We've got to admit to being a little apprehensive when we got the invitation to do an Easter assembly at the local Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) - a school for primary aged children who have proved unmanageable in mainstream education. Our apprehension wasn't helped when we found that there was something of a 'lock-down' situation occurring as we arrived. When we were eventually led into the hall there was tension in the air, and the 20 or so children (almost entirely boys around the age of 8-10) eyed us suspiciously.
It helped break the ice when some of them recognised us from their previous schools. And when we started off the assembly by comparing each others scars and talking about how we'd got them, the atmosphere warmed up a bit ... in a macho kind of way!
Story-telling is a powerful tool with all ages and - for 10 minutes - twenty street-wise, hard-faced, young boys sat transfixed by the fictional tale of a 6 year old girl called Lucy and her mum's scarred hands. For 10 minutes they were indistinguishable from any other innocent children listening to a bed-time story.
In the ensuing silence it was an immense privilege to then talk to them about the scarred hands of Jesus which remind us - and Him - of the lengths He went to to rescue us. Scars that speak of love & sacrifice. It wasn't until we'd finished our prayer for them, and the children & staff started to leave the hall, that the 15 minutes of peace & tranquillity was broken. One of the boys shouted "God's gay", kicked over some chairs and shouted some abuse at the staff.
Nobody seemed that phased by it. There was a sense that this was a return to normality.
We left that place with real admiration for the PRU teachers & staff, and trusted that God might have used our small contribution to somehow draw those children closer to Him.
This past Sunday, Jack*, one of the boys from the PRU, unexpectedly turned up with a friend to the Palm Sunday service at St Stephen's church (Kidz Klub's HQ). They were as good as gold and extremely eager to participate in everything. They banged the drums and waved flags with genuine zeal - probably like on that first Palm Sunday. And the vicar has never had such enthusiastic responses to his questions during a sermon before! They stayed for lunch. And for several hours it felt like they'd belonged there all their lives. It all ended quite abruptly when Jack's mum arrived and quite literally dragged him out by the scruff of his neck. And we were starkly reminded again that the previous 3 hours probably weren't normality for Jack. But we pray they will be - for Jack and the 250 children we worked with last week. It's unbelievably sad & sobering to be reminded that so many very young lives are already damaged & scarred by what life has thrown at them.
But there's no better time than Easter to be reminded that the life, death & resurrection of Jesus has the power to give fresh starts; new lives; heal broken hearts. It's a message Kidz Klub share by our words AND by our deeds, week-in & week-out, with all the children we are privileged to encounter.