VULNERABLE people in East Africa and India have benefitted from work carried out by a charity launched in Worthing.
Aid-Care-Training-Supply (ACTS), named after the fifth book in the New Testament, co-founded by former pastor of Worthing Tabernacle Church Tony Sargent, has played a part in providing toilets for leper colonies, houses for impoverished communities and more than a dozen wells for villages without a clean water supply.
The charity is currently building an orphanage for children who have been victims of AIDS and a tsunami in the Andrea Pradesh province in India.
Tony held the role of pastor for 28 years before he left in 2000 to help found a seminary in Scotland, a decision he described as ‘heart-breaking’.
He recently returned to live in Worthing and shared his experiences with The Herald.
During his time working on foreign aid projects Tony met Mother Theresa and befriended former Kenyan president Daniel Moi.
“I was with Mother Theresa the year before she died, I always appreciated the contributions she made. The group I worked with in Calcutta had offices across the street from where she was. She changed me in many ways, she was a diminutive little lady,” said Tony.
His friendship with Mr Moi began in unexpected circumstances following a talk to thousands of Kenyans.
“I didn’t know that he was going to turn up and my subject was what would make Kenya a great Christian nation. When I sat down, he walked to the mic and endorsed everything I had said. Since then a friendship struck up.”
At the end of 2013, a visit to a church in Peshawar, in Northern Pakistan, highlighted the potential dangers faced by people living in unstable regions.
Tony said: “The work in which I’m involved means going into places which can be quite dangerous. For a European to go in there’s a measure of risk because of hostage taking.”
He said the minister of the church showed him bullet holes in the walls by the pulpit and within weeks of his visit the church’s security guard had been killed.
An Iranian interpreter Tony used for conferences was sentenced to six years in jail following his conversion to Christianity.
However, for Tony, the rewarding nature of charity work justifies taking the risk.
“I can’t tell you the joy it is to go into a community and turn that community around,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what your religious conviction is, if you see someone rebuilding a lepers village you will be glad that person is helping your people.
“The Christian message has to give practical elements. You should never give a religious tract to a starving man unless you put it between two pieces of bread. In other words you have to be involved.”
One of Tony’s achievements was the ‘loos for lepers’ appeal he co-ordinated – new toilet facilities built in a leper colony.
“The loos gave people dignity and self-respect,” he said.
Before the new toilets were installed Tony said lepers could be forced to hobble or crawl half a mile to find privacy to go to the toilet.
“The open sores and lack of digits and limbs made this necessary task a nightmare operation for so many as they grapple with the perplexities of what for most people is a simple task.”
Despite his move back to Worthing, Tony remains heavily involved with philanthropic work in East Africa and Asia, and champions the plight of children around the world.