THE GILEAD FOUNDATION is a Christian ministry located at Risdon Farm, Okehampton. James Lewis and Tony Cummings report.

Risdon Farm, Okehampton is a location known by most Cross Rhythms readers. It is the site for Cross Rhythms SW and this year more than 3,000 people will journey there in July to enjoy a weekend of music and ministry in the picturesque, rolling farmland located on the edge of Dartmoor. But Risdon Farm is not an everyday area of commercial farmland, playing annual host for bands and CCM enthusiasts before reverting back to cows, pigs, farm workers and the labyrinthine demands of EEC farming policy. Dave Cross, worker with the Gilead Foundation housed at Risdon Farm, waves an expansive hand across the acres of farmland as he speaks. "This is holy ground, sanctified and set aside for the Lord's purposes and plans. Yes, it's a farm, and people work here producing farm produce. But it's home to a unique work of God, one that I and many, many other people owe our very lives to."

The work to which Dave Cross is referring is called The Gilead Foundation. Using the jargon of the Social Services Gilead is an "alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre". The reality is somewhat more awe-inspiring. On this farm, miracles regularly occur. Young men and women come on to the farm voluntarily to work. These "students" as they are called are the casualties of Britain's inner city life - chronic alcoholism, heroin abuse, addiction to crack cocaine -the young people who arrive at Risdon Farm are in a state of such despair that they are prepared to try the unthinkable: go to work on a farm run by Christians leaving behind all drugs - not even cigarettes are allowed. A staggering 70 to 80 per cent of the students who go to Risdon come off substance abuse and they do so normally without DTs or drug withdrawal symptoms. There is a 100% success rate for those who go through the programme.

The amazing success rate first was once disbelieved by the secular Social Services who once tried to close Gilead down! Now, in a complete about-face, the secular services are now busily referring as many last-hope drug and alcohol abusers to Gilead as their bursting-at-the-seams programme will allow. Dave Cross is in no doubt as to the source of Gilead's phenomenal success in dealing with a problem normal secular agencies seem powerless to address. "It's Jesus. He's the one who brings students off heroin without withdrawal. He's the one who heals lives and completely re-assembles character and motive here. We make no apologies to the Jesus-dimension of our work. We obviously don't demand that students become Christians but pretty soon they're bound to bump into him, we have praise and worship every day for instance, and everything is run through prayer. Such is the power of God working within this place that usually those who stay become Christians within weeks of coming onto the farm, or a minority scoot off out of here because they feel so unclean. The bulk stay and are transformed."

Dave Cross himself knows about God's transforming power. Once a heroin addict with over 20 years' heroin addiction he and his wife Tina, another ex-heroin addict, are now full time workers at Gilead counselling, praying and working alongside the 35 odd students who currently live on the farm or its newly opened annexe in Newquay. One time professional musician Dave is a talented singer/songwriter and will begin work on recording his first CD later this year. But for the moment Dave's time is fully taken up with what he describes as "the awesome power of God" he daily sees at work on Risdon Farm.

The story of the 300-acre site is one of great faith and commitment, initially by the ministry's founder and the centre manager Ian Samuel. Risdon Farm was originally owned by Ian who took it over in 1986. Ian moved from Chepstow where he and his wife, Bronwyn, had helped run a Day Centre for people with alcohol and drug problems, run by local Christians. Ian and Bronwyn moved to Risdon Farm they thought to raise sheep and milk cows, but it was not to be.

The Gilead Foundation started at the farm around the Christmas of 1988 with a couple of students, working alongside the farm business. Over the course of the next two years Gilead became a charity, but it was at the very beginning of 1990 that Gilead became really remarkable. Ian believed God told him to take a giant risk, "We were to sell everything off and get rid of everything that was here at the time and to only keep four things - the staff and students, the farm land, the buildings and basically anything to do with training the students."

Ian didn't rush into selling everything off but prayed. Ian takes up the story: "I said to God, 'OK, if you spoke to me this plainly, then there is one man who has to confirm this and I'm not going to tell him anything.' That was the pastor in Okehampton at that time. The next morning he rang me up and said, 'I want to come and see you, Ian.' I said, 'I know you do.' So he came and sat down and I said, 'You've got some things to tell me.' He said, That's right.' So I said, 'Well, I've got it written down here. You tell me.' He confirmed everything I had and then I knew it was God. It was a radical decision that we had made - we sold off over the course of the next few months... Most people thought that we were crazy."

All the animals were sold off and the machinery was either sold or returned to 'the leasing companies and the Christian staff were told, "Look, this is it, now -basically, if you want to stay we can't pay you any more."

However, lan's commitment to his vision for Gilead didn't stop there. Ian and his wife became convinced that they should relinquish their control of the farm. It wasn't an easy decision. "Looking at it at the time, I thought 'This is crazy - no one with a business would do this.' Because, really, it was all set for success, although there was a heavy financial burden it was already set up for success."

Risdon Farm was given over to the Gilead Foundation, complete with the financial burden, and these debts are a story in themselves. A modern-day David and Goliath, Gilead found itself up against a major high street bank. With amounts totalling about half a million pounds outstanding, Ian and company found themselves under massive pressure to repay the bank.

The bank manager was very understanding at first, even when Ian explained openly his vision and faith, and encouraged Ian to get charitable status in the expectation that the money would start to come in once Gilead was a charity. However, money was too slow to come in for the bank's liking and three years ago the bank went to court to get a possession order. Explains Ian: "So I said OK and we decided to go to court and stand on what God had told us. We got into court and the Judge basically chucked their possession order out of court. The Judge said, 'I think you've got trouble Mr Bank, I think the Gilead Foundation have a right to be there.'"

But the bank didn't just let it drop there. Ian likens the next few months to "very much like a Moses and Pharaoh experience where Moses was bringing the Children of Israel out of Egypt and Pharaoh kept changing his mind - it was a bit like that with the bank manager - one minute they're OK, next minute they want to cut our throats. And so it went on like this - it was like the bank would become all soft one week and next week they would get tough and, 'We're going to do this and do that and take this.' I could see this pattern all the way down the line and every time I could see old Pharaoh raising his head. We were confident that God had told us he would provide but it doesn't completely stop you feeling a tiny bit under pressure!"

Undeterred by his bank manager, Ian contacted the head of the bank directly and in response the head office sent some people to the farm. Ian told the executive everything that was happening, leaving nothing out. "These guys said they wanted to go for a walk for a while. When they came back they said, 'Look Mr Samuel, I believe there have been a lot of mistakes here, on our part as well. We want to draw a line, we're prepared to wipe all this out, but we must see some sort of price paid for the farm, for what it's worth today.'" Gilead and the bank came to an agreement on that and at that point someone stepped in and paid the amount agreed leaving them with only the legalities to tie up.

The world of corporate finance is not the only giant the Gilead Foundation has had go up against - the local Social Services have also provided a challenge to Gilead's existence. "They said, 'You've got to have registration because of the 1984 act.' If you have more than three people in your care that have drug or alcohol dependency problems and if you're giving them personal care then you have to be registered. So they got tough on us -eventually they persuaded me that we needed to put in an application and then they turned it down! Typical!"