Since our focus is on human and community development, we need to do a lot of training to build capacity and increase our fruitfulness. There are many events and opportunities for our staff to increase their skills. In turn, they share their new found expertise with communities. The training includes technical areas like agriculture, health, village savings, literacy, disaster risk reduction, human rights, peacebuilding and trauma healing. It also involves community mobilizing and resource development by training people in project management, leadership and team-building. For disaster response staff, there is significant training in humanitarian standards and disaster management.

While all of this training is good and helpful, often life-changing; we have learned that the most significant and sustainable changes happen when we integrate training on values and worldviews. So agriculture training is not just about how to increase production but also about how to care for God’s creation. Human rights training is not just about equality and equity but how God created us in his image which requires us to honor and value each person. We challenge ourselves and communities to consider what God defines as success and bearing much fruit which can look quite different or come from a different motivation and spirit. His vision must be our vision in order to bear fruit that will last.

As you seek to bear much fruit today through good work and increasing knowledge, how will your efforts build others up and follow God’s will in every way?

Blessings,
ida


Blog #11 -- Day 9, July 18 -- The Power of Wind

Today was another great day for my involvement in the Sea to Sea journey. I managed to complete the 117 kms bike ride from Fort Qu'Appelle to Yorkton, Saskatchewan in about 5 hours. After travelling over 1,000 kms now for the trip from Calgary to Winnipeg, I have gained a lot of respect for the power of the wind, especially over wide open spaces in the roads we've traveled in the prairies. Here are some things I have learned:

a. A tailwind is an incredible blessing, especially for long journeys to enable me to go very fast speeds without as much effort.
b. Following another one or two cyclists closely at an angle opposite of where the wind is coming from can help push me along with less resistance and conserve more of my energy. In return, I am expected to to lead and provide the same kind of wind draft for them. This is the huge advantage of travelling in a group or community of cyclists compared to doing the journey all alone. Having said that, it is very important that the person following is not too close because if the cyclist in front would suddenly have to stop, their wheels could collide and they would have a nasty fall. Thankfully, that has not happened to anyone in our group yet.
c. A strong headwind can affect the speed of a cyclist so much that it can be as bad as climbing up a steep hill. Usually I have to gear down at least 2 or 3 gears lower and my speed will inevitably decrease from a normal pace of 25 kph to 15 kph or less.
d. The wind carries all kinds of small animals in the air straight into a cyclist's mouth. That can include small bugs or as I experienced today, a butterfly smack directly into my sunglasses.
e. The wind can carry air and soil very far which can affect the air quality for a cyclist too. Today we heard the news that the smoke from the fires in BC has reached some areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan. So, people with allergies or issues with their breathing have been advised to stay indoors. I noticed the air last night was more stifling than usual and ended up coughing myself awake a couple of times.
f. When there are large transport trucks travelling the same direction when I cycle or if there are a lot of trees on the side of the road, it breaks the power of the wind and enables greater speeds. What a relief that is!

The wind impacts people's development and quality of life in many parts of the world we live in too. World Renew's disaster response team has helped and continues to help millions of people who have been impacted by the significant forces of wind combined with water, especially with such events as Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Indonesia and the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Even now, we are engaged in an assessment of how to respond to the devastating effects of the fires in BC, Canada. In our community development programs, we have noted the huge impact that wind has with regard to carrying away rich topsoil that is needed for growing food crops. Thus, we train farmers how to do intercropping, green manuring and mulching that keeps the soil from being blown away and we encourage them to plant lots of trees to break the effects of the wind.

In addition to the physical aspects that I have grown to respect with the wind, I am reminded of the spiritual winds that need to be considered at all times in our work, worship and daily life. Christ displayed his power over the wind when he was in boat and the wind caused a great tempest for him and the disciples. In Matthew 8:26, he rebuked the winds and waves and it was completely calm. His power over spiritual winds / forces gives us hope when we are afraid or discouraged. The Spirit of God is sometimes described as wind such as in Acts 2:2 and John 20:22. This encourages us in the work we do with World Renew as well because there are times when harmful spirits and forces are at work that are expressed in injustice in broken relationships or misuse of power which we need to respond to with the power of God's Spirit of healing relationships, putting things right and peacebuilding. When we work in a community together, we can share the gifts of the wind power of the Holy Spirit in ways that move us all along faster and farther. Overall, we work with communities to discern where God's Spirit is at work and where He can give them power to overcome other spirits that seek to take them back down into poverty, injustice and suffering.

As you look around today, consider the effects of the physical winds at work and spiritual winds that are moving in your life or community. How will you follow the power of God's Wind at work to redeem, restore and renew all things?

Blessings,
ida





Blog #10 -- Day 8, July 17 - When Speed Makes a Difference

What an incredibly speedy ride I had today as we cycled from Regina to Fort Qu'Appelle! With at total distance of 80 kms, this was the shortest ride I have done in one day so far for the Sea to Sea tour. We started out at about 7 am this morning with a wonderful escort for 3 kms out of Regina because the Ministry of Transportation crew was concerned about our safety for the portion that was under construction on the TransCanada Highway. After we got out of the city, we took various rural highways with some windy conditions on the side and some winds on the back of us. We also rode in silence for the first 20 kms as we dedicated that time for meditation and prayer for the family and loved ones of Clarence Doornbos who was planning to do the Sea to Sea ride next week but was tragically killed while cycling close to home last week.

The last 5 kms of our journey today into Fort Qu'Appelle was a steep downhill, met by a sign that said "Tansi the Tortoise invites you to slow down and enjoy the valley". So that is what we are doing now, spending the afternoon and evening just chilling together in fellowship with some ice cream sundaes from nearby shops and making our "home away from home" at the Bert Fox Community High School.

As I reflect about the speedy ride of doing 80 kms in about 3.5 hours and also just heard some more sad news Ken and Mary Geurink, long-standing Disaster Response Services volunteers, being killed in an accident while they were riding a motorcycle; I realize how fast and short life can be. Each day is a gift from God and we are asked to be faithful in the short time he gives us.

There is a verse in the Bible that I am reminded of about speed from James 1:19 that says: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry," (NIV). In each of the days that God gives as a gift, how important it is for us to be speedy in our listening to others before we quickly speak or get angry. When living in a campground with about 100 other people in the Sea to Sea community, this principle is critical to good relationships with people that we may not know so well or may only spend a few weeks or months with.

In World Renew's work with communities, one of the most important principles of good development and disaster response programs is to listen. We must understand the context and systems that contribute to poverty before we just jump forward to give stuff or training to people. As Ken and Mary knew in all the many years they served as disaster response volunteers, it is very important for volunteers to be quick to listen to the story of a family and do a good needs assessment before jumping forward to provide assistance. In this way, we can avoid harmful interventions that would diminish dignity or prevent people from maximizing the services and assets they already have available.

As I see quite a few indigenous people in the Fort Qu'Appelle community here, I am reminded of what one of the leaders said at a Truth and Reconciliation meeting I attended. The best way to show love and restore broken relationships with indigenous communities is not to give lots of money but to give respect! When we interact in ways that communicate to someone "I see you, I notice you and I value you", it goes a long way to restoring dignity and relationships.

So may you be encouraged today to really notice and listen to someone's story today. For God so loved each person that he created them to be a gift and blessing to our community. Our joy is to discover what that gift and blessing is and then to cherish it. Who will you be speedy to listen to today?

Blessings,
ida


Blog #9 -- Day 6 and 7, July 15 and 16 -- Strength and Submission

Saturday was one of the toughest workouts for this week. It was another long distance traveling from Chaplin to Regina, Saskatchewan which was about 161 kms. The wind was mostly north-east which means it was blowing against us at about 25 km / hour. I started the day by leading the group with a prayer focused on Deuteronomy 8:10-18 and Philippians 4:13 where we are reminded not to put our trust or pride in our own strength but in God who gives us the ability to do all things through Christ who gives us the strength. We sure did need God's strength to make it through the day. Many of us went in groups so we could take turns with leading and following to get some draft of wind to help us along. I was very thankful not to have any more flats or mishaps today.

When we reached our campground in the afternoon, we were very saddened to hear the news of Clarence Doornbos being struck and killed by a vehicle in Caledonia, Michigan. He was cycling with Claire Elgersma, an alumni rider of Sea to Sea, as part of his training for the Sea to Sea tour this year with his wife, Janice. They were planning to join Sea to Sea from Grand Rapids, Minnesota to Ottawa, Ontario. Once again, we were reminded that we can make many plans but ultimately have to submit to God's plan for our lives. Our hope is in the Lord and he renews our strength like an eagle with his gift of resurrection from death to life.

After reaching Regina from a week of cycling almost 900 kms, we were very grateful to have a day of rest today on Sunday. We went to the worship service at Sonlight Christian Reformed Church in Regina where they treated us to an awesome lunch. In the evening, we were blessed by another meal provided by the Indian Metis Fellowship Center. Today's message by Pastor Charles focusing on God's glory and the reminder that even if we spend many days on a bicycle seeing the wonders of God's creation, we will never completely fathom the full glory of God. That only comes when we see him face to face in our transition from death to eternal life. While sin often blocks us from seeing the fullness of his glory in the present, we are thankful for the gift that Christ gifts to open the way for us to see glimpses of his glory now even as we expect an even more complete experience of his glory in the life hereafter.

The contrast of our spiritual submission to God's strength and glory compared to the world's fallen nature came out once again when I returned from our worship time to the King's Park Campground where we were staying. As soon as I started to get my bike prepared for tomorrow's ride, I discovered it had another flat tire from a very strange hole on the inside part of the tire tube. I had not even taken it out for a ride today! So while this bike has provided the strength that helped me to endure long distances this week, it also reached its limits.

Our work to overcome poverty, injustice and disaster needs the ultimate power of God to succeed. Even when we work with families and their stories have changed so they succeed in reaching their goals for health and wealth, we must always remember our faithful Lord and Creator who gave us the strength, knowledge and Spirit to do all this in the first place. It is to him that we give all glory, honor and praise.

So how do you submit to God's strength today and ultimately find God's glory as you do so?

Blessings,

ida





Blog #8 - Day 5, July 14 -- Solidarity

Have you ever wondered if there was anyone who stood in solidarity with you? This week, our Sea to Sea community had a reflection about God presence when he said "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" and thus we can say with confidence that the Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. (See Hebrews 13:5-6).

Often God assures us of His presence through the acts of solidarity from other people. Today, I received the gift of solidarity from another Sea to Sea rider, Liz Grootenboer. I was moving along at a good speed and with a good tail wind for our 140 km journey from Gull Lake to Chaplin, Saskatchewan. There were quite a few gradual hills and on the downturn, I was flying like an eagle at times. The conditions were ideal with a clear blue sky and a cool wind mostly blowing at our backs. By my calculation, I was probably going to finish the trip in 5 hours.

But, my plans were not what God had in store. About 60 km into the journey, I got a flat in my front tire which was caused by a sharp spiky bolt that entered the tire. As I began to take the tube out, Liz came by and eagerly helped me to fix it with a patch. I was disappointed by the delay in my goal but extremely grateful for Liz's help and expertise. She could fix a flat tire a lot quicker than I could. After all, it was the first one I have had on this bike that I've owned about 5 months.

Thinking I was all set for the journey, I tried hard to increase my pace. After another 35 kms and right after a rest stop, I had another flat tire, this time it was the back tire. Again, Liz happened to be at the rest stop and proceeded to put a new tube in that tire. For the rest of the journey, Liz rode with me in an act of solidarity just in case I might get another flat tire. It was a day that God taught me a lesson. My goal was to get to Chaplin as quick as possible. But, His goal was for me to discover the gift of community and His ever present help in the acts of solidarity from people like Liz.

This experience reminds me of the work we do with communities around the world. We make lots of beautiful plans with them for helping them to move forward on their goals for life and to overcome poverty or injustice. Then a disaster happens where unexpected events cause significant loss. That is when we can never give up but stand in solidarity like we are doing now with the people in South Sudan.

Praise God for angels of mercy that serve as His agents of solidarity in times of need. Will you be one of them that joins our journey of solidarity with others?

Blessings,

ida


Blog #7 - Day 4, July 13 -- Solitude and Suffering

As I began the day today, our reflection was on Psalm 27:4-5:

"One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock."

It was indeed a lovely scenery that we saw as we cycled from Medicine Hat, AB to Gull Lake, SK. I found myself having a lot of time in solitude to reflect and pray as I felt God's presence in creation around us. There was so much that we could praise God for with the vast plains, small lakes and rolling hills. At one point, we saw a hawk in his nest in a scrub tree. There was also some road kill (dead birds and a snake) and I was praying that none of our riders would be one of them today. We were grateful for God's protection since no one even fell off their bike even though there were about six people who had a flat tire.

But, as we enjoyed the surrounding creation, the experience was also grueling physically. Several riders ended up with sun burns, very sore joints and muscles and extreme fatigue by the end of the day. Most are in bed as I write this at 9 pm. The distance was long with about 164 kms on the shoulder of TransCanada Highway 1, the weather was hot at 33 C and the wind was fairly strong from the southern direction. I was thankful to reach the end as there was no energy left even in my reserves. I think I went through about 10 bottles of drinking water as well.

Gazing on the beauty of God's creation amidst increasing pressure on the body was a strong reminder to me of how God works when we try to address poverty. There is so much beauty and potential as we connect with people, churches and communities worldwide. Yet, their suffering is overwhelming at times. And the systemic pressures often lead to discouragement that makes us or people we work with, want to quit. So why do we keep at the journey? It really is our deep faith in God that he has called us and he gives us the grace, strength and perseverance. The important thing we need to do is make sure we are taking frequent "rest stops" where prayer and reflection on his will and plans can help rejuvenate us.

How do you deal with the difficult journey of addressing poverty, disaster and injustice where you are today? What sustains your energy?

Blessings,

ida


Blog #6 -- Day 3, July 12 -- Grateful for Staff and Volunteers

Today was a great day for me as I cycled from Taber to Medicine Hat, a distance of about 123 kms. What was incredibly helpful was having two cyclists, Jerry Pols and Rod Ledeboer, riding just in front of me. With a south wind blowing strong on our right side as we headed east, I was able to stick to the left back of the line and basically "ride the draft". They probably exerted twice as much energy as I did for the first couple of hours. Then we were blessed with a tailwind that pushed us all faster.
We were also hosted and supported by so many volunteers again who gave us snacks and meals in abundance. I think I have eaten about 3 days worth of food in about 6 hours of cycling!

Our devotion focused on the passage from 1 Corinthians 12 that talks about the body of Christ and the importance of each part. While it would be impossible for me to cycle long distances without feet that are healthy and strong and arms that can hold the bars to direct the bike, it is impossible for this effort of Sea to Sea to help 135+ cyclists get across Canada without an enormous amount of support from staff and volunteers. People helping people by God's grace is what can change the story of poverty and disaster in amazing ways.

What does it take for World Renew to help communities overcome poverty? It takes donors that believe in God and that we can make a difference. It takes staff who are skilled and committed. It takes partners and community leaders that serve as volunteers with a strong sense of vision and desire to change the condition of poverty to flourishing livelihoods and hope. Each one shares their gift like a puzzle piece that fits where it needs to be, like the body part that needs to do the work it was made for. When it all comes together by God's grace and strength, a beautiful picture develops and tells amazing stories of change and development.

So what part of the body are you? How can you connect your piece to help us make a better and more beautiful picture in communities today?

I am grateful for all your prayers and support!
Blessings,
ida

Blog #5 -- Day 2, July 11 - Getting Used to a New Community

Today, July 11, we cycled about 135 kms from Granum to Taber going through several communities and churches that treated us royally with their hospitality. In today's Sea to Sea devotion, the focus was on a "fluid community" as we experience the comings and goings of riders and volunteers each week and sometimes daily. We have to get to know other riders and volunteers and work through various teams to help with clean up, loading the gear truck etc.

The verse for reflection in Matthew 18:1-5 talks about Jesus reminding us to humble ourselves like a little child with eagerness to learn and adapt and obey. That is certainly what I experienced today as a new culture for this new Sea to Sea community. There are strict rules about using hand sanitizer which I forgot to use at one of the rest stops and a volunteer quickly pointed out the error of my ways. And I am not the only one trying to find my way in what seems like a myriad of new places as well. One of our cyclists for the day mistakenly used the women's washroom (yes, while I was in it and then I was thinking I must have made the error to go in the men's washroom). I have had to learn new names of people and their "morning faces" which could be anything from a smile to a frown to "I need a coffee and then let's talk". I need to adapt to a new routine of getting ready in the morning that includes taking a tent down and packing clothes away. This is all very characteristic of being part of new and fluid community.

I also witnessed many churches today graciously hosting us as a fluid community. They also had to learn names quickly, feed us and then send us off without knowing if we would ever see them again. These gracious hosts included Granum CRC providing us with breakfast, Nobleford CRC giving us a morning refreshment, Iron Springs CRC loading us up for lunch and Taber CRC going all out with a pig roast! It is such an incredible experience to receive and give so much attention and love with "strangers" in our midst.

Our work with World Renew is often like that as we work with fluid communities. Some communities are changing drastically because they have experienced disaster that removes them from their homes or conflict has forced them to be refugees and displaced people. Other communities we work with are changing because they need a new set of relationships in order to overcome systemic issues of poverty and injustice. In every case, it takes a faith in God to discover how to BE and DO in community. The ability to learn and adapt and obey starts with our relationship with him and then his love takes over to help us love the newcomers or to go to the places where healing and hope are needed for better community.

How are you living in community today and adjusting to changes or promoting changes as God would want? It is my prayer that we continue to learn to live like a child eager to BE and DO as a faith-filled fluid community. So who will you welcome today with the love of Christ?

Thanks again for all your support to Sea to Sea!

Blessings,
ida


BLOG#4 -- The Ride Begins

Well, the first day was a great introduction to what it means to be a "Mutoigo". I received that name from my husband who is from Uganda and it means "long rainy season". And after several weeks of no rain for the Sea to Sea riders, wouldn't you know that it has to rain on my first day of riding. Apparently, rain was a real blessing here as it is for farmers I used to work with in Africa. While we were soaked to the skin riding through the rain and a couple of riders had a minor fall, I was thankful to God for the way He blessed the earth again with this gift of water.

This was one of the longest distances for us as riders as well since we traveled 160 kms from Calgary to Granum. With several stops along the way to rest and eat lunch (a fantastic one hosted by High River CRC), our bodies were able to get rejuvenated once again. The wind was at our back for most of the way in the afternoon so despite a slower morning, I was still able to get to Granum in 8 hours with rest stops and lunch included.

Later in the evening, we had devotions that talked about the importance of sharing and checking our values for how much we accumulate in life. With all the reminders we had about the basics of life that we need to sustain us with food, water, shelter and clothing; there was an important question that was raised: "How much is enough?" What would God say is enough money and stuff in all our accumulations? There are many people that we train to sustain the basics in their lives when they have lived in poverty for so long. Having enough food and water all year is truly a blessing for millions of families that are struggling in poverty.

Today, I am thankful for the rain, for a healthy body to ride a bike, for lots of good food and water to sustain me and a tent. I feel challenged to think about those who don't have the basics and to share generously.
How about you! May God continue to move our hearts to contentment to say we have enough and to move our hearts to generosity to share with those whose needs are so great, they cannot say they have enough.

BLOG #3 – FAITH TO END POVERTY

Have you ever thought about the connection of your faith in ending the cycle of poverty around the world? It is interesting that even global leaders such as World Bank’s President, Jim Yong Kim acknowledge the important role of faith in ending extreme poverty. During a 2015 conference that I attended he said: “I believe that some of the most important leaders in the movement to end extreme poverty will be people of faith, people who are motivated fundamentally to help the most vulnerable among us.” He also noted that the number of people living in extreme poverty, defined as less than $1.25 a day, has been cut in half since 1990. On that basis of past achievements and a strong movement out of faith communities, he expressed confidence that an ambitious goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 could be reached. (source: blogs.worldbank.org/voices/faith-world-bank-group-and-ending-poverty)

Faith is the fundamental driver to World Renew’s work in ending poverty. Faith is what drove me to take up the challenge of cycling in the Sea to Sea ride to end the cycle of poverty. Why is faith so critical? Ephesians 6:16 provides a response to this question with a reminder that when we “take up the shield of faith, we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” With the powerful energy of faith in God and from God motivating us, we can put an end to those flaming attacks that seek to push people into poverty, keep them in poverty and push donors away from walking alongside people in poverty.

Without realizing at the time I purchased my bicycle, there is a shield placed front and center on the head tube of the main frame! This section of the bicycle supports the handle bars for steering the bike, supports the front wheel for moving forward and supports the crossbar that connects the rider’s seat. The symbolism here is incredibly rich! If faith is the shield, it is faith that supports our ability to steer poverty reduction programs in the right direction. It is faith that provides the energy to move forward in confidence that poverty can end. It is faith that connects us as a rider to participate actively in the journey of overcoming poverty. Faith calls us to action and not to be a bystander when it comes to ending the cycle of poverty.

This shield of faith, as Ephesians 6:16 notes, also has another major function. It stops flaming attacks. What are the “attacks” that come at a cyclist and that a head tube or main frame of a bicycle helps to stop? I think about the force of strong winds, of bugs in the air, of dogs eager to bite and of branches suddenly sticking out in rural trails. It sure helps at such times to have a strong shield of a frame to be the frontal force against these threats.

What are the “flaming attacks” that our faith needs to counteract as we work to end poverty? The most dangerous attacks are the ones that prevent us from hearing God’s voice that is calling us to listen carefully, to give generously and to serve actively. Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium highlights this so wisely when he states:

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
(source: vatican.va/evangelii-gaudium/en/files/assets/basic-html/page3.html )

How do we counteract the flaming arrows of apathy, donor fatigue and skepticism? World Renew tries to engage supporters in volunteer opportunities, discovery tours and workshops that encourage generosity, genuine listening and meaningful, direct connections. How do we respond to the flaming arrows of fear and lack of confidence that contribute to poor leadership in communities of poverty? We provide training on good governance and use an asset-based approach that highlights how God’s rich gifts of love and creation’s resources can accomplish far more than people originally imagined. How do we extinguish the flaming arrows of prejudice, racism, ethnocentricism and gender injustice that sideline the power and potential of people in communities? We try to bring groups that have been in conflict together in peacebuilding and trauma healing projects such as the work with the Fulani and Tiv in Central Nigeria (see story: worldrenew.net/our-stories/healing-trauma-and-promoting-peace-nigeria ) While technical programs in agriculture, health, economic / business development are helpful to build skills for human development, it is really the value-laden interventions that help to reach the heart for sustaining human development. Prayer is our powerful connection to God that enables us to do this in faith and with intent listening to his direction and how he is at work already in people’s lives.

The head tube, where my bicycle has a shield, is the place that I lean into with my full weight whenever I am facing a challenge of climbing a hill or facing a strong headwind. As I do so, I trust that it will not buckle under. Overcoming the challenges of poverty requires a significant leaning into the shield of faith that God provides. It is my prayer that we will all lean heavily in trust and faith in God even as we pedal forward with all our strength. As Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” How will your faith be stronger today to help end poverty tomorrow?

April 17, 2017
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Blog #2 -- FEET FOR PEACE

Now that the snow has finally melted, I am back on track with cycling on a more regular basis. Today, I managed to do about 35 kms. It felt like I was flying for the first half of the ride but the way back was tough going with a head-strong wind blowing at 32 km/h. My feet felt frozen after cycling for over an hour since the temperature was still only about 4 C and reaching home, they took about an hour to thaw. No wonder I’ve been thinking a lot about my feet lately!

Feet are an incredible contributor for effective cycling. To maximize their usefulness, I have learned it is important to have the right kind of shoes especially for going long distances. In contrast to my bendable, lightweight jogging shoes; my cycling shoes do not bend and are quite heavy. They also have steel clips on the soles that can latch onto the pedals to increase efficiency. That means my foot does not just work on the forward motion but also works when it moves back and upwards. This efficiency ensures movement is sustained and wear and tear on my feet is much less compared to using regular running shoes. The only downside of these clip-on shoes is when a sudden stop has to be made. If I don’t twist my foot out in time, I will fall still attached to my bike.

Reflecting back on the Ephesians 6 “armor of God”, I am struck by the reference to feet in verse 14. An important part of the armor for fighting spiritual forces and keeping faith strong is to make sure our feet are “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”. Now what does that mean, especially when it comes to fight forces of poverty, disaster and injustice on our world today? For me, it emphasizes the importance of World Renew’s work in peace-building and trauma healing. Did you know that one of the major reasons people continue to live in poverty and hunger is due to conflict and war? Even if the major conflicts have ended, there are years, if not decades, of restoring broken relationships before deep and lasting levels of development can be achieved.

I remember this clearly in my work in Rwanda right after the genocide in 1994. We tried to implement a goat program and constantly met challenges with community members not trusting each other. They were still traumatized and highly suspicious of their neighbors who had turned against them. How could they agree on who would get the first offspring of the goats when there was very little trust? I realized that trust was essential for building any relationship and relationships were essential for building community. Forgiveness and experiencing the healing of God’s love were essential for rebuilding trust and restoring peace. And where did that peace-building power come from? It had to come from a power beyond human strength, the spirit of forgiveness and healing that Christ gives when we accept him in our hearts. And how do we get to know this peace-building power? It comes from the gospel. It is encouraging to hear stories now from Rwanda that show the power of forgiveness is changing the story from distrust and conflict to peace and reconciliation.

My feet are not a very attractive part of my body. While I have great respect for them in taking me all over the world, including long rides on a bike; I don’t really like looking at them. If I don’t wash them daily, they have a bad odor I can hardly tolerate. I am not keen on doing a pedicure and have never put nail polish on my toenails. In college, I would fear that one of my roomies would take advantage of my ability to sleep soundly by painting my toe nails a bright red! Given my aversion to my own feet, I find it quite amazing that when Christ decided to show the depth of his love, he washed the disciples’ feet! He loves my feet too, way more than I love them. He calls me and anyone who follows him to use their feet to go and share the depth of his love with others, especially those who are in distress of poverty and oppressed.

As I cycle today and look forward to doing it with Sea to Sea, I think God’s amazing love truly is the best shoe for my soul and the sole of my foot. He is able to give the proper “shoes” that maximize efficient development that is lasting and sustainable. Those “shoes” are his good news for the world, the message of peace that restores all broken relationships. As Romans 10:15 says “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things”.

I am inspired as I prepare for my long Sea to Sea ride this summer, celebrating that my feet are equipped by God to bring peace. I am also incredibly grateful for World Renew staff, our partners, community leaders I work with and all of God’s workers around the world who serve long hours on rough roads so that all people may know God’s peace. How about you? Do your feet bring God’s peace? In a troubled world, peace-building shoes are well-worth using for cycling against poverty!

Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo
March 29, 2017

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Blog #1 -- GEARING UP!

Do you know what it’s like to be part of a cyclist’s culture? I had no idea until I recently registered for the Sea to Sea ride. In about three months, from June to August, there will be about a hundred riders who will participate in cycling a portion or the entire route from Vancouver to Halifax. Imagine the spirit it takes to cycle day after day for about 100 to 150 kms each day!

Why have I decided to join this campaign and do the ride from Calgary to Winnipeg? The main reason is to raise awareness and support for what God has laid on my heart “do justice and love mercy”. World Renew and Partners Worldwide are the two agencies involved in organizing the Sea to Sea ride where funds raised will be used to support families in developing countries to overcome poverty through training programs in agriculture, health, literacy and economic livelihoods. At least 20% of the funds raised will also go towards supporting local community organizations in Canada and USA that congregations are involved with to address issues of poverty, refugee resettlement and other needs.

My work for about thirty years in World Renew has made me acutely aware of the daily sweat and tears of many families around the world who want to change their story of hunger to plenty, of despair to hope and of broken relationships to reconciled ones. Many of them strive to get a bicycle in order to transport their produce to the market, to take children to school, to fetch water, to attend church services and visit friends too. In solidarity with them and with the riders from Sea to Sea, I am excited to be part of this movement to change the story as God intended.

Now let me share what I have learned so far about the culture of cyclists. First, I discovered that buying a bicycle for a long ride was completely different from buying a bicycle for doing short errands. A very helpful sales clerk at one of the bike shops in Hamilton started by asking me questions about the terrain I would be riding and suggested I select a hybrid bike with about 29 gears. What a contrast to the 10-speed bike I thought was ultra-modern as a kid! Then he coached me about getting proper shoes, a snuggly-fitted helmet, a seat that is ergonomically fitted to the size of my bones and a bike frame that allows me to reach the ground with my feet as well as hold the handle bars comfortably.

As I went through this process of buying the bike with all the accessories, I was reminded of the passage in Ephesians 6:10-20 which talks about putting on the armor of God to fight spiritual warfare. Fighting poverty requires using both spiritual and physical armor. Just like a proper fit with a bike is essential to successfully completing a marathon ride, proper tools are essential to overcome poverty. For example, a cyclist needs to be in good physical shape which includes having a strong girth or waist to avoid a very sore back from hours of being hunched over. Ephesians 6:14 similarly talks about girding the waist with truth and putting on the breastplate of righteousness. When dealing with issues of poverty, it is imperative that people confront lies they believe about themselves and replace them with God’s truth. If they are fatalistic by thinking their destiny is poverty and they can do nothing about it, we encourage them to embrace God’s promises for strength and a life that is flourishing.

Pardon the pun, but I am quite geared up for this ride. Thanks for all your support! Thank you for visiting. Together we can make a difference!

Blessings,
ida

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