And The Children Were Running And Screaming


I’m looking forward to this week, for I get to do a few messages at the Youth Camp of our sister church in Knoxville, TN.

Last week when I put in some requests for props to use during my messages – a large rock with a face painted on it, the arm of a mannequin, a dead octopus – I remembered some great times teaching 4th – 6th graders at “Celebration,” an event our churches used to hold each May on the local campus.

One of my favorite memories is the time I taught on anger. I created a fake M-80 firecracker by wrapping black construction paper around a prescription bottle and attaching a 3-foot fuse to it. The fuse was a kind that is impossible to extinguish. You can blow on it, stomp on it, even dunk it in water and it will keep burning.

I told the 300 kids that night that if we keep giving in to anger, eventually it will lead to much worse things. Like this firecracker, I said, producing my fake, yet very real looking prop. This is an M-80, which is 1/8 of a stick of dynamite. Once some friends threw one into a room I was in and when it blew up it was so loud I couldn’t hear afterward for a few seconds. It felt like it sucked out all the air in the room and I couldn’t breathe.

Now I had the rapt, if not somewhat nervous, attention of every single child in the class. I continued:

Now if I were to keep lighting this and putting it out, eventually it would get down to the firecracker and it would blow up. That’s the way anger is. It leads to worse and worse things. Now I’m going to light this fuse just once and let it burn for just a few seconds, but don’t worry, I’ll put it out before it gets down to the firecracker.

Now I definitely had their attention. A few kids shifted in their seats. Some of the adult helpers began to look at one another with slightly nervous looks on their faces.

Alrighty, here we go, I said, striking a match and lighting the fuse. The 3-foot fuse blazed, crackled and smoked like a sparkler. I let it burn 6 inches, then a foot. The tension rose in the room. Lots of nervous shuffling.

Don’t worry kids, I’m going to put it out in just a second. I waited till the anxiety level reached maximum height, then put the firecracker on the stage. Ok, I’m going to stomp it out now. Stomp, stomp. The fuse kept burning. Stomp, stomp, stomp. What’s going on? I yelled, panic in my voice. Looking over at fellow-pastor, Bill, who was serving with me, I yelled, Bill, it won’t go out! It’s gonna blow! Then I jumped off the stage.

Pandemonium broke out. Kids screamed and covered their ears. Some bolted past the adult helpers and out the door and out of the building onto the campus, chased by the helpers who had been given charge of their safety.

At that point I deduced that perhaps I had gone a bit far with my illustration. I could see the word LAWSUIT flashing in large neon letters in my mind. I could see me starting my new job as a poop scooper in the local kennel, after being released from prison, saying to people, Yeah, I used to be a pastor until I scare the living wits out of 300 kids.

Fortunately, all the kids were corralled, no one was hurt and no one sued me. I learned my lesson. At least until the next night, when I gave out cookies with laundry detergent in them…

photo by gaptone

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I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I’ve written a lot of worship songs. I also like to paint.

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  1. Linda says

    Mark, this is hilarious! Thanks for sharing this.

    Our church is having our youth camp this week as well…I hope and pray that Sam learns from your experience. Maybe I should send him this link? :)

  2. Megan M. says

    I remember the cookies with laundry detergent!! For some reason, I have no memory of the firecracker, though… So, I guess you did not scar all of us kids for life… ;)

  3. says

    Wow, this made me laugh so hard! If you use liquid detergent it's a lot less easier to detect…plus it gets all of the "inside" stains clean…I mean really, what's a little detergent in the cookies going to hurt? it's not like you gave em' terpentine to wash it down with…or did you?
    Thanks for the much needed laughter!
    Ron Reffett

    • says

      Hi Ron,

      Why didn't I think of liquid detergent? You could have really helped me – actually the point of the cookies with detergent in them was that I was going to try to tempt them to eat them after Bill had warned them not to eat the chocolate ones. Of course, when warned not to eat the chocolate ones, lots of people ate them – just because they'd been told not to. I guess it was a good lesson on the nature of sin…

      Glad you could get a laugh out of it…

  4. says

    My poor 11 yo son is growing up without the benefit of Celebrations in Indiana. But at the moment, he's rolling on the floor after reading this post. You have brightened his morning considerably. Thanks!

  5. says

    Hi lenswyf,

    I'm sorry your son didn't have the opportunity to be afflicted like the other kids, but I'm glad he got a laugh out of it. Just knowing an 11 year old would be rolling on the floor makes my day! Thanks for telling me.

  6. Bo L. says

    Oh, yes, this I remember well. I got an ear full from a lot of parents that evening. I think some kids are still in therapy. This will be a chapter in my upcoming book, "The Ripple Effect of Working with Mark Altrogge."

    • says

      As I recall, Bo, I ran the idea past you and we even tested it out to make sure it wouldn't set off the fire alarms. I remember thinking, "If Bo is ok with it, I know it will be ok." So ultimately it's your fault.

  7. Jack Calderone says

    Haha, thanks Mark. I was one of those 4th graders in the audience and I remember both of those illustrations. I have to be honest and admit that I didn't remember the lesson that accompaniesd them but the illustrations themselves I will never forget. Your classes at celebration were by far the best btw. My siblings and I looked forward to them every year.

  8. says

    Wow thank you Jack. It was so much fun to do those classes. It was the highlight of my year. I'm grateful that you and your siblings have some good memories, even if you can't remember the lessons. Thanks for telling me this.

  9. says

    A double whammy! – I thought the laundry detergent line was a joke. You really did that?

    So the kids who weren't killed in the stampede were poisoned! Man, I wish I'd had a sunday school teacher like you. i would have gotten into the kingdom a lot sooner!

    Excellent post Mark. Made my day. Twice.

  10. says

    I am absolutely stealing this idea!!!!

    Right now, I’m in Kenya, volunteering at an orphanage and EVERYTHING is heralded with a grand, sweeping “hakuna matata” so I’m just going to take them up on it!! [Mwahaha.]


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