Evil youth-worker traps columnist

Our youth worker is evil. Well, that’s not really fair, he’s really a lovely bloke. But he is an evil genius. Only an evil genius could instill in me a love of youth-work. He got me to volunteer at a camping weekend away for local estate kids last week and it was… an experience. Well, to put a finer point on it, it was rough. I am not talking about high-jinks and boisterous spirits, if that’s what you are thinking. I am talking about the kind of cynicism, jaded boredom and aggressive energy that makes looking into the eyes of a weekend volunteer like looking into the eyes of a Vietnam vet’. Or mass murderer. While doing archery with the young people, my friend had several times to remind me to refer to them by name rather than just as “the target”. You see, children today are not the same as they were in our day. They have changed.

Now I am new to youth-work, and I guess experience would have taught me to see every angry or dismissive action and to hear every abusive or obscene exclamation as a cry for help. Being new to it all, however, I initially mistook this for a cry for a slap. I restrained myself, as civilized people do, but after a day and a half of the screaming, fighting, swearing, mass that is the joy of inner-city youth-work, I could not imagine a soldier in Iraq who was more traumatized than me or wanted more to come home. And then it happened. His evil plan kicked in. If you spend enough time with anyone, they are going to let their guard down. And in amongst the precocious jadedness, the hostility to faith and mistrust of adults and authority, I began to see flashes of hope. A young girl who I would cheerfully have strangled had the law permitted it said, “I actually really like sheep. They’re nice.” It was the first positive thing I had heard from her and the childlike simplicity almost made me cry. Another apologized sincerely for something and still others let their guard down and trusted a little. And I was hooked. By the end of day one I had sworn never to work with youth again. By day two I was saying “so and so is actually not that bad a kid” and by day three I found myself worrying about their welfare and their home lives and wanting to get more involved. My youth-worker will pay for this.

What does all this have to do with the news? Last week, when the media stopped talking football for thirty seconds, it mentioned a few items of real news. Two of them were about young people who had been killed in gun and knife-violence, probably involving other young people. For the first time, that sort of headline did not seem like a political abstraction, a question of respect or discipline, but just a tragedy, for both the victims and the perpetrators. After a week when Baptists have focused on praying for children, perhaps it’s time to pray and think hard about how we have let our world become a place that makes them so cynical, hard, distant and distrustful that they feel drawn to violence rather than Christ.

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