Pink! Pink! Pink!” he screamed as he sat on the stairs leading to the old church basement. I froze, stuck on the stairs above him as a set of foul words flew from his mouth. This was my introduction to Tony. I had taught Good News Clubs and children’s church for years, but this experience was certainly a first. I stopped and prayed, “Lord, show me how to handle this.” I immediately thought of an experience the minister David Wilkerson shared in one of his books.
While working with inner city youth, David had been threatened by Nicky Cruz—leader of the New York City Mau-Mau gang. David was preaching in Nicky’s neighborhood when he encountered the gang leader. Nicky slapped him, and then threatened to kill him with a knife. David responded by saying, “Yes, you could; and you could cut me into a thousand little pieces and spread me all over the street, but every piece would still love you.” The fact that I thought of this story immediately after praying for God’s guidance was my answer. God was telling me to simply love him.
I continued down the stairs, stopping just above where he sat. “Hi. What’s your name?” I asked. Instead of answering me, he shouted, “Pink…pink…pink.” Then he screamed, “I don’t have to tell you my name!” “No, you don’t,” I responded, “but I want you to know that God loves you and so do I…and we both want to help you.” Somehow I got past him, which was an actual physical challenge because he was pinching and kicking me as I did.
Just then the young man helping with children’s church arrived. He was supposed to do the story that morning, but when he was able to successfully coax Tony outside, I gladly covered for him. Actually, I probably taught one of my best object lessons ever. As soon as Tony was gone, all the children started acting shocked and saying things like, “Oh, did you see that? That was awful.” I quickly stopped them. “Yes,” I said, “it was, but we’re not going to talk about Tony. To behave that way at his age means he’s been terribly hurt and we’re not going to add to it. We’re just going to pray for him and claim him for Jesus, on the basis that Jesus said it was not his will that any be lost and He would give us anything we asked if it was according to his will.” So, as a class, we prayed for Tony and claimed him for Christ.
The next week Tony was back with a repeat performance, and when two children who had been absent the previous week began looking shocked, a 7 year old girl whispered, “It’s ok. We prayed for him. We claimed him for Jesus.” Oh, the faith of a child! But this week Tony stayed inside and listened to the lesson…in between outbursts.
The third week Tony again sat on the steps, but the outbursts were fewer and farther between and he listened more intently during the lesson. When I gave the invitation, he looked like he wanted to respond, but he didn’t. Because I felt he was ready, when I took a child who did respond back to a private room for canceling, I turned and added, “If anyone else wants to come and talk with me, just get up and come.” Tony came. I counseled with the other child first because I wanted full attention on Tony.
When I talked with Tony about sin, he broke out into a literal sweat. He did pray to receive Christ that morning, and after his prayed he breathed, “Whee!” He took his hand and wiped the sweat off his face, and his whole countenance changed from anger and pain to relief and peace. I never had another discipline problem with Tony. During Sunday school some of the other teachers often had problems, but they soon learned to send him to my class. I would move over, make room, and then motion for him to come sit down. He always listened intently to the adult lesson, and he grew by leaps and bounds.
I later learned that Tony’s mother had been married to or lived with 4 different men, and the last one had beat him severely. On top of that, he had been kidnapped by a stranger for a year, locked in a closet with a hole cut in the bottom of the door for a plate to pass through, and physically, emotionally and sexually abused. He was 9 years old. Is it any wonder he had so much anger, so much hurt that he didn’t know how to handle it? No wonder God had shown me to just love him. One day he told me that his screaming pink was a sign of rebellion, that it meant, “I don’t have to!” It wasn’t just a color to him, it was a way of saying something he had no other way to say. It was his cry for help.
When I share this story in my training classes, I use it as a part of the discipline lesson, stressing the importance of handling each situation individually and with prayer. How glad I was that I had stopped and prayed and asked God how to handle Tony . . . and He had given me his wisdom. James 1:5 reads, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
Please share this article with your friends, and ask them to share it with theirs. We lost touch with Tony 40 years ago. It would be wonderful to locate him and discover how he is doing.
Wilma’s book on reaching others for Christ, Hidden In My Heart, can be purchased through Amazon.