Richard grew up in Philadelphia, PA in a loving family. He received Christ at the age of 21 through a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Within six months, Rich enrolled in the Reformed Episcopal Seminary.
In 1981, he completed an M.Div. He married Janice Schlesser in 1985, and they moved to Portland, Oregon and attended her church, Cedar Mill Bible Church. He taught Sunday School there until 1988, when at a missions conference at the church, Janice and Rich heard about Wycliffe Bible Translators. They joined later that year. They both received training in linguistics and were assigned to Nigeria. From 1991 to 2005, they lived in Nigeria working on the Izere New Testament and raising their 5 children (two of whom were born there). The Izere New Testament was dedicated in 2006.
Sensing it was time to return to the States, the Gardners returned to Portland and took up an assignment with The Seed Company (TSC), a division of Wycliffe Bible Translators. For the next 8 years, Rich flew back and forth to Nigeria working in language clusters as a Scripture Engagement consultant specializing in evangelistic and follow up tools in the vernacular.
While at home, Rich enrolled at Western Seminary and started a doctorate in missiology, which he completed in 2011. Rich wrote his dissertation on post-conversion follow up. He saw a need to follow up new believers once they converted to Christianity.
In 2013, both TSC and Rich were coming to the conclusion that Rich’s work needed to be separate. TSC loved the results that God was giving to Rich’s work, but they wanted to stay closer to the translation work than the evangelistic and follow up work, which was Rich’s passion.
Late in 2013, Rich organized a board and formed Firm Foundation in Christ Ministries.