The last time we wrote to most of you, we were part way through the first year of the Snowball training programme. This was completed in June 2000, and all four students are now successfully pioneering a new evangelistic ministry in their respective countries of Austria and Slovakia. Reports on their progress are available, if anyone is interested and doesn't already receive them.
We discovered that Summer it would not be possible to run the second year of the programme straight away. This was both a disappointment and a relief as we were all exhausted from the first year. We knew that documenting the course and getting it accredited would be very difficult while running the programme, so the prospect of a 'spare' year in which to concentrate on these things was very welcome.
And then Anni Davey rang. Anni is the chairman (her word) of the Crisis Centre Council of Management, and an old friend of ours. She is also the wife of Korky Davey, who many of you will remember - the man who invited us to come to Bristol in the first place.
Anni said that Derek Groves, who founded the Crisis Centre and led it for the past 17 years, was unable to continue working. He had Parkinsons Disease, his condition had seriously deteriorated over the past few months, and they urgently needed someone to 'hold the reigns' while the Council of Management could recruit a permanent replacement. Would Paul please pray about doing this?
We prayed, and it seemed the right thing to do. Paul had spent some time working for the Crisis Centre as part of the evangelism training during the previous year, and was very impressed - by the ministry itself, the people, and by the truths it was based on.
The initial plan was for Paul to spend a few days each week at the Crisis Centre for a fixed period of six months. It soon became clear that quite a lot of work needed to be done, and the chances of finding a new permanent person in the short term were rather low.
To cut a long story short, the part time job until March 2001 became a full time job until June 2002, which gave a realistic timescale for rebuilding the ministry and advertising for a new General Manager.
During this time, there were several developments on the Europe Now and Snowball fronts - and a significant lack of progress with the documentation and accreditation plans. Amongst other things, Mark Howe started a Cybercafé in Cavaillon, and Rob Davis discovered he had a major problem with cancer. Happily, the Cybercafé is still afloat, and Rob is still, miraculously, alive. But Mark will need to devote most of his time and energy to the Cybercafé for some time to come, and Rob is still recovering and learning how to exercise his ministry with only one functioning vocal chord: please pray for him.
Over the course of 2001, it became clear that we will not be able to run another Snowball programme in Bristol for several years. In fact, it seems most likely that the next course will be run by Stefan and Judith, two of the first year students, in Vienna.
At the same time, the CCM Council of Management were starting to ask about Paul's long term plans. They couldn't imagine finding a better permanent candidate for the job, and if Paul was willing to apply, they didn't want to advertise it any wider. We came to an agreement: no promises, but they can probably expect Paul to stay for another five years or so. So, in April 2002, Paul became the 'permanent' General Manager.
You can read a bit more about CCM on the other side of this sheet. This piece was originally written for the churches in Sea Mills. Inevitably, it fails to mention a great deal of what is going on - but you can't say everything on a single piece of A4. We see a regular stream of converts, but the greater challenge is to help those converts grow towards maturity.
It is sometimes difficult to know why an invitation has come from a church or other group: sometimes they want someone to talk about CCM, sometimes about homelessness or helping drug addicts, sometimes about Open Air Campaigners, and sometimes they just want Paul to come. But it's a great way to meet new people.
We still miss our friends in Guildford, and one of the hardest parts of the move was being in a city where we hardly knew anyone. But now we have been in Bristol for three years it is encouraging to look back and realise that we do have good links with a wide number of people and groups across the city. We still feel new here, but without a doubt, this is where we belong: Bristol (and especially Abbeywood) is now our home.
I have been asked to write a short introduction to CCM - to tell you a little about who we are and what we do. We work in the St Pauls area of Bristol with the most needy people in our society, offering them hope and a new start. We work to bring God's grace and healing love to people with life-disrupting problems: those sleeping on the streets, drug addicts, alcoholics, people with mental illnesses and the rest.
Sadly, we see these needs steadily increasing. There are many reasons for this, including the failure of our mental health and criminal justice systems, increased stress at work, a disintegrating social network, and the inability most people have to see any purpose to their lives. The immediate trigger may be drink, drugs, marital break-up or nervous breakdown, but the end result is the same: people end up on the street, unable to access the help they so desperately need.
A great deal of money is being poured into addressing these issues. Unfortunately, most of the 'solutions' being adopted by the government and social services are almost entirely ineffective, addressing the consequences and not the causes of these problems.
But possibly the most important factor is the church. It seems very clear to me that society is going downhill at such a rate because most of God's people today are completely failing to act as salt and light in our society. The Church is not playing its God-given role in society, and we are reaping the consequences in broken families and damaged lives.
The needs are very clear. Fortunately, God's response to those needs is also very clear. He loves people - every part of them: body, soul and spirit. He commands us to love them, so we express His love through social action and evangelism. We work with and on behalf of the church in Bristol. We show people God's love, and tell them about His love. These are not alternatives, but two sides of the same coin.
Because God loves everyone, it is right for Christians to be involved in promoting fair trade, campaigning against third world debt or for restrictions on the arms trade. But it is especially important that we are involved in helping the people on our doorstep. After all, if you do not love your brother whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen?
We run a Coffee Shop where people can drop in, receive a hot drink and a hot meal, and talk to folk who care about them.
The most important thing we do for people is to get to know them, to build a relationship with them. Relationships change lives. People come to us who have no hope: people who feel themselves to be worthless and failures come and meet folk who are interested in them, who care about them, who are willing to support and encourage them. And time and time again we find that this relationship opens the door to change.
But just caring for people is not enough. The problems are so deep and the systems 'designed' to help people are so complex, we must adopt a professional approach if we are to be of any use. Amateur do-gooders can easily do more harm than good. We are learning, and teaching others, how to express the gospel in practical and effective ways.
As well as the Coffee Shop, we run a training programme (The LITE Course) to help people gain understanding and life skills so they can get into employment or access further, more formal training.
We also meet as the Bridgehead Church each Wednesday to encourage and build up the new converts in their faith, helping them discover what God is like and how to live as His children.
What can you do? The most important thing is to pray for us! Please pray for the ministry as a whole, and for the individuals we are working with. Please pray that we receive the financial support needed to maintain and develop this work, and for more volunteers to come and help us.
If you would like to know more, we would be delighted to send you our newsletter each quarter (by post or email), and if you would like more frequent news we send out a monthly email prayer update. You can ring us on (0117) 942 3088, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.