Knife crime crisis
As the death toll for London’s teenagers rises further, Simoney Girard asks how those in youth work should react.
I knew that boy who was stabbed in Clapham’, said Aislene. ‘He was my friend’s cousin’. She told us this at our local Girl Crusaders’ Union (GCU) class in West Norwood last year. I was stunned to think that violence ‘out there’ could affect our GCU girls.
Every time I hear of stabbings in Thornton Heath or Norwood, the heartland of my GCU classes and church youth group, I pray, ‘Dear Lord, please, not one of ours. Please don’t let me read the name of one of ours’.
What youth leader has not prayed that prayer? What leader is not asking, ‘What can we do as teachers of the Word and how should we, as Christians, respond to these killings?’
Our teenagers not immune
Since Aislene’s sad declaration, there have been more than thirty teen killings in London, twenty this year alone. At the time of writing, this is the latest headline: ‘Five knifings, four dead in day of terror’.
Yet, in none of the groups with which I am involved, have I heard adults broach this subject. I don’t know why. Maybe the young people will ask questions we can’t answer. Or perhaps we think our teenagers, brought up by Bible-believing parents in a church environment, are somehow immune from fights in bars and stabbings on the streets.
But not all our kids are from church backgrounds, nor does such a background preclude them from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Grace Idowu, 48, buried her son David a few weeks ago. He was 14, and was stabbed near his house. David was a committed Christian who had given a talk at school about knife crime. The church cannot ignore this subject any more.
We need to jettison the false belief that our teenagers are immune – did our Lord Jesus Christ not tell his disciples, ‘in this world ye will have trouble’? (John 16:33). Instead, we need to address this issue sensitively, biblically and prayerfully, because it is already affecting them.
What respect really means
Listen to some of my youth group:
• ‘A boy was involved in a stabbing at my college’.
• ‘We don’t really talk about it, but we should. It’s worrying that it could affect us or people we know’.
• ‘It’s scary. You just don’t know who could be carrying a knife’.
• ‘I’m scared for my friends that hang out in gangs in case they get targeted’.
• ‘My youth leader looked at a gang and they tried to get him when he got off the train’.
• ‘The media have made the situation worse, so now more people will carry knives. It has also taken God out of the papers and off the TV and replaced him with vulgarity and a way of life that says violence can get you respect. But these people have no respect. Violence is all that they know’.
These young people represent all youths in our churches, whether from a Christian home or not. We should, as parents, guardians and youth leaders, talk to them openly about knife crime – about what ‘respect’ really means.
I am reminded of the 16-year-old murderer of a Peckham teenager, who had the audacity to tell the judge: ‘I don’t care, I just want you to respect me’. He has no idea what respect means. Those involved in these killings seem to have no moral conscience. How can we reach them? How can we reach our own children?
The Word of life
I believe we must use the Word of God practically to show our teenagers that respect for God and for his created beings is completely different from the respect these murderers demand.
We must explain the consequences of sin – the ‘wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23) – and that the only way of salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And we must not be afraid to preach the Bible as God-breathed truth. As Proverbs 22:6 declares: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is older he shall not depart from it’.
Too often I hear of church-related youth organisations where the Bible is not taught; where scriptures are not memorised; and where prayer takes second place to playing football, watching videos or going out for a pizza. This is shameful.
The world took the Word out of our schools. We must not take it out of our youth groups. Let us declare with Paul: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation unto everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16).
We have the Word of life! We must teach it with ‘fear and trembling’. And, of course, we must pray for our young people ceaselessly.
How should we react to the killings?
The world wants a human solution. Here are just a few of the reactions in one London newspaper:
Keep them occupied. ‘Kids need to be occupied with something that will teach them respect for others’. ‘Bring back National Service’.
Crack down! ‘Swamp the streets with random stop-and-search’. ‘Make mandatory arrests for carrying knives’. ‘Bring back hanging’.
Fight back. ‘I now carry a knife for protection. I will fight back harder. Fight fire with fire’. ‘I want to see action against these animals’.
But Grace Idowu’s words, quoted in the London Evening Standard (9 July) brings tears to my eyes: ‘The body of Christ must call for revival on this great nation and God will hear us’.
This surely should be our reaction. National Service, stop-and-search, or tougher sentencing will never solve the fundamental problem – that the ‘heart is deceitful above all things’ (Jeremiah 17:9).
Our country does not know Christ: ‘The summer is over and we are not saved’. We should cry out to God for revival. As I pray over these newspaper cuttings (like Hezekiah reading Sennacherib’s blasphemous letter) my soul implores, ‘O Lord, how long? O rend the heavens and come down! Take away our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh! Restore us, O Lord, as the streams in the south, and forgive our sinful ways’.
May Christ be upheld in this land: ‘Heal us, and we shall be healed, save us and we shall be saved’ (Jeremiah 17:14).
Ultimately, this is not about finding a solution to knife crime, but a spiritual struggle to save souls trapped in sin’s chains, doing the bidding of a wicked slave-master.
Do not be afraid
But our God can break every chain! Brian Edwards, in his insightful book Can we pray for revival?, explains that praying for revival is not about engendering emotional response, but about humbly asking God to bring about a deep and lasting change of heart.
As believers, we must also repent of our own hardness of heart, our own lack of love, our own failure to be salt and light to the young people around us. I must not be afraid to obey him and tell the good news of Jesus Christ: ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1:7).
We need missionaries, not just in Zambia or India but on our streets, in our schools and in our youth groups. The world took God out of our schools; let us take him back in there, through such as the Gideons and Christian teachers and pupils.
The world took God out of prisons; let us support groups such as Daylight who bring the gospel to young men and women who are already paying for their crimes.
The world has tried to banish God from our society; let us pray for Christian leaders, policy makers, policemen and servicemen.
The world has sought to ban God from our streets; let us uphold street preachers, city evangelists and those who distribute tracts – interceding also for the precious, faithful, godly men who each week preach Christ crucified to congregations up and down this land. Let us implore our Father for revival.
There’s more to Jesus’ statement, ‘in this world you will have trouble’. He added: ‘Do not be afraid: I have overcome the world’. He is in control and has given us his Holy Spirit and his inerrant Word.
We have One who intercedes for us before the very throne of God. Praise be to the God of our salvation who has well equipped us for this fight. May we all lay hold of this blessed promise – ‘I have overcome the world’ – and strive to obey the Great Commission. Only thus can precious young souls be saved, not just from a violent life or an early grave, but for a glorious eternity.