In a long, difficult yet exciting spiritual journey, CROSS RHYTHMS is standing at a crossroads after a more than 20 year history.
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"So, what of the future? At the end of this year, our initial pilot period comes to an end. God willing and Ofcom willing we hope our licence will be extended for a full five year term. We feel that the initial two years have been an invaluable time. Relationships with local leaders and bodies have been developed and a strong foundation has been laid. We have a good team of people - 14 employees and more than 25 volunteers. Some volunteers have moved city, and one came from Ireland to join us. Others travel from Nottingham and Birmingham. They come from all backgrounds - university media students, mothers who come in to clean, some disabled, some with no experience or qualifications and just recently a young asylum seeker from Georgia.
"In anticipation, we are already preparing for the next five years. Firstly, we are partnering with the local YMCA to invest into their 'customers'. From 2005 those customers who fulfil some basic requirements at the YMCA will have the opportunity to come to Cross Rhythms for some media training experience. They will be asked to do a five minute presentation on what they think of the station, then they will get editing, mixing desk and interview experience, leading up to presenting their own one off, one hour show and receiving a certificate of achievement at the end. This is a valuable opportunity to offer a hand up to some disadvantaged people.
"Secondly, we want to engage strategically and effectively with the drugs problems in our city. As such we are in discussions with DAT (Drug Action Teams) about educational programmes and helplines on the station. We are working with a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre called Gilead Foundations who are about to set up a rehab house in the city to help the worst cases. We will broadcast programmes of the stories of those who have escaped the grip of drugs. The elected mayor himself is getting behind the initiative - helping to source the right building and location.
"Recent statistics have shown that in Britain 143,000 people are at risk of mortality due to drug overdose and more than 250,000 are problem drug users. One in three 14 year olds have tried drugs at least once. In addition alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs abuse make up 70 per cent of prime time network dramas, 95 per cent of top grossing movies and 50 per cent of all music videos.
"We believe the Christian community media should do more than entertain and inform. It should build with community for the sake of the community. Media that helps people at all levels. At the heart of the Christian faith is not just proclamation, it is action. The action of a George Muller who initiated Europe's first orphan houses; or the action of a William Wilberforce who worked for a generation to overthrow the practice of slavery. It is action that is interested in social change, serving people and helping people. These are some of the values of the Government's bold launch of Community Radio. Christians in this media field will serve it well." As Jonathan steps from the platform the applause is loud and sustained.
Ian Samuel is a burly giant of a man whose smiling demeanour and West Country burr do nothing to soften the devastating statistics he recounts. "Over four million people in the UK have life controlling problems related to drugs or alcohol. More than 140,000 people are at risk of death due to drug misuse. Abuse of alcohol leads to 1.2 million incidents of violence each year."
What makes Ian Samuel very different from one of those concerned social workers who appear regularly on our TVs is that Ian has not only grasped the size of the drug and alcohol problem affecting our nation but has also grasped the answer. Each day Ian is engaged in a work which has already seen hundreds of young people released from the bondage of drug and alcohol abuse. With his wife Bron, Ian runs Gilead Foundations, a Christian residential rehabilitation centre housed on a 320 acre dairy farm in West Devon. Gilead Foundations became a registered charity in 1991, but the work began four years earlier when Ian and Bron were first given the vision for the ministry when a group from Teen Challenge visited their church in Okehampton. Ian and Bron believed deeply that a loving and secure family environment coupled with workbased training on the farm could help many people overcome their addictions. Like-minded couples who shared a desire to help people in need joined the Samuels in the work on a voluntary basis and by the early '90s the ministry was well established. Students who join Gilead undertake an initial 12-week "life restructuring" course from which they can progress onto a two year discipleship programme if they choose. During their time with Gilead students live in community under the care of Christian house parents who help them to develop life skills, to face up to the roots of their addictive behaviour and to take responsibility for their actions. Smaller centres were established in recent years at Penderrow in Cornwall and West Buckland in Somerset. Now a rescue centre is soon to be established in Stoke-on-Trent.
Gilead caters for men and women aged 16 and upwards from all over the country. Referrals are made by churches, prison authorities, social services and friends and family of those in need of help. Some of those who join Gilead - particularly single mothers and fathers - are able to bring their children as well. Gilead runs a Christian home schooling programme for these youngsters. Practical training is provided on the farm - which is now a registered organic unit - and in the associated dairy processing unit as well as in maintenance, catering, administration and other areas. Since April 2003 Gilead Foundations has benefited from funding through the Government's Supporting People programme, enabling the charity to employ more staff and embark on a major development plan. One of its many initiatives will be The Word In Action festival which will be launched, in collaboration with Cross Rhythms, at its Risdon Farm HQ in 2005. Having been in close relationship for many years with Chris Cole (for several years Chris was on the Gilead board of trustees) it offered its breathtaking Dartmoor vistas to Cross Rhythms as the venue for the Cross Rhythms music and ministry festival from 1994 to 2003. Now Gilead will be partnering Cross Rhythms as together they form a completely new festival next year based on their collaboration of "the word in action." "It will be a bit different from the Cross Rhythms festival," explains Ian. "It will be more involved in encouraging Christians to become facilitators of God's word. For too long we've seen the spectacle of Christians feeding on God's word but unwilling or unable to move out in God's Spirit and see him move through them in power. We are called to be God's healing hands in this land. We have a church hungry to see the miraculous power of God but blind to the fact that to see that they will need to become servants to the broken and the lost. That's what Gilead is all about. We believe the festival could help many more Christians to make the difference in our society."
Chris and Kerry Cole are on the roof of Conway House, gazing out at the cityscape of Stoke-on-Trent spread beneath them. Stoke-on-Trent is a city that has undergone more than its share of problems in the past few years - urban decay; the traditional Potteries factories switch their manufacturing base to cheaper, low wage nations in the Far East putting thousands of skilled workers onto the dole; and many hundreds of young people escaping the no money, bad housing, no job hopelessness of their lives through crack and heroin. But now there are signs of change in this Staffordshire city and Chris Cole is keen to talk about it. "When God led Cross Rhythms to Stoke-on-Trent in 1996 things looked very, very bleak here. We had all these problems yet the Church here was disunited and invisible to the man in the street. Stoke-on-Trent, which had once been a place of great spiritual revival and godly living, was by the '90s a place where there were race riots, football thugs and swathes of young people getting off their faces every weekend in Hanley's nightclubs. Then three years ago the 2C7 prayer meetings began and for the first time for decades, hundreds of Christians were meeting regularly to repent and call out to God for Stoke. And things began to change." The Church began to realise it needed the balance of personal holiness combined with social interaction.
One of these developments was the Cross Rhythms ministry. Having its broadcasting origins in the 1980s under the auspices of Chris and Kerry Cole in Plymouth, Devon, it gradually evolved from a one hour weekly radio programme produced for a local ILR station to, by the mid-'90s, a syndicated radio programme, a Christian music magazine (begun by Tony Cummings and then partner Mark Golding) and an annual festival in Devon. But it was Cross Rhythms relocating to Stoke-on-Trent to take up the invitation of United Christian Broadcasters to run a youth orientated radio station for them which took Cross Rhythms to the next level. Cross Rhythms, as it was originally called, was broadcast on satellite and gave British church goers their first taste of a station that played cutting edge rock, rap and R&B rather than the softer, more easy listening fare of UCB and Premier Radio. With UCB receiving unprecedented funding generated by its The Word For Today Bible reading devotional and UCB resourcing the Cross Rhythms youth station, an official convergence of the two ministries seemed a certainty. In 2001 the trustees of the two charities gathered for what most people thought would be the meeting which ratified the merger. Instead, what emerged was a decision that stunned media pundits, with Cross Rhythms disengaging from UCB to pursue independency. Comments Chris Cole, "We made that decision because that was clearly God's will. The visions for UCB and Cross Rhythms were simply different. We had built a strong relationship with their managing director Gareth Littler. When he resigned from UCB then our relationship changed with UCB. Cross Rhythms had a call to reach beyond the confines of the Church and we had to follow that direction. It didn't, of course, make much financial sense. We were coming out from the support of a very well funded ministry. For a period UCB gave us significant financial support after the disengagement but it was still very tough times. Cross Rhythms didn't have any donor base to speak of, no building, no studio and practically no chance of succeeding other than a conviction that that's what God had said."
Within days of the decision two miracles had confirmed they were heading God's way. Miracle one was the granting of a licence for a new type of FM community radio station which would offer one year licences to selected cities around Britain. Miracle two was, with providential timing, BBC Stoke moving out of their purpose built studio and office complex to relocate 100 yards down the road, leaving behind a fully equipped facility that Cross Rhythms was able to buy. In February 2002 Cross Rhythms City Radio went on the air, launched at a 2C7 prayer meeting in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent. It's pioneering FM radio broadcasts soon attracted a wider, more diverse swathe of listeners than any previous broadcasting initiative. For across Stoke-on- Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme large numbers of non-church goers began to tune in to hear its upbeat music and non-religious, positive vibe.
Kerry Cole, who with husband Chris has played her part in pioneering the Cross Rhythms ministry, speaks as they continue to gaze across the traffic-filled streets below her. "When Chris started his programme with Plymouth Sound back in the '80s the vision was always to see large numbers of non- Christians listening in. That vision's never changed. Today there are many non-church goers listening to Cross Rhythms City Radio. It's a great station if you care about Stoke-on- Trent - with its interviews with the mayor and councillors, the police and social services. It's a great station if you like contemporary music. And it's a station that is fun without being profane and gives out a message of hope." Kerry stops to give her husband's shoulder a squeeze and as it's a signal, Chris continues. "Put simply, Cross Rhythms is a new model of broadcasting. We believe a whole city CAN be changed and if we're bold and creative in our broadcasting, and if God favours us as we believe he will in granting us a five year extension of our licence, we can model a radical Christian radio station here which will be a template for other cities in the UK".
It's a Saturday morning but the Cross Rhythms prayer room is crowded with CR team members. Visiting Conway House this morning are Tom and Suzie Brock. Tom is a Bible teacher from California who for a decade has forged a deep relationship with Cross Rhythms, serving the team as a mentor. Today Tom is expounding on Joshua 5. Stark Old Testament images of circumcision with flint knives suddenly take on contemporary relevance as every man in that meeting grasps the need to have their heart circumcised to enter into a deeper relationship with God, so we are ready to cross the Jordan and take the land. Memorable one-liners pour out from Tom. "You can't be sustained because of Chris Cole's faith, you need your own faith, your own empowering..." "You need to go out and seize the opportunities God is making for you within the vision he has placed you." "People have wrongly declared previous times as Joshua's generation but I truly believe THIS is the time and this is the generation which will take the ground for God."
Chris Cole is elated... and dead tired. He's elated because the news has just come through that through a unique partnering between Cross Rhythms and God TV, the much listened to satellite broadcasts on Sky TV satellite will continue. He's dead tired because all day Chris has been presenting programmes for God TV's The Dream On TV series. The series, which is recorded at a TV studio housed on Conway House's fifth floor, is another aspect of Cross Rhythms' growing media diversification. It is also another example of something close to Chris's heart, ministries working closely together.