It was good to see the response from exiled Scot David Murray to the Princess Trust research that 9% of UK young people say they have nothing to live for with the figure rising to 21% for NEET's. These young people need our investment but most of all they need the gospel. What is the gospel? How about this;
In reading David Murray's blog I couldn't help but think of all the hope Thomas Guthrie gave to young people through his Ragged School movement. In his remarkable 'Plea for Ragged Schools' he paints a picture of thousands of hopeless young people in Edinburgh consigned to a life of poverty and crime because of the circumstances they were brought up in. His response was not to encourage the government to punish and deprive these young people of the little they had, but instead to stir up voluntary love, care and kindness from the Christian (and wider) public. As he said; 'These Arabs of the city are wild as those of the desert, and must be broken into three habits, - those of discipline, learning, and industry, not to mention cleanliness. To accomplish this, our trust in the almost omnipotent power of Christian kindness.' Guthrie developed a unique curriculum which incorporated vocational training alongside education and Christian teaching. Young people were given the basic tools to live, work and most importantly were given new Christian values to rebuild the broken foundations they had been given by dysfunctional and often abusive families.
It was also interesting to read in the research that a staggering 72% of young people not in employment, education or training have nobody to confide in. Again Guthrie, 160 years ago, had much to say on this; 'the solitude of a crowd in the most painful of all' and again 'the solitary of a city is a lonesome being.' The young people Guthrie sought to champion were seen as pests, scum and even vermin. It was Guthrie's Christian worldview that infused his vision of Ragged Schools. This quote sums it up well; 'Yes it is easy to push aside the poor boy in the street, with a harsh and unfeeling refusal, saying to your neighbour, "These are the pests of the city." Call them, if you choose, the rubbish of society; only let us say, that there are jewels among that rubbish, which would richly repay the expense of searching. Bedded in their dark and dismal abodes, precious stones lie there, to shine, first on earth, and hereafter and for ever in our redeemers crown' (all quotes from 'Seed-Time and Harvest; or Pleas for Ragged Schools'). Guthrie gave these young people a new family, a new supportive community where they received the help, support and love they needed to succeed.
As Guthrie proves to us, with a bit of vision, and with the blessing of God, so much can be achieved for God's glory. Recently I took a trip to Ardoch in Loch Lomond to see around the Columba 1400 centre. From small beginnings in 1997 this remarkable leadership academy for young people has had a huge effect on the lives of so many young people. With centres now in Skye, Loch Lomond and West Calder, they are bringing hope to some of the most marginalised young people in the country. This is just one inspirational example of how people are responding to the increasing challenge of NEET's.
But what are we doing? Perhaps we don't know what to do and are frightened of failure. Doing nothing is not an option. Let me leave you with the closing words of Guthrie in his First Plea for Ragged Schools, to encourage you; 'It were better far in such a case to fail, than to stand idly by and see the castaway perish. If the drowning man sinks before we reach him, it will be some consolation to reflect that we did our best to save him. Though we bore home but the dead body of her boy, we should earn a mother's gratitude and blessing. We had tried to save him: and from that blessed One who made himself poor that He might make us rich, - who was full of compassion, kind and patient to the bad, - and who hath set us an example that we should follow His steps, - we should at least earn this approving sentence, "They have done what they could."