Building on success: Ride for Refuge 2016

Deborah Froese
August 30, 2016
Mennonite Church Canada
Two girls and a soccer ball
Siaka Coulibaly and a bowl of sweet potatoes
Winnipeg, Manitoba

“We’re inviting people to help build on success with Ride for Refuge 2016,” says Daniel Horne, who works with Partnership Development in western Canada.

Horne was instrumental in organizing Ride for Refuge 2014, which has now launched the wildly popular Bontleng Futsal Park project in Botswana. It began in response to a vulnerable youth population in Gaborone and mushroomed into an eco-sustainable sporting facility that is garnering attention across that country.

Local resident Wame Chiepe initially dreamed of reclaiming a run-down park in Gaborone to create a safe place for children to play. The park is surrounded by bars where fights break out and robberies and stabbings occur after dark.

When he shared that dream with Nathan and Taryn Dirks, Mennonite Church Canada workers in Gaborone, they were eager to help. With Chiepe, they encouraged other locals to get involved and the idea grew. A national passion for futsal (5-a-side soccer) inspired the idea of constructing a futsal court that would also be suitable for basketball and netball.

The idea sparked Canadian imaginations too. In 2014, Mennonite Church Canada partnered with Ride for Refuge, and recreational bike riders, walkers, and their sponsors raised $20,000 to kick start the project. Later, several Sunday Schools raised additional funds to help purchase new playground equipment. The seed money inspired local investors, sponsors, and government officials to support the project. The idea’s appeal led to the creation of a new non-profit organization (NPO): PULA (the word means ‘blessing’) Sports Development Association. It was formed by several young Batswana, including Chiepe, and the Dirks.

The park is undergoing a miraculous change. A play structure has been built and futsal courts are in place. Solar lighting makes them useable and safer after dark. Court surfaces are sloped, directing rainy season runoff to a 46,000 litre holding tank which will irrigate vegetable gardens and support the introduction of aquaponic gardening , a sustainable, low-cost approach to food production. Recycled materials from glass bottles and tin cans to tires – some of which littered the old park – are forming the walls of kisoks for local entrepreneurs. Newly planted indigenous trees will eventually create a microclimate within the park that is cooler than the surrounding region. A thatched roof cafe with internet will welcome the community.

Other communities across the country are so inspired by this project that they are connecting with the PULA team to develop similar facilities. The park even attracted a visit from Ian Khama, President of the Republic of Botswana. Together with some of his cabinet ministers and a number of other local officials, they helped paint fences and chairs, and planted trees.

“This is a story that captures the imagination,” says Jason Martin, who works with Partnership Development in Eastern Canada. “It’s a project that sprang from the community and serves the needs of that community. It’s building relationships and nurturing the local church by engaging the young adults who Nate and Taryn work with, and perhaps inspiring others to learn more about the church.”

But the Bontleng Futsal Park is just one project of many that provide long lasting benefits for vulnerable people. In China, where a lone pastor might serve several tens of thousands of church members, Mennonite Church Canada is helping to bring pastors together for fellowship and addressing a hunger for Anabaptist theology.

Similarly, in Burkina Faso, Siaka Coulibaly is improving and expanding his small farm operation with the help of a micro-loan he and fellow church members were unable to acquire from other agencies. Here and in the Congo, Mennonite Church Canada micro-loans are repaid and passed on to other entrepreneurs, encouraging the growth of economic sustainability for individuals, families, communities and the church. Today, Coulibaly is donating a portion of his growing profits to his local church to support youth ministry.

 “These projects are successful on several fronts,” says Horne. “They meet community needs while inspiring local congregations, and they also inspire those of us here in Canada who want to make a difference in other people’s lives but aren’t always sure how to do that.”

By participating in Ride for Refuge 2016 on October 1, anyone can contribute to the next big success story of ministry in any of the 20 countries where God is at work through Mennonite Church Canada.