GodStory | Finding God’s Faithfulness In Uncertainty: KICS (Rwanda) Hires Secondary Principal During COVID-19
By: Vanderbloemen May 14, 2020
Even in the valleys, God is with us, and He is an anchor to our soul on the mountaintops. He’s always faithful to be the light in dark places. This truth guides the history of Kigali International Community School and the life of its Director, Ben Thomas. Ben and his family have been serving in Rwanda at the Kigali International Community School, affectionately known as KICS, since 2014.
The hand of God has been on KICS since before it existed. Fourteen years ago, before KICS began, its grounds were bathed in the prayers of Rwandan believers as the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi came to an end. KICS currently sits upon the hill that was considered a center for witchcraft in the country. During this time, Christian believers in Rwanda were praying fervently to God, asking Him to redeem this very hill. They prayed that God would bring a Christian school and Christian church to that hill of darkness, and God answered their prayers with what is now known as Kigali International Community School.
“We arrived in Rwanda after the treatment of my wife’s malignant brain tumor. Within the first six months of our arrival, we sensed that God healed my wife completely. God also showed us the expansion of Kigali International Community School,” Ben said. “Although Rwanda is densely populated and space is a premium, in October of 2019, God graced KICS to secure twenty-one acres of land for the future of the school.”
Kigali International Community School is a Christ-centered institution located in Kigali, Rwanda. It’s a fourteen-year-old U.S. Accredited school that serves over 300 students of families that are from 30 different countries. KICS teaches students from Pre-K through twelfth grade.
The Kigali International Community School is vastly diverse with approximately 50% of their student population being from Rwanda and the other 50% from other countries around the world. Ben Thomas stepped in as the fifth director of KICS in their eighth school year. At the time, KICS had a total of 175 students.
Ben says, “KICS was a young school that came with a few challenges, but it’s also a school that’s full of people who unquestionably love the Lord. It was through God’s grace and a great team that KICS doubled in overall enrollment from 175 students when I started to 328 students as of last year. I saw a lot of academic programs improve and an increase in academic excellence as our community truly lived out a biblical worldview.”
Already seeing God at work and trusting God for what was yet to come, Ben worked with the board as they leaned in and listened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. They discovered they needed a Deputy Director to join their leadership team.
“It was before Christmas break when I heard William Vanderbloemen speak at the CESA (Council on Educational Standards & Accountability) symposium in Washington, DC. I asked my friends at CESA who they worked with as a search firm, and that’s how I came to know about Vanderbloemen,” Ben remembers. “I know that no one is going to come to Kigali other than being urged and moved by God to move here.”
Ben and the KICS leadership team retained Vanderbloemen for their Deputy Director search. Brian Jensen, Vanderbloemen Executive Search Consultant, traveled across the globe to Kigali, Rwanda, to visit KICS, Ben, and the rest of the team in-person in January of 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic spread throughout the world.
“The impacts of COVID-19 created such an unknown in terms of the future enrollment impact for an international school, and the need for a deputy director seemed insubstantial,” Ben said.
At the same time, there was an open position for a Secondary Principal at KICS, and after consulting with Brian Jensen and the board, KICS decided to pivot the Deputy Director search into the Secondary Principal role.
“During that time, we received multiple applications of people who were great for the role in such a short window of time - all in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 unearthed questions and concerns for us regarding the reality of people who didn’t want to move during a pandemic. God began to lovingly remind me that KICS belongs to Him and that His hand is on KICS right now the same way it was from the very beginning, so I needed to trust him to provide,” Ben explains. This is what pivoting looked like for KICS during COVID-19.
It was evident that God had great plans for KICS from the very beginning, and that He has great plans for KICS and the Secondary Principal despite the challenges brought by COVID-19. While searching for the right person for the Secondary Principal role, Vanderbloemen found Nnabugwu "Chuks" Ekwelum who grew up in the New England area. Chuks was praying for an opportunity to serve God’s kingdom somewhere on the continent of Africa.
Ben recalls, “We sat down to paint the picture of who our ideal Secondary Principal would be and the qualities that person would have. We knew it would be someone who has incredible and extensive education experience - Chuks currently holds a [Ph.D.] in Ed. Leadership & Policy Analysis, making him a front runner. Another necessity for our Secondary Principal is the ability to look at things with the lens of diversity since we have over thirty-three nationalities represented at KICS. I’m of Indian descent and am able to bring a perspective of someone with an ethnic minority background as the Director at KICS. The fact that Chuks can represent that as well but from his own unique perspective brings a great deal of diversity.” Ben ultimately believes this level of diversity is God’s portrait and design as the picture of His kingdom.
“I’ve been praying that God would bring people alongside me who are great at what they do and can partner with me and what God is doing at KICS. I believe years from now everyone involved in this hire will be able to sit down and talk about the divine way God orchestrated the things that are happening here at KICS. Chuks joining us and being able to have twenty-one acres of land secured for the school’s future solidifies this even more.”
While looking forward to next year, Ben is convinced his God-sized dream for this upcoming academic year will be met and exceeded. God has shown himself to be faithful and true from the prayers of Christian Rwandan believers from the beginning of KICS, to Ben’s leadership role, to Chuks joining the Kigali International Community School leadership team as the Secondary Principal. “There’s a lot of uncertainty for the future, but my life has proven to be full of uncertainty. From my wife’s brain cancer to contracting malaria after arriving in Rwanda. It’s how I’m confident and know that even in the midst of COVID-19 and its reshaping of the world that God will continue to strengthen the foundation and future of KICS. Whenever it’s God’s timing, He’ll be faithful to use the 2020-2021 school year to strengthen our foundation and position us to be poised for the future He has for KICS.”
“Then Joshua said to the people, Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you,” Ben quotes. This scripture found in Joshua 3 is Ben’s hope and prayer for himself and the leadership team of the Kigali International Community School.
“I’m trusting in God that our leadership team will be ready in his timing unlike the doubt and uncertainty that marked the season of Moses and the people that he had to lead. I’m trusting in God that we will be like the season of Joshua when they crossed the Jordan River. They spent so much time being attentive to the voice of God and trusting him, so they were able and ready to move when God said move.”
After Chuks was hired, Ben was overwhelmed with deep appreciation and gratitude because He believes God brought Chuks, his wife Vanessa, and their children to KICS for an incredible season and purpose. Although the timeline is unknown, Ben is looking forward to the day Chuks joins him at KICS and then to the day KICS moves into their new campus on the twenty-one acres of land.
In this time, Ben is reminded of the lesson in Exodus to trust God in the current moment - “Trust me for today - manna and quail for today,” Ben said.
“It goes back to the Rwandan believers praying in 1994 post-genocide against the Tutsi, that God would redeem this hill and from this hill, he will send laborers to the rest of the world. I’m thankful I’ve been part of this story for the past 6 years, and I look forward to the ways God will provide in the future. I give God all of the glory, honor, and praise, as I get to experience all of that which is incredible with other gifted and talented leaders on this team. No matter what the future holds, every single connection and present-day happening of this hire is all part of the divine God story of KICS.
Vanderbloemen was honored to play a part in God’s plan to place Nnabugwu "Chuks" Ekwelum as the Secondary Principal at Kigali International Community School, knowing it was an answered prayer for him, Ben Thomas, and the KICS leadership team.