There are somewhere over 500 million people in Europe - depending on exactly where you place the borders - and most of them do not know that God loves them. In much of Southern Europe, less than one person in 100 is an evangelical Christian, and the churches are small and divided. If they are to reach this generation, they need help from places like Britain, where the church is comparatively strong.
In the last 50 years, many people have gone into Europe as missionaries. As a result, churches have been planted, and much other good work has been done. But the sad truth is that the majority of these people do not survive as missionaries. In Italy, only 10% of missionaries return for a second term. The same is true of missionaries in France, and even of evangelists working in their own country - most do not continue in this ministry beyond the first five years.
That is where Europe Now comes in. We have been supporting missionaries in Europe for some years, and now we have started the Snowball training programme to equip people for an evangelistic ministry.
Snowball provides training for evangelists. Bible Colleges do a wonderful job in training people to be pastors, but the ministry of an evangelist requires very different skills from that of a pastor, for whom many training programmes appear to be geared.
Snowball provides training for an evangelistic ministry. People who are called into this work need to understand the Bible and develop a godly character, but they also need to learn how to exercise a ministry that will not burn out or blow up in five years. They need to learn how to work in teams, how to work in partnership with the local church, and how to encourage others to join them.
In order to get this programme up and running, in March last year the trustees asked me to become Europe Now's UK Director. Since then, almost every spare moment has been spent turning this vision into a reality. It is hard work, but it has been worth it.
So what do I spend my time doing? It is hard to summarise the full range of activities, but here are a few glimpses...
For the last few months, I have been regularly meeting and praying with church leaders from different denominations across Bristol. They are all enthusiastic when they hear that we are not only training people in practical evangelism, but also training these people to work in partnership with local churches. We are exploring a number of possible ideas for partnership - please pray that they can be organised to fit in with all the existing commitments. And we would like to use these contacts to help the 'ordinary' Christians in the churches to discover how God can use them, too.
Along with Mark Howe and Rob Davis, I have been taking the students to the Bristol Crisis Centre. This is a project, run by local Christians, set up to reach the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics. It is based in the St Paul's district, near the city centre. The people running the Centre have given us an increasing amount of responsibility for some aspects of their work. We talk to the people who come in to the Coffee Shop to eat and get warm, we go out on the streets and invite people to come along, we give out vouchers for free meals to the most needy, and we lead an evangelistic event at the Centre each Thursday evening.
One evening in mid-December, a man about my age walked into the Centre, and I started chatting with him. He was the brother of one of the helpers on duty that evening, and several of the staff had known him for years. Kev had been an alcoholic for a long time, but he now wanted to go and stay with his sister and her husband - "I'm really going to get off the bottle this time." We offered to pray for him, and, to my surprise, he accepted, and we went downstairs with two people he knew on the regular staff.
Perhaps because I hardly knew Kev, I was asked to pray. I asked God to bless him, and he started to tremble. As I continued to pray, it became clear that the Holy Spirit was doing a powerful work in his life. He was completely overwhelmed, tears streaming down his face, with the joyful realisation that God loved him and accepted him just as he was. As he put it, "I know that God is in my life, now." We continued to talk and pray for a while... I could fill this whole prayer letter describing that evening.
Over a month later, his sister says he is still going strong. One of the staff members had been unsure about what had actually happened - he had not prayed the traditional "sinner's prayer" - but she was now convinced by the transformation in his life. Please pray for Kev - he has a number of major problems remaining, but at least he now has the inner resources to face them.
Also before Christmas, I took the students out on the streets of our own area several times, delivering Gospels and inviting people to a joint Carol Service. We had some good conversations, and I made contact with one lady - a Jehovah's Witness - which I have followed up and she has invited us to come back and talk about what we believe. Please pray for her, and for all the others we are meeting each week, that they be open to the gospel, and that we present it with sensitivity and clarity.
All this work, and a lot more I do not have space to tell you about, is tremendously exciting in itself, but the key thing is that it is being done as part of the training programme for the students. The other aspects of the programme are designed to help them grow as Christians, to develop an effective and sustainable ministry, and to develop a firm grasp of Biblical truth. Without these areas underpinning the excitement of the work being done, any benefits for the students would only be short term.
In some of my modules, I have been able to use (almost without change) material I have prepared in the past. This has included teaching on creation, evolution and science, the problem of pain, and understanding the Old and New Testaments. Other modules - such as the ones on CH Spurgeon and William Booth, and Saint Paul's understanding of humanity - have required a good deal of preparation before the most useful and relevant details for the students could be pulled out from the mass of material available.
Other aspects of the course are more devotional. We can cover the theology of being in Christ - we can cover it from all the different angles - but we also want that truth to become more real in the lives of the students.
We knew beforehand that running the course would involve a lot of work, but I don't think we appreciated just how much needs to go on behind the scenes in order to make the scheduled times with the students useful - things like staff meetings, getting together with the people who are taking other parts of the course, and setting up opportunities for the students to help other churches and gain a good experience of a wide range of evangelistic techniques.
And, as UK Director, I am responsible for seeing that the previous work of Europe Now does not stop just because Snowball has started. We still need to prepare for the missions, answer the many enquiries we receive, and support our missionaries.
The move from Guildford to Bristol was far more difficult than we believed possible: the film rights should shortly become available, if anyone wants to make us an offer! We really appreciated all the people who supported, encouraged and prayed for us during this time. Westborough gave us a really great send-off, and people in Bristol welcomed us with open arms. Hard though it was to leave a church family we have loved for so long, it was incredible how quickly we felt settled at Highgrove. And, at the end of this long journey, we are now living in an absolutely wonderful house with a view over the River Trym. God is good!
We are thrilled to be living with other people again. Many of you will know this is something we have wanted to do for a long time. Steve is coping remarkably well with living with us, and he often collects Philip and Ian from school when Paul is busy with Snowball or in Gloucester - we could not juggle all our commitments without him. Sue is handling her new, high-powered job well, and Alan takes commuting on the bus to school in Bristol in his stride. If you would like to know more about our family's activities last year, please ask for a copy of our 'Christmas letter', where you will hear all about our encounter with the eclipse and other fascinating stories.
We are hoping to spend a week in Guildford as a family at the end of February. The next week, Paul and Rob are planning to be in Liverpool to become qualified as Evangelism Explosion trainers. As part of Snowball, we shall be running missions in Cardiff and Manchester, and the first year ends in June with a week of outreach in Vienna.
A number of people have already expressed interest in being a part of Snowball from September 2000. If you know anyone who may be interested (or if you may be!), do let us know.
One practical detail is that I resigned from the eXchange in the Autumn in order to work for Europe Now. The eXchange asked me to continue with them on a part-time basis for a while, which I am now doing to help us keep going financially while I raise some more support. I am currently working one day a week for them in Gloucester until mid-March. Mark & Sue Howe are returning to France, so I cannot continue in Gloucester beyond that date. Please pray with us that the necessary support will be found by March.
Another area we need to sort out as soon as possible is the basis on which I am doing this work. We are still working on the precise details of how Europe Now can employ me, but the latest estimate suggests I need to raise an additional £700 each month to cover the cost to Europe Now of employing me full time. If you would like to know where this figure comes from, or any other details of the finances, I would be happy to answer your questions.
And, finally, we cannot continue this work without your prayers - for us as a family, for the students, for the people we work alongside, and for the people we meet each week who need to know the love of God in their lives. If you do not already receive our prayer letter, please contact us at the address above, and join us in reaching the people of Europe with the gospel. Thank you.