Isabelle Foerster sought pure love. "Ever since I was a child," says the bubbly beautician, "I knew love was the center of life. But I felt there must be more than just the love of parents or husband."
Isabelle's search for love led her into New Age thought, and she took course after course in such esoteric activities as reiki. Still, nothing satisfied.
Isabelle's husband, Hans-Jörg, had little interest in the meaning of life. For him, life was sport (he'd played first-division handball for 7 years), work (modifying automobiles for the handicapped), and family.
The couple had little interest in God, but of course they made sure their children were baptized. And when they did so, Marcel Ammann, the lanky young pastor of the local state church, invited them to attend an alpha group.
"Remember, these kids are going to ask you questions about God some day," he counseled. "You might want to freshen up your thinking."
Isabelle and Hans-Jörg weren't interested in alpha, but they did consent to go to a family camp the church was having. This was their first contact with religious people, and to their surprise, the people seemed happy. The subject of alpha groups came up again, and due to their new friendships, they dared to go.
"I thought it might be interesting to ask questions and know more about Jesus," says Hans-Jörg. "I didn't expect to become a better man or have any change in my life."
But that's what happened. Almost immediately, Isabelle realized this was what she had searched for her entire life. She "ate up" the messages, and when she realized Jesus had loved her enough to suffer for her sins, she cried out, "Lord, forgive me."
Hans-Jörg came to realize his need for Christ more slowly, but by the next-to-last session, he, too, slipped to the side of the room to talk with Pastor Ammann and give his life to Christ.
Some 300 Swiss churches reach out to their community via alpha groups. This includes half of all Free Churches and 120 state churches.
"My vision is for the local church to evangelize in their surroundings," says Martin Stoessel, the Campus Crusade for Christ staff member coordinating the alpha group ministry. "Alpha is a tool, and in Switzerland it has been proven that this tool works. Everybody can use it."
As part of Campus Crusade's plan to give every Swiss home a chance to hear the gospel, Martin trains Christian leaders like Pastor Ammann to do alpha groups and coordinates large-scale outreaches. For example, the following fall, posters-featuring Isabelle's face-went up around the country inviting people to join alpha groups. He believes that more and more Swiss people are asking questions about spiritual issues, and alpha groups provide a safe place in which they can ask the questions.
Pastor Ammann can vouch for the value of alpha groups. In the 5 or 6 years he has had them, he has seen church attendance grow from 30 elderly people to around 100.
"Most of the young couples in our church came via alpha," he says. "Now they are willing to invest their lives for the Lord and His kingdom."