“Have you ever thought about going to Rwanda?”

“No, not really,” I replied as I sat in Las Vegas to the man on the other end of the phone in Minnesota. “Why?”

“We need someone like you, with your business experience and your lack of experience in the non-profit world,” said Jake Chaya, the Business Development Consultant for Project Rwanda, the founding organization for Team Rwanda Cycling.

A few months later, I was on a plane to Rwanda for a three-month volunteer stint to get the NGO documents for Project Rwanda.

I met Jake Chaya on the phone that spring evening in Las Vegas. I read the article in Outside Magazine and felt compelled to reach out and do something, anything, volunteer, get involved. Moving to Rwanda was not part of the plan. The best ideas are never quite planned anyway.

Jake met me for breakfast at our hotel in Kigali. I remember how awake and spot on he was while I struggled with jet lag. It was a whirlwind baptism by fire. He was apparently way more confident in my abilities than I felt in those first few days in Rwanda. And then he was gone, and I was left to do my job. We corresponded by email, and he offered advice and mostly just listened to my difficulties in a situation that should have been so easy. Complete some paperwork, get Project Rwanda operating legally in Rwanda and mission accomplished, back to life in Vegas.

That was in 2009. I didn’t leave until 2017. Throughout those years and even after moving home, Jake was a part of our lives. He was a mentor, an encourager, and a believer in God and us. Jake loved the team, he loved Jock and Max and me, and he was the reason Team Rwanda Cycling stayed, grew, and changed the sport on the continent. He wasn’t even a cyclist.

Friday afternoon, this beautiful soul left this world to be with his Maker. Jake had never been truly healthy. He had health issues from the time I met him in 2009 throughout the last decade. Those health challenges finally took him home.

We pray he knew how much he meant to all of us. Without Jake, I wouldn’t have come to Rwanda. I wouldn’t have stayed in Rwanda. We would never have evolved to become Team Africa Rising, yet not many people know who he was in our circle. He was the glue that stuck us to the dream board we were building with Team Rwanda Cycling, and he was the one who picked us back up and stuck us back on when the glue weathered, and we slipped off the board.

Never underestimate the impact you can have on people, positively or negatively. Jake built something truly remarkable from behind the curtain and without any acclaim or overt praise and recognition. We could all be more like Jake.

~~Kimberly Coats

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