Author Archives: Steve Fredlund

Year-End Update from Steve

December 8, 2015 | Steve Fredlund


On Saturday, December 5th, we were honored to play host for the only Minnesota performance of the nationwide, “Jason Gray Christmas Stories Tour,” featuring Jason Gray, Carrollton, and Jonny Diaz. What a wonderful “welcome home” to our team just back from Rwanda—and what a great way to prepare our community for Christmas. The concert served to bring continued awareness and support for Our Response and World Vision’s efforts in Kivuruga, Rwanda.

An estimated 400 people participated in an evening filled with music, stories, and laughter. In addition to providing great entertainment and a sense of community, 24 more children were sponsored in Kivuruga, Rwanda. The number of Kivurugan kids sponsored via World Vision by people connected to Our Response now totals 725! These sponsorships alone account for over $300,000 every year being directed to an area where most people live on less than $1 per day. Thank you to everyone involved in this unified effort; I have never been more proud of my hometown community.

After an incredibly busy fall with a major event every month, it’s time to enjoy the Christmas season and finalize plans for 2016. To recap: In September, we hosted the “World Vision Experience,” where hundreds gained a deeper understanding of global poverty, and about 40 people either sponsored children or became partners to help Syrian refugees. In October, OR hosted Tonic Sol-Fa in concert, and another eight children were sponsored either at the event or later. In November, five of us spent 11 days travelling and visiting the people of Kivuruga, Rwanda, in an unforgettable several days (check out the blogs for those days). Then, finally, in December, we hosted the Christmas Stories Tour, which included a 16.5 hour day of set-up, discussions, prep, decisions, concert, and ultimately tear-down—finally sending the crew on their way to Waukesha for their next stop.

There have been many people who have put in a ton of hours the past few months, increasing the impact we are seeing in Kivuruga. To all of you, thank you so much for your diligence and commitment to what we are doing. For those of you sponsoring children, whether recently or from the very beginning, thank you for both the emotional impact you are having on these families, as well as for the financial impact being made not only on the families themselves, but on their entire communities.

For those of you who have made up the four teams that have travelled to Rwanda with me, “Murakoze cyane.”

For all of you, may you feel incredible peace, joy and contentment over this Christmas season and carrying forward into 2016.


Steve reunites with Florence on the 2013 trip

Update from Steve

November 14, 2014 | Steve Fredlund

Greetings everyone – hope y’all have enjoyed our long fall season followed by our immediate transition to winter. Here’s a list of updates in this email so you can jump right to what you are most interested in:
* Recap of the AIDS caregiver kit assembly & Sara Groves concert
* New date for 5-year celebration
* Rwanda trip moved to November
* Board of Directors changes & thanks
* Blogs
* A message to churches
* A message to other groups
* Sponsored children
* Ebola response

* Closing

Recap of the AIDS caregiver kit assembly & Sara Groves concert
Over our 5 years with Our Response, there have been many amazing days.  September 27 was right up there at the top of the list.  Having 100+ volunteers packing 824 kits to provide a years supply of care to those with HIV & AIDS in Kivuruga, Rwanda, was tremendously emotional. The hearts of the people of East Central MN continue to encourage me. The night was capped off with a great concert with Sara Groves and special guest Janelle Guitelli.  You can read more about this day and see a bunch of fabulous pictures on the Our Response blog at
New date for 5-year celebration
To reduce the risk of another weather-driven cancellation and to give us more facility options, we are moving the 5-year celebration to May 2.  This will also be about the time we pass the $1 million mark of direct support provided through Our Response.  This should be a great celebration so we encourage you to save the date.
Rwanda trip moved to November
While Ebola is concentrated in west Africa, there is growing concern about travelling to Rwanda in February, especially when plans need to be made now and we are not sure of the expansion of Ebola over the next four months.  There are also some additional medical requirements for Americans travelling into Rwanda, due to the Ebola case in the U.S., which may restrict our opportunities. We are tentatively moving the trip to November. If you are interested in the trip, please get in touch.
Board of Directors changes & thanks
Bob Jonsson, one of the co-founders of Our Response, has served on the board since it began in 2009.  With Bob’s retirement from First Baptist Church in Cambridge, and his move to Florida, he will also be leaving his role on the board.  Trent Pepper travelled to Rwanda in 2011 and has completed his 3-year term on the board, serving this past year as the board chair.  Both of these men have inspired me with their compassion and been incredible encouragers as we moved Our Response forward. Both continue to sponsor children in Kivuruga and will be key advisors to me going forward. Thank you to Bob & Trent for your vision & action for the poorest of the poor in our world.  The board continues with myself, Mark Radeke (co-found & 2009 trip member), Janie Pearson (2011 trip member), & Nicole Forbes (2011 trip member).  We are also considering additional new board members.
If you have not been reading the Our Response blogs on a regular basis, you are definitely missing out on all that is happening with Our Response.  Janie Pearson does an amazing job of capturing events with pictures, putting words to them, and publishing them on a regular basis. Here are just a few examples worth checking out:
— Sara Groves and Caregiver kit build:

— Child ambassador conference in Seattle:
— Creative ideas for responding to global poverty:
A message to churches
More than 30 churches in East Central MN have been involved with Our Response and we are looking to both deepen those relationships, and do some expansion, in 2015. I want to encourage all church leaders to set aside a Sunday to focus on compassion for the poor.  I, or other members of Our Response, would love to come and support your efforts, whether it is for a ministry you are already involved with, or if it is to start/build a partnership with Our Response.  We have many tools to help build a Sunday that your congregation will not soon forget (Journey to Jamaa movie, Hope Sunday for sponsorships, etc).  Also, if your church is involved with the 30-Hour Famine, we can support you in that and the funds can be earmarked for our work in Rwanda; we can help your youth understand global poverty and feel the impact of their generosity; this program can also help build gratitude among teens as they begin to understand their lives in the context of the broader world.  If you just want to talk through how we could partner, please give me a buzz and we can connect; I would be happy to provide many references from other churches to help you make that decision.
A message to other groups
I have had an opportunity to speak with many non-church groups about Our Response or generally about global poverty, lack of clean water, micro-financing, nutrition, etc.  I would be happy to talk with you about how Our Response can raise awareness within your group and to support whatever causes you may be involved with, or to help provide an avenue for your group to get involved in helping the world’s poor.
Sponsored children
Much of the support we have provided is through Child Sponsorship with World Vision.  Currently, more than 570 children in Kivuruga, Rwanda are sponsored by the people of East Central Minnesota through Our Response. This blows me away, but there is still room for more!  There are still more than 1,000 children in Kivuruga who need sponsors. In addition to providing support for the child and their family, the sponsorship dollars ($35/month) are pooled to meet needs and fund projects of the entire community. Further, you have the opportunity to build a relationship with your sponsored child, which can be such a rewarding experience.  I want to encourage you to consider sponsoring a child.  We have a tremendous person working with Our Response, Barb Holmberg, who is a World Vision Child Ambassador and would love to answer any questions you might have and help you sponsor if you decide to do so.  Further, if your heart is pulled toward another country or area, Barb can facilitate those sponsorships as well.
Ebola response
As you all know, Ebola has taken several thousand lives in West Africa and resources are needed to stem the tide of this dreadful disease. While our efforts in the first five years have been focused on Rwanda, in east Africa, the situation with Ebola is an “all hands on deck” situation and certainly falls within the Our Response mission. Personally, I have a friend who has already lost two family members in Liberia.  I have been in contact with the Liberian embassy in the US as well as several non profits to determine the most effective place to provide funds.  Often we are not sure how to best help. I want to provide you with an avenue to be part of our “response” to this situation. We will do the research to optimize the giving, but we are inviting you to partner with us financially. 100% of your donations will be forwarded (we don’t take a cut).  The gifts will be combined and sent together on behalf of the people of east central Minnesota.  I want to send these gifts by December 31, so please get them to me before then.  Options include:  1) Catch me in person, 2) send check or money order to Our Response (PO Box 493, Cambridge, MN 55008), 3) select the program “Ebola support for Liberia” when giving through  If you are a leader at a church, work place, or other group, please consider responding as a group.
I feel so honored to have served in this volunteer role since we launched in 2009.  Some days it feels like we have been doing this for 20 years, and other days as if we just started.  Thank you to those of you who continue to be generous with your time, money, and encouraging words.  I look forward to celebrating our million dollars of impact on May 2, and to journeying with you through the next chapters of Our Response.  Thank you all for your partnership,

Twenty Years Ago

May 2, 2014 | Steve Fredlund

A couple weeks ago the world recognized the twentieth anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide, when roughly 800,000 men, women, and children were brutally slaughtered. Having traveled to Rwanda three times in the past five years, I am acquainted with the pain of this dark chapter in history. I have also experienced the tangible hope and reconciliation that has emerged. It is impossible to understand the impact East Central Minnesota has made in Rwanda through Our Response without understanding the historical context for our partnership.

The Kigali Memorial Center

The Kigali Memorial Center

Cement slabs cover mass graves

Cement slabs cover mass graves

Members of the 2013 Trip Team share reflections at the Memorial Center

Members of the 2013 Trip Team share reflections at the Memorial Center

First, I would like to share a wonderful, multi-media look at Rwanda with this link that will help you understand what took place during the genocide and what has happened since.

Secondly, I have also asked one of our recent trip team members, Shannon Kirkeide, to share her reflections about the genocide, Rwandan reconciliation, and how we approach unity ourselves in East Central Minnesota.

Shannon with her sponsored child.

Shannon in Kivuruga with her sponsored child.

 From Shannon

It is painful and difficult for us to fathom the reality that occurred in Rwanda 20 years ago this month.  We shake our heads in disbelief, our guts wrenching at the thought of neighbors killing neighbors, women raped, babies and children murdered, and a country that could allow hate of their own people to transform their hearts.

So we avert our eyes, thankful that “here” no such thing is possible. Or is it?

Hutu vs. Tutsi. Nazi vs. Jew. Slave owner vs. slave. U.S. citizen vs. illegal immigrant. Rich vs. poor. Straight vs. GLBT. It all starts with a separation, an idea that somehow we are not connected as one humanity, each of us a spark of God/Allah/Mother Earth/Yahweh—depending on your point of view— that together is one entity.


Shannon Kierkeide on a walk

But how does Rwanda move on? How do you live next to the person that killed your father or your daughter? How do you forgive the unforgivable?

I don’t have the answer, but I saw it in the eyes of the Rwandans I met. They each have their own story of what they experienced two decades ago, who they lost, what they witnessed. Somehow they dig deep into their hearts and find hope in the hopeless, light in the depths of darkness, and peace in whatever level of forgiveness they can lend to those that wounded them so deeply.

May we all have an ounce of their courage and strength, may we open our eyes to acknowledge each of us is one divine spark of one humanity, and may we always be free to celebrate our uniqueness as individuals and our connectedness as a people.

Kirkeides with the family of their sponsored children

Next Trip, Champions & Upcoming Events

November 4, 2013 | Steve Fredlund

Muraho! (Hello)

Here’s a brief peek at what Our Response has planned for the months ahead. Be sure to keep reading to catch the details and mark your calendars.

  1. Application period for the fall 2014 trip is NOW open through end of November
  2. Go public with your support by becoming an Our Response Champion
  3. Come hear from the last trip team on November 14
  4. 4th Annual Celebration on January 26
  5. Special evening for child sponsors on February 22
  6. April is “Our Response to AIDS Month”
  7. Team World Vision just completed efforts to raise thousands for clean water

NEXT TRIP — We are tentatively planning on returning to Kivuruga in the fall of 2014, about a year from now! The application process has been moved up, so please take note if you are interested. The initial application is open through November 30, 2013, with selections made by the end of this year. If you would like an application or would like to discuss the trip, please contact Steve Fredlund at or 651.587.5435.

OUR RESPONSE CHAMPIONS — We are looking for individuals and organizations to “go public” by becoming official Our Response Champions. There is no financial commitment, just a commitment to intentionally support and encourage the efforts of Our Response. If interested, contact Steve Fredlund at or 651.587.5435. We are also looking for financial partners for 2014.

NOVEMBER 14 — Brad Wold and Steve Fredlund are hosting a discussion regarding the most recent trip to Rwanda, 6:30–8 p.m., at the Gathering Place, 145 2nd Avenue SE, Cambridge. This will be an interactive discussion with many pictures, videos, and artifacts to be shared. All are welcome!

JANUARY 26 —The 4th Our Response Annual Celebration will focus on “Celebrating the Story,” a wonderful event that will reflect on our first four years and look ahead to an exciting and impactful future. The Celebration will start at 6:30 pm, at the Performing Arts Center of the Cambridge-Isanti High School.

FEBRUARY 22 — We will host a special evening for current sponsors of children in Kivuruga, Rwanda. We want to thank our sponsors, as well as share details about the impact of sponsorship. We also want to highlight the experiences of those who have been to Rwanda and discuss other ideas. More details will follow, but mark the date.

APRIL — We are currently looking at claiming April as “Our Response to AIDS Month.” We plan to ask individuals and organizations to fully engage in raising awareness and funding for AIDS Caregiver Kits. We will assemble the kits in September and ship them to Kivuruga prior to our next trip.

TEAM WORLD VISION — This past weekend a team of runners partnered with Team World Vision to help bring clean water to the people of Rwanda. We are waiting for the totals to come in, but just want to say, “Thank you,” to the leadership: Calvin Friend, who led the Running to Respond efforts in East Central Minnesota, and Bill Ryan, who led the Leslie’s Wish effort at Allianz. Clean water is such a critical element to individual health, as well as the health of an entire community.

If you are not on the email list to receive updates, please send a note to Also feel free to reach out if you want to chat, become personally engaged, or get your organization involved. Thanks for all you are doing for the beautiful people of Kivuruga, and for injecting compassion throughout East Central Minnesota.

In gratitude,