Richard Smart regularly travels to Africa, and in particular Uganda, taking with him as many books as he can to bring biblical teaching to poor and remote areas of the country. Trust Director, Chris Moffett, caught up with Richard to find out more about his life and his mission.
Chris: Thanks Richard for agreeing to talk about your experiences of taking books to Africa but before we talk about that I’d like to ask when and how you became a Christian?
Richard: When I was a child my parents took me to our local Baptist church in Hastings every week and I grew up in a Christian environment. I was eleven and we were going through a series called Journey into Life. The leader asked if there was anyone who wanted to make a commitment to Jesus and follow Him. I did and that was the beginning.
Chris: So when did you first get an understanding of God’s heart for the nations?
Richard: I was married in 1994 to Corrol but although I had been a Christian for some years I experienced a restlessness inside me. I read my Bible and saw that God is a God who acts powerfully in and through his people, and I asked myself whether I couldn’t be doing more for God than I was. I started to seek God with a strong desire to know him better. I read the Bible more and also Christian books. I wanted to know him more deeply. 2001 was a turning point when I met two Africans. They were from Uganda and had been invited to teach on prayer and intercession in a ChurchesTogether event in Hastings. I’m still in touch with one of them, Andrew. I expressed an interest in Africa, and Andrew and his wife Juliet invited me out there as their personal guests to stay in their home. We became friends. My first visit was in January 2002. I didn’t know what to expect but the poverty was very striking, - small houses, people living cramped together in a small space with no electricity. I stayed there for a month while Corrol remained at home. There was a 10 day conference at which John Mulinde was teaching and the rest of the time I spent with Andrew and his wife.
Chris: What sort of conference was it?
Richard: There were about 1500 people, probably 200 or so Europeans and some Americans but the rest were African pastors and Christians;1000 were from Uganda but there were many visitors from other African nations – Kenya, Tanzania, Central African Republic and the Congo who had travelled to Kampala specially. There were 7 days of teaching followed by 3 days at the prayer mountain. This strengthened my desire find and to do God’s work and not to be lukewarm. I was challenged to take spiritual warfare seriously. Prayers are not just a two-minute thing you do before you go to bed. Jesus prayed all night on occasions and fasted for forty days! If we want to see darkness expelled you can’t treat these things light-heartedly.
Chris: So when you came back to England what had changed?
Richard: I had been immensely struck by the poverty I had seen and I had a strong desire to see things change. I had previously worked in accountancy and had given up full-time work for part-time, and then became self-employed; so I had some flexibility with my time. I told the Lord that I was ready to live by faith if that’s what he wanted me to do. I had something of a mental dilemma. I knew that the normal thing is for a man to work in order to eat. But on the other hand sometimes, when God has particular things for us to do, he wants us to get on with them and live by faith. That’s really what has happened. I get on with what God gives me to do but I also help people with their tax returns and do some book-keeping. So God provides for me and for my family. At the end of 2002 I was invited to go to Kenya for three weeks. I taught in the village churches. With their background and experience of poverty, I taught on the importance of work and challenged them to live faithfully for God. I was really burdened to see the culture of dependence on foreign aid and foreign agencies. If we want to see transformation in places like Uganda and Kenya, Africans need to become good stewards of what God has given them. They need to learn to plan ahead for things like repairs to equipment needed for farming, otherwise everything just grinds to a halt. They need to cultivate new habits and disciplines. Business management is not one of their strengths and often money is used for immediate short-term crises, especially family matters, at the expense of longer-term planning. I have taken books on this area of teaching and given them out. I still think there is a great need for more.
Chris: Maybe that is something you could do?
Richard: I’ll certainly think about it and it fits with another project I am getting involved in to set up cage fish farms to create jobs. Certainly this is an important area and one which raises the issue of accountability. In my travels I have come across Christian leaders who are very unwilling to be accountable. They believe wrongly, that it implies lack of trust. But it doesn’t. We all need to be accountable because that’s what builds confidence, trustworthiness and trust. But that’s a story for another day. But it really brings us back to the subject of books. Books which bring balanced Biblical teaching can be such a blessing because truth opens up the way for transformation. The parable of the talents, for example, has a great deal of relevant spiritual and practical truth in it. God wants us to receive his blessings, but he also wants us to become responsible people who are active and not passive in exercising our faith and live with Godly discipline.
Chris: What other themes have you found are important?
Richard: I think books that help people to understand what devotion to God really means are very important. Also books that explain what justice is and emphasise appropriate Godly responsibility. People need teaching on integrity, prudence and good governance. These things need to be taught and also modelled
Chris: You’ve been taking books to Africa for some 16 years now. Where did you initially get your books from? And how did you get connected with Sovereign World Trust?
Richard: People who knew I was going to Africa would give me books and sometimes Christian bookshops would give me extra stock or books that were slightly damaged. Among them were some Sovereign World titles which were proving very useful and relevant. So I got in touch with their managing director, Paul Stanier, who suggested that I contact Sovereign World Trust. My first visit to the Trust was in 2011 when I met Marina and also Stewart who was working in the warehouse. Marina provided me with a stock list from which I was able to make some choices. Then she set me up with 3,600 books, among them: Pursuing a Heavenly Vision by Stuart Keller; books from Sovereign World: Truth and Freedom, series on Anger and Abuse and others, Set Apart for God by John Mulinde (who led the prayer conference in Uganda), also the Explaining Series and What Every Christian Should Know About series – short books on specific topics. I took these books to Uganda and in a pastor’s house divided them up into groups. I was able to set up 80 small libraries. Altogether I’m in contact with about 300 pastors in that part of Uganda.
Chris: I believe you have partnered with an organisation called Tools with a Mission to get books to Uganda?
Richard: Yes, TWAM were sending large containers to Uganda and they sold me some space, typically 1-2 cubic metres for books. This was a real provision. I estimate that over the years I have taken around 50,000 books in total. Unfortunately, this arrangement is coming to an end this year because the Ugandan customs authorities are very suspicious of boxes and what might be in them. So, I’m going to have to find another way.
Chris: Perhaps we can think about transparent boxes?
Richard: What I would really like to do in the long-term is to arrange printing in Africa. That would stimulate the local economy and save freight costs.
Chris: Well meanwhile we are really pleased to partner with you and provide books for your forthcoming trip. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. I’m sure it will be of encouragement to those who support Sovereign World Trust that we are working with partners like you who understand the needs and commit the teaching to reliable people, who can in turn teach others.
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