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New weapon in bid to beat Easterhouse gangs: the Bible

Governments, police officers, charities and even pop stars have all tried and failed to halt the gang wars that have blighted Glasgow’s Easterhouse estate for more than half a century.

Now a group of evangelising Christians is entering the lions’ den in the hope that the Bible will persuade the enemy factions to put down their weapons and begin a more moral life.

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However, Easterhouse community workers have made it clear that they don’t need God to sort out the problems -- they need parents to act responsibly. Local teens have also warned that if Christians come preaching traditional scripture they risk being “ripped apart” at worst or mocked at best. One youth said that the problems of Easterhouse were “bigger than Jesus”.

Five churches in Easterhouse have invited Bibleworld -- a mobile church mission dreamed up by the Scottish Bible Society -- to come and preach to youngsters in the deprived estate. The Bibleworld preachers will offer free scripture lessons in the hope of persuading teenagers to forego drink, drugs and violence.

Bibleworld -- a kind of “church on wheels” -- offers a slick, multimedia experience for teens, incorporating film, music and interactive exhibits. Visitors are shown a computer-generated film of a spiky-haired teenager whose life consists of little more than video games until a Bible falls from the sky onto his head. Another animation depicts the fight between David and Goliath in the style of a beat ’em up PlayStation game.

Elaine Duncan, chief executive of the Scottish Bible Society, said: “We are continuing to promote the Bible as God’s word and to make it available to all.” She said it was important that young people in Easterhouse got “the opportunity to experience the richness of the Bible’s story and its place in our culture”.

The air of Christian reflection Bibleworld hopes to engender is a far cry from what many local teens experience in their day-to-day lives.

Although police have managed to curb the large-scale gang battles that used to erupt on a weekly basis, street gangs still defend their territories and attack their enemies viciously.

The gangs started more than half a century ago, when Easterhouse was built, and teenagers still fight under the same banners as their parents. Children as young as 12 follow the previous generation into one of about seven gangs, with names like The Bal Toi, The Provvie or The Drummy.

The Bible Society hopes religious education will defuse this febrile atmosphere. Andy-Lloyd Williams, a Glasgow Christian outreach worker, said that Bibleworld was “really relevant to teenagers”.

He added: “You are hearing the voice of religious education less and less in society, but I think we can help children experiencing dramatic issues like gang violence, poverty and unemployment.”

Bibleworld also hopes to teach religious tolerance, added James Milligan, a volunteer evangelist.

“We have had a Sikh father ask us to teach his child about Christianity so he understands other religions,” he said. “I think that Bibleworld will show that Christians do good work. Christians don’t shout about the work they do, but they take pleasure in helping others.”

However, local activists were sceptical about the benefits of bringing the Bible to this troubled area.

Richard McShane, a community organiser who runs clubs for pensioners and football teams to keep teens off the street and away from gangs, has lived in Easterhouse all his life.

He said: “God hasn’t been here once in the 60 years since we were built. We have suffered from deprivation, neglect, violence and lack of facilities since day one. Does Easterhouse really need God when he hasn’t ever been here?

“People from as far away as Canada, Australia and America have heard of Easterhouse, due to the problems we still have. Was God there when the latest person was stabbed? What would it take for him to listen?”

However, some moral education could benefit kids who don’t get it at home, McShane added. “I don’t think you need religion to understand the moral implications of your actions,” he said. “You can teach that in the house. But if you’re not getting it in the house, some is better than none, regardless of what quarter it comes from.”

  What local teens think

 

Nicole Cassidy, 16, painter and decorator

“I’m a Catholic but I don’t believe in God. How do they know God invented everything? If they come round saying that, people will rip them apart.”

 

Stephanie Conner, 16, college student

“I don’t believe in God and don’t talk about it …We just go church for funerals and christenings.”

 

Kristopher Robertson, 17, school student

“I doubt they can handle the problems around here, which are much bigger than Jesus.”

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