If the story of A Rocha were to be written like a book, it would be in six chapters, something like this:
Chapter 1 (1983–1985): The A Rocha vision is born
Very few Christians seem to think that the growing environmental crisis has anything to do with them – and very few environmentalists expect better of Christians. As a very small first step, the A Rocha Trust is set up as a UK charity to establish a Christian field study centre in Portugal and the Harris and Batty families move to the Algarve.
Chapter 2 (1986–1994): Establishing the foundations at Cruzinha
A centre is established on the Alvor estuary and to everyone's surprise there is a very good local response. The early results of field studies and school work begin to attract interest. Gradually national participation and leadership grows, as does the international influence of the project. Visitors begin to arrive in significant numbers from many countries.
Chapter 3 (1995–1999): Testing new ground
The Portuguese project is under national management, so the UK Trustees decide to respond to requests for help from elsewhere. The decision is made to focus on distinctively Christian projects for nature conservation in particularly needy parts of the world. Peter and Miranda Harris begin travelling to help other national projects get off the ground. An office and a membership scheme is established in the UK. Five new A Rocha projects begin to develop in Lebanon, Kenya, France, Canada and the UK. Discussions are held in several other countries where Christians want to begin practical projects to express their sense that God cares deeply for his creation. All in A Rocha become aware that they are fully stretched, but that much more could be done if we had the resources.
Chapter 4 (2000–2001): The international network takes off
We have become an international network of national movements, each with their own local relevance, support and impact. We are preserving wetlands in Lebanon and Portugal, working in a Kenyan forest, teaching in France and the UK, and organising activities in Canada. Two more national associations are launched, in the USA and the Czech Republic. Everywhere there is a witness to the relevance of the Christian gospel. New Trustees and Council members join us from other parts of the world. A Rocha is changing fast but remains a distinctively Christian organisation, focused on working in places where resources for both nature conservation and Christian witness are particularly needed.
With A Rocha projects in eight countries, all at different stages of growth and development, it becomes essential to design a structure for our future work that allows complete freedom of initiative and action for the national movements, while ensuring accountability and exchange of experience through the new umbrella organisation, A Rocha International.
In September 2000 David Payne becomes Managing Director of A Rocha International and, with his wife Betty, join the small existing team: Peter and Miranda Harris and Barbara Mearns. Their role is to ensure training and resources for all the projects.
Chapter 5 (2002–2006): Rapid growth!
2002 was an exciting year, with nearly all the existing teams growing in size. During the next four years eight new national organisations formally joined the family: Finland, Bulgaria, Netherlands, India, Ghana, South Africa, Peru, and Brazil.
The International Team was strengthened by the addition of a Scientific Director based in Portugal, a European Co-ordinator based in Brussels and a Development Director based in France.
Chapter 6: Looking to the future
Many national organisations are growing beyond the initial field study centres to wider activity and involvement nationally, and strengthening their leadership and support bases. New teams have been adopted into the A Rocha family in New Zealand, Switzerland and Uganda, bringing the total to nineteen. Small groups in Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and elsewhere are now thinking, praying and planning about the possibility of national A Rocha projects.
After operating with a dispersed International Team for eight years, ARI restructured in 2008-2009 so that the leadership is shared by a small Management Team based in the UK.
All of this growth requires the support of A Rocha's members. We know that the vast majority of those of you involved in A Rocha, whatever beliefs you hold, have been delighted with the way that things have developed over the years. We know that you are keen to see the work on the Alvor estuary, the Aammiq Wetland, the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, the Minet Country Park and the Vallée des Baux continue to grow. The potential for growth is enormous – but of course responding in the ways that we believe God requires of us will mean an ever larger annual budget. Please help in whatever way you can,