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People: Len Denton - Fund Raiser Extraordinaire
Talking with Len Denton. Fund Raiser Extraordinaire (15/7/11)
The following are extracts from a long conversation we had with Len. We limited it, a) for space and b) so it will be a short and crisp easy read and c) so you don’t get it all now but may read his new book.
RL: Len, when did you first get ideas of helping the poor of Africa?
Len: It was 1955, I was eight, and I was in a school classroom and staring out the window and the word Zambezi came into my mind and being a bit of a disruptive child, I started singing ‘Zambezi’ at the top of my voice in the class and of course got into trouble for it. That stayed with me.
RL: How old were you when you first went out to Africa?
Len: Well in 1967 I was with the army and we were in Biafra, and it cut me up seeing the poverty, seeing the children. I vowed that I would not fight with guns any more but I would fight with my heart. I just felt, go out and do what you can for the kids of the world. I came out of the army and started work in this country raising funds. I was well known in Southend. I became ‘the man with the longest wheelbarrow’ and pushed it round the length and breadth of Britain in forty nine days and raised a hundred and fifty thousand pounds for Barts Hospital.
I also used to do twenty four hour marathons on the pier and often for local charities as well. I think in the eighties I covered every major national charity and raised funds for them, in one way or another. I pushed the barrow everywhere. I was asked to go to the States and to Japan.
My health took a bit of a down turn. I lost three and a half stone on one walk, and I had a lot of stomach problems but I got through that with help and decided to raise funds by painting instead. The work you see at Southend hospital is mine. I’ve done twenty eight walls up there now and have just been asked to do Basildon as well and because it is a community thing I don’t charge.
I took my wife to North Africa in 1994 to try to see if we could do something in Tunisia but because it is a very Muslim based country it didn’t work out. I came back here, carried on doing more work and then in 2004 I said, no, I’m going to go out to Kenya, so I’ve been funding orphanages out there since then.
Pauline my wife went through quite a traumatic time and she was going past Ashingdon Free Church and she felt she really wanted to go in there and one Sunday she went and said the feeling of hospitality was so overwhelming that it reduced her to tears. This was two years ago, and she suggested I went to a men’s breakfast they were holding and without thinking I said yes, went along, enjoyed it and came out thinking, yes, there is something missing in my life. And thus I became a Christian and was baptised on January 21st this year and then flew out to Africa four days later. There’s so much more really in between what I’ve shared, and also now since I’ve become a Christian.
RL: And you’re launching your new book in a week’s time?
Len: Yes, I need to get money in quick because I’m trying to build an orphanage. I’ve adopted forty children (yes, forty!). I met a lady in 2004 and she was begging in a shopping centre in Nairobi, begging for food for children and I went over and gave her a donation as you do, and I thought how does this one woman rescue all these children with no help from the government? I told her to contact me if I could help and in 2010 I got an e-mail from her asking for help. I’d been working all round Kenya with all the different tribes so I thought I’d e-mail her back and provide medicine, food and clothes and go out and see what I can do. In my e-mail back I found myself saying (and I don’t remember actually typing it) what I can do is adopt the children – which is what I did when I went out in January and went and lived with them, and sorted out all their needs. Lillian, the woman, is a dress maker by trade so I bought them a sewing machine because clothes are so expensive. It’s simple little things really; I got them proper water so they don’t have to get it from the river which is polluted.
I got a little machine to make briquettes to burn on the fire. Kenya has got so much rubbish so now they can make paper briquettes to burn on the fire and won’t have to buy charcoal or firewood. They didn’t have a radio so I got them a wind up radio, and sometimes it’s a lot better than money.
A minister I met told me about a thing called a Proclaimer, an audio Bible in over five hundred languages, so I can take it anywhere for them to hear the Bible in their own language. Because there is no electricity it runs on a solar panel and there’s also a windup version. I tracked this down by first going to the Bible Society because I had dealt with them in Kenya and they put me on to a place in New Mexico that makes them. I e-mailed them and they donated two of these for me and sent them over here.
I needed to get some funds in quick so I wrote this small book, it’s probably the smallest book I’ve written but the most meaningful, so I self published a hundred to release next week but meanwhile Sovereign Books have contacted me and they want the manuscript and then they’re going to publish it worldwide.
I didn’t realise it all those years but the Lord was knocking all that time on the door of my life and I didn’t realise that the handle was on the inside. I don’t know what it was, whether I was too frightened or too macho but I’m glad I opened it eventually.
RL: Your wife must be pretty long-suffering. Does she ever go with you?
Len: No, apart from that one visit to North Africa, because it is too dangerous. I don’t go out there as a tourist. When I walk into a slum I am putting myself into God’s hands, so I feel safe but I would fear for anybody coming with me. It’s a horrible world out there, and white women are targeted.
RL: Do you use some of the money collected to get you out there?
Len: No, I never take a penny from the money collected for the children. I’ve always funded myself. Nowadays I do it by doing paintings, or giving talks and testimonies. I used to have a charity called ‘Cheetah’ because I love cheetahs, and it stands for “Children helping, encouraging each other towards academic harmony” and it was through that that I filled a forty foot container with eight tons of school equipment and sent it out. Then when I became Christian, one morning I kept hearing the word ‘Gospel’ and felt I should change the name of my charity to ‘Gospel’ – “Giving orphans support, purpose, education and love”, which is what I’ve been doing for the last six or seven years. Everything now has new meaning and purpose for me and I just want to inspire other people.
RL: Well thank you so much for sharing. May we wish you well with your ongoing adventures in Africa and next week at your book launch.
To see the details of that event, CLICK HERE