2019: Chinese Give-away
Our key target for 2019 was to create a Chinese version of our web site. Do we speak or understand Chinese? No. But we have many downloads into China and among Chinese speaking communities around the world. With well over a billion mobile phones in use in China it was a great opportunity.
At the beginning of the year we had the customary concerns about how to fund this development as well as the ongoing cost we incur developing the English site. Every year, since the start of the FreeBibleimages project we have looked back to witness how God has supplied all our needs. But does that make it easier to trust God for yet another year? It should, but every day you need to exercise faith not fear. Never as simple as it sounds!
Prayer is vital, so that you are guided into taking actions that God has prompted. Why should God back any project that is outside His plans and purposes? We are so pleased to have a prayer team and Christian Trustees to keep us focussed on God’s plans not ours. However, a bit like the Israelites who needed to step into the River Jordan before God opened a dry path to get to Jericho, you have to take the first steps of faith and move ahead. And God opened up a way to get 200 Bible stories translated into Simplified Chinese. These translations were done by Chinese Christians in China but we cannot put them at any risk by saying any more.
Our friends at Good News Productions International already had Chinese translations of their story sets which they kindly gave us. A Chinese Christian lady in the UK helped us make sense of these.
Our project is blessed to have David Gosnell doing our web development and although he can understand the technical languages of the web – Chinese was a new challenge. We enlisted the help of UK Chinese Christians in Worthing and Guildford in testing and proof reading.
But how would people get to the Chinese site? As numbered web addresses are common in China we came up with the URL www.1535000.org with redirections to this site via Chinese versions of these numbers. It is not straightforward as numbers have significant meaning in Chinese and the most popular are already taken.
So why these numbers? Well, 153 is the number of fish caught when the disciples obeyed Jesus and cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and 5000 is the number fed with two fish and five loaves. We hope this will be a helpful way for Chinese people to remember and pass on the site address. The Chinese site was taken live in November 2019 and we trust it will be of great help to Chinese people all around the world.
The rest of the year was spent putting more Bible story sets online. Two US Bible College graduates, Amy and Carly, contributed artwork from their Fishnet Bible story videos. Lars-Goran Ronnberg, a pastor from Sweden who has taught children for around 50 years, shared the pictures he uses in his ministry. Over the year we were able to post over 150 new Bible story sets from existing and new artists.
Sometimes people contact us, asking where our office is. The answer is we don’t have one. FreeBibleimages is basically a space on a web server we own and the team use their own computers and resources to link together and make everything work. We do not need to leave our homes to communicate worldwide. Technology has made this ministry possible on the tightest of budgets. We have other costs and fees to meet but they are kept to a minimum.
In June, Hannah Leader of Big Book Media, who filmed the LUMO project films of the Gospels, invited us to meet Jonathan Huguenin from Faith Comes By Hearing, a ministry from the USA who created the Bible.is app. We had a lovely meal together in a restaurant in West Sussex, England. Faith comes by Hearing have assembled text and audio recordings of the Bible in over 1300 languages which they make available online. As we shared with Jonathan what the FreeBibleimages project is about, imagine our joy when he asked whether we would like free access to their online Bible translations and audio files.
It has always been our philosophy to give people the key scenes of a Bible passage and then direct them to the Bible account to get God’s wisdom on what to say and teach. It is not our role to apply or interpret God’s Word – we leave that to the Holy Spirit. So, we saw this as God’s wonderful provision to make this possible.
Over the next few months our web developer, David, was able to work co-operatively with the team at Faith Comes by Hearing to access their resources. As a result, all the Bible references for each story on our site are now hyperlinks taking you to the Bible account. You can choose to view the text in over 1300 languages or hear the audio versions that are available. People can read the Bible account for every set of images they are using to teach. A huge thanks to Faith Comes By Hearing for providing this wonderful service at no cost so we can all freely share God’s Word in this digital age.
Since the start of this project we have been blessed to have John Horncastle as our chairman. When John retired due to ill health in 2008 he gathered together a small group of Christian men who were all out of work as a result of poor health or redundancy to pray together. It was from this group that the FreeBibleimages project emerged.
John was the inspiration for the first sets of images we shot in costume with digitally added backgrounds. Four days after having surgery to remove a cancerous tumour he turned up at our first photo shoot to play the role of the Prodigal son’s father.
John has led a team who have cycled round the Isle of Wight each year to raise funds for this project. His infectious enthusiasm for FreeBibleimages has been immense.
At seventy, John decided he wanted to step down as chairman so others could take the project on. We prayed about this matter and God prompted Bob Bird to volunteer his services to the team. After a career in IT and Telecomms, plus experience of Christian mission and fundraising with World Vision, Bob brings the leadership we need to replace John and continue growing. John Horncastle will be greatly missed but his ongoing positivity towards the project still makes him our most enthusiastic ambassador.
We were also delighted to welcome Paul Stiff and Clive Manby to our team of Trustees. Paul has a lot of expertise and experience in worldwide cultural issues. His insights will be a great help as we plan new translated versions of our site. Clive is from South Africa and has expertise in accounting. He has held several leadership roles in his church and has been honorary auditor for the South African branch of the Mission Aviation Fellowship. God has blessed us as a team by bringing in the right people at the right time.
So, as we look back over the year – yet again we can see how God has provided for all our needs and opened up new opportunities. Why do we ever doubt Him? Fear comes naturally, but faith needs daily exercise to grow strong.
2018: Insights on a new site
The FreeBibleimages website has now been in operation for 8 years and grown from hosting a few stories to over 800 sets – more than 10,000 images. With more content planned to go online it was time to rethink the site design and the ways people could filter and search for what they wanted.
Another consideration was the growth in people accessing the site on mobile devices and tablets which had grown from just a few to just over 25% of our visitors. We also had to look at developments in technology that might change and the ways people would be using our files in the future. Our conclusions were that we not only needed our website be very mobile-friendly but have a mobile-first philosophy going forward. With the development of new technologies allowing people to mirror the content of mobile phones on large screens, the need to download and project would reduce over time.
God was one step ahead of us in all this and brought together the two skill sets we needed. David, our web guy, was the man to think through all the coding and database connection issues and Marian van der Kruijt could work on the interface designs, icons and navigation.
We first came into contact with Marian when she offered us some of the Bible story illustrations she has been using in teaching young children in her church in the Netherlands. When we found out she worked as an interface designer for a software company we asked to recommend ways to improve our users’ experience.
It went quiet for a few months and we thought we would hear no more from her. Then one day we got an email from Marian with a link to a site where she had designed mock-ups of a proposed new interface. It was very fresh, clean and gave a much more intuitive user experience. Furthermore she indicated these designs were to be her gift to the project and she sent through all the assets, such as the icons for us to use – all free!
One of the incredible things we have found on this journey of faith is that when you need skills God has a way of bringing them into the team at just the right time. The challenge now was for David to code the difficult background tasks behind the interfaces for mobile and wider screen views without slowing page download times. On top of all this we had to be compliant with updated accessibility standards and the new European rules on the handling of personal data and use of web cookies.
This was the year to take on these challenges, while posting another 100 plus sets of Bible story images. But how could we afford all this?
In looking at our finances, it was apparent we were poor at getting online donations for the simple reason we don’t want to pester people into giving. After all, we call ourselves the ‘Grumpy old men on a mission’ and hate websites that flash up alerts asking you to sign up or give. It has never been our way. Mike, our treasurer, also pointed also that most gifts coming in were one-offs and few gave regular donations to the project.
So we came up with an initiative to encourage people to give around £10 a month so that over the course of a year they would finance the costs of getting one new set of images online. We put a lot of thought and effort into it but it failed miserably. The income we got barely covered the cost of setting up the project. Help!
In the Bible you have two miracles involving jars. In the one involving Elisha, the widow has one jar of oil but God allows it to keep pouring out until all the other jars she had collected are filled also. In the case of Elijah, the widow she has one small jar of oil but it never runs dry. Now given the choice we would like God to give us the Elisha funding where we can pour funds into many jars and view the quantity. But it seems God has given us the Elijah version, a small pot that never runs dry and you see the quality. So throughout the year we kept pouring out and out but never got to the point where we ran out of funds to do anything we needed. This faith thing is really testing but it does work!
The pot is always small, our turnover for our output is low but it never dries up. Every time we come up with initiatives to fill many pots – they remain empty. It’s a difficult lesson to learn but God supplies our needs not our wish lists – the small pot is enough.
We were delighted to have the opportunity to license some new photos from a film production about the Apostle Paul’s trip to Philippi. Mike Trinklein of Boettcher+Trinklein Television Inc was most helpful and co-operative in allowing us to use stills from the film, ‘To the ends of the earth’.
We were thrilled to find new artists willing to contribute to the ‘Bible in Pictures’ project. We came across some Bible story PDFs on the web and tracked down the illustrator via Facebook. Rawderson Rangel is a Brazilian illustrator and his brother is pastor of a church in Brazil. He generously allowed us to publish his pictures. Francis Lee, an illustrator from the Philippines kindly shared her art created to teach children in her church.
The French artist James Tissot lived over 200 years ago and visited the Middle East to paint pictures of the life of Christ. The Brooklyn Museum in New York who host his collection gave us permission use their digital versions of these and crop and enhance them into Bible story sets on the death and resurrection of Jesus. For those who like more traditional art they are very compelling.
Professor Julian Evans, a Christian who is a world expert on trees, and recently honoured with an OBE by the Queen of England for his work, shared two sets of images on trees found in the Bible, along with some key insights into their significance.
Altogether we able to publish another 128 sets of images with downloads up a further 12% on 2017. We had visitors from every country in the world apart from North Korea and Western Sahara.
We were contacted by Stephen Gillham, the secretary of Bible Education Services who run an international postal Sunday school curriculum. Could they link to our Bible story sets so Sunday School teachers could download pictures of the Bible passages they were teaching? We were delighted to say ‘yes’. We were able to say the same to several organisations creating free resources for teaching the deaf. What a privilege.
In November we had gone through extensive testing on the new web site and in November went live with it. David had to overcome many challenges to get the site to size properly on the multitude of mobile devices with varying screen resolutions, different operating systems and numerous browser versions used around the world. He also had to keep page download times quick which is never easy when you have over 800 sets of images to pull in from the database.
Within a few weeks the numbers accessing the site on mobile devices rose by 8%. Slide-show view where you can flick through the pictures and read the Bible caption text rocketed by 340%. There is still room for improvement and refinement but we have made a big step in the right direction.
Rather than rest and take a breather, we turned our attention to creating the first translated version of our website. When you know there are over a billion Chinese people in the world with access to the internet it was the obvious language to take on. Our downloads into China were up 81% in 2018. So our challenge in 2019 was to put in motion a completely Chinese version of our web site.
We have all had plenty of Chinese take-away meals so we named this project ‘the Chinese Give-away’. The fact that none of us speak Chinese, read Chinese or understand Chinese was never raised as an obstacle. We have a God who makes the impossible – possible! So let’s see where this leads us in 2019.
2017 – making good stories happen.
At the start of the year, we were concerned about the funding we needed in 2017. Where was it going to come from? While we were still praying and puzzling about this, a Christian Trust who had supported us in the past, gave us a gift of £6,000. We had not applied for their help and it arrived as a wonderful surprise.
One of the biggest challenges we face is locating Christian illustrators willing to contribute their artwork to the ‘Word in Pictures’ project. When we came across the Bible story videos created by John Stanley at YoMinistry we were very impressed with the quality of the graphics. Would he be prepared to let us use the still images he had created? We were excited when he replied he would. John manages to capture Biblical scenes with such accurate historical and cultural details. A generous man, he has donated 19 sets of images so far with more to come.
We also got a positive response when we contacted retired book illustrator, Jack Foster in the USA. We loved the bible story pictures he had posted on his Mr BibleHead blog and were thrilled when he said we could compile them into new story sets. Jack, who has 14 grandchildren, could not have been more enthusiastic or co-operative.
For a team who has faced on-going forms of adversity we were all pleasantly surprised to get through the first half of the year without any major set-backs. In July we gathered on the Isle of Wight for our annual fund-raising cycling and walking events. On the day of the event we had raised less than £800 in sponsorship. It didn’t look promising. Having had a cyclist crash and break a couple of ribs in a previous event we had organised we put a lot of preparation and prayer into keeping everyone safe.
The weather was great and there were no mishaps. All the walkers and cyclist has a great day. Phew! Amazingly, over the next few weeks the funds keep coming in and £6,000 was raised. It would help fund more stories going online.
We got another boost when we contacted retired school teachers Chris and Jenifer Taylor who run the Bible Journey web site. They have created many helpful maps showing key journeys in the Bible, researched from their many trips to the Middle East. Would they be happy to compile sets of their maps for Bible teachers to use? They replied they would and we were soon publishing a set of maps showing the key journeys of Jesus during His ministry.
The wonderful bonus you get when you give everything away free is you come into contact with so many other Christians with generous hearts also. When Marian van de Kruijt, a graphic designer from The Netherlands, sent through sets of pre-school images she had created we were delighted to publish them. When we found out she worked for a software company that specialised in User Interface design, we asked her for any advice she could give to make our site more user friendly.
We heard nothing for many weeks, then got an email with a link for us to view. We could not believe our eyes. This very gifted Christian designer had created mock-up pages of a complete redesign of our site. It looked great and would work so much better on mobile than our current site does. And she gave us all that expertise and insight as a gift.
In 2018 we shall be redesigning our web site based around the mock-ups that Marian has created. We could never have afforded such expert help and input. When God is at work, you can still aspire to quality when you don’t have the budget for it.
There was further encouragement when we managed to have a long Skyped conversation with Curtis and Pip Reid in New Zealand, creators of the Bible Pathway Adventures web site and App. Pip has written such wonderful Bible stories and the artwork by Thomas Barnett is stunning. They have a ministry-first approach and wanted to share their stories with the widest possible audience. What a thrill to see such great sets of images made freely available.
In a relatively problem-free year the one issue that tested us was that one key member of our team, who does most of our work in preparing sets of images for publication, found his main sources of freelance work drying up. That left him and his wife struggling to fill a gap in their personal budget for the year and wondering if they could continue allocating so much time to the project.
Out of the blue in December, one of our contributors, Sue Bentley contacted him with a strange email. We have never met Sue but we know she is a woman of great faith. Sue wrote, ‘I was thinking of the FreeBibleimages ministry and felt the Lord gave me a word for you all. The thought I had was that God has heard your prayers to expand and develop the website and He will answer you quickly. If this makes no sense please ignore as I must have made a mistake.’
We didn’t know what to make of this. And I don’t think Sue did either.
Over the next few days, our team member and his wife got two bits of incredible news, that would plug the gap in their budget and still allow him to give his time to FreeBibleimages. We were staggered. It’s the kind of breakthrough you sometimes hear happening to other people but you don’t expect it to happen to you. Oh, we of little faith.
The biggest encouragement of the year was reserved right to the very end. ‘Open Doors’ ministry sent through an email showing a world map of the 50 countries of the world most hostile to the gospel. Our heart in running FreeBibleimages has always been for those in poorer regions of the world and those facing persecution.
We started compiling the numbers of downloads of sets of Bible story images into these 50 countries and overlaid them on this map. When we added up the total it came to over half-a-million downloads. We do not know who downloaded these files. We do not know how they were used. We do not know how many they were shared with. But we know they are in places that are normally so hard to reach. To know they are being used to teach the Bible in such difficult places is a great joy.
Only in eternity will we hear the stories behind these downloads and what has resulted.
We want to thank all those who have contributed in so many ways to help those teaching the Bible in this very visual age. 2017 was a year of making good stories happen.
2016 – GREAT WINS AND SAD LOSSES
2016 brought several breakthroughs for the project. Funds were getting low while costs were escalating, as more sets of images were put on the web site. Online donations by users have only ever covered around 10% of our costs so what were we to do? We alerted our faithful prayer partners and started to pray. To our delight a Christian Trust, who had supported us when first setting up the project, emailed to say they had met and decided to give another donation of £6,000. We had not applied for any funding, and knowing how many applications they get, it was a great answer to prayer to receive this unsolicited gift.
Further good news came from Tom Nutt at Good News International Productions. They had used the paintings of a gifted artist Paula Nash Giltner to create nearly 107 short videos on the Life of Christ, available from their web site and Vimeo. Each took their narration from the scripture, panning around the artwork. They had also translated these videos into 20 languages. We had approached GNPI to see if we could work with them to create still images presentation versions of their videos and supplied some examples of how we might do this. We were thrilled to hear they were keen to work with us and provide another channel to distribute these great free resources. They, like us, were just keen to see these freely used around the world and there would be no costs to us apart from our own time and effort to process the artwork. Throughout the rest of the year we were able to create 54 sets of images with another 53 to finish the series in 2017.
Another breakthrough was with Jill Kemp who, with her husband Bob, runs the Lambsongs web site in New Zealand. They had worked with book illustrator Richard Gunther to produce nearly 200 Bible story booklets and take-home papers for teaching very young children. We offered to turn their art work into presentation graphics that teachers could use, while still being able to download the other free resources from the Lambsongs web site. Jill is a special person with a real Christian heart to reach the young for Christ and she was very happy to co-operate with us in this new venture. This also brought us into direct contact with Richard Gunther, a kind Christian man, with a real heart for God and communicating the gospel. He had spent a lifetime illustrating many Christian resources and was willing to contribute many of his Bible story illustrations at no charge.
After the difficulties we had experienced in the latter half of 2015, things were looking up. Paul, who puts our image sets together had been too unwell to travel up to London to work, but able to devote himself to the project from home. As the year went on, his health improved and even when back doing his freelance training work was still able to find time to process the images. He had always been a fan of illustrations found in a book of Bible characters printed in the 1990’s. When he googled one of the illustrators, Pam Masco, he was astonished to find she had a studio in Petworth only ten miles from where he lived. Furthermore, John Heseltine, one of the other illustrators in the book, worked from the same studio. John was a renowned artist who had been commissioned to paint her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family. He was now in his 90’s.
After a phone call, Paul and Gill met up with Pam and over a meal chatted about the ‘Word in Pictures’ project and their love of these high quality Bible character illustrations Pam and John had created. As they thumbed through the Bible character book, Pam reminisced about the people they had used as models when they had been painting. One had been a local car dealer, another a shopkeeper and others friends, students or neighbours. To hear how these modern British faces had been painted as Jews in Biblical clothes made them all laugh. Pam kindly gave us permission to use over fifty illustrations she and John had created and make them available for free teaching use around the world.
John Heseltine died later that year and Paul went to his funeral which was attended by many gifted and creative people from the world of art and music. We thought it was wonderful that one of John’s last acts was to allow these great illustrations to be used around the world.
In the summer, when we met on our annual fund-raising bike ride around the Isle of Wight, it was great to find everyone in good spirits, and the event passed off without accident or incident. We were also delighted to find new gifted contributors willing to share their Bible story art. Yves Langevins, a deaf pastor from Canada, who teaches the Bible through his illustrations and sign language, donated artwork. Australians, Ian and Sue Coate gave us permission to use their clip art illustrations so students could to create their own Bible story scenes. And further Bible story graphics came form Rene Pfitzner who spent seven years drawing for Walt Disney Animation in Sydney before joining the Anglican ministry full time. Not only was the project growing in quantity but quality also.
One of the greatest supporters of the ‘Word in Images’ project has been Les Black. Les had travelled to Romania and Hungary using our images to teach in churches and Sunday schools. He took part in all our fund raising cycle rides. Even after learning he had a rare and aggressive form of cancer of the spine he cycled to raise funds for the project. Amazingly Les retained such a positive outlook and remained active way beyond the time any doctor had predicted.
He passed away peacefully in August at the age of 59. He was a lovely Christian man, so well respected by family, friends and colleagues. He did more than anyone else to support and help the project and we estimate that he covered the cost of over 100 of our stories getting into production and going live. His legacy will live on for generations to come. At his thanksgiving service he asked for donations to be given to Freebibleimages to get more stories online. The chances are that if you have downloaded a story from our web site at no cost – you can thank Les Black. We continue to uphold his wife, Val and their grown-up children in prayer.
In September, Raphe, our treasurer decided to stand down as he had taken on other commitments. We were delighted when a very capable Christian financial guy, who had worked for Cisco systems, was prepared to join the Trustees to replace Raphe. There was a further boost when we approached Rob Burn, a very experienced Christian solicitor, to join the team and let us tap into his expertise in licensing and legal matters. Rob kindly agreed to further strengthen the team. We had a celebration meal together to thank Raphe and welcome Mike and Rob.
The year was tinged with sadness in December. We had got to know a young man called Robbie Wilson who was our point of contact with Big Book Media from whom we license the photos taken from the four gospels filmed in Morocco by the LUMO project. Robbie was a delightful Christian guy to work with and we were shocked two years ago to hear that a few days before his wedding Robbie was given a diagnosis of cancer. Despite this terrible news Robbie and his fiancé both wanted the wedding to go ahead and a lovelier couple you could not meet. Robbie faced his illness with great positivity and lived way beyond the most optimistic diagnosis the specialists had given him. We learnt of his sad passing and attended his funeral in the week before Christmas. The thanksgiving service was a great tribute to Robbie, his bravery, humour, musical talent and popularity. It was also a powerful testimony of the deep love between a young couple in the most difficult of circumstances.
Such losses raise questions for which there are no easy answers. Only in the context of eternity will we be able to replace some very big question marks with bigger exclamation marks.
The year ended with us getting another 157 sets of images online at the rate of three a week. Our downloads were up by 25% on 2015 and visitors were spending more time on the site. We are on target to get over one million sets of images downloaded in 2017. There was also a big increase in those reading stories on mobile devices in our story view. Over a million people in 2016 – an increase of 300%
All in all the team of ‘grumpy old Christian men’ were smiling as they read through the end of year’s stats. FreeBibleimages went into the top 100,000 web sites in the world for the first time. There were over 500 sets of Bible story images online with another 200 planned for 2017. In our wildest dreams, in the darkest moments, we could not have imagined any of this being possible.
When God is behind a project the secret is to run with His flow, and it’s surprising where you end up. Trusting in God, and not your own understanding, is always difficult for grumpy old Christian men – but it brings such great rewards.
2015 – A YEAR OF TWO HALVES
Football pundits talk about a, ‘game of two halves’, and 2015 was a bit like that for Free Bible images. The first half ran smoothly but the second was full of challenges.
In July 2015 the team met for a barbecue. We were delighted to have as our guest Margaret Prentice, who was visiting England for a short trip. Margaret, and a team of volunteers, use our images to teach Religious Education in schools in New Zealand. It was a happy occasion as we celebrated our first one million downloads of image sets. The one millionth download took place on Good Friday at 1:00am (UK time) and was by someone in Mexico.
Two days later we ran our annual fund-raising cycle ride/walk on the Isle of Wight. Margaret joined in the walk and contributed to a very successful event. We were also delighted that Les was well enough to take part.
There was some concern about one of the cyclists, who crashed his bike but bravely cycled on for another ten miles. (He was later found to have two cracked ribs!) They breed them tough round here.
Just when our situation looked comfortable, we faced renewed challenges. Paul, who puts our image sets together, became ill whilst on holiday and was unable to continue with his work as a self-employed I.T. trainer for the rest of the year. John, our chairman, had a bladder biopsy. Raphe, our treasurer, had to go into hospital for a hip operation.
In this period of difficulty we published more images than ever. Paul worked from home when he was strong enough to do so. He was particularly encouraged when two Christians in India who use our images, skyped him to say that God had asked them to pray for him. Bill, a user in the USA, got a group praying which added to the prayers of the FreeBibleimages team.
In December John was given the all-clear on his biopsy and Raphe was recovering well too. Paul is well enough to work on a computer. It does seem that when we are at our weakest, God makes us strong.
During these adversities we found new contributors. One of them, Sue Bentley, an artist and teacher, was recovering from her own health issues. She decided to use her time to create artwork for young children, which has proved very popular. The Christmas story set she created was our most popular download in December.
During the latter part of the year we were able to launch a mobile-friendly version of our website. There has been an 87% increase in the number of people using mobiles and tablets to access our website, so this was an important step.
Another technological breakthrough was launching our new Story View. This lets people view each image in a story along with the caption text. We aim to encourage people to use mobile devices to ‘tell’ Bible stories to others using the images to keep their attention. Since its launch in September, the Story View has proved to be very popular.
We are deeply grateful that God led us to a Christian man, David Gosnell, to do our web work. His coding expertise is vital in the development of our website. David has created an online portal we can make available to those wishing to translate our materials. One of the first organisations to use this was ‘Gobaith I Gymru’ who are translating our Story Planners into Welsh for use in Welsh schools. It has been thrilling to see new translations in Arabic, Hindi, Telugu, Spanish, Hungarian, Romanian, Portuguese among others.
We were encouraged by users contacting us to say how they are using our free resources around the world. We have posted some of this feedback on our Facebook page. Those teaching in areas where Christians are persecuted remain unpublished but are always in our prayers.
Although we enjoyed the comfort and ease of the first half of last year, overcoming the difficult personal and technical challenges in the second half has seen the work grow. The first half was in our strength but the second half was heavily reliant on God. 73 new sets of Bible story images were published and downloads were up 23%. It is our testimony that God provided for all our needs in 2015.
2014 – GROWTH AND BREAK-THROUGHS
2014 began with encouraging growth. Paul, who had been housebound for six months due to illness, was able to get lots of image sets ready. His son, Richard, who had just graduated with a masters in Digital marketing worked with us to advise and help build our online profile. By March a set of images were being downloaded, on average, every 50 seconds, 24 hours a day. Paul was gradually able to get back to work. David, who had a bad accident the weekend after our fund-raising bike ride in 2013, is now back on his bike but has promised he won’t be doing any more jumps.
However, Les Black, a great FreeBibleimages enthusiast, who has used our pictures in his local church and in Romania, had a set-back. He was sadly informed in May that his cancer had returned and was incurable. Just recently Les wrote to a former American colleague promoting the FBi website. He said: “For me, the FBi project is like the parable of the mustard seed: from nothing 5 years ago, God has grown a tree that brings blessing worldwide”. Despite his illness, Les intends to support the FBi team and project “until his race is finished”. We continue to pray fervently for Les, that God will keep moving the finishing line a long way ahead of him.
We were undecided whether to run another round the Isle of Wight sponsored bike ride this year, wondering whether it had seen its day. We were conscious that it relied on the goodwill of the same bunch of loyal cyclists and often drew on the same support base for funding. The uncertainties of the British climate and safety issues added further risks. However, God clearly had other plans. After much prayer we decided to go ahead. To our amazement Les Black insisted on riding around part of the island. His courage and enthusiasm helped ensure the best sum raised to date – over £7,000! Thank you Les – and thank you God.
Encouragement came in September when we heard that Big Book Media had just finished filming the four gospels on location in Morocco. We have an agreement with them, allowing us to purchase and then license their still shots. In contrast to recent Bible epics coming out of Hollywood, they have made every effort to film each scene just as it happened in the Bible and used the Bible text, without any edits, as the narration.
In December we watched extracts from these films at the launch of the LUMO project in the beautiful location of Southwark Cathedral in London, and were amazed at the quality and authenticity of the films. More stills from these, as we can license them, will be appearing on our site during 2015. But we were saddened to hear that a young man we have got to know from the Lumo project is facing significant health problems and we are praying very much for him.
We decided to hold another fund raising event in October. This time, as a new venture for us, we thought we’d run a concert. With little experience in catering or event management, it was a big ask – but we had a secret weapon: the wonderful Christian singer, musician and raconteur Jonathan Veira. We found an ideal venue, sent out loads of publicity, bought huge quantities of refreshments…and prayed hard. It was a superb evening! People roared with laughter at some of Jonathan’s stories and there were more than a few tears at the end of some of his beautiful songs … and all this from reserved Brits! Everyone who attended agreed the concert had been a great success – and we raised another £1,500 to put images on line.
A major breakthrough came at the end of November when a team of four Christian brothers and sisters working in China finished translating all of our story planners into simplified Chinese. Praise God that our web site can still be viewed in China, but, should it be blocked, that the files are already there and widely distributed.
Hindi is the main language for over 258 million people. A team working in a church in India translated all the story planners into Hindi, allowing us to share great Bible stories with a vast new population! Praise God for those who have made this possible.
By the end of 2014 we had over half-a-million downloads into every country apart from the Western Sahara. We have welcomed some new friends to our contributors section – Bible Hub, The Redemption story, with some new images from Moody Publishers to come.
2015 brings new challenges and opportunities. We want to publish lots of high quality images of the Gospels but need to raise a lot of money to meet this challenge. Our experience is that God supplies your needs but only when you really, really – even to the point of desperation, need it. We also need much prayer support for those facing ongoing health challenges.
This is an exciting journey to get the Word into Pictures and no-one but God knows what is around the next corner. We praise Him for his faithfulness in 2014 and trust He will continue to bless us greatly in the year to come
2013 – TRIALS AND TESTING
At the beginning of a new year we often sing the chorus that begins:
I do not know what lies ahead, the way I cannot see…
As we started out 2013 full of hope for FreeBibleimages, it was probably just as well we couldn’t see what lies ahead as there were certainly some challenges in store.
2012 had been a great year and God had really blessed the project. We had won the People’s Choice category in the Premier Christian New Media Awards but, more important, the numbers of people downloading from our web site were increasing each month. The team was in good health and everything was going to plan. Maybe the difficulties were behind us and we could continue to ride the crest of the wave.
By June our funds were low but were able to attend an event organised by the Kerygma Fund in London. It works a bit like Dragons’ Den, the TV programme where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to potential investors. In this case, Christians pitch their projects to Christians looking to support Christian initiatives. We had 6 minutes to present FreeBibleimages. Six organisations were granted funding and we were one of those – £15,000 was given, Kerygma allowing us to get many more sets of images online. Fantastic. What could possibly go wrong?
Later in June we ran our annual fund raising bike ride on the Isle of Wight, which raised another £5,000. It was a lovely day, fine weather, and everyone enjoyed the event.
One enthusiastic cyclist was David, the son of one of our trustees. He completed the Isle of Wight course with ease and had already recovered by the following weekend to go cycling in Sussex with some friends. But as he was cycling through some woods he crashed, sustaining three bleeds to his brain and three fractured vertebrae. His worried parents, on holiday miles away, had a 4 hour ‘dash’ to be with him in hospital. The FBi team was stunned. It didn’t seem fair that David, who had contributed so much to the project, should suffer in this way. We alerted our prayer partners and we all prayed fervently for David’s recovery.
Paul, another trustee, had completed the bike ride but within five days his health had collapsed and a month later he was in hospital. A self-employed man, he was unable to get back to his normal work for the remainder of the year but thankfully could sit at home putting more images online.
Les had been part of the team presenting to the Kerygma Fund. He is a great enthusiast for the project and used our images in local school assemblies and in Romania. We were all shocked to hear the news he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer near the spine, which needed immediate surgery. The lump was removed but further treatment was needed with specialist equipment only available in the USA. The National Health Service sent Les, supported by his wife, over to a hospital in Florida for regular ongoing treatment for the remainder of the year.
The value of having a prayer support team cannot be underestimated. Prayer is vital to the success of the project and to ensure we do not lose motivation when faced with difficult problems. At the start of 2014 things are looking much more positive. David is making a good recovery and Paul is well enough to start rebuilding his business again. In fact, we published more in this period of time than in any time in our short history. Les is now back from the USA and making good progress. He tells us, ‘I read a poster in a restaurant when I was in Jacksonville that really moved my heart: ‘Don’t tell God how big your storm is… tell the storm how big your God is.’ The FreeBibleimages team, and those associated with it, have experienced plenty of storms. But our God is bigger. Praise Him.
All the while we were praying through these setbacks, more and more people were finding FreeBibleimages and downloading files. In November the stats told us we were getting, on average, a full set of images downloaded every minute, 24 hours a day and on some days this was a higher at a download every 45 seconds. In adversity God was still growing the ministry.
To expand the work further, we are making plans to allow people to contribute Bible story artwork to the ‘Word in Pictures’ project. However we have to be very careful about copyright. We were given scans of artwork from a Bible Story filmstrip series, produced many years ago by the Moody Bible Institute and spent several frustrating months trying to unravel the red tape around copyright and permission to publish these images for teaching purposes only.
Then we had a breakthrough. Fred, who deals with the publishing rights for Moody Publishers, was visiting England before Christmas and willing to meet with us. Over a meal in London we obtained the agreement we needed and became friends with Fred. He is a lovely Christian man, who understands the issues around providing free Christian resources in a commercial world. It was well worth the wait to meet Fred and do things properly – in God’s way and in His timing. We launched the new Contributors section of FreeBibleimages in February 2014.
Now it is a new year and it is time for that chorus again. Perhaps the events of 2013 have caused us to sing the second verse a little more fervently:
I know who holds the future, and He’ll guide me with His hand;
with God things don’t just happen, everything by Him is planned.
So as I face tomorrow, with its problems large and small,
I’ll trust the God of miracles, give to Him my all.
2012 – Setbacks and challenges
The rest of 2012 continued to provide challenges and break-throughs. Lack of funds was still a problem but God always provided. We called it the manna approach – there was never enough money to make us feel secure but always sufficient for our needs. God was teaching us a lesson here! By the end of the summer our bank account was empty again and we knew we had to finance the Christmas stories to be put on the site in time for people to download them. All our team are unpaid volunteers but we have ongoing administration and development costs.
One of the lessons we have learned is that very few, if any, of those downloading files take the time to make a donation. Should we be more direct about asking for donations? We felt not. Most of our users are already giving their time and talents generously to God to teach others the Bible so we wanted to encourage them – not make them feel guilty. So we decided that after a download they did not need an in-your-face prompt to donate but a Bible verse to motivate them. It didn’t improve our finances but we did have a peace about this approach.
Then, out of the blue, The Seedbed Trust, who had given us some start-up funding, invited us to apply for another grant. We didn’t ask, they asked us! To our delight they gave us £5,000 – enough for the Christmas story image sets. Praise the Lord!
But the licensing of images and publication of the Christmas story took our funds to zero again. We needed more money for administration costs and we hoped to finance the production of the Easter story later on. Now what? We decided to take the initiative ourselves. The idea was to do a sponsored cycle ride round the Isle of Wight in the South of England – around 70 miles. Now most on the cycle team were in their fifties and sixties, two had had major operations and one suffered from a chronic condition. Not the most likely group. What is more, we set a target to raise £6,000, a seemingly big ask. But again God was good. The mid-October day (often cold and wet in the UK) dawned sunny and mild. Everyone completed the trip, with varying degrees of finesse. Half way round God lit up the sky with the most beautiful rainbow. One of the riders jokingly said it must be His sign we should never do this again! Nevertheless, 115 people made donations and the amount raised after gift aid was £6,900 – all we had hoped for plus a little bit more. Thank you, Lord!
The site was continuing to grow. By the end of 2012 FreeBibleimages was being visited by people in 198 countries with thousands of images being downloaded each day. And we still hadn’t even officially launched the site! It was imperative that we did this but once again lack of funds meant anything we planned would be a fairly meagre affair. What could we do?
In August 2012, someone had nominated FreeBibleimages for the People’s Choice category in the Christian New Media awards to be held in the Autumn of 2012. There were thousands of nominations so we didn’t get our hopes up, but to our surprise we were shortlisted. People began voting online for shortlisted nominees and a few week later we heard we were in the final two places and invited to the ceremony, a plush affair at an amazing London venue. We had a delicious meal, talked to some inspiring Christians… and won the award!
John and Paul went up to receive it and dedicated it posthumously to Tony Staite, our ‘Director of I.T’ whose enthusiasm had helped launch the project. So without a marketing budget, God had provided us with a first class launch with an acceptance speech that was filmed and available to watch throughout the world. Wow! Our thanks to Premier Christian Radio for organising the event with such style. We got a major boost in new visitors to the site also.
As funds got low again, we took a step of faith to use them all up to license further images of the story of Easter. Two weeks later we got the news of an unexpected gift of £6,000 from a Christian Trust. We had not applied to them for money but they had heard of our project and its growth and decided to support us. Images of the story of Easter can now be shared around the world. God is so good!
The challenge for the team, all born in BC (Before Computers) is to get the help of those born AD (After Digital) to generate interest in the site via social media. We are on a learning curve working out how Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other online communities can help us communicate with those who will find our images useful.
As we look back over 2012 we are awed by how much God has blessed this project. Each day stories flood in of how people are using the images to teach the Bible, often in very difficult circumstances. We are never complacent – each month brings new challenges. But we rejoice that God has been willing to use a group of grumpy old Christian men… to help others teach the Bible more effectively.
2011 – ‘Word in Pictures’ project begins
The Free Bible images story couldn’t have had a less promising beginning. We were a small group of Christian men who were unemployed for a variety of reasons and had decided to meet in a local church side-room to offer mutual support. Some of us had just been made redundant; others were unable to work due to ill health; some were retired. On the surface it was a depressing encounter. But in reality it marked the beginning of an extraordinary plan that God was unfolding.
One of the group, Paul, shared an idea he had to provide free Bible images for teachers and preachers across the world to access via the internet. It sounded daft. But he was fed up of hearing a thousand words in church when a picture could be used instead. There was no money for the project, nor were there any resources in place. He hadn’t expected to be taken seriously but to his surprise the group was full of enthusiasm and decided to search the web to see what Bible story images were available.
At our next meeting we collated our research and the need for such a free resource became evident. When we shared our experience we found we had skills in project management, finance, marketing and design. We ‘no hopers’ collectively made a formidable team. Perhaps God had brought us together for a reason.
We had wide experience in business but deliberately set out to break all the usual rules of commerce and concentrate on putting ministry before money, prioritising faith over funding and putting Bible principles above business practice.
Far from being depressing, our meetings abounded with humour. The name FreeBibleimages was adopted, with the acronym F.B.i. (a lower case i to avoid confusion with a much larger covert organisation). A self-confessed technophobe, Tony, was put in charge of I.T. (although here it stood for Integrity and Tea making).
We decided to enlist some willing actors and schedule a photo shoot based on some of the New Testament parables. But where would this take place and how would we get the costumes to clothe the cast? Yet God had planned for that too. The Wintershall Estate, which had hosted the wonderful Life of Christ productions for many years, had a huge barn and a massive array of costumes. Sir Peter Hutley who runs Wintershall, after an initial meeting, gave us free use of the costumes and the facilities.
With some initial funding from the Seedbed Christian Trust, the FBi team was ready to progress. February 2010 was scheduled for the first shoot.
But then tragedy struck. The wonderful ‘head of I.T.’, Tony Staite, who had recently developed cancer, passed away just before the shoot took place. Two more members of the team had minor operations and the shoot director, had acute flare-up of a chronic condition. Only one member of the team, was fit … and he collapsed in London the week before the shoot and ended up in Accident and Emergency. Everything and everyone seemed under attack. So that was even more reason to carry on. People in the churches we attended rallied round to help.
One of the Bible passages being photographed was The Parable of the Great Feast, featuring, ‘the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ One way and another most of them seemed to be in the barn that day.
Eighty frames had to be shot in eight hours. Filming started at ten o’ clock. By eleven o’ clock only five shots had been taken. Time was running out.
But we have a great God who answers prayer. Those who had had operations and health issues joined in with enthusiasm. An actor who had broken her rib earlier that week gamely took part, although she hadn’t anticipated empathising with the role of the crippled woman quite so strongly. There’s method acting for you.
And we made up the time too. Not only did we complete the three planned stories but an extra one as well: the Parable of the Persistent Widow – a story about persistent prayer.
The team was excited by the success of the first shoot and soon the results were up on our newly developed website – ready to be shared with the world. And the world was keen to partake. In the first few months since its inception, hundreds of users visited the site. With some good search engine optimisation, people were quickly finding us online when they searched for ‘free Bible images’ or similar.
One of our first tasks was to form a prayer support group. Everyone was agreed that the project should be surrounded by prayer, especially as there had been so many difficulties. Prayer partners came forward and provided a stalwart support base. They were going to need the ‘knees of a camel‘ as requests came thick and fast.
A constant problem was lack of money. The early funding was soon used up and although the team gave their time for free, there were photographers to pay as well as the costs of uploading new material. An application was made to a Christian Trust who kindly put up more funds – although they were soon used up by the next shoot: Elijah.
Some of the Wintershall cast had volunteered to play Bible characters for the photographs and proved a willing and talented bunch. One in particular, Brian Worthington, seemed to have a biblical face and he was an obvious choice for Elijah. (Even though he was actually a retired solicitor from Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, England!) He looked great in the photos and by the end of June another story had been added to the site.
But we were conscious that white Anglo Saxons – even those with brown eyes and suntans – do not look the most authentic Bible characters. For the next project, the story of Joseph, we needed to find middle-eastern people who would look the part. We contacted a Coptic Church in the UK and Paul and Gill visited to ask for volunteers.
The congregation was Egyptian, Syrian and Greek and so looked much closer to the way Joseph and his brothers and some of the Egyptians in the Bible story would look. The response was amazing. About fifteen people volunteered to take part with more promised. It was a particularly poignant moment considering that two weeks earlier 21 people were killed and 90 injured in an unprovoked attack on a Coptic Church in Egypt.
The generosity and enthusiasm of these persecuted people was heart warming. Some of them came quite a distance to be there and one group had enjoyed themselves so much on the Saturday they came back again on the Sunday afternoon just to watch. As we got to know them a little better, we got to know their stories: one family had to flee from Egypt in the wake of the shootings there to take refuge in Britain. They didn’t know anything about the project but had heard that morning that people were travelling across from the church and decided to come with them to offer their services.
We were gradually amassing a multi-cultural cast. There were volunteers from Egypt, Syria, Greece, the West Indies and South Africa. It was great to see people from different churches and different countries working together on a Christian project.
As well as trying to replicate the ethnicity of Bible characters more accurately, we were also seeking to find new acting talent with the right look. A cursory phone call to churches in the area produced Rob O’ Shea, a professional actor and the warm up artist for a TV quiz show. He is also an enthusiastic Christian. He played the part of Joseph brilliantly and everyone was hugely impressed by the fact he could make himself cry at will. A true professional. Mind you, at the end of the shoot, when Joseph was reunited with his elderly father Jacob, the actors played their parts so well that the tears flowed for real.
But there was a shock to follow. The wife of our web designer, who had been suffering from a brain tumour, was taken into hospital. A few weeks later she passed away to be with her Lord and Saviour. There are times when as a Christian you don’t know what to say or do … we just prayed and prayed for her devastated husband … and continue to do so.
In this difficult time we needed to find someone to take on the responsibility of updating and maintaining the web site. David, a web expert attending one of our local churches, was approached and he was willing to take on the role for us.
BARRIERS AND BREAKTHROUGHS
The free download of pictures was the project’s biggest asset but also its biggest problem. Some individuals and churches had given generously but as each story cost about £1200 to produce so donations were soon used up.
The team freely gave their time to this project but the costs still needed to be met. We could not raise money fast enough and projected shoots often had to be put on hold until money was forthcoming. Nevertheless, we planned the Joseph shoot in faith, knowing we could not afford the post production costs after the shoot to get the images online. The next day two cheques arrived in the post. Against all the odds God was blessing this project.
Another break-through was meeting up with the directors of Big Book Media. This wonderful company produces films of Bible stories. They shared our vision to provide high quality Bible images to the world and were prepared to license some stills from their films – at half the price it cost us to create them. Again God was at work.
FreeBibleimages began 2012 with its funds used up so the team took the problem to God. We came into contact with Sweet Publishing who had created and used over 2000 images for a Sunday School curriculum now out of print. After making contact, Sweet Publishing made these images available to FreeBibleimages to distribute freely under a Creative Commons Share-alike licence. The cost to us – absolutely nothing.
This generous act by Sweet Publishing to make these images available along with our technology and web site was a brilliant combination. God just brought us together – amazing.
The team of volunteers took their artwork into Photoshop, to enhance and optimise the images, then put them into Bible story sets. A new section of the site – FreeBibleillustrations – was soon up and running.
Over the next few months volunteers began to come forward willing to translate the Story Planner PDF files into other languages. Translations are now underway for Spanish, Romanian, Hungarian and German – but many more are needed.
Following an interview on United Christian Broadcasting about the project, another Photoshop user came forward willing to darken the skin tones in the images to better represent Middle Eastern skin hues. It is an important part of the FreeBibleimages philosophy to make our images as culturally and racially accurate as we can.
As of the Summer of 2012 FreeBibleimages have people downloading sets of Bible story files in their hundreds each day.
Tony Staite, who passed away in 2011, left the team £1,000 to get images created for the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It was accomplished and is currently the most popular download. His legacy will be online for future generations. As a former bank manager he called it ‘the best investment [he] would ever make’ – and he was right.
The grumpy old Christian men at FreeBibleimages are learning God’s ‘power shows up best in weak people’ (2 Corinthians 12 verse 9). There is certainly weakness. But the vision is strong and we know God is backing us.
After all, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31) or as actor Brian Worthington declared aloud when we shared our ideas with him – ‘the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’