When Tom Ritchey was younger, he would repair other people’s bicycles to earn extra money. Ritchey went from repairing tubulars to frames and would later build his own racing frame because he wanted a faster and lighter bicycle. He helped to produce the first mountain bike as well as other bicycle components that would change the industry. Ritchey went on a life-changing trip to Rwanda and developed Project Rwanda which brings bicycles to Africa to help reestablish a solid economic base. We interviewed Ritchey in 2007 and talked to him about how he started Project Rwanda and how the bikes they developed help others.
Ritchey explains his faith and his passion for the environment and how Project Rwanda started.
“I was part of that isolation for a good part of my life. I didn’t really get it. Then, when I started having some things crumble around me, there were a bunch of great people around me at the same time – the catching mechanism, the grace mechanism, the forgiveness, all that stuff seemed like was set up for me in the last five years or so. To me it has been a great midlife crisis. When I went to Rwanda, I had a lot on my mind, like the need for forgiveness, personally. There I saw signs of hope from people who have committed themselves to looking forward, rather than back. But some people live only for earth, others live only for heaven…When I went to Rwanda, I brought over my cynicisms, my hardheartedness, and my prejudices. Within a couple of days I felt this weight and this self-reflection deconstructing in me. I realized I was around people that were living with incomprehensible amounts of pain in a gracious way. I thought, if I have to go halfway around the world to experience this, I’m not going to go back and forget it. To me the natural commitment to an environment like Rwanda has to start with the humanity of us all. Politics divide, religions divide. There’re so many divisive things in our culture that breed all of our cynicism. One thing that steers Project Rwanda is the idea that all people need second chances. God gives us second chances-more than that. He gives us as many as we take. He’s all forgiving and longsuffering for us. Either we believe that and that’s the way we relate to one another, or we play games with God’s forgiveness.”
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” Matthew 25:14-18
Ritchey shares how the bikes they developed are used to transport coffee.
“I usually work on the cutting edge of racing technology, this is the other end, what people call the mass end, low-end bikes you see at department stores. A little over a year ago, I reached out and got hooked up with a willing partner in Pacific Cycles, who are probably the largest of all the design suppliers in the mass industry. They went to work with me, I made prototypes and we’ve sent 2,000 bikes to Rwanda so far. The program is intended to leverage the monies that come into Project Rwanda, so we can put more money into more and more bikes…As I started to peel back their issues, I realized there was a lot of food in Rwanda, but most of it rots, because it can’t be transported. Most people are subsistence farmers; they don’t buy or sell. Stimulating their economy is a matter of getting more transportation. One person grows tomatoes, another grows corn, and they trade. That trade becomes a little more sophisticated, and with the use of the bicycle, it goes to market. Then there’s the trading of money. There are 500,000 small crop farmers and they’re living large compared to the rest of the population, which is hard to imagine when you see how they live.”
Use your talents. Each of us has been given talents. It is our choice whether we use them to glorify ourselves or God. Take time this week and ask God to show you the talents He has given you. Sometimes it can be helpful if we ask our friends, small group members or pastor if they can see some of our talents. It is easy to take our skills and abilities for granted sometimes. Pray and ask God how He wants you to use your talents to glorify Him.
Partner with others. While it can often be easier and faster to work alone on projects, sometimes there are goals or projects that we can only accomplish if we work together with others. Be willing to ask others to be a part of your project and be willing to help others when they ask you to join in on theirs. It can be helpful if everyone lays aside their egos and agendas. When you experience conflict, be willing to talk it through.
Roll with it. Life is going to be filled with bumps, curves and uphill battles. Rather than quit when it becomes challenging, ask God to give you His perspective. Often times, those challenges are designed to refine us and make us more like His Son. It can also help to ask a friend or mentor who has gone through something similar for their perspective. Ask them to pray for you and to share any verses or books that encouraged them during their difficult season.
To read our entire interview with Tom Ritchey, click here.