The Ugandan pastor released from poverty and into God’s mission

Richmond Wandera has early happy memories of growing up in Uganda. However, when Richmond was eight his father was murdered. The family lost their home, Richmond had to leave school and he stole food to simply survive. 

Through the generosity of a teenage girl from the UK, Richmond and his family’s lives were changed forever when he was sponsored through the child development charity, Compassion. 

Growing up in one of Uganda’s largest slums, Richmond was supported through school and university by Compassion. He is now the Pastor at New Life Baptist Church in Kampala and founder of the Pastors Discipleship Network which trains and equips pastors with vital ministry skills. Over the last 10 years the Pastors Discipleship Network has helped over 6,000 pastors across East Africa.

Richmond recently chatted to Keep the Faith about the journey which led him to where he is today.

Could you tell us about your childhood and what life was like? 
I was born in a family of six. I grew up as part of a very joyful family. My father was a very fun individual. He was a lawyer. We were one united family heading in one direction with a lot of hope. But that all changed when he was murdered. 

We were thrown out of our four-bedroom house and moved into a one-room house in the slums. That’s when everything became grey and dark. I remember when I was told I could not go to school. It was hard to see my fellow children go to school with books in their hands. 

Every child, as young as they might be, has an opinion on who they are. I felt like my opinion of myself was damaged because I began spending more time on the street, stealing food from gardens to survive. But I really lost my dignity when our roof was leaking severely under one heavy storm. Our home just became one giant puddle. It was just instance after instance that kept tearing away at the fabric of the soul. As a child you just give up and accept “this is who I am. I am unloved, I am unwanted, with nothing to be proud of. No hope.”

But that was not the end of the story because God sent help, a 15-year-old girl called Heather took a babysitting job and sponsored me through Compassion. That changed everything. It changed my life, it changed my family’s life, it changed my church. 

It’s very important to distinguish between physical, emotional and psychological poverty. Many people fix their eyes on physical poverty because that’s what they see.

Poverty’s not just about disease. True poverty is a voice that tells a child “you are nothing, nobody loves you, nobody will ever want you, you don’t have permission to dream”. That poverty is stronger than money. It takes an arsenal such as love, presence, care and constant words of affirmation to push back. It doesn’t cost money to tell someone that you love them. The gift of encouragement doesn’t cost a thing. Yet it yields better results than money can ever achieve. 

I think that’s what happened to me. The reason I say this is because of the people who worked at my project, and also my sponsor. By loving us so, I began to feel healed on the inside. 

I remember June 3rd, 1996, I walked forward and accepted the Lord Jesus into my heart. I began to feel, like wow, I have been released from poverty. 

Later, my pastor identified there was a pastoral heart in me. Fast forward to today, I pastor the exact church I was sponsored in as a Compassion-supported child. 

God blessed me with high quality theological training that many pastors in Uganda don’t have. I went to Moody Bible Institute and I spent three years turning over the pages of scriptures. I learnt to whom much is given, much is required. There I decided I was going to take this and train pastors and that’s why 10 years ago I founded the Pastors Discipleship Network.

Right now, God has allowed us to help 6,000 pastors find hope in the word of God. For this I give God great glory, but I have to think, where did it all start? One decision of a girl. She chose to live with less so I could live with more. And here I am today. 

How did your sponsor help sow into the person you are today? 
I cannot find the words to describe the joy that filled our home when we got the news “Richmond you’ve got a sponsor, which means you can now go back to school, it means food will be given to us.” I began to walk into that reality, that ushered in me an opportunity to rekindle the hope that was taken away. 

Heather wrote to me. To hear words like Richmond I love you, Richmond I’m praying for you – They began to bring healing into the places destroyed by the voices of poverty. I credit a lot of how I feel about myself now to those letters.  

Is there one thing God has taught you about leadership recently?
God has taught me to wait on Him. 

I used to be convinced that a vision is a burden in the heart of a leader, that they will not rest until that burden is resolved or that gap is filled. I’ve found that actually, any vision that has to do with the church, the body or the kingdom, fits within a bigger vision. And no pastor has an independent vision for the church that is separate from Christ’s vision. Christ said, apart from me you can do nothing. But every so often, we are caught as leaders just running. 

It takes faith and self-control to wait on God; to say, in the words of Moses, I will not go until you go with Me. When God says, pack up and move, you pack up and move. 

If you practice waiting on Him enough, it can become so personal it can control how you speak, how you listen and how you care for people. It can take away a lot of stress and pressure. 

So I can wait, I can truly have a new vision of Christ as my commander and chief. The battle is raging on, but I need His orders. 

What is your vision for both the church you pastor and the Pastors Discipleship Network?
Our church is called New Life Baptist Church and our big tagline is bringing new life to the city. My vision for our church is that we’ll become a church in the city where the gospel of Jesus Christ is celebrated and all are welcome; where all find practical help – finding purpose and meaning; finding ways of utilising their resources to advance the Kingdom of God. 

The key word for me is relevance. I think God will use churches that strike a relevant chord. Everyone who reads the gospels has no doubt that Jesus’ ministry was relevant to the people. That is my vision for the church. 

In terms of the Pastors Discipleship Network, I see it as a voice to pastors, calling them back to the word, back to submission, back to the one who founded the church. And back to training. 

I believe deeply that when a pastor is trained and equipped and gets it, then that church is trained and equipped, and then that community cannot remain the same either. And when a community is transformed, a nation is transformed. 

Pastors Discipleship Network is currently in Uganda, South Sudan, Congo and Rwanda. Our hope is that we will enter into Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Zambia in the next six years.

My vision is also that the Lord will allow us to start a more formal programme, my hope is to start an institution where we can give accreditation. 

God has provided us a 16-acre facility in Kampala. That’s a miracle provision. God’s taking all these resources and causing them to be the home of the African pastor – that they can come far and wide to study. 

And it’s all because one girl in the UK decided I was worth investing in. 

What would you say to a UK church wondering whether to prioritise children?
There’s a reality that we don’t think about enough: these children will be around long after we’re gone. They are responsible for deciding the future. To invest now is probably the most strategic decision a leader can make. If they ignore these children, it will cost the future significantly. 

For me – even if a person decided, I am going to spend my life investing in one child, could be a child in Uganda, could be a child in the UK. This one child – I am going to be there for you – such a life is not a wasted life. 

Through the generous heart of a sponsor in the UK, Richmond’s life was changed for the better. To learn more about how sponsoring a child can help release them from poverty visit www.compassionuk.org

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