John Harper

Caring about those in danger – the Titanic disaster

Other themes: sacrifice, generosity, Easter

The Problem

Listen to this. What would you do in this situation?

Colin wasn’t surprised when it happened. His best mate Billy had been looking pale since lunch. So as soon as Billy put his hands to his mouth Colin was shouting down the coach, “Mrs James, Billy’s being sick.”

Mrs James got there with the sickbag just in time. Colin watched it fill up with a mixture of horror and relief. What a time for it to happen though, he thought, Billy’s going to miss the fun. It was the last night of the residential school trip and they were going to be in a big fun pool with flumes and chutes. It’d be great, surrounded by their mates – Colin couldn’t wait to show off a bit.

He saw Mrs James in the hostel corridor after tea. “Is he okay now?”

“Far from it, I’m afraid. Good for him we’re going home tomorrow. Oh, Colin, he’s asked if you could stay with him this evening. He said your awful jokes were the only things that would cheer him up.”

“But…it’s the swimming tonight.”

“Yes, it’s a sacrifice, I know. Anyway, think about it. There’ll be a couple of teachers here, so don’t feel you have to.”

Then she smiled and turned away, leaving Colin biting his lip in the corridor.

Now think:

What should Colin do? What if he stays back and Billy just falls asleep? But they are best friends…

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

It’s hard to give something up. But I want to tell you about someone who gave up far more than one evening, and for someone he didn’t even know.

As they reached the bottom of the ship’s gangway, it would be impossible to say who was the more excited – John Harper or his six-year-old daughter, Nan – for neither of them had experienced anything like this. They were about to board the largest, the most luxurious ship ever built, the ship everyone had been talking about. It was the first one with a swimming pool, and there were Turkish baths, even four-poster beds on board – and fantastic meals to look forward to.

John Harper was a church minister from Scotland. He’d now been invited to preach in the States. And this marvellous ship was sailing to New York on just the right day. What an opportunity!

But the great thing about this shop was its safety – the hull was divided into sixteen watertight compartments. If there was a collision the worst that could happen was that one compartment, or two at the most, would be cracked open. But the ship could still float if four were smashed. In fact, the ship was nicknamed “The Unsinkable”. Its real name was impressive too – it meant mighty and enormous. It was called…the Titanic.

Midday, April 10th, 1912. The tugs began pulling the ship away from Southampton docks. Soon, under its own steam, the Titanic was surging majestically toward the open sea. The great adventure had begun!

What no-one on board knew was that a huge chain of icebergs was lying across their path to New York. And only a few officers knew two other facts – that the binoculars used for spotting icebergs had gone missing from the crow’s nest, the lookout point, and that there were only enough lifeboats for one thousand two hundred people. There were over two thousand two hundred on board.

John and Nan were having a wonderful time. John had always enjoyed the water, even though he had come close to drowning not once, not twice, but three times: first when he fell down a well when he was two – his mother had to hold him upside down while the water poured out; then in his twenties: while taking a dip a strong current almost dragged him out to sea; then in his thirties a boat he was on sprung a leak. Perhaps these events were to prepare him for what was to come.

John had become a Christian when he was thirteen by hearing a Bible verse, John 3:16 – perhaps you know it – “God loved the world so much that he gave his only son”. So John understood straightaway that the Christian life was about giving – God gave, now he should give. And he did, giving time, energy and love to the poor and needy around Glasgow. He became a famous preacher too.

He had been in America before, but not with Nan. They were over halfway there now.

Almost midnight on April 14th. The men in the crow’s nest were finding it difficult to see. There was no moon and the binoculars had not been found. There – was that an iceberg ahead? Yes! “Hard a’starboard!” Yes…yes, just made it. Lumps of ice fell on the decks as the ship brushed past. Phew! That was a close one! Then came a crunching, grinding sound from below. The ship seemed to be trembling as if in fear or pain. For ten seconds, that was all.

But in those ten seconds the part of the iceberg they couldn’t see had smashed open six of the watertight compartments.

Six

More than two. More than four.

The Titanic was doomed.

There came a knock on John’s cabin door, on every door. “Put your life-jackets on. Go to Boat Deck.” When he and Nan got there, he saw the crew hurrying to take the covers off the lifeboats. Then the boats were lowered and the cry went out: “Women and children first!” John hugged his daughter and made sure she got into a lifeboat. Nan did not know that was the last time she would see her father.

Now the third class passengers, with much further to come, began crowding onto the deck. And then the panic began. People could see the Titanic was going down quickly, could see that there weren’t enough lifeboats for them all.

John saw that many of them did not even have a life-jacket. He knew what God wanted him to do. He took off his own and gave it to a stranger. He knew he was probably giving his life as well.

Waves were washing over the deck now and the ship was tilting more and more. John had no choice. Like many others, he clambered onto the railings and dropped into the freezing sea.

As he entered the water perhaps he remembered the three times he had been rescued from drowning. But he knew this was different. Around him he could hear screams, cries of despair. And he thought, Do they know about heaven? He bagan calling out, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be safe for ever.” A man desperately clinging to a piece of wreckage heard those words and remembered them. John went on shouting the same words. Until the cold overpowered him and he slipped beneath the waves.

1502 people died that night. But that man clinging to the wreckage was picked up by a rescue boat and later told how he had become a Christian through John’s last words.

And Nan? She was rescued, returned to Scotland and eventually married a church minister.

But what about the person to whom John gave his life-jacket – and his life? We’ve no idea. But John knew that he was doing what God wanted him to do, and for him that would have been enough.

Time of Reflection

Think now. God wants us to be not just takers but givers too. Probably we won’t be asked to give our life for someone, but would we be willing to give an afternoon or an evening, to help someone, to cheer someone up? Or perhaps we own something that someone else needs more than us. Are we givers or just takers? Let’s think about ourselves for a moment…

Now let’s think of those who’ve given so much to us, families, friends, strangers.

Bible Bits

Listen to what the Bible says:

“Look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. The attitude you should have is the one that Jesus Christ had.” (Philippians 2:4,5)

“Be generous and ready to share with others.” (1 Timothy 6:18)

Prayer

Thank you, Jesus, that you gave your life. You could have called on angels to get you down from the cross, but you didn’t. Thank you for John Harper. And thank you for those who have seen what we need and have given it to us. Help us to appreciate more, and to give more. Amen

Variations on a Theme

At some point near the end of the assembly, it could be effective if several pupils told of times when someone gave up something for them. Aim for a wide range of “sacrifices” – the mundane to the vitally important, and a wide range of “givers” too – not just the children’s best friends.

Alternatively, if the time is right, the Harper story could lead into the story of the crucifixion and the events leading up to it. The episode of Jesus praying in Gethsemane brings out the idea of willingness no matter what the cost.

Jackie Pullinger

Freedom from pressure to do wrong – teenagers in Hong Kong

Other themes: personal responsibility, drugs

The Problem

James has a real problem in this story. Listen and tell me what you’d advise him to do.

“So you know the rule,” said the Dragon King. “Two Mars bars and you’re in.”

“And it’s cold out here,” said Tiger’s Fang. “So hurry up.”

James looked at the entrance to the supermarket. Just steal two Mars bars, and he’d be a member of the Dragon gang, for ever.

He’d been really surprised when they’d asked him to join the gang. He didn’t have many friends as he was new to the school. So he’d said yes. Why not? He hadn’t realised then they were into vandalising and nicking things. Anyway, he was glad he hadn’t told his mum – she’d have made enquiries and found out they weren’t the best of company. But they were company, and that’s what he needed. People to go round with, do things with. He got lonely just being with Mum and his little brother.

To be accepted, he had to pass two tests. First he must drink Dragon’s Blood, a revolting mixture of whisky, coke and tomato juice that the Dragon King, otherwise known as Nick Jones, had brought in a flask from home. And that was when the doubts began. He didn’t want to drink it, it was stupid. But what choice did he have? If he backed out now, they’d make his life miserable at school, everyone would call him names. It would be unbearable. So he drank it. Now he stood outside the supermarket; it was the final test. But he couldn’t move. His feet seemed to be stuck to the pavement. And it wasn’t only nerves. He just didn’t want to do it.

“Go on then,” said Tiger’s Fang.

If only I’d said no to start with, thought James.

Now think:

What should James do? Is it really too late to say no? Or should he just go ahead and get it over with?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

What if all your friends, everyone you knew, belonged to a particular gang? It would be even harder to say no then. What I’m going to tell you know is a true story.

Let me take you back about thirty years and to the other side of the world, to Hong Kong. We’re going to a city within a city, for deep inside Hong Kong at that time was an area called the Walled City. Once it was a real walled city like a fort, with watchtowers and gateways. These have all gone. In fact you could walk up and down the busy streets which surround it and never find the way in. The Walled City doesn’t welcome visitors.

The entrance is, in fact, a narrow slit between two tall buildings, and is guarded by a man sitting in a crate. If he lets you through, you will need to stop while your eyes adjust to the darkness. For the alley is like a tunnel, pierced only here and there by blades of light from the sky above. The sun is the least welcome visitor of all.

Now you can just make out the filthy, ramshackle buildings on either side. So move ahead. Careful! The alley is an open sewer. There are only two toilets for the thirty thousand people who live here, so most people…don’t bother queuing. Just hope that no one decides to empty his bucket as you pass beneath his window. And don’t step on the rotting food. Or the dead rats.

You can hear the clack and clatter of machines behind the closed doors – there are many one-room factories here where young children work long hours. But then you turn a corner, and there’s an unearthly silence. Suddenly you see a face at a window. Someone is peering out at you. Dare you go further…?

So what kind of person lives in the Walled City? Some are ordinary people who have known no other home or life, but some are people on the run – refugees escaping from China, criminals escaping from the police, drug addicts trying to escape from their hard lives.

The Walled City is controlled by Triads, originally Chinese secret societies, now just criminal gangs. The two man gangs are the Ging Yu and the 14K. Children are recruited at an early age. The gang offers them a feeling of belonging and a feeling of safety. In return they must take part in all kinds of wrong activities, especially helping in the drug dens. They could well become drug addicts themselves.

In 1966 an English girl called Jackie Pullinger arrived in Hong Kong. She came because she believed that was where God wanted her. She got a job teaching music at a girls’ college but felt drawn more and more to the Walled City. She remembered that Jesus had said to his followers, “You are the light of the world.” The Chinese call the Walled City “Hak Nam” which means darkness. A good place then to be light.

She decided to open a youth club, to give the young people somewhere to go which was not run by gangsters and where there were no drugs on offer. It was just a bare room with benches and some games equipment, but they thought it was great. By now Jackie had given up the teaching job. She wanted to give herself full time to the people of the Walled City. She wanted to show them how much Jesus cared.

Let me tell you about two of the boys who came to the club.

Christopher lived with his family in one room above a chicken shed. They had two small bunk beds for eight people.

Christopher was about to join the 14K gang. It was expected. But part of him didn’t want to join. He didn’t want to be pushed into doing wrong things all his life. But what choice was there?

Jackie told him he did have a choice. Jesus was there to help people like him. Jesus could give him everything a gang could offer – and more. Christopher jumped at the chance. He became a Christian. He told the 14K leaders he didn’t want to join the gang.

It was the first time they’d heard anything like that. And Jesus did give him more than the gang could – friends who would be good for him and who really cared.

Ah Ping, on the other hand, had joined the Triads at age 12. Now, at age 16, he was a hardened criminal. He’d done terrible things. But deep down he hated what he had become. When Jackie told him, even after all he’d done, Jesus still loved him and was ready to forgive him, he couldn’t understand it, but he knew it was his only chance to change. He grabbed it.

Soon after this he was mugged and beaten up. But he decided not to take revenge – he knew being a Christian meant living a different way.

Several years ago the Walled City was pulled down, and the area is now a park. But Jackie’s work goes on. She has set up houses all over Hong Kong where homeless people, some of whom are refugees, can be cared for, and where those who’ve come off drugs can be healed and grow up in enough aspects of their life to relate back to society.

And now Jackie has been awarded the MBE for her work, for her willingness to let her light shine in a very dark place, for telling the people of the Walled City they do have a chance.

Time of Reflection

Think now: have you ever been tempted to do something wrong because it’s expected or because people around would look down on you if you didn’t go along with them? You don’t have to say yes, you know. Like Christopher and Ah Ping, you do have a choice. But you need to be strong on the inside to say no. Are you able to do that? God can help you if you ask. Just a moment of silence while we think about this.

Bible Bits

Listen to what the Bible says:

“For God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.’ Let us be bold, then, and say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5,6)

Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.” (John 8:12)

Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you that Jackie was there when Christopher and Ah Ping needed help, and thank you that you were there to make them strong on the inside. Sometimes we too can get into difficult situations where it’s hard to say no, but thank you that, if we ask, you can make us strong like them, to spread light rather than darkness. Amen.

Variations on a Theme

The early part of the main story – the walk through the Walled City – could be mimed by a group of children. Jackie Pullinger’s book, Chasing the Dragon (Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), gives more information about the area. The description here is based on my own visit.

Or groups of children could perform their own plays on the same theme as THE PROBLEM, perhaps stopping at the point of decision – to go with the crowd or to say no.

Quiz Questions

  1. The Walled City was part of which large city?
  2. What was Jackie’s first job in Hong Kong.
  3. Hak Nam means – ?
  4. Jesus said, “You are the – “?
  5. Christopher lived above a – ?
  6. When he refused to join the 14K gang, why were the leaders so surprised?
  7. How old was Ah Ping when he joined the Triads?
  8. How old was he when he became a Christian?
  9. Why did Ah Ping not want to take revenge after he was mugged?
  10. Which honour was Jackie awarded?

Gordon Wilson

Forgiving those who take away what I love – peacemaking in N.Ireland

Other themes: death, God’s comfort

The Problem

Listen carefully to this story and think what you’d do.

It was the best thing he’d ever done – everyone said so. Even Mr James, the art teacher, who was hard to impress, said: “Martin, this is just terrific.” All this praise was a bit new for Martin – he wasn’t very good at school work generally – but it made all the hours of hard work worth it.

Perhaps it was Martin’s love of the sport that had enabled him to do it so well – but this little clay figure of a footballer dribbling a ball up the field was perfect, no denying it. Even the Man United colours had come out just right after the varnishing and firing.

Now it had pride of place in the craft display for open day. The next day! – Martin was excited.

When he arrived at school the following morning, the whole place was in uproar. He overheard two teachers talking. “They got in through the craft room. Damaged everything they could get their hands on. The police are on their way.”

Then he saw Mr James coming towards him, his hands cupped round something he was carrying. Martin’s heart began thumping hard.

Mr James opened his hands. There was the little clay figure. Shattered. Impossible to mend.

Martin began to cry, his whole body shaking.

“You could make another one,” said Mr James softly.

Martin stopped sobbing and shouted, “What’s the point? I’m not bothering again. Ever.” And he grabbed the pieces from the teacher’s hands, threw them on the ground and stormed off.

Now think:

What would you say to Martin if you were his friend? Would you say, “Never mind, it was only a model”? Would that help? What about, “When we know who did it, we’ll go and break that stuff”? Is that any better?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Listen now to the true story of someone who lost much, much more than a clay model.

The eighth of November 1987, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

Remembrance Day.

The father and daughter stood close together for the open air service at the War Memorial, for it was cold and windy. But the weather hadn’t put them off coming. They both wanted to pay their respects to those who had died, not just in the wars, but in the more recent troubles in their own land. There’d been so much bloodshed, so much suffering.

The father, Gordon Wilson, a shopkeeper in the town, knew there was no easy solution to the differences between Catholics and Protestants, but why, oh why, did innocent people have to die? Bombs in buildings, bombs in cars, you never knew where the terrorists would plant one next. And what for?

He looked round. He hoped the police had searched the area properly. But no, surely at a service honouring the dead, surely they would have the decency not to strike here.

He always stood in this spot for the service, by the wall of an old building. He was pleased his youngest daughter Marie could be with him this year. She was twenty, a nurse at a hospital in Belfast, home for the weekend. He was so proud of her, so proud.

Then it happened. The world seemed to explode around them. The wall shuddered, then fell on top of them. The unthinkable had come true. The provisional IRA had planted a bomb, just by where they were standing. Gordon was thrown forward, then felt a pounding on his back as the rubble piled on top of him.

He was aware of screaming all around him, but he could do nothing about it. Then he felt a hand coming through the rubble, grabbing his. Marie’s hand. They were together and they were alive. He heard her shout out that she loved him before her hand seemed to lose its grip.

Father and daughter were pulled out from under the broken wall and rushed to hospital. Gordon had injured his shoulder. But Marie’s injuries were far worse, and later that day, she died.

The family members – Gordon, his wife Joan, and two other children – comforted each other, gave each other strength to go on. But they were aware of someone else comforting them too, someone with his arms wrapped right round them. God was there, suffering with them.

Catholics and Protestants were able to come together and comfort the families of the eleven people who had died in the blast. They knew that true Christians, whatever church they went to, hated the violence, and were sad that people might blame God for it.

But Gordon didn’t blame God – he knew that God is love. And he didn’t need to take revenge either, for he knew that god himself would judge the terrorists in his own time. And he believed he would see Marie again in heaven.

Over the next days Gordon was interviewed on radio and TV. People were astonished at his lack of hatred and bitterness.

More and more invitations to speak poured in, not only from Ireland, but from other countries too. People listened who had lost loved ones, who were finding it difficult to go on, who felt God had forsaken them, who were full of bitterness. And Gordon, this shopkeeper from a little town, showed them they could go on, that god had not forsaken them and never would, and that being bitter wouldn’t help. He brought them comfort and hope.

But he wanted to do more. He wanted to help bring peace to his country. He accepted an invitation to join the Irish parliament so he could plead with the country’s leaders for a united, peaceful Ireland.

Little by little things did change. As Gordon and others spoke, people began to see they had to put the hurts and hatred of the past behind them and think about the future. And eventually, on Good Friday 1998, a peace treaty was signed.

But Gordon Wilson was not there to see it. He had died peacefully three years before.

After his death people from all over the world wrote to his widow saying how much Gordon had meant to them. He had not just told them the best way to cope with loss, but shown them as well. God had helped him, and he had passed on that help to others.

So Marie’s death had not been in vain.

Time of Reflection

Life is not always easy. When something bad happens it can really hurt. But later on these bad times make it possible for us to help someone else, to say to that person, “I know what you’re feeling.” And that can really help.

Is there anyone you know who’s hurting today? Can you do anything to help?

Just take a moment to think about this.

Bible Bits

David in the Bible knew God’s comfort:

“The Lord is my shepherd…

Even if I go through the deepest darkness,

I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me.

I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life.” (Psalm 23)

But the apostle Paul knew that he should pass that comfort on:

“He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Prayer

Lord, you know what it’s like to feel hurt inside. You had really bad things happen to you. So you understand, even if no one else does. Thank you that you never turn away. Help us to accept your comfort and then be ready to comfort others. Amen

Variations on a Theme

The most valuable addition here would be to think in more detail about what Jesus did suffer (betrayal, desertion by friends, mocking, physical pain) and how he always reacted in love. Every bad feeling children have, Jesus has been there. They need to see that he understands.

If the atmosphere is not right for this, then children could read their own stories (fictional or true) about a friend being there at a bad time.

Patricia St John

The hope of God’s encouragement – nursing in Morocco

Other themes: perseverance, feelings of failure

The Problem

Listen to this. What would you do in this situation?

The letters arrived just before going home time. Sarah opened hers quickly. The words jumped out at her: “I am sorry to tell you that you have failed your Cycling Proficiency Test. The points you failed on are listed – “ But then her eyes prickled with tears and it all went blurred.

Failed? But she…never failed at things. And she needed to pass the test, otherwise she couldn’t ride her bike to school. She jammed her eyes shut to keep the tears hidden.

She could still hear though. Around her the class was in uproar: “Look, I passed” – “Great, so did I” – “Phew, made it”. The noise seemed to be pressing down on her. Suddenly there was a quiet voice right by her ear. “Don’t worry, Sarah, you’re not the only one.” It was her teacher, Mrs Wilson, trying to be nice. “Dan didn’t pass, nor did Tina or Jonathan. And you can always take the test again.”

Yeah, she felt like saying, but they’re used to failing. It’s not the same for me. And as for taking it again, never, not ever. Her father would just have to keep bringing her to school, that was all there was to it.

Then there was another voice. Jackie, her best friend. “Didn’t fail, did you? Aah, hard luck.”

Sarah blinked her eyes open and managed a smile. “Aw, who cares?” But deep inside she felt hurt and sad.

Now think:

Should Sarah put this behind her and concentrate on the things she’s good at, the things she’s bound to succeed at? Or should she try again? Why doesn’t she want to take the test again, do you think?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Now a true story about someone who faced failure. Her name is Patricia St John.

Patricia guessed it could be the end of her nursing career when she saw the cat. There it sat, pleased to have found a place in the warm, not realising that it was the very place it shouldn’t be – on a trolley spread with medical equipment ready to be used in the hospital. Now it would all have to be sterilised again. What would Matron say about that?

And just because she’d left the door open. Of course, she could make the excuse it was war-time and she was rushed off her feet with all the bomb victims coming in. But it was her fault and she knew it.

So did Matron. “Do you think, Patricia, it might be better if you did something other than nursing? And look at your health record – you’ve been off sick so often. You’ve a good brain, there are other jobs you could do.”

Patricia decided to go for a long walk to make the decision – to keep going or to give up. As she walked she remembered how God had guided her into nursing – it was 1943 and the country needed nurses so much – and how she had felt him helping her during the three months of training.

But, now she was on the wards, it didn’t seem to be working out. The problem was she was so afraid of making mistakes – and of Matron seeing them, so afraid of being a failure. And these fears were making her ill. Really, for her own sake, for other people’s sake, it would be better…

Then she saw it. A huge hoarding outside a railway station with a Bible verse in big black letters: “Jesus said, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’” She knew it was God speaking to her. He was saying, “Do you believe I am able to help you in your work, give you all the help you need, or do you, Patricia, believe I made a mistake when I chose this job for you?”

And then and there, Patricia accepted not only God’s help, but also the fact that the occasional failing at this or that or forgetting this and that was not the end of the world. God could give her the confidence to keep going.

And she went back on the wards with a different attitude – no longer living in fear of Matron, but able to accept that she was still learning, that she wouldn’t, couldn’t get everything right, make everyone better, or stop the war. But she could do what God sent her there to do. And after that day, she had no more time off sick. She felt great.

And she was willing to try new things. When the war was over she became a housemother in a boarding school, and, wanting a suitable book to read to children made unhappy by war, she decided to write it herself. You can still get it today, it’s called The Tanglewoods’ Secret. It’s even been made into a film.

Then her brother, who was in charge of a hospital in Morocco in North Africa, wrote to her: “There’s so much work out here. Can you come and help?”

So she went.

It was hard work though, very hard. It was a new country, a new language, a whole new way of doing things. But Patricia kept at it, communicating at first with just hands and eyebrows, pushing away the feelings of homesickness that threatened to wash over her.

Then she went on to do something even more difficult – to open and run a clinic in a little Moroccan mountain town. It was a lonely job – no one else spoke English and many were suspicious of her: “Who is she?”, “What’s she here for?”

But she kept on doing her best, and bit by bit the townspeople came to accept and love her. They even brought their animals to her – mules with sores on their backs would be squeezed protesting through the door of the tiny clinic. The tricky bit was pushing the mules back out again after treatment!

On particularly hard days there would come the feeling of failure and temptation to give up and go home. Then one day Patricia was walking back from a distant village when she saw a woman hurrying down a hillside calling to her. “The English nurse?” she asked.

“Yes.”

The woman uncovered a bundle she held in her arms. It was a baby with infected eyes, its swollen eyelids stuck together. The woman told Patricia, “Last night I had a dream. Someone in white told me to take my baby to the English nurse on the main road at this time.” She did not know Patricia, could not have known she would be passing that spot at that time. Except that God had told her in her dream. For God knew Patricia had just the right treatment for the baby.

And Patricia felt happy, for she knew that she was doing what God had planned for her to do. If she had given up, what would have happened to that baby and the hundreds of other babies and children and adults she treated? Oh – and the mules, mustn’t forget those.

Patricia St John died in 1993, still caring for the poor of the world. And her stories, there are several set in Morocco – are still read and enjoyed today.

Time of Reflection

I’d like you to think what you want to do this year, what you want to achieve. I’m not talking about impossible things, but maybe learning a new skill, or doing better at something, reaching the next level. What if it isn’t so easy, what if it doesn’t seem to be working out straight away – will you give up? Are you willing to fail before you succeed? If you believe in God, what difference will that make?

Just a moment of silence while we think about these things.

Bible Bits

Listen to what the Bible says:

“Be determined and confident! Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“Let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus….He did not give up…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Prayer

Thank you, Father, that you have given me the ability to succeed, not in everything, but in many things. Help me to play my part by working hard and not giving up. And thank you that you will give me extra help if I ask for it and trust in you. May what I learn not just help me but others too. Amen

Variations on a Theme

The main story could be mimed by children as you read. Matron, brother, villagers and woman with baby could be speaking parts using the words in the story.

Quiz Questions

  1. Why was Patricia worried when she saw the cat on the trolley?
  2. What was making Patricia ill?
  3. Why were nurses needed so much at that time?
  4. What did the Bible verse on the hoarding say?
  5. Why did she write The Tanglewoods’ Secret?
  6. Where was her brother working?
  7. Then she went to a mountain town. What for?
  8. Why were mules brought to Patricia?
  9. What message did the woman get in her dream?
  10. Why was meeting the woman such an encouragement to Patricia?

Michael Faraday

The hope that God rewards patience – working with electricity

Other themes: rumours, not jumping to conclusions

The Problem

Listen and think what you would do if you were in this situation.

Lucy stretched one arm out of bed. Good that today was Saturday – no school. She was tired.

Well, it had been a great birthday party, everyone said so. It was good of Mum and Dad to get all those pizzas in and not moan when they turned the volume up on the CD player.

Just a shame Helen hadn’t been able to come. They’d been friends for ages, but just recently Helen had been a bit quiet. She’d rung up just an hour before the party to say that she felt sick and she wouldn’t be coming, sorry and all that.

Lucy finally got herself out of bed and had just got downstairs when the phone rang. “I’ll get it,” she shouted. Could be Helen, she thought.

But it was Emma. “Hi, Lucy. Listen, I thought you said Helen was sick. Well, I saw her on the way home from the party last night, coming out of the cinema she was, with some other people. I only glimpsed her out of the car window, but I’m fairly sure it was her.”

Lucy felt hurt, then angry. When Emma had rung off, she began dialling Helen’s number, her fingers trembling a little. Then she banged it down. No, I’ll write her a letter, she thought. That way she can’t interrupt. My brother can take it round on his bike. Best friend – huh. Best liar, more like.

Or…perhaps…She looked at the phone again.

Now think:

What should she do? What mistake is she making? What could be the result?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Our true story is about a man who, unlike Lucy, didn’t jump to conclusions. He was born in 1791 but his inventions are still being used today. In fact you’ve used one today. All of you have.

Michael Faraday stared in puzzlement at his workbench, at his equipment, at his notes. Why wasn’t the experiment working? He really believed electricity, used together with magnetism, could make things move. But until he’d proved it, it was only a theory, an idea.

And what use was a theory? Oh yes, he could do what many scientists did and publish his ideas, and people would say, “Brilliant, brilliant. What a splendid fellow Faraday is.” But that wasn’t what he wanted. He just wanted to be sure he was right. So he had to prove it.

And he believed one day he would. He would not give up home. He felt God would reward his patience. One day.

He turned to look round his laboratory. The hundreds of little bottles lining the shelves winked at him as the sunlight fell on them. “Go on, discover our secrets,” they seemed to be challenging him. “With God’s help, I will,” he murmured. “In time. Now let’s try this one again. I’ll try it like this. Now let’s see…”

This fascination with science had begun in Mr Riebau’s bookshop where he had been an apprentice bookbinder. He loved dipping into the books customers brought in for binding. Anything on chemistry or electricity would hold him spellbound – until Mr Riebau called out, “You’re here to bind ‘em, not read ‘em, Michael.”

But Michael knew there’d be a smile on his employer’s face. Mr Riebau was like a second father to him, having hired him first as a delivery boy when he was thirteen. When he saw how hardworking he was, a year later he offered him a free apprenticeship. His future was as secure as it could be.

But for Michael the world of leather bindings was too safe. It was the world of science that excited him, its experiments and explosions, its dangers and discoveries. He went to scientific lectures and came out his head bursting with questions and ideas: “What if – this? What if – that?” Michael longed to be a scientist himself and answer all those “what if” questions himself.

The most exciting lectures were given by Sir Humphry Davy. Michael wrote up his notes after each of his lectures in beautiful handwriting, bound them into a book, then sent it to Sir Humphry asking if he could have a job working for him. It was a chance in a million, like one of you writing to a chart-topping group and asking to join.

But for Michael it worked. Just after the book arrived, one of Sir Humphry’s assistants got the sack for fighting, and he was in. Michael must have said “Wow!” a hundred times – or whatever they said in 1813.

He probably also said “Thank you”. Because Michael would have known someone was guiding and helping him. God. Michael had been a faithful member of his little church near St. Paul’s Cathedral since he was young.

And God had another surprise in store. Sir Humphry decided to take a trip abroad to meet top European scientists. He would take with him his wife – and his new assistant. A few more “Wows”.

It wasn’t two lazy weeks in the sun though. It was eighteen months and not always easy. Sir Humphry’s wife loved bossing Michael about, and he missed English food.

But he got to meet scientists like Ampere and Volta – who gave their names to ways of measuring electricity – amperes, or amps, and volts. So you can guess what subject they talked about!

Back home Michael plunged into all kinds of experiments. He knew that God had given him a real talent, and didn’t want to let him down. He experimented with sugar and seaweed, stainless steel and heatproof glass, discovering things which made life better and safer.

But it was electricity which fascinated him most. No one really used electricity in those days. Even Ampere and Volta couldn’t see how it could change the world.

Michael Faraday could. But he made a decision to say nothing about his ideas for the time being. Weeks, months, years went by. Faraday sat, thinking, experimenting, refusing to jump to conclusions, for that could just confuse people; no! – more that confuse them – wrong conclusions could hurt people: he had to make sure his ideas were safe.

And then it happened: magnets like this, batteries connected like this, and, yes, that wire was moving! Nothing had exploded, no one been electrocuted. But something had moved! Moved through the power of electricity!

He checked the results. Yes!

He rechecked. Yes again!

Faraday was sure of his ground now. Now he could speak out.

By 1862 he had recorded over 16,000 experiments. But by then he had invented his Big Three – the electric motor, the transformer and the dynamo. Dozens of inventions depend on one or more of these Big Three. Turned on a light? Been in a car? Played on a cassette? Made yourself some toast?

Be glad then for a man who didn’t jump to conclusions. He sat and thought and he checked his facts. That’s how he got it right.

Time of Reflection

Not just in science, but in our daily lives too, jumping to conclusions can get us in a mess. It can hurt other people too, if we accuse them unfairly or, perhaps worse, if we spread rumours about them. Have you ever opened your mouth before you should, before you’d really checked out the facts?

Just take a moment to think about this.

Bible Bits

The Bible tells us to play it cool:

“Good people think before they answer.” (Proverbs 15:28)

 “Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword.” (Proverbs 12:18)

“Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)

Prayer

Help us, Lord, to be slow to speak – to check on the facts before we accuse someone or before we make a decision. And help us not to be gossips or rumour spreaders – ever. Amen

Variations on a Theme

Explain the Big Three inventions (motor, transformer, dynamo), then ask children to suggest ways life would be different without them. Use an OHP to make a list.

Quiz Questions

  1. How old was Michael when Mr Riebau first employed him?
  2. How did he first get interested in science?
  3. What did he send to Sir Humphry Davy?
  4. He’d have thanked Sir Humphry for the job – who else?
  5. How long was the trip abroad?
  6. What would he have talked about with Ampere and Volta?
  7. Why did he want to check out all his ideas?
  8. Can you name one of his Big Three inventions?
  9. And another?
  10. And another?

Mother Theresa

Caring about the poor – social work in India

Other themes: respect for the homeless, peer pressure.

The Problem

Listen to this story and see what you think at the end.

“Shhh!” whispered Tim. “Don’t wake up Sleeping Beauty over there!”

Adam and Paul looked across at the park bench. A shabbily dressed figure was lying on it, one arm under his head, both feet up on the bench and displaying very holey socks. His shoes were under the bench, side by side.

“It’s old Fred,” murmured Paul.

“Yeah,” said Tim. “The only and only Filthy Fred.”

Adam wasn’t sure they should call Fred that, but he knew his mates meant no harm. They often saw Fred on their way home from school. He’d be shuffling along the road, or just gazing into shop windows. Adam had been told he was harmless, that he’d just had such an unhappy, disturbed childhood and that he’d never been able to settle into a home or a job.

“Let’s play catch,” said Tim.

He crept over to the bench and picked up one of Fred’s shoes between two fingers.

“Urgh!” he shouted, grinning. “I don’t want this. You have it.” And he threw it to Paul.

Paul shrieked. “Urgh, no thanks. It’s horrible. It might bite.”

And back and forth the shoe went.

Fred had woken up by now and was sitting upright. To Adam, he looked miserable and confused.

Then Adam heard, “Here, you have it.” And the shoe fell at his feet.

He picked it up, thought for a moment, “Maybe I should give it back.” But Tim would think that was daft, and anyway, it was only Fred, not anyone important.

Now think:

Is it true that Fred is “not anyone important”? What do you think Fred’s feelings are as he sees his shoe being thrown around? Should Adam give it back?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The story

This is the true story of someone who believed the poor are very important. She became famous all over the world, but few would recognize her real name: Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu.

Agnes was born on August 26th, 1910. Her parents were from Albania in southern Europe, but the family now lived in Serbia. Even as a child, Agnes cared for the sick and elderly, visiting them with her mother. She also enjoyed writing poetry and playing the mandolin – and she loved praying. Talking to God and sharing what she had – these were the things that made her happiest.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that she became a nun. She felt God wanted her to join a particular group – the Catholic Loreto nuns who work in northern India.

So when she was 18, she took on a new name, Sister Teresa, and travelled out to Calcutta, one of India’s most crowded cities. She was to live in the convent with its high walls and shady gardens and spend some of her time teaching in the High School in the convent grounds.

But she was also to teach in a little school in the slums.

Nothing had prepared her for what she saw there. It was a different world. She saw people who were starving right there on the streets, looking like little bundles of bones wrapped up in skin. She saw beggars stumbling on legs like long dead twigs, their arms stretched out for help. She saw mothers slouched in doorways, rocking babies too sick or too hungry to cry. She saw people digging into dustbins for food scraps, anything which could be sucked or chewed to keep them going for another day.

But she saw something else too. In the slum school she saw how the faces of the children changed when she smiled at them. She would get the smile back a hundredfold. The children seemed to come to life when they realised someone cared. You see, they were hungry not just for food, but for smiles, for hugs, for love.

The years went by, and Teresa prayed more and more for the people of the slums.

And one day God spoke to her: “You are to leave the convent, Teresa. You are to go out to the poor. You are to live amongst them and care for them.”

This would be a new thing in Calcutta. Many people worked with the poor, but the poor always had to come to them for help – to the hospitals, the schools, and so on. But Teresa was to work in the slums themselves.

It was not easy to get permission to leave the convent.

“Are you sure this is what God wants?” they said.

“It’s too dangerous for a woman by herself,” they said.

“Why not wait?” they said.

Teresa knew they meant it for the best, but she had made her decision. The poor people were on God’s heart, and they were on hers too.

After a long wait permission came, and on August 16th 1948, she changed from her nun’s clothes to the simple sari which Indian women wear, and walked out of the convent gates. She had just a little money and a train ticket to a town called Patna, where there was a hospital willing to train her in basic nursing.

Soon she was back in Calcutta, in one of the worst slum areas, Motijhil.

She sat in a little square, picked up a stick and began to write letters and numbers in the mud. Children gathered round. Teresa’s school had begun! But this was a special school, for Teresa also wanted to teach them how to keep clean, how to avoid disease.

Then she thought: But words are not enough. They need practical help and they need it now. So she called on people she knew and pleaded: “I need soap. And food. And medicines.” She gave away all she collected. And she always remembered to give that something which costs nothing – a smile. The slum children and their families saw not just soap and food and medicine, but they saw love in her smiling eyes.

For Teresa was determined to treat each of them as if they were Jesus himself. So she didn’t turn away when a dying man showed her his wounds crawling with maggots. She dressed the wounds, then sat there giving him comfort, despite the appalling smell. Each person was precious to her. She could see Jesus in each one.

Other nuns saw what she was doing and joined her. The city officials let them have an unused building which they turned into a hospice for dying people, a place where they could pass from this world with someone holding their hand.

The nuns became known as the Missionaries of Charity, with Teresa as their leader, their “mother”. And that is the name by which Agnes became known – Mother Teresa.

Later in her life she met with presidents and prime ministers to plead for the rights of the poor, but whether the people she met were powerful or down-and-out, rich or poor, she kept on giving the kind word, the loving look, the gentle smile. Right up till she died in 1997.

Time of Reflection

Let’s think about our attitude: when we see the poor, the homeless – or just those who can’t do what we do, who don’t have what we have – do we look down on them, poke fun at them, think them less important?

Just a moment’s silence then, so we can think about how we treat people less fortunate than ourselves.

Bible Bits

Jesus said, “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink…I was sick and you took care of me…” for, “whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25)

And he said, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.” (Acts 20:35)

The Bible also tells us: “You must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance.” (James 2:1)

Prayer

Help us, Father God, never ever to look down on another human being. Help us to realise that every single person is special to you. Amen

Variations on a theme

THE PROBLEM story can be acted out by pupils.

Or if there is a project for the poor in your own area, it would be good to mention it – or maybe more than mention it, maybe collect for it. Enquire first about the needs – blankets, tinned food or whatever.

Quiz Questions

  1. What made Agnes (or Theresa) happiest when she was young?
  2. How old was she when she went to India?
  3. What was the difference between the two schools she taught in?
  4. Why did she go to Patna?
  5. How did she begin her own school in the slums?
  6. She pleaded for three things – one was soap. Tell me one more.
  7. And the third?
  8. She treated each poor person as if he were – who?
  9. One thing she gave cost nothing to give – what was it?
  10. Why did she meet with presidents and prime ministers?

Nicky Cruz

God cares about us – gangs in New York

Other themes:

peer pressure, self-esteem

The Problem

Here’s something to think about. Listen to this.

Michelle sat gazing into her bedroom mirror. A miserable face gazed back. She spent a lot of her time like this, perhaps checking she was really there. For no one at school seemed to notice her, not as much as she wanted anyway. And she didn’t have much in the way of friends.

“You,” she said to her reflection, “could disappear one day and no one would notice.”

She saw a tear squeezing out from under an eyelid so she turned to get a tissue. Her eyes fell on her pop magazine. The new girl group, Blaze, was on the cover. Her favourite was Kim, the one on the left with the big, dangly earrings. Bet she got noticed, thought Michelle.

And then the idea came. Could she do it? Course. She’d have to go the whole way. Hair cut really, really short, big earrings and what else? She looked at the picture again. Long pink socks. They’d look odd with the school uniform, but that was the point.

The teacher would tell her to get back to normal, of course. But…yeah, she could be a bit cheeky, say, “No, why should I?” Yeah, that’d get her noticed. Not so cheeky that Mum would get called in, of course, just enough to build up a bit of a reputation.

Yeah, the new Michelle – Michelle the Cool, Michelle the Star.

Now think:

Will Michelle’s plan get her more friends? Will it make her happy? Is there a better way?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Our true story today, about Nicky Cruz, is quite different from Michelle’s, but deep down they have a similar problem. It opens in a school…

Nicky just couldn’t stand it any more. If the teacher couldn’t keep order, he’d do it. And he’d do it his way. This other boy in his class was a pain. So Nicky would teach him a lesson. Before anyone could stop him, he’d lifted a chair high in the air and brought it crashing down on the boy’s head.

When the Headteacher threatened to phone the police, Nicky shouted back, “Do it and I’ll kill you.” Then he stormed out of the school.

It was the same wherever he went. He just seemed to boil over. Even when he was young, back home in Puerto Rico, he’d been trouble. His parents couldn’t wait to see the back of him, so when he was fifteen he was pushed on a plane to New York to go and live with his brother Frank.

But just as school couldn’t control him, nor could Frank. Nicky couldn’t stand anyone telling him what to do. So he left.

Now he was on his own, angry with the world, but also lonely and frightened. He wandered the streets, no place to go, no friend to call on, no money to spend. He felt the icy wind come howling down between the rows of skyscrapers, felt it stir up the rotting litter in the streets and throw it at him to torment him. He saw figures slumped in alleys, drunk, asleep…or worse. He glimpsed faces looking down at him from lit windows, then turning away. They weren’t interested in him.

He was shivering now, he needed a room badly. So – he mugged someone in the street for the rent money. Well, if he didn’t help himself, who would? Who cared about Nicky? No one ever has, he thought, no one.

Then one day, while he was just mooching about, he saw them, a group of lads, dancing in the street to music, laughing. They were wearing black jackets with two blood-red Ms on the back. Nicky gazed at them until they shouted over, “This is Mau Mau territory. You don’t belong here. Get lost, man.”

No, no one wanted him.

Then he saw them again, at a party he’d drifted into. The Mau Mau gang. He pleaded to join. The leader told him, “You understand, if you join, it’s for ever. If you try to leave, we’ll kill you. But are you tough enough to be a Mau Mau? There’s a test. Five of us will beat you up. If you survive, you’re in.”

Nicky survived, just. He came round from the beating with a broken nose, blood everywhere. But he was in. That’s what mattered. He belonged.

Over the next few weeks the Mau Maus, and there were over a hundred of them, were involved in murders, robberies and gangland fights. And Nicky was up there at the front, always ready to be more vicious, more reckless than his mates.

After six months he was elected leader of the gang. He’d made it – people noticed him now: now he was more important. “I ain’t afraid of nothing or no one,” he boasted.

But, deep down, he was still the same angry, lonely boy. And he was afraid. Afraid of the scary nightmares he kept getting, afraid of losing his tough reputation, afraid of what he was becoming. All the admiration, all the power, and he still wasn’t happy.

Then he got an invitation to this Christian meeting. All the gangs did. Nicky refused to go, but someone asked, “Why? You afraid?” So he had to go.

To start with, the meeting was like a wild party. Members of different gangs were yelling at each other, some were disco dancing to the organ music, others were laughing or whistling. Then the preacher announced there’d be a collection and that the Mau Maus would come round for the money.

Yeah, thought Nicky, we’ll collect it all right, then we’ll run!

But when they’d collected the money, Nicky told his gang, “We’re taking it to the preacher.”

“What? You crazy, man?” But they knew not to argue, not with Nicky.

As Nicky sat down, he thought, Crazy? Yeah, I was crazy, but before, not now. For he’d just done something right and it felt good, better than all the bad things he’d done. For the preacher had trusted him, that hadn’t happened before.

And in the hush that came over the hall, he listened to the preacher say, “God loves you. He wants to forgive you. He wants to change you.” And Nicky realised that he did want to change. So that night, in front of his mates, Nicky walked to the front to become a Christian, to become the person God made him to be.

And he was changed. When later he was stabbed, he didn’t want to take revenge. And he left the gang. It was dangerous but he did it.

Now he began to use his energy for good, saying to all the gangs he saw on the streets, to the drug addicts, to those at the bottom of the heap, “You can be changed. You’re loved. You can be the person God made you to be.”

He worked with a group which ran a centre where people could come and stay for a while, find someone to talk to, be helped off drugs – a place of safety and friendship. Nicky felt good belonging to a group which helped rather than hurt. Before, he’d just thought about himself – what do people think of me? And he was miserable. Now he was thinking of others. And he was happy.

And he no longer had to show off, to prove he was tough and cool and hard.

For he knew at last that someone cared about him. Now he could be himself.

Time of Reflection

Think for a second: do you ever do things to get noticed? Show off a bit? Get a bit silly? You probably wouldn’t do the things Nicky did, but do you ever pretend that you’re tougher or smarter than you really are? It’s good to remember that God loves us just as we are. We don’t have to pretend to him. Just take a moment to think about this.

Bible Bits

Jesus tells us how valuable we are:

“Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent…So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29,31)

And God tells us that he, at least doesn’t worry too much about the image:

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Prayer

Thank you, Father, that we’re all important to you, that we don’t have to show off or do silly or bad things to get your attention. Amen

Variations on a Theme

Pupils could create short sketches called, “Look at me, everyone!” about how showing off doesn’t always have the desired effect. Take care that the atmosphere is right for THE STORY.

Alternatively, the story of David’s anointing in 1 Samuel 16 could be acted out, showing how the tall, handsome ones got nowhere.

Run Baby Run, Nicky Cruz, is published by Hodder and Stoughton.

Quiz Questions

  1. How old was Nicky when he arrived in New York?
  2. Why did he run away from school – and his brother?
  3. How could you recognise a Mau Mau?
  4. Why did Nicky want to join the gang?
  5. Even as gang leader he was afraid – of what? (One thing)
  6. Of what else?
  7. Why did he go to the Christian meeting?
  8. Why did he not run off with the collection money?
  9. How did he prove he was a changed man? (One thing)
  10. How else did he prove it?

Martin Luther King

Inequality isn’t right! – racism in the U.S.

Other themes:

slavery, bullying

The Problem

Listen to this and see what you think.

Simon leaned across the table and, making sure the teacher couldn’t hear, said, “Hey, Mani, or whatever your name is, is it true that where you come from your tribe’s only got one brain between them and you have to share it round? Eh?”

Mani, who’d only been in the class a few days, ignored the insult and got on with his work in silence. But then the teacher called him up to read.

“Oh, Mani, or whatever your name is,” – Simon said that every time – “get him to teach you to speak proper English, will ya?” He turned and nudged Amjid sitting next to him.

Amjid knew what Mani was going through. It had only stopped for Amjid when the bullies learnt they weren’t getting anywhere. Then they’d given up – and eventually he’d been accepted. But it had been rough.

Now Amjid had a choice. He longed to tell Simon to stop getting at Mani, but it was so much easier to go along with it. If he got on the wrong side of Simon and the gang, perhaps they’d start on him again.

Now think:

What should Amjid do? The easy thing, or the hard thing?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

James and Betsey gazed down at their new baby. “Isabella,” murmured Betsey, “my Isabella.”

“Not your Isabella,” whispered James fiercely. “The master’s Isabella. She belongs to him. Nothing belongs to slaves like us.”

Betsey signed. She knew he was right. They were black slaves on a farm near New York in 1800 and that meant they were not even regarded as people, just property, to be bought and sold. She remembered how two of her children had been taken from her years before, literally carried from the slave house and driven away. The master had sold them, and she knew she would probably never see them again.

Betsey began to cry at the memory of it. For she was not “property” – she was a person, and people have feelings. And when your children are taken from you, it hurts, it really hurts.

However, the master liked Isabella, or Belle as she was known, for she grew up tall and strong, and able to work hard, and that was what mattered to hm. For the moment she was safe.

But when she was about your age, the master died and the new owner decided to sell at auction some of the property – including Belle. She was sold to a shopkeeper who beat her, then to an innkeeper, then to a farmer. And all the time her hatred of white people grew and grew – she used to pray that God would kill them all.

Eventually she married, another slave of course, and had five children.

Then a law was passed: older slaves were to be freed. Free? Belle could hardly believe it. It was too good to be true, surely.

And it was. Her master refused to free her at the promised time. She was so angry she ran away, even though it meant leaving her family. Some friendly people took her in.

It was there that Belle met with God. She suddenly became aware of him all around her, and ashamed of the bad feelings which had built up in her heart. And she understood what Jesus had come to do, to clean away all this anger and hatred. She let him come into her life. It changed her for ever. The bitterness against white people just slipped away.

She started to go to church and was astonished how she was treated – as a person. Later on she managed to visit her children – her husband had died – but there was nothing she could do for them.

So she moved to New York and began work as a maid. But she wasn’t satisfied. I may not be able to read or write, she thought, but isn’t there something I can do for God, perhaps something to help those still in slavery?

And God told her what she could do. She could become a travelling preacher, go and tell the world how slavery was wrong, that it wasn’t what God wanted. What? she must have thought – a black woman telling white people to change their way of life?

She made her decision. She chose not the easy thing but the hard thing. She would go. But she would take a new name – Sojourner Truth. A sojourner is someone who does not stay in one place for long, so that fitted, and Truth because Jesus said, “I am the truth”, and she’d be speaking for him.

Other people, both black and white, were trying to put an end to slavery too. Some told slaves: “Rise up against your masters!” Sojourner would have nothing to do with this. Violence was not Jesus’ way. She went instead to white people to reason with them, to try and change their attitudes.

Her message to a world that looked down on black people, especially black women, was: “Aren’t I equal to anyone of you in God’s eyes? So why do you go against God?”

She was a born teacher. When she spoke, in meeting halls or in the open air, people listened all right. She was very tall, taller than most men, and had a quick, lively mind and a great sense of humour. And how she knew the Bible!

Of course, many jeered at her, some even threatened her life, but she understood – they’d been brought up to look down on black people, so she could forgive them.

She continued travelling and speaking until she was in her eighties. She had seen many changes in that time. For example, President Abraham Lincoln had taken up the cause of black people and passed a law to ban slavery. This was wonderful but in some states slave owners defied the law. Freed slaves were taken captive and dragged to states where slavery was still practised, and their children were carried off to become unpaid factory workers.

So Sojourner went on fighting. She longed for her country to honour God and treat all people fairly. Black people, she argued, have worked hard to make America rich, they should have rights the same as anyone.

Sojourner died in 1883. Both black and white were proud to have known her, glad she had brought them closer together.

Slavery was eventually stopped altogether, but the battle for equal rights had a long way to go. In each generation there were those who pleaded for justice for all, perhaps the most famous being Martin Luther King. He was a black Baptist minister in Alabama, one of the southern states. He felt that God wanted him to do something for his fellow blacks, who were not allowed, for example, to sit on certain seats in buses or in restaurants, their children not allowed to go to certain schools. So in the 1950s and ‘60s he organised peaceful protests.

For his trouble, his house was dynamited and he was arrested and sent to prison seventeen times. But he kept on, pleading with white people for justice, pleading with black people not to let their anger boil over. In Washington in 1963, 200,000 people, black and white, came together to march through the city for equal rights, and to hear Martin speak. It was a great occasion.

He just longed for all human beings to be treated equally. But some people hated him just as they’d hated Sojourner Truth. And five years after he spoke to that crowd, Martin Luther King was murdered.

But he had accomplished so much. Like Sojourner, he had brought people of different races closer together, taught them to see they had an equal place in the heart of God.

Time of Reflection

Have you ever looked down on someone because they were different from you in some way? Perhaps in the way they looked or the way they spoke, or because they were younger than you, or because they were very old, or because they had less money? Jesus never looked down on anyone, whatever their race, or appearance, or age – he treated them equally. Do you?

Just take a moment to think about that.

Bible Bits

In the Bible it says:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“…to be peaceful and friendly, and always…show a gentle attitude towards everyone.” (Titus 3:2)

Prayer

Help us, Lord, to treat everyone, whatever their race, whatever their age or appearance, as you did, with respect. And if we’re the one being ill-treated, help us not to be violent, but to tell someone and be ready to forgive. Amen

Variations on a Theme

The children could act out a series of stories from the Gospels showing how Jesus treated people equally – regardless of race, age, whatever, and how he did not meet violence with violence.

Eg. Attitude to the foreigner: Matthew 8:5-13

The child: Luke 9:46-48

The disfigured: Mark 1: 40-42

The bullies: Luke 22: 47-51

Or you could think more about slavery in the world today, especially the forced labour of children.

Quiz Questions

  1. What was Belle’s real first name?
  2. What did her parents think might happen to her?
  3. Why didn’t the master sell her?
  4. Later, why did she run away?
  5. Being a Christian changed her attitude – how?
  6. Why was she not satisfied as a maid?
  7. Why did she talk to white people and not black?
  8. Which president banned slavery?
  9. In which state was Martin Luther King a minister?
  10. What happened in Washington in 1963?

Corrie Ten Boom

Forgiving those who hurt me – WW2 prison camp

Other themes:

fear, prayer, the Bible, heaven

The Problem

Listen to this and think what you’d do if you were in Emma’s situation.

It was the first day of secondary school – but already Emma knew she was going to like it. Her parents had asked if she could be put in the same group as her two best friends. And it had worked out. She’d met up with them outside the school a few minutes before and they’d been directed to a classroom to wait for their group tutor.

The last year in the old school had been a miserable one for Emma, and all because of Lisa Jo, who’d bullied her – she’d poked fun at her, got her into trouble, it had just gone on and on. Emma’s only friends had been in another class. But now it would be OK.

Late ones were still coming in. Suddenly Emma felt a shudder run through her. Lisa Jo had entered the room. She looked different though – lonely, unsure, gone were the swagger and the smirks.

She came right up to Emma whose heart had begun thumping.

“Looks like we’re together again,” Lisa Jo said. “Look, Emma, we didn’t get on last year, but what about making up, being friends from now on?”

Emma’s fear turned to anger. Friends? With Lisa Jo? No way. She hadn’t even said sorry, she only wanted to be friends because she’d been split from her old mates. So – just forgive and forget? As if last year never happened? No way!

Now think:

Is Emma right or wrong to think this way? What would you do in her situation?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Now here’s a true story.

When the guards slid open the door, Corrie Ten Boom could see only darkness inside. Outside was bright sunlight. In there it was as dark as death.

“Quick! Get in! In!” one of the guards yelled.

Corrie and the other women hauled themselves up into the darkness. There was no choice – the guards had guns. It was the carriage of a goods train, but now it was being used to transport people. In seconds the carriage was so full that Corrie was pushed up against the back wall. Many of the women were crying, some were screaming. How glad Corrie was to have her sister Betsie with her. And how glad she was that God was with her. She was not afraid, not deep down. For what was the worst thing these German soldiers could do to her? Kill her? But then she would be with Jesus for ever.

There were eighty women in the carriage now. They were just able to sit down with their legs wrapped round the person in front. It grew unbearably hot. The train began moving but it didn’t help much.

As Corrie stroked her sister’s feverish forehead, she thought back through the last years, back to when the German army had invaded their country, Holland, soon after the start of World War 2. It was a terrible time for everyone, but the Jewish people suffered the most. Corrie saw them being pushed into trucks to be taken to the prison camps.

As they prayed for them, Corrie’s family had the idea of building a secret room in their house where Jewish people could hide from the patrols until an escape route could be found for them. But someone betrayed them and the family was arrested, to be taken to Germany. Corrie and Betsie had been able to stick together, but they didn’t know how long they would be allowed to live.

On the fourth day the train clanked to a halt.

“Out! Get out!” shouted the guards. “You walk now!”

The women were so weak but what choice was there? Finally they saw their destination: Ravensbruck prison camp. As Corrie and Betsie entered the massive gates, they knew there was almost no chance of coming out alive.

All the women were taken to the shower room. Corrie’s heart started thumping when she saw that everyone had to undress in front of the guards. For under her dress she had hidden her precious Bible and some medicine for Betsie. They’d be discovered and taken away! No, it mustn’t happen!

“Dear god, please…” she murmured.

Just then Betsie, even sicker now, needed to be taken to the toilet. “Use the drains in the shower room,” said the guard harshly. The sisters moved ahead of the queue of women undressing and went in.

“Dear God, please…”

Yes! There in the corner was a pile of old benches. She could hide the Bibles and medicine behind them, together with Betsie’s warm sweater.

Later, after their shower, Corrie slipped over to the benches and pushed the things under the prison dress she’d been given. “Thank you, God, thank you,” she prayed.

But – wait – what was this? A guard was searching the women on the way out of the shower room. Corrie prayed again – she knew that the God who had answered one prayer could answer another. She stood in the line. She came nearer and nearer to the guard. The bulge under the thin prison dress was so obvious.

Now the woman ahead of Corrie was being searched. She was searched three times before being allowed to move off.

Then something strange happened. The guard didn’t seem to notice Corrie. He went straight to Betsie, next in line.

There was another search as they left the building. Same thing. The guard came to Corrie, but instead of searching her, just told her to hurry up, and then pushed her out – with her precious possessions undiscovered.

That Bible was certainly well used. Corrie would hold services in their dormitory, Barracks 28 – with softly sung hymns, whispered prayers and Bible verses telling of God’s comfort and love.

More and more women came to the services. Corrie knew if a guard came in, the Bible would be taken, and they would all be punished. But no guard came near. Only later did she find out why. Barracks 28 was famous amongst the guards for its fleas, and the guards did not want their smart uniforms crawling with fleas. Corrie reckoned each flea was a tiny miracle from God.

Long hours of heavy work and very little food weakened Corrie and Betsie, and pain, cruelty and death were all around them. But they could see beyond these things to heaven – a place of no pain or sadness, waiting for them.

And one day Betsie died. Her face was full of peace and happiness.

Two days later, Corrie was ordered to go to the prison office. She feared they’d found out about the Bible. But she was just handed a piece of paper. It said: “Released”. She was free.

But – how…why…?

She found out later it had been a mistake. But she was well away by then.

A week after Corrie’s release all the women in the camp of Corrie’s age were killed.

When the war was over, Corrie asked God, “What do you want me to do?”

And she knew that she should open homes for those who had survived the prison camps. And she should travel, all over the world, telling how much she had known God’s help and love even in Ravensbruck.

One evening, in a church in Germany, after she had spoken, a man came up to her wanting to shake hands. Many people did of course, nothing unusual in that. But then her blood turned cold. For she recognised the man. He was the guard at the shower room door in Ravensbruck. And she remembered his cruelty, his total lack of pity. It was because of him, and the many like him, that millions had suffered and died.

“I am a Christian now,” he said. “God has forgiven me.”

Corrie’s thoughts screamed out, But I cannot forgive. I will not forgive. And then she thought of Jesus. Jesus, who’d been nailed to a cross and who’d prayed for his executioners, “Father, forgive them.”

“Jesus,” Corrie whispered in her heart, “give me your forgiveness for this man.”

And Jesus did. She was able to take the man’s hand and forgive him from her heart. Just as Jesus forgave.

She went on spreading the message of forgiveness and love until she died, in 1983, on her 91st birthday.

Time of Reflection

Think now: are you holding a grudge against someone, unwilling to forgive them? Is the wrong they’ve done greater than what those camp guards did to Corrie? Is it greater than what those Roman soldiers did to Jesus? Yet they forgave.

Just take a moment to think about this.

Bible Bits

This is what the Bible says:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

“You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.” (Colossians 3:13)

(Jesus’s words to Peter about forgiving again and again – Matthew 18:21,22 – are appropriate too.)

Prayer

Father, help us to be ready to forgive, never to hold on to a grudge. This won’t be easy. Like Corrie, we need your help. Amen

Variations on a Theme

The pupils could be reminded of the section of Joseph’s story which shows his forgiveness for the brothers who had put him in a pit and sold him into slavery (Genesis chapters 37 and 45).

Gavin Peacock / Bernhard Langer / Jonathan Edwards

The hope that life is more than failure or success – football, golf, athletics

Other themes:

coping with disappointment, taking sport too seriously

The Problem

Listen to this and see what you think at the end.

Karen could hear part of the crowd changing her name: “Ka-ren! Ka-ren!” They knew it all depended on her – she knew it too. If she won this final race in the Inter-School Swimming Gala, Compton, her school, would carry away the trophy. It would be tight though: Compton and one of the rival schools, The Laurels, had equal points. It was up to her.

But she was confident. The swimmer for The Laurels looked nervous. Winning shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

And the gun went off. She dived. Good, long, clean strokes, come on!

But on the second lap, she began to feel tired for some reason. Push, Karen told herself, push! She was vaguely aware of the roaring crowd, vaguely aware too that she was not in the lead. Push! Push!

Then it was over. And there was the girl from The Laurels jumping about in the water. She’d won. Karen was, what, fourth, maybe even fifth. She pulled herself out of the pool, trying to keep from crying until she was alone. Behind her as she ran, she heard a teacher saying, “Bad luck, Karen, but stay around, we’re about to take team photos.”

But Karen didn’t stop. Not until she reached the changing room where she buried her head in the towel and let the sobs come. She felt so ashamed. She’d done her best, but she’d let everyone down.

Then she heard a voice, “Karen, the photo, come on…”

Now think:

What should she do? Is she right to be ashamed? What would you say to her?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Picture the scene. Wembley Stadium. You’re there in the crowd – and it’s the FA Cup Final, 1994, Chelsea versus Manchester United. The teams haven’t come onto the pitch yet, but you can feel the excitement all around you. The atmosphere’s electric.

Ah, here they come, striding onto the turf, Chelsea in blue, Man United in red. They look tiny in the vast stadium, but you know they’re giants of the game. Even so, this is one of the biggest days of their lives, they’ve worked so hard to get here. If you’re excited, how must they feel?

The game begins. The minutes tick by. No score yet. They’re playing their hearts out but the break hasn’t come to either side.

Then it happens. A chance. Gavin Peacock for Chelsea has the ball, outside the box, but there’s not much between him and the goal. He shifts the ball from the right foot to the left, not much time now before the Reds pour down. He kicks. Yes – it looks dead on line for the goal, the ball flying through the air, unstoppable surely. The crowd holds its breath. It’s nearly there…

Oh no! It’s hit the crossbar, bounced out!

If it had gone in, Chelsea would have been in the lead, they’d have been able to put ten men in defence and just hold on to win. Ah, if only…

But how does Gavin Peacock himself feel about it? We’ll hear later.

Let’s change the scene. 1991, a golf course in the United States. Two teams, Europe and the States, playing for the Ryder Cup. A big, big match. And now the result hangs on one short putt. If the German Bernhard Langer knocks it in, Europe wins. If he misses, it’s a win for the States.

The ball’s only lying about two metres from the hole and Langer is very experienced, very cool. He takes a couple of practice strokes and moves to the correct position. He looks at the ball, the hole, back to the ball again. The spectators are like statues.

And, click, the ball begins to roll towards the hole, closer, closer, it’s right at the edge now. But – it doesn’t go in, it just slides round the rim of the hole and comes to rest a short distance away. He’s missed.

The US team jump and dance about. And Bernhard Langer – do you think he does the same?

Yes, how did these sportsmen feel? After that kick did Gavin Peacock mentally give up? After that shot did Langer throw his putter on the ground in rage?

In a word, no. Gavin Peacock knows that was just one kick. He did his best at that moment. All right, it didn’t’ work out. But he can live with it, he can carry on with the game, continue doing his best.

For he knows that one of the most valuable assets in professional football is a level head, whatever comes. He knows that one moment the crowd could be roaring out his name, the next he could be out of the team. Being a Christian helps him cope with failure and success and not get too worked up about either. He knows God’s given him a terrific talent as a striker, but he knows too that God hasn’t promised he’ll get every ball in. He’s just promised to be with him in the good moments and the bad, with him always.

Gavin comes from a footballing family. When he was small, his dad, who was a Charlton player for seventeen years, used to place balls round the garden so Gavin would get in the habit of kicking them. Eventually he went in for the England schoolboy trials, got in the team and played at Wembley when he was fifteen – in fact he played at Wembley on the Saturday and took his Maths GCSE on theMonday.

He became a professional as soon as he left school, playing for Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle before Chelsea. Then he moved back to Queens Park Rangers.

Gavin always prays about which club to join and he feels God guiding him. And he prays for strength too – both in his legs and in his mind when things aren’t going so well. But he knows there’s more to life than football, much more.

Bernhard Langer, the golfer, says the same. Knowing that his talent comes from God, and knowing Jesus as a friend standing by him, even when he misses, helps him a lot. Of course, he was sad to let his team down in that Ryder Cup, but his responsibility is to do his best, not to make every shot, win every tournament. What he says is, “There has only ever been one perfect human being, and we crucified him – I only missed a putt.”

Anyway winning has its problems too. In the World Athletics Championships in Sweden in 1995, Jonathan Edwards broke the world record for the triple jump – 18 metres 16, a fantastic distance. But then he jumped again – and broke the record again – 18 metres 29 this time. He knew he’d done well, but when he realised just how well, he gave one of the biggest grins ever seen on a human face. Then to top that he won the BBC Sports Personality Award for that year.

It must be hard to be modest after that. In fact it must be easy to think you’re the king of the world. But Jonathan doesn’t think that way. He says he’s no more important than the person who measured those jumps. They just have different jobs, different talents.

For, like the others, Jonathan is a Christian and he knows his ability comes from God. But he knows too the danger of making sport the only thing in your life – you can overtrain, get boastful or tense – you can stop enjoying sport if you take it too seriously. In the end he knows there’s got to be something more important than jumping into a sandpit.

So – you won, you’re the champion? You ‘re not the king of the world – don’t act like it.

You lost? So? It’s not the end of the world. God loves you, winner or loser. Doesn’t that have to be the most important thing?

Time of Reflection

Yes, we know winning’s best , but – what do you think? – perhaps we need to experience a bit of both, winning and losing. And I’m not just talking about sport here, but about any competition we go in for. Now we know what we can gain by winning, a medal, a feeling of achievement and so on, but I want you to think what you can gain by losing. Just a moment to think about that…

Well, what did you think of? Perhaps that losing can make you try harder, make you more determined. Perhaps that it can make you more sympathetic, so you can encourage others when they lose.

So perhaps losing can be winning too. We need to learn how to do both.

Bible Bits

Be careful if you win a lot. The Bible says:

“Too much honey is bad for you.” (Proverbs 25:27)

and “Do not think of yourself more highly than you should.” (Romans 12:3)

And if you keep on losing, there’s this verse:

“If we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.” (Galatians 6:9)

Prayer

Lord, help us to be good losers and good winners, to do our best and leave it there whatever the result. You know we’re not Superman or Superwoman, but thank you for the abilities that you have given us. Amen.

Variations on a Theme

Pupils could speak about sports events or other competitions they entered, and, even though they didn’t win, how much they enjoyed them anyway. This would show that the result is not the be-all and end-all and that losing is nothing to be ashamed of.

Quiz Questions

  1. Which teams played in the 1994 FA Cup Final?
  2. What stopped the ball Gavin Peacock kicked from going in?
  3. What was Gavin’s reaction?
  4. How did Gavin’s dad get him in the habit of kicking balls?
  5. What did Gavin do on the Saturday before his Maths GCSE?
  6. Tell me one thing Gavin always prays about?
  7. Which country is Bernhard Langer from?
  8. Name the golfing cup the teams were playing for.
  9. Which event is Jonathan Edwards famous for?
  10. What did he do in Sweden that was so special?