It sounds like the start of a joke: a retired Bank Manager, a sick IT guy and a redundant business executive met in a Baptist Church side room. But that was the beginning of Free Bible images, a website featuring 80 sets of Bible story images which are now being downloaded in 206 countries, thousands of times a month.
Every download has a story behind it. People write in to tell them their images have been used to reach Hindu villagers in India, tell Bible stories to Iraqi women in their homes, teach deaf children in Vietnam and share the Gospel with Native Indians in Mexico.
It all started when the team behind the website met at Farnham Baptist Church. They included Tony Staite, Raphe Palmer, Paul Thompson, Alan Bird, John Horncastle, with all bar one are current or former members of the church.
The idea of creating a free, worldwide, bible story image website was shared. They had no money, poor health and decided to break all the rules of business and give away their products, carry no advertising on their web site nor allow anything to be sold from it.
Tony, a retired bank manager, said, 'As a businessman I have to advise you the project is doomed to fail; as a Christian, I know it can succeed.'
They sourced the images themselves of actors in costume, digitally manipulated against Middle Eastern backgrounds, and say that God provided venues, costumes, actors, photographers and website designers.
Others have been licensed for free download from high quality film stills of bible stories shot by Big Book Media on location in Morocco. The illustrations have been obtained under a creative commons share-alike licence from Sweet Publishing. Some art work has been donated by individuals.
Over the next few years the stories took shape and were uploaded onto the internet.
Last autumn they wanted to launch the site officially but had no budget to do so, when the Christian Media Awards came along. To their surprise they were voted winners, and say that God had provided the posh London venue and the publicity they were unable to pay for themselves.
Sadly Tony was suffering from terminal cancer, but before he died, he pledged £1,000 to finance the creation of images of The Parable of the Prodigal Son and put them on line. He described it as the best investment he would ever make. Today that story is one of Free Bible image's most popular downloads.
'We were just little guys with a big vision, Grumpy old Men for God and we battled against bereavement, illness and setbacks along the way,' they report. 'But perseverance and prayer triumphed over despair.'
The team are planning over the next ten years to get the whole Bible into pictures and are keen to speak to any artists, illustrators and photographers who might volunteer to help them.
If you would like to find out more about Free Bible Images, visit www.freebibleimages.org
Four of the FreeBibleimages team at the Christian New Media Awards are pictured above. L-R: Raphe Palmer, Paul Thompson, Alan Bird, John Horncastle