Going against the flow – The Narrow Gate

Aim

To help pupils realise that they have the freedom to choose between right and wrong; to challenge them to have the courage to ‘go against the flow’.

Bible base

Matthew 7:13,14 – the narrow gate.

You will need:

  • A large card showing a drawing of a little fish which is swimming in the opposite direction to a huge shoal of fish.
  • Items for the ‘choices’ exercise (see Content below)
  • A prize.

Content

Choices

1. Ask some pupils in the audience to choose between two things you offer them (eg two different flavour chewy bars; two different colour biros; a Mars or a Snickers Bar).

2. Comment that we are all used to this sort of choice, for example when we go shopping. This kind of choosing can be very enjoyable.

3. Continue by saying that there are, however, many things in life where we don’t have a choice (eg where we are born, the colour of our skin, the family we are part of etc). There are also things we have some influence over, but not much (which school we go to, which class we are in, which teacher we have). But that still leaves many areas of life where we are free to make our own choices.

4. Comment that it’s worth remembering that even if we don’t make a decision, we are still making a choice. We are choosing that we’ll drift along through life, being pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions by whoever and whatever has the strongest influence on us at the time.

It’s hard to be different

1. Say to the pupils that it’s hard not to do what everyone else does. Announce that you are about to demonstrate this.

2. Ask the front row of pupils to stand up. Ask them to go to one side of the room, but ask one person to stay with you on the opposite side of the room. Ask those in the group to walk – as a group – across the front of the hall. Ask the person on their own to try to walk through them. It’s difficult. Be prepared to step in to avoid injury!

3. Ask them all to sit down. Give the pupils who walked across the room on their own a prize.

4. Display the drawing of the fish on the large card.

5. Say that it is difficult to stand out from the crowd. It needs real strength. Sometimes we ‘go with the flow’ just to survive! But ‘going against the flow’ may have benefits! After all, it’s possible that the crowd is wrong! Those fish may be going in the wrong direction, perhaps even to their destruction!

6. Comment that, to a large extent, all of us get our ideas of what everyone else does and thinks from the media – TV and magazines. However, that is actually a very limited picture of what people do and think – it only represents this part of the world at this moment in time. ‘Everybody does it’, or ‘everybody says so’ is usually not a very well-founded claim! But even if it were true that ‘everybody does it’, it’s still not reasonable to think that you have to do it as well.

7. The fact that it’s difficult not to do something, doesn’t mean you don’t have a choice. For example, you are at a party where it seems as if everyone is drinking excessively and getting drunk. You have a choice:

  • You can join in and get drunk;
  • You can leave the party;
  • You can stay at the party but not drink.

8. Comment that the first option is the easiest. You could do this without having to think at all. The other options require you to do some thinking, to make a decision, and then stick by that decision – no matter what other people might say. But don’t deceive yourself by thinking that there is no choice.

Application

  1. Ask the pupils to listen to these words of Jesus: ‘The gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it’ (Matthew 7:13,14, Good News Bible).
  2. Comment that – when it comes to making choices about right and wrong – it isn’t easy to go in the opposite direction to most other people, especially if you feel as if you are on your own in the choice you have made.
  3. Conclude with a few moments of quiet. Ask the pupils to think about the choices that face them. Ask if there are any areas of their lives where they are ‘going with the flow’ when really, they want to go against it.

 

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)

Prayer

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?

Elizabeth Fry

Freedom from fears – caring for the prisoners in Newgate

Other themes:

courage, faith

The Problem

Listen to this and see what you think.

Katy was having second thoughts. She hadn’t realised how it would look from up here. It was a long, long way down. Why on earth had she signed up for this? Oh, she knew why really – she’d wanted to try abseiling for ages, her friends had all done it and thought it was great.

But suddenly it seemed stupid, pointless. Why couldn’t she use the stairs? Why go down the wall?

Steve, the instructor, could see the hesitation, no – more than hesitation: this was fear. “You don’t have to do it, you know,” he said quietly. “I assure you you’re perfectly safe. But it’s up to you.”

Katy longed to say, “Yes, I’ll do it.” And she knew she’d regret it if she turned away now.

But – it was a long, long way down.

Now think:

What should she do? What would you do? Have you ever been in a situation like this, where your fear could stop you doing something you really want to?

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

The Story

Our true story begins about two hundred years ago, in London. A fashionable city, but also a dangerous one. A city of wide thoroughfares, but also of dark alleys, very dark alleys. There were areas where no one wandered alone, areas where anything could happen – and usually did.

But only one spot in London was known as “Hell above ground”. It was the worst place of all. Our story is about a woman who went there. Alone.

Sshh…listen…there’s her carriage now…

The horse-drawn carriage shudders its way over the rough ground. Perhaps the woman inside is shuddering too. But that would be from the deathly cold, not from fear. Oh yes, part of her is afraid – for she knows she may be attacked, even killed. But deep down she has peace. For she has, with God’s help, faced her fears many times before this and God has never let her down. And she knows God has sent her to this place, this “Hell above ground”. He will protect her.

Through the window she sees a road-sweeping boy scuttling out of the way of the horse. Then she sees – it. Her destination. Newgate Prison, looking like a hideous black castle. Only a few streets from St Paul’s Cathedral, but another world, a darker world.

The carriage stops and she gets down. Pulling her grey shawl more tightly around her, she mounts the stpes to a heavy shoulder-height door topped with iron spikes, through which a shadowy figure peers at her.

She is recognised. The door swings open, slams shut behind her. She is inside. Inside the dreaded Newgate Prison. This is the lodge, the way in, and for the very fortunate, the way out. But she must go further than this. She gazes at the handcuffs and cruel leg irons hanging on the wall while the guard unbolts a massive inner door. Another guard slides from the shadows and without a word leads her down a long dark passage. She has been in Newgate several times before, but never to “Hell above ground”.

Anyone who’d known her as a child would be surprised to see her here, for she had been the timid one, the one who was so afraid of the dark, who jumped at loud noises. She had ten brothers and sisters, all bright and boisterous; only Betsy, as she was called then, was full of fears.

But as she grew up she realised there was someone who could help her overcome her fears. God. She was glad, for she didn’t want to spend all her life being afraid. Her family were Quakers, Christians who had their own kind of church, called a Meeting House. But Betsy wanted to take it more seriously than her family seemed to.

So she married a strict Quaker, Joseph Fry, and moved to London. But life was unexpectedly dull. She wanted to do something for God. But what? Back home in Norfolk she’d done things – visiting sick people and cooking for them, starting a little school for the poor local children. Bedraggled and often smelly they were, but she loved them – “Betsy’s Imps” they were known as – and they loved her and the wonderful Bible stories she read to them. Surely in a big city there was something like that she could do.

Then a visitor came to the Fry home and told her about Newgate Prison, how the conditions were so terrible, how, because their mothers were prisoners, there were children there, babies even, unfed, unclothed. Betsy, or Elizabeth as she was called now, got together a group of Quaker friends and began knitting baby clothes. At last – something to do!

On that first visit she went to the Women’s Infirmary, the prison hospital. She was horrified. There were no beds. A few of the women and children had some dirty straw, but most were lying on the cold, bare boards. She saw no sign of medicines, no place to wash properly.

She was overwhelmed by their need – and, when she gave them the clothes, overwhelmed by their gratitude too. Somebody cared – they’d forgotten that. Yes, Elizabeth told them, God cares, and I care too. She knew they were prisoners, but knew too the innocent were mixed in with the guilty, knew that people were arrested for anything. Why, you could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread, or a shirt from a washing line.

She visited the infirmary again and again. And she learnt that elsewhere in the prison were hundreds of other women, living in even worse conditions, living in a place called by the jailers, “Hell above ground”.

And now, she is here. The jailers in this section are astonished to see her, to hear her request. To go in there – alone? Into “Hell above ground”?

“Oh, madam, you don’t understand.”

“I understand,” she says. “Now please open the door.”

She can hear them already: mad laughter that threatens never to stop, shrieks of agony, a hundred other voices, shouting, arguing, singing.

The jailers open the door. And she walks in. The sight is incredible. Two women are fighting on the floor, tearing at each other’s hair. A child is slumped in a corner, dressed only in filth. A young woman, clearly starving, rocks a baby, trying to stop its sobs. The mad laughter is still going on. But then everyone seems mad, mad with despair.

Then they notice her and there is total silence. Even the laughing stops.

And Elizabeth knows this is the moment of most danger. They could so easily rush at her, tear at her clothes, her hair, in jealousy or in rage.

But they don’t. They see something in her eyes, something they barely recognise. Can it be love?

She moves over to the filthy child and smiles.

And the child smiles back.

Before long she has gathered the women together, told them that she wants to do something for them, for their children. To start a school. Right there in the prison. Yes, yes, they say.

So Elizabeth returns with books and helpers, and the school – for thirty children – begins. The mothers crowd round, wanting to learn too. So more helpers are brought in, the women taught not just to read, but also to sew, so that if and when they are released they will have an honest way of getting money.

The schooldays begin and end with Elizabeth reading Bible stories. The prisoners love them as much as the Imps did.

The prison authorities, even Parliament, are astonished at the change in “Hell above ground”. In face Elizabeth Fry became so well known that tourists would arrive at the prison asking to see her reading the Bible.

It was just the beginning. She helped improve conditions in other prisons, not just in England, but in France and Germany and other countries too, and on the convict ships that took thousands of women prisoners to Australia. Wherever she saw a need, she did something. She set up libraries for the bored men in coastguard stations. She founded the first professional group of nurses – the “Fry nurses” as they were known. And lots more.

All because she would not allow her fears to take over her life. When she felt afraid of doing something, if it was a good and right thing to do, then she prayed for courage and got on an did it – and felt less afraid the next time.

For God was with her. And didn’t he do wonderful things through her?

Time of Reflection

Some fears are good to have – God does not want us taking silly risks or playing dangerous games. But some fears can stop us enjoying life to the full or stop us doing something for other people. What are you afraid of? God can help us if we ask. He wants u to enjoy life, not be afraid of it.

Just take a moment to think about this.

Bible Bits

David, often in lonely dark places looking after his sheep, could say,

“Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)

And God himself said:

“Do not be afraid! I am with you…I will make you strong and help you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Prayer

In the Bible, Father, many of the heroes were afraid at times – Moses, Gideon, even your son, Jesus. Yet you stood by them and helped them face their fears and overcome them. Help us when we’re afraid, to know that you’re there, ready to give us courage and strength. Amen

Variations on a Theme

Perhaps there is an adult known to the children who can talk about a time when they were afraid and God helped.

Or you could tell the story of Moses’ call at the burning bush, how God understood his anxiety and boosted his confidence.

Quiz Questions

  1. How many brothers and sisters did Elizabeth Fry have?
  2. How was she different?
  3. She started a little school in Norfolk – what were her pupils known as?
  4. Why was she unhappy at first in London?
  5. What did she do when she heard about Newgate?
  6. What was bad about the Women’s Infirmary?
  7. Why were the jailers to the women’s prison unwilling to open the door?
  8. Why was she not more afraid?
  9. Why did tourists want to visit Newgate?
  10. She improved conditions on the convict ships bound for – where?