Annual 5k builds community between congregations in Colorado Springs, Rwanda

Steve Flannery remembers the little boy sucking on a tube of toothpaste. He remembers how the dispensary director thought hand sanitizer was something to drink. He remembers the young men who wanted to go back to school and the women who had their babies in the dirt.

It was 2007 in Kibali, Rwanda, and Flannery was visiting with members of the International Anglican Church of Colorado Springs to establish relationships with their sister church in the small central African country.

Rwanda was 13 years removed from a genocide that wiped out as many as 800,000 people and left the already poor country in shambles. When Flannery visited, he and the other congregants determined that Kibali was in desperate need of health care, education and economic development.

“I went for a run and had this idea that we could have a 5K race that’s run both here and there at the same time,” he said.

The first race drew about 400 runners and raised $18,000. Race proceeds go toward construction of a health clinic in Kibali and scholarships for students to complete school. The race is simulcast on a television so runners can see their counterparts in Rwanda.

In Kibali, the race is capped at 200 people, and participants must have proof that they live in the area.

“Part of the idea is that we want everything related to it to have an impact on that community,” Flannery said. “There’s also prize money offered. Because Rwanda isn’t a big running community, we weren’t sure how much interest there would be.”

The Run for Rwanda 5K is run in two locations: Cottonwood Creek Park in Colorado Springs and Kibali Health Clinic in Rwanda. Courtesy photo

The race, like all aspects of the church relationship, is a collaboration. Flannery recounted the story of a lay person in the Rwandan church who was in the race. He told the congregation that if he won money, he would donate it to the church. He ended up winning second place and wrestled all night with the decision.

“Think how much your life could be changed by $20 when you survive a whole month on $30,” Flannery said. “He ended up giving it, but that’s just an example of the commitment on both sides.”

While the benefits for the Colorado Springs congregation aren’t always tangible, they’re unforgettable.

In 2013, Flannery handed the race director position to Kevin and Heather Werner. At the time, Heather was battling cancer. She found out that the women in Rwanda were praying for her and asked about her.

“Heather was moved by that because she was getting the best care available,” Flannery said, “and here were a group of people who didn’t have any care who cared about her.”

Heather died three years ago, but her passion about the race and the Rwandan people inspired one of the biggest turnouts in race history.

“We get lots of things out of the relationship,” Flannery said. “And one of them is perspective.”

Flannery visited Rwanda a few years ago with one of his daughters in tow. While visiting the health clinic, they heard about a youth group meeting. But this meeting went beyond a Bible study. The leaders covered entrepreneurship, sex education, dating and much more.

“They care about the whole person,” Flannery said.

And through 10 years of races, the Colorado Springs community has been able to care for the whole person. The race is the sole source of funds for the clinic, so construction was phased in. To date, the clinic has a hospital sector, a maternity ward, an HIV/AIDS clinic and a dispensary. Currently work is being done to create a laboratory and the final section, which they hope to complete fundraising for this year. It will be dedicated to nutrition and community education.

More than 8,000 miles separate the two mountainous regions. But for a few hours every year, hundreds of people commit to run great distances together.

The Run for Rwanda 5K is run in two locations: Cottonwood Creek Park in Colorado Springs and Kibali Health Clinic in Rwanda. Courtesy photo

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