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)


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?

Terry Waite

Freedom can have too great a cost – held hostage in Beirut

Other themes:

is violence ever right? Revenge, bullying, loneliness

The Problem

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

Three-thirty at last. Jamie unblocked his bike to cycle home. Glancing up he could see big Sam Baynes coming across the school playground – he looked in a foul mood, and Jamie could guess why: he’d seen Sam standing outside the Head’s office. Good, thought Jamie grinning, Sam’s a bully, deserved any punishment he got.

The next thing he knew was a fist slamming into his stomach. “That’ll wipe the smile off,” Sam called back as he strode off.

Walking his bike through the school gates, Jamie couldn’t stop the tears coming.

“What’s up, Jamie?” It was his older brother, Rob, cycling past from the high school up the road. Usually Rob ignored him, but he could see Jamie was in a state.

Jamie explained, pointing to Sam’s disappearing figure.

“Well,” said Rob. “Let’s get him now. Tell you what, I’ll hold him while you give him a punch like he gave you. Then I’ll smack him around a bit. He won’t give you any trouble after that.”

Jamie thought. He wasn’t sure it would work out like that – and wouldn’t it make him just as much of a bully as Sam?

Now think:

What should Jamie do? If he and his brother set on Sam, would that definitely solve the problem as Rob thinks it will, or could it make things worse? Think too if the use of fists is the best way, the right way, of dealing with the problem.

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

The Story

Keep that in mind as I tell you now a true story about someone who had the opportunity to use violence to solve his problem.

They said they would lead him to the place where the hostages were being held.

They said, “Come with us, come and meet the kidnappers, we will help you work out a deal.” It seemed like they could be trusted.

Terry didn’t realise he was walking into a trap.

Terry Waite had a special role in the Church of England as the envoy, or agent, of the Archbishop of Canterbury. When people abroad were in danger or difficulty, he could be sent out to help. Now he was in the war-torn Middle East, in Beirut, where one of the fighting groups had kidnapped several British people. Their idea was to bribe Britain into helping them against their enemies. Terry’s task was to make contact with the kidnappers and persuade them to release the hostages, then get them to safety.

Terry would have made quite an impression when he landed in Beirut in that January of 1987 – six foot sever, almost seventeen stone, wearing size fourteen shoes. But he knew he would have to tread very carefully not to put the hostages in even more danger.

So far, so good. He had talked with people who knew who the kidnappers were and where the hostages were being held. “Trust us, we’ll take you to them,” these people said. Now Terry was sitting, blindfolded, in the back seat of a car, being driven through the dark streets of Beirut.

Unaware that the trap was closing.

The car stopped in a small road full of potholes. He was led to an upstairs room and told to wait. “When will I see the hostages?” he asked. They just said, “Later.”

Still blindfolded, he waited, hoping against hope. Finally he slept.

“Stand up, Mr Waite.” It was the evening of the second day.

Terry felt himself being guided back down the stairs and into a van. “Are you taking me to the hostages?”

They answered, “Don’t speak.”

When the van stopped he was led into a garage. The blindfold was off now and he could see an open trapdoor in the floor. He was taken through it to a large underground room. In one wall was a heavy steel door with a barred window. The door swung open to reveal an empty cell. He was pushed in. He heard the key turned in the lock behind him. And knew that he had been betrayed. They were not going to take him to see the hostages, they were not going to help him work out a deal. No. Terry was now a hostage himself.

The days dragged by, the cell stiflingly hot, the air smelling of petrol and sweat. The kidnappers brought him food but didn’t answer his questions – why? How long? Terry spent much time in prayer, for his family, for the other hostages, and for himself: God, help me, please, help me.

Then one day he was blindfolded and let out. For a moment he thought excitedly, Am I to be set free? But no, he was simply taken to another cell where he was kept chained, released just once a day to be taken to the toilet. One time he was tortured, beaten across the soles of his feet till they burnt like fire. His captors seemed to think he had some vital information. But he didn’t.

The days passed. He went on praying. How long?…Why?…God, help me!

Then, one day, when he was taken to the bathroom, pushed in with the usual “Be quick!”, he saw, on top of the toilet cistern, a gun. An automatic pistol, complete with silencer. His mind was racing. Obviously one of the guards had just been to the toilet and left his gun behind. Perhaps tired or just careless. Whatever, Terry realised that there, within reach, was his way out. His guard was standing unsuspecting outside the door. Oh, perhaps there were one or two other guards around as well, but he had surprise on his side. He could do it. He could escape. It was his chance, his only chance.

But he knew, if he picked up the gun, he would have to be prepared to use it. He wouldn’t get away just waving it around. He would have to hurt someone, even kill them. And he knew he couldn’t do it. He had always believed that violence was wrong. It would be wrong now. Even though they had hurt him.

He called the guard in, pointed out the gun. The guard grabbed at it, took it out of Terry’s reach. Terry had given away his only chance of escape.

He was to stay in captivity for a long time after that, most of it chained up and alone. He suffered constant toothache, cockroaches biting his feet as he tried to sleep, and terrible loneliness. But he never regretted not using the gun.

He was released in November 1991 after 1,763 days in captivity.

That’s nearly five years.

But he never regretted not using the gun.

Time of Reflection

Think now: is it ever right to use violence? Don’t just think of the violence of fists and weapons but the violence of cruel words. Is it ever right to hurt? Does violence solve problems or can it just make things worse? What would you have done in Terry’s place? What could have been the result for him, for the other hostages?

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

Bible Bits

Listen to what the Bible says:

“If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong.” (Romans 12:17)

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


Father God, next time I have the opportunity to hurt someone, help me to think whether it’s the right thing to do, whatever they’ve done to me. Thank you for Jesus, who never hit back, who never said a cruel word, who even prayed for his executioners, “Father, forgive them.” Amen

Variations on a Theme

The story about Terry Waite could be mimed by a group of children as you read. You would need a minimum of three actors (Waite, contact, guard) plus a blindfold.

Quiz Questions

  1. Who was Terry Waite working for when he went to the Middle East?
  2. What had he been sent to do?
  3. What size shoes does he take?
  4. When did he know for sure that he had been led into a trap?
  5. What did Terry spend much time doing?
  6. Where did he see the gun?
  7. Why did he not use it to escape?
  8. What was the pain inside his head due to?
  9. What made it difficult to sleep?
  10. For how long was he held hostage?

Mary Slessor

Bullying isn’t right! – tribal practices in Africa

Other themes:

courage, not turning away when someone needs you

The Problem

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

Joe wandered into the dining hall and looked round. With his best friend away he’d have to find some other company. He’d feel a right nerd sitting by himself.

Well..there was bully boy Derek Harris and his stupid gang. They’d have to do. He strolled over, sat down and opened his lunch box.

Derek was going on about a little lad in the class called Mark Fenton. “But what really did it was when Fenton told Mr Jones that I’d stuck chewing gum behind the bookcase. What stinking business was it of his? Tell you what…” – his gang gathered in closer – “he needs to learn a lesson, he does. And I’m gonna be his teacher.”

The gang were impressed. “Whatcha gonna do, Delboy?”

“I’ll tell you. He has to go down this little alley on the way home. I’ll be there with a great slodge of well-chewed gum. He’ll be scraping it off for weeks!”

The gang chuckled and went, “Yeah, yeah.” Then there were the sounds of crisp packets being scrunched up and chairs pushed back. Joe looked up and found Derek looming over him. Derek spoke softly. “I guess you heard all that, but you just keep quiet about it. It’s not your business, all right?”

Joe shrugged his shoulders. Well, it wasn’t his business. Or was it?

Now think:

What should Joe do? Is it right that he “keeps quiet” about it, if he just lets it happen? Or does he have a responsibility towards Mark Fenton?

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

The Story

Keep Joe’s problem in mind as I tell you a true story, about Mary Slessor from Scotland.

Mary could hear them following her in the darkness, hear the rapid clickety-clack of their clogs on the cobbles as they gained on her. She’d been warned that part of Dundee could be dangerous but, young as she was, she’d been determined to help out at the Christian youth club held there.

They were right behind her now.

Suddenly she was surrounded. A gang of rough lads. The leader began spinning a lead weight on a piece of string round his head, letting the string out little by little. “We don’t want your sort here,” he breathed. “So get out – now!”

She stared at him. She could see the lead getting closer, closer to her face at each spin. Swish…swish…She could feel the quick sigh of air as it whisked by her forehead. But if she ran off now, how would the young people living in these dark streets ever hear of a God who loved and valued them? So, her heart pounding, her lips whispering a prayer, she stood her ground.

The lad finally let the weight fall to his side and laughed. “You’re a brave one!”

“But what about you?” she answered back. “Are you brave? Brave enough to come to the club?”

They came.

She’d won.

As Mary grew up she longed to go as a missionary to Africa. And in 1876, when she was 27, she boarded the ship Ethiopia for the long voyage. She knew Calabar, on Africa’s west coast, was full of diseases and dangers, but God had told her to go, and that, for Mary, was that.

She loved Calabar, loved climbing its trees to feel the breeze whooshing through the topmost branches, loved its sunsets, great streaks of flame across the sky, loved its children who became her friends.

She could have done without some of the animal population though. She had only just landed when an iguana, a kind of huge lizard, seven feet long, scurried up to her, hissing horribly. She raised her umbrella, ready to do battle, and it scuttled off.

Another time an elephant charged at her. She prayed…and it changed course just in time.

And one night she woke up to find a long python slithering across her bedroom floor. A smack on the nose made it realise Mary was no easy victim. It went!

But more horrifying than any creature were the tribal customs – like human sacrifices to please the gods. But the custom that saddened Mary most was the killing of baby twins. It was believed the presence of twins brought bad luck, so as soon as they were born they were taken out into the jungle and left to die.

Mary prayed: Lord, I can’t just stand by and let this happen. But what can I do?

And God showed her.

She developed a network of spies who would rush to tell her if a woman was about to give birth. She would grab towels and medicines – and her umbrella, just in case – and run. If twins were born, she would bring them home with her straightaway to look after. She hung hammocks from the ceiling of her hut so she could rock them to sleep. And the people gradually learnt that twins do not bring bad luck.

But one of her most frightening times had nothing to do with wild animals or babies.

Mary heard that a woman from one of the villages was going to be punished. “What has she done?” Mary asked.

“She handed food to a man who was not her husband,” she was told.

“How is that a crime? And what is her punishement?”

“She will have boiling oil pouring on her.”

That evening in the village it was like a great party. Flames danced from fires lit round the main square. You could hear drums over the laughter and shouting. Mary pushed her way through the crowd and saw what was in the middle of the square. A woman was lying on the ground, her hands and feet held by four men. Beside her was a steaming pot of palm oil. The witch doctor, his face painted bright yellow, filled a ladle with the oil and held it over the trembling woman.

And Mary had a second to think: Am I just going to stand by and watch this happen? She knew what God wanted her to do.

She rushed up to the witch doctor. “You can stop that now!” she announced.

The witch doctor stumbled back in surprise, the hot oil spilling onto his feet. As he hopped about yelping, Mary began pushing the four men away. “Let her go – now. Get away with you!” They realised this was someone you don’t argue with and backed off. Mary bent down to help the shaking woman to her feet, then straightened up to see…wild eyes glaring from a mask of yellow.

The witch doctor! – holding high above his head the heavy ladle. Mary knew it could crack her skull like an egg.

He brought it down with a roar. It sliced the air to one side of Mary. Then the other side. Then he whirled it round his head, hoping to terrify her, hoping she would run, screaming, back into the jungle. But Mary remembered a boy with a lead weight many years before, and how she had stood her ground and won. God had protected her then. He would do the same now.

The witch doctor’s lunges became wilder, his roaring louder. But Mary could see not just anger in his eyes, but fear too. Fear at a woman who did not fear him.

Finally, exhausted, he dropped the ladle and Mary led the woman to safety. After a day or two her “crime” had been forgotten and she returned home.

No one can count the number of lives Mary saved, or the number of babies she rescued, or the number of people she helped understand that God loved and valued them.

So much changed in that part of Africa.

All because of a woman who did not turn away when someone needed her.

Time of Reflection

Think now: have I let something bad or wrong happen when I could have done something about it? – someone being hurt when I could have at least told an adult about it, or someone feeling afraid or unhappy when I could have helped them or comforted them? Have I ever thought, “I can’t be bothered?” Have I ever turned away when my help was needed?

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

Bible Bits

Listen to what the Bible says:

“Our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.” (1 John 3:18)

“We must help the weak.” (Acts 20:35)

(Children could also be reminded of the Good Samaritan story – Luke 10.)


Father, when I see something happening that shouldn’t be happening, help me not to turn away but to think – can I, should I, do something about it? We think of Mary’s courage and pray for that courage for ourselves. Amen

Variations on  a Theme

The Problem – the dining hall scene – could be made into a play by a group of pupils – with a “freeze” as the “Now think” questions are read out.

Quiz Questions

  1. Why did Mary not run away when the gang in Dundee told her to?
  2. What good thing happened because she didn’t run away?
  3. Why did she love Calabar’s trees?
  4. How big was the iguana?
  5. How did Mary deal with the snake?
  6. Why would a mother fear having twins?
  7. What “crime” had the village woman committed?
  8. How did the witch doctor try to frighten Mary?
  9. How come Mary had the courage not to run away?
  10. What happened to the village woman?

Note: Calabar is part of present day Nigeria.