Through the generosity of a teenager thousands of miles away, Dr Richmond Wandera was lifted out of extreme poverty. He’s now a church leader committed to leading his fellow Ugandans away from the prosperity gospel and toward biblical truth
When I was eight years old, my father was shot three times and murdered in the presence of my mother. On that day, I lost them both; my father physically and my mother emotionally. She was never the same again. I remember coming home from school to find blood all over the place. It shattered our home.
Three months after my father was killed, we were kicked out of our house and ended up in the notorious Naguru slum – one of the worst slums in Uganda. It was a place where dreams are killed, and lives are ended in ways that are atrocious.
My mother had been widowed at the age of 25 with six kids, no education, no skills, no training and no home. She couldn’t afford to send me to school so I spent a lot of time on the street, being idle and wondering what would come of me.
By the time I was ten years old, I had suffered from malaria multiple times, coming close to death.#
Life is more beautiful when we live not just for ourselves, but for others
In the midst of our desperation, my mother realised that if nothing changes, her kids are going to die. She wasn’t a Christian, but when a friend suggested she asked a church for help, she went. She learned about Compassion (compassionuk.org) and shared our story with them. Even though we were not Christians, Compassion took us in. Within three and a half months, we received the news: “Richmond has got a sponsor!” To say that we danced and rejoiced was an understatement. I was connected to a 15-year-old girl from the UK called Heather who sponsored me.
My life changed dramatically. I was able to go back to school, be given food daily and be treated when I fell sick. I was brought into a community of local African God-fearing people who were present for us and protected me. A lot of healing happened in my life.
By 14, I’d made a decision to follow Christ. I was the first person in my family to become a Christian. By the time I was 16, all five of my brothers and sisters had come to the Lord. Next, my mother, who hated God for taking away my father, also made a decision to follow Christ.
At 22, I was the associate pastor of the church I was going to, New Life Baptist Church, which hosted the Compassion programme. Today I am the senior pastor of that church, where I receive new children who are coming in for help, just like I was.
Within one and half miles of our church, there are more than 200 brothels. We’re a highly Muslim community, with a lot of poverty. But the church has brought transformation – not just in people coming to Christ – but the change that’s happening under the theme of justice.
We are probably the fastest-growing Baptist church in the country now. We’re planting about three churches every year. The Lord is just bringing people and just showing them his love.
During Covid, we mobilised the church. Even people who had very little were able to share with those in need. It was humbling and inspiring – and a testimony to anyone who thinks: I have to take care of me first. Life is more meaningful and beautiful when we live not just for ourselves, but for others.
The West is very science-driven and evidence-based. But in Uganda, people have a different life experience.Many people in Uganda laugh at the West’s idea that Satan and demons don’t exist and there are no blessings or curses. These things are part of our culture. Typically, no one will say: “That person succeeds in business because they work hard.” Instead, it will be: “When this person was a child, their mother washed them with the right herbs and spoke the right words over them. And lo and behold, see what the child has become!”
I have a master’s degree and a PhD in philosophy of leadership. I have read a lot of books that would argue there is no such thing as spirituality. But I have seen things which a laboratory could not explain.
The most lethal message that has come from the West to the African space has been the prosperity gospel or the name it and claim it movement. It started in the late 70s, when we were still trying to wrestle with the question: “What is African Christianity?”
Suddenly, we had this message coming through our televisions. In my late teens, I can vividly remember seeing these very wealthy American televangelists saying: “If you buy this handkerchief, your problems will be solved.” Or: “I just heard a word from God. If you sow $7 or $77, or $777 you will receive in the next seven days, seven times over…”
Pastors abandoned truth and took on this prosperity gospel. This teaching has swept through the continent. It’s heartbreaking.
Some of what I do today is help pastors return to truth. But some of the biggest criticisms and attacks I have received have been from pastors who are teaching this prosperity gospel and are saying: “You’re cutting off our water supply.”
I’ve encountered different strategies and models for how to end generational poverty. But the difference is Christ.
When I look ahead, I can’t help but think, I shouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be here were it not for one individual sponsor who said, “Lord, if you can use anything use me.” I pray that we, as God’s agents, will look more intently into his face and see what is his will.
Whatever it is and however big it is, let’s not be afraid. Let the world not kick down or kill our dreams. Let’s just say yes.
Dr Richmond Mondera was speaking to Justin Brierley. To sponsor a child and change a life visit compassionuk.org