Starting in Rwanda – finishing in Corby!

At the start of the year, Andrew Silley, Pioneer Curate at St John’s Corby, began training for a 483 mile, week-long cycle challenge in Rwanda to raise money for the Christian charity Great Lakes Outreach. It was due to take place in June – but then lockdown came. However, Andrew still managed to complete the challenge – with one or two changes. We caught up with him to find out what happened.

What was the original plan, Andrew?

The original plan was to fly out to Kigali in Rwanda on Thursday 4th June and join a team of 12 from around the world to cycle 777 km across Rwanda to raise money for Great Lakes Outreach’s (GLO) lifesaving work in aid of Burundi – one of the world’s hungriest, unhappiest and poorest nations. We were due to cycle an average of 110 km a day for 7 days, climbing a stunning 48,000 ft and crossing Rwanda through beautiful scenery including a tea plantation, a volcano park and genocide sites.

Have you previously done any charity bike rides / challenges?

I’d previously done one charity bike ride before, raising money for Open Doors and the persecuted Church. However, it was just a one-day ride so I had never undertaken a multiday cycling adventure!

Tell us more about Great Lakes Outreach. What made you particularly pick them as your chosen charity?

Great Lakes Outreach works with local Christian leaders within Burundi and beyond. They work tirelessly amongst some of the poorest communities in Burundi, focusing on orphans and widows, providing much-needed training in vocational skills and literacy, and coming alongside them to share the love of God so they can build a much better life and find hope.

It was as a kid that I first heard of Burundi when we got a new teacher at first school called Miss Buckingham. She had just been to Burundi with her church, and she got us to write a letter to people there. I got a reply from a guy called Geoffrey but never heard anything after then as Burundi entered into a civil war in 1993. Fast forward to being a university student I was involved in a church event called LoveBristol, with various social action and evangelistic events across the city. It was then that I heard Simon Guillebaud (founder of GLO) speak and share of how God had called him to Burundi, and of the work that was happening out there. As a consequence, I followed the work of GLO from a distance over the years.

Andrew at the end of his cycle challenge.

In recent months, I have found an increasing desire to engage more fully with the worldwide Church and missions around the world. At St John’s, we have been on a journey to develop gospel partnerships overseas – this has involved adopting an unreached people group to pray for them, hosting an international meal and running an eight week course called ’Something Needs To Change’, which goes through Luke’s Gospel whilst following the author David Platt on a trek across the Himalayas, encountering physical and spiritual need and asking “How do we respond?” Therefore, when the opportunity came up to go on a bike ride in Rwanda and raise money for GLO, it just felt like a good and exciting opportunity to take on!

How disappointed were you when it became clear you would have to make alternative arrangements?

At the beginning of lockdown, June still seemed like a long way away and we were still training and planning to go ahead with the ride. As it became clear that it wouldn’t be a possibility, there was obviously a degree of disappointment, but to be honest there has been so much change and disruption to normal life for everyone these past months that missing a bike ride seemed rather insignificant!

How did you go about planning a new route?

In April the Burundi ride was officially postponed until 2021. However, we have been praying for the work of GLO in a weekly gathering on Zoom during lockdown, and it was stirring to hear of stories from Burundi and the need of brothers and sisters out there. Somewhere along the line I thought I could still do something this year, raise some money and contribute to the work out there, but it was only the week before I did the ride that I decided to commit to doing it at home instead.

I had a practice ride with David Reith (Curate at Weldon) where we did just over 100 km, and on a baking hot day I ended up with heat stroke! We checked the weather for the week after which wasn’t looking great, which was a bit of a disappointment but also probably a blessing as it wasn’t as hot. Anyway I got a map out and started planning the route for day one, with the idea to head out from Corby in a different direction each day. As the week panned out, I literally planned the route the night before for the day to come.

So how did the bike ride go – day-by-day?

Surprisingly well! I kept safe, my body and especially dodgy hip held up, and I had no punctures. There were a few moments on the first few days when you wondered if you would make it as there seemed a long way to go! I think my highlights were just enjoying God’s creation, especially early in the mornings with a lot of hours of quiet to think and pray whilst cycling along!

Tiring!

The planned joint ride with people from the church joining me for the last 10 miles on day five didn’t quite materialise as it was pouring down with rain! However, a few turned out in cars. Then, as I was nearing Corby, round a corner and through the rain, appeared Carole – a member of our congregation – in her wheelchair coming down the road. I then cycled the last 5 km with Carole in the pouring rain, and to see her courage and determination to get up the hills and keep going was amazing!

Were there any funny moments along the way?

The night before the first ride I managed to lose half a tooth on the homemade energy bars I had just made! There was also the time where I smashed my phone as I attempted to video myself while riding!

So what’s next? Are there any other challenges to come?

As already mentioned, there are hopes that the postponed ride could be held next year in Burundi if the stability and safety of the country remains. This would be amazing as it would allow us to visit some of the ministries there, meet the people involved and find out how we can support the work further. I am sure we will be inspired by what God is doing!

Click here to donate to Andrew’s cycle challenge.  

You can watch a video of Andrew’s cycle challenge on YouTube.

To find out more about Great Lakes Outreach, visit their website.

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