Connect the young with their destiny

As I approached the litter bin, with my dog “poop” bag in hand, it was being emptied by a refuse collector. Meeting him by the bin gave me the opportunity to say thank you.

As I approached the litter bin, with my dog “poop” bag in hand, it was being emptied by a refuse collector. Meeting him by the bin gave me the opportunity to say thank you. We started to chat.

I was appalled when he told me about the amount of abuse he and his colleagues suffered on a daily basis as they clear up after the rest of us. Not only that, but apparently the litter bins, costing £500 each, are regularly vandalised, as are the lifebelts that line the river in Norwich. To make things worse, he said that the trouble had escalated over the last three months and no one knows why.

I don't want this piece to turn into a rant from a grumpy old woman but something is going on that feels very alien and uncomfortable. It is as if, as John Humphrys said on the Today programme last week when he was interviewing Jesse James's mother, I inhabit a parallel universe to the one lived in by the young men who shot Jesse down. In a minor way it occasionally breaks in, as when my front fence was totally broken down two months ago and left laying across the pavement.

What hope is there? Me standing on a street corner shaking my fist, or the rubbish collector threatening to give them all a good hiding is not going to reverse this tidal wave of vandalism, nor reach our disaffected youth who are turning to guns and knives, to gang warfare to give them a sense of security and belonging.

Last week, an organisation called Reach said that what young black men needed is mentoring. Their research was based on interviews with hundreds of young people who certainly welcomed the conclusions of the report that said that what would help would be good strong role models to replace the negative influences that are all around them.

The report talked of the need for black men who have made it as lawyers, bankers and the like to come alongside the teenagers to provide them with inspiration. The thinking is that this will lift them out of the pit of despair and give them something to live for.

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This is a good aspiration as far as it goes but I am not sure if the middle classes, who may seem to have it made, provide the best role models. I understand that poverty is part of the problem but is materialism really the only answer?

What about their spiritual needs? Our society tends to look first to our bodies for its identity, which is where the culture of skinny models comes from.

Secondly, it looks and extols our minds and how we think. Finally, and for most people a long way last, comes our spiritual selves; the deepest part of us, the part that makes us tick. We ignore this at our peril for this is what needs to be at the forefront.

We are spiritual beings first and foremost and unless we recognise this we will only be speaking the language of body image, and consumerism. What everyone needs to connect with, and not just our young people, is a sense of having a destiny, a sense of purpose for our lives above just getting a good job, a nice home and 2.4 children.

Many who have all of that are still not satisfied. We need to become what we are born to be, rather than what we are able to do. Unless we connect them with their destiny, we will be giving our young people a stone rather than their birthright.

In places like the big estates in Norwich, and in rural communities around the county, great effort is being made to reach out to our disaffected youth.

It is not easy work, and it takes a long time to bring about a change to the prevailing culture, but it is beginning to happen. What brings about the change though is incarnation; when people are prepared to live alongside and amongst instead of pointing a finger from the safe margins.

That's what good mentoring does. It's about building relationships; listening and caring to young men and women but never condoning bad behaviour. It is about setting safe boundaries and clear guidelines.

The projects I have mentioned have been set up by concerned Christians, some of whom are pouring out their lives because they follow a man who did the same. Jesus is their role model, their mentor.

Yes they are aware of the need for the necessities of life to be met, but above everything else they want to fulfil the unmet spiritual needs. They know that God has a unique purpose for each one of us and that true fulfilment can only be found in reaching for that.

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