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

Mark Altrogge

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 enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.