“This is the first time I’ve built a national landmark, so I feel like I’m making it up as I go along,” this tall but modest business leader tells me.
But Richard Gamble, who is also a man of faith – you have to be if you support Leicester City – explains that Donald Trump has nothing to do with his plans to build this wall made up of a million bricks.
“This Wall of Answered Prayer will be built on the side of a motorway like the Angel of the North, which has something like 50,000 people drive past it every day. Each of the million bricks will represent a story where somebody has prayed to Jesus and this is the story of what happened after they prayed and what impact it had on their lives.”
Richard says his journey to embark on this venture began 13 years ago:
“I remember waking up one morning and felt God tell me that I should carry a cross around Leicestershire to help people think about Jesus during Easter. During that time, we worked out that 250,000 saw what I would now describe as public piece of art. At the moment I thought, ‘This is what I needed to give my life to’, so I asked God what I should do next. Then an image just flashed through my mind of a million-brick wall, which I’ve learned is the way God speaks to me.
“For the next 11 years I just didn’t know where to start until I met an architect who presented the idea of doing a design competition, and that was the piece in the puzzle I was missing.”
Two years ago, when they finally launched this campaign, he says the response around the world was amazing:
“We ran a global competition in partnership with the Royal Institute of British Architects and we had 133 entries from 24 countries from every continent. We then narrowed that down now to five concept designs picked by an expert panel of judges, civil engineers, architects, some politicians and a few celebrities.
“What we need to do next is finalise the land and the architects will take the design and fit that in with the landscape and then hopefully we will be able to announce what it’s going to look like and where it’s going to be in mid-2018.”
Despite the success of the design competition, Richard says one of the biggest challenges was launching a kick-start campaign to get some funding off the ground:
“It was an incredibly hard process because in my naivety I thought everyone [would think] it would be wonderful and get onboard. We launched it on Clare Balding’s show on Radio 2. But within hours I knew we weren’t going to hit the target and that was pretty difficult to take, and I felt so embarrassed that I’d let God down. We had aimed to raise £45,000 over 40 days.
“With four days to go I still needed £22,500. I felt God tell me to stop everything – marketing, emails, text and just stop and pray. I … felt at peace and thought, ‘If we hit target I’ll be thrilled, but I’ll also be thrilled if we don’t because I won’t have to do this anymore!’
“Then without any marketing we started getting donations from Spain and Croatia and Japan and Australia, and we hit our target with a day to spare. So that was a wonderful confirmation for me I was doing the right thing.”
Richard explains more about what how they plan to use some cutting-edge technology to achieve the impact they hope to have on people who visit the wall.
“You’ll be able to put your phone up against a brick and your phone will light up and through an app tell you the story that bricks represents, either in written word or in audio or video.
“But for those wondering how you’ll reach some of the bricks, as some of the designs are 150ft high, we’ll have tourist binoculars where you can zoom in on a brick and in the same way it will light up and tell you the answered prayer.“We also want people to be able to go through the database of stories. We all go through storms in life and the idea is, maybe you’re going through loneliness or a marriage break-up or gambling addiction or drink or a health issue. Whatever it is, you’ll be able to type in that issue on a website and you’ll see all the different stories that are similar to yours.
“And we hope that will be an encouragement for people to try and get to know God and see if he can help them too, because I believe he can.”
Richard says one of those bricks will represent his own personal answer to prayer, including from one of the biggest physical challenges he ever faced over the span of two decades:
“I was diagnosed in my early teens with ankylosing spondylitis which fuses your spine together to become hunchback and no flexibility. I prayed possibly more than a thousand times that God would heal that over 20 years. I could feel it crawling up my neck. I was waking up in the night with my ribcage in … a fierce spasm where I was unable to breathe for a few seconds but it felt like ages.
“A doctor told me my back was like a car in a traffic jam, and ‘we can give you medicine to slow the car down but when the car gets to the end of the road, you’re screwed’. And I came out of that meeting quite angry and I just decided I wasn’t going to accept those words over my life. I went for prayer again and felt heat go through my spine and later went for an MRI scan and went back to the doctor and he said it had stopped. Now I can pick up my kids and play with them and do more household chores… which is not ideal!”
Richard went on to explain the remarkable way they are moving towards establishing the right land for this national landmark:
“The next step is getting the land. We went to Bethel Church in California with my wife and they didn’t know who we were or what we were doing, and a woman came to us and said, ‘I believe God has got some heavenly land for you.’ Then we went back to the UK and we’ve got a team of people praying for this project, and one of them felt God tell them something that led to the name of a dental practice, and above that building was a motorway and above that was a piece of land.
“Two weeks previously I hadn’t told anyone that I’d emailed the person who owned that land. Then I met a Christian landowner who told me that four months before God had spoken to me about this vision he had felt God speak to him about starting a trust fund, and one of its aims was to support people who wanted to build physical structures like the Angel of the North that represented Jesus. You can’t make that up.”
Richard concluded by describing the kind of scenario he hopes will impact people when they visit the Wall of Answered Prayer:
“I imagine a couple driving along a motorway, who’ve just met with the doctor who has given them a really bad diagnosis, and they don’t know where to turn. They don’t know what to do and they see this massive structure and maybe they pull in and have a look, and maybe they sit somewhere to try and work out what’s happening. But then they find out what this is about. They then type in the diagnosis that the doctor has given them, and they find maybe 10,000 similar stories of experts who’ve been overruled by God being miraculous and alive and active in our lives.
“Like so many other visitors I’d like people to be a little awestruck and go ‘wow’ and want to explore it further and try and understand what it’s all about. A piece of public art is supposed to provoke this discussion and instigate thought processes [so people can] weigh up what they think about it. When people find out it’s about a million answered prayers, then I hope [they] will consider that. Some people will think it’s a load of rubbish, but at least they’ll have had some time to consider whether they believe there’s a God or not.”
To find out more go to: www.wall.org.uk