Check it out!

Aim:

To encourage pupils to check things out for themselves before making a judgement about God, the Bible and Christianity

Bible Base:

Psalm 34:8

You will need:

A tin of (fake) dog food (see preparation); 3 plastic spoons

Preparation:

For your fake dog food, you will need the label from one tin of dog food; another tin of food of the same size as the dog food (ideally with a ring pull at the top); enough chocolate muffin to fill the tin; orange jelly; and, sellotape.

Carefully take the bottom off your tin of food.  Empty the tin of its contents and wash it out.  Make the jelly (ideally slightly thicker than the instructions) and cut up the muffins.  Place the muffins into the upturned tin until full, and pour in the jelly to fill up any spaces.  Leave the tin in a fridge over night to set.  When set, carefully place the bottom of the tin back in place, and use sellotape to keep it in place.  Now carefully remove the label from the tin of dog food and attach it around your tin of fake dog food with the sellotape.  Try to do this as carefully as possible so people won’t notice the join.  You should now have what looks like a sealed tin of dog food with a sealed lid and ring pull intact!
*Please note, this is not an original illustration, but has been used in many situations.

Presentation

Introduce yourself and thank the school for having you.  Then look at your watch before pretending to panic a little.  Try to look a little embarrassed as you explain that you’re on a new diet and it’s important that you eat at certain times.  Look apologetically at the staff as you take your pre-prepared tin of ‘dog food’ out of the bag. Hold the tin at the bottom with the seam of the label towards you. Make sure the label is clear for the pupils to see, but the false bottom is covered by your hands.

Talk as you slowly open the dog food.  Comment on the fact that you’ve seen the adverts and the dogs always look so fit and strong; that they never seem to be carrying extra weight. Mention how shiny their hair is and how healthy their teeth look.  Include something about how there must be something good about it.  Over sell it! You can even add a comment about trying cat food, but it being too fishy for your tastes.

Now start to open the tin and take your time as you put the fork in a lift the food out, ready to eat.  Have a little sniff of the food – and comment on how appetising it smells.  Savour a mouthful.  Comment on things like the contrast between the jelly that just slips down the throat and the meat which is so satisfying a chewy.

By this stage you will be getting a lot of odd looks and sounds of disapproval.  Be aware of keeping the place calm! Pretend to notice their disgust for the first time.  Ask them what’s wrong and comment on how they shouldn’t judge without having tried it.  See if there are a couple of pupils who want to give it a go… There are usually a one or two. Check they don’t have any food allergies or religious restrictions, because you can’t guarantee what’s in the dog food! Using the spare forks, give them a mouthful and just ask them if they like it – try not to give them a chance to say what it is.

Now explain to the pupils what is really in the tin and how you swapped it. There will be a lot of relieved faces – not least, amongst the staff!

Application

Ask about why so many of them pulled faces at you and made disapproving sounds when you started eating? Presumably it was because they saw the tin and the label and assumed you were going to eat dog food! And then, when the lid came off and they saw the jelly and the brown chewy looking stuff, it reaffirmed their preconceptions.  They were probably thinking something along the lines of ‘this person’s a little odd’; ‘steer clear’…

Talk about how they made a judgement without being aware of all the facts.  They didn’t know that the tin wasn’t in fact, a tin of dog food, but a tin of cake and jelly… But that didn’t matter.  They had already made up their mind and most of them weren’t going to try it.  One or two brave individuals did, and their view was changed!

Explain how sometimes you have to experience something before you can truly make a judgement about it. Talk about how, if there is a new film out, there will be lots of reviews about it, and they can choose to believe what others say – and that might convince them to either watch it or not – but, they will never know for sure whether it really was any good or not, unless they watched it for themselves.  Sometimes you just have to experience something before you know the truth!

Say that that is pretty much what the Bible says about God. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalms 34:8) is what it says in a part called the Psalms. Talk about how, in your experience, a lot of people make assumptions about God and the Bible without ever trying it out for themselves.  Others have told them that God doesn’t exist; or that He’s irrelevant; or that Christianity is boring; or whatever it is… To be honest, often the people who tell them these things haven’t even tried it!

Leave them with a challenge – to check things out for themselves.  To experience something before making a decision.  Who knows, they may find they’re pleasantly surprised by what they discover… Just like if they’d tasted your ‘dog food’!

Reflection

Tell them you’re going to take a moment to reflect: Suggest they close their eyes and consider whether there are things they have made a judgement about without actually experiencing for themselves. Ask them about their view on God? Has that come from experience? Or an assumption made from a distance.

Ask the pupils if they want to join you in a short prayer… Dear God, help me to check things out for myself before making judgements about people, their beliefs and You. Help me be open to new things. Amen

Peer Pressure

Bible base

Micah 6:8; Romans 13:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13

Aim

To help students to think about whether they resist peer pressure or go along with whatever others are doing.

Things you’ll need

A selection of football shirts, including two or three from the most popular teams in your area and one from the least popular team.

Presentation

1 Ask for volunteers who support the teams you have shirts for to come forward to represent their team and put the appropriate shirt on. Ask for another volunteer to put on the unpopular team’s shirt.

2 Try to persuade your volunteers to change their alliance to the less popular team and wear that shirt instead. You could use arguments like:

‘You’ll look cool if you wear this.’

‘Only idiots wear United tops. You don’t want to look stupid. Put this on instead.’

‘I’ll give you a prize if you wear this shirt.’

‘Everyone else is wearing one like this!‘

Add any other arguments/tactics you can think of to persuade them.

Unless you have some very weak-willed volunteers, your volunteers will probably prefer to keep the shirt they already have instead of accepting the less popular shirt.

3 Point out how stupid your arguments were for persuading people to wear the less popular shirt.

Reflection

1 Point out that if they are unwilling to change the team they support just because someone thinks the shirt looks stupid, it makes even less sense to change the kind of person they are, the way they behave or what they believe, just because others tease them, for example, for being loyal, working hard, being kind to other people.

2 Ask for some examples of when it might be difficult to stand up for what you think is right, and not give in to pressure from others (eg pressure from others to lie, mess about in class, be unkind to others).

3 Say that it can be difficult sometimes to know what is right. Point out that Christians believe God has given us guidelines, for example:

‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ Romans 13:9. (NCV)

4 Encourage students not to give in to peer pressure, or be afraid to stand up for what they think is right. Say that Christians believe God will help them not to give in to pressure to do what’s wrong (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Response

1 Ask the students to think of some examples when they find it difficult to know what’s right or to do the right thing in school or at home.

2 In a time of quiet, ask them to decide now to do what’s right today even when it’s hard, or when it would be easier to go along with the crowd. If they like, they could use this time to ask God to help them.

 

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.

 

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?

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?