James sat begrudgingly in the empty classroom, eyeing suspiciously the mentor in the black Krunch polo-shirt sat opposite him.
James knew why the mentor was here. You can’t behave the way he had in school recently and not expect some kind of intervention. It was either this or exclusion. It didn’t mean he liked it though. He’d just have to endure the next 12 weeks, “play the game” and then it would be over.
Luckily the Krunch mentor in question, Craig, had worked with many teenagers like James before and was not put off by James’ obvious hostility and resistance. Little by little, as they worked through the structured mentoring programme together, James began to open up and explore the roots of his anger. He found himself looking forward to the weekly mentoring sessions with Craig, building a genuine bond with him which helped James to open up about his past and how it may be impacting his behaviour in school.
During his journeys to and from James’ school each week, Craig would pray for James. He would pray for his wellbeing. He would pray for his future. He would pray for his safety. He would pray for his salvation. He never told James about his prayers. The Krunch mentoring programme was not designed for mentors to share their faith but to simply help young people understand the roots of their behaviour and teach them how to tackle it themselves. But James knew that Craig was a Christian. Everyone at school knew that Krunch was run by Christians. And the more time James spent in Craig’s company, being listened to, supported and encouraged, the more fascinated he became by Craig’s relationship with Jesus.
At the end of the 12 week mentoring programme, James was sorry that his sessions with Craig would have to end. He asked if he could keep in touch via email to update Craig of his progress.
A few weeks later, Craig received an email to his Krunch account. It was from James and read, as follows:
I googled ‘how do I become a Christian’ last night. I said that prayer thingy. I’ve been reading the Bible 4-5 hours a day. Is that enough?
“Eight years later, James now leads a weekly Bible study from his flat,” explains Jon Grant, Krunch’s founder and CEO. “It’s attended by 5-6 completely un-churched lads. None of us here at Krunch would ever have a chance of reaching lads like them. But God is using James to do it – with all his issues and baggage. And it’s working!”
Jon’s words hang in the air of his little office at Krunch HQ in Oldbury. Stories like James’ deserve to be told and I feel suddenly very humbled to be hearing it, especially because I know it’s just one of many stories of young lives being impacted by the love of Jesus through the work of the mentors at Krunch.
Beginning life as an outreach programme in 1999 by youth pastors at Kings Community Church, Brandhall, Krunch was created as a response to the growing number of young people hanging around during the day on deprived council estates in Oldbury, skiving or having been excluded from school. Running lunchtime Christian Unions and after school youth clubs, the Krunch team were able to build positive relationships with hard-to-reach young people, with many of them becoming Christians. Several of Krunch’s current staff members came to faith through the youth clubs operated by Krunch in their early days.
Building on the success of engaging young people through youth clubs outside of school, Krunch developed an Inclusion Unit at Perryfields High School to engage with young people presenting behavioural issues that teachers couldn’t deal with. Krunch would run mentoring sessions and workshops to help young people who had been affected by family breakdown, unstable home lives and negative friendship influences by teaching them personal development and life skills as well as helping them to unpick and understand their anger and behavioural issues.
Almost 20 years later, Krunch has grown to become an essential resource for schools in Sandwell to address to needs of vulnerable and disengaged young people. Now a registered charity, Krunch employs 14 full and part time staff to run a variety of Mentoring and Life Skills programmes in over 50 schools across Sandwell.
The varied work of Krunch engages with the needs of children from the age of 9 right up to young adults in their mid-20s. Alongside one-to-one mentoring programmes in schools, group workshops are also offered to help young people develop life skills ranging from food and cookery skills, body image and hygiene, conflict resolution, money management and healthy relationships. A Young Father’s Programme encourages young dads (aged 15-25) to seek employment, become active parents, supportive partners and advising them on how to raise safe and healthy children. The Krunch Girls Project targets girls aged 11-18 who are at risk of sexual exploitation. Girls are partnered with female mentors who build trust and explore issues of self-esteem, self-worth and body confidence, healthy relationships and personal safety including, Internet safety, grooming and sexual exploitation.
As you would imagine, Krunch staff have encountered many young people with tragic stories over the years, from teenage runaways to those being sexually exploited or self-harming.
“We work with children as young as 10-years old who are presenting signs of depression and anxious behaviour” explains Jon. “It is not unusual for young people to disclose self-harming behaviours and thoughts about suicide.”
Again, I find myself pondering on Jon’s words, letting the reality of them sink in. Has it ever really occurred to me that we live in a region where children as young as 10 years old experience negative thoughts and feelings that we think are only in the realms of adulthood? What kind of things must these kids have seen or heard in order for their emotional well-being to be impacted to such an extent? It’s truly tragic.
“We recently began working with a young lad who had arrived in Sandwell as a refugee from the Congo, where he had been a boy solider,” explains Jon. “Through structured mentoring sessions, we were able to help plot significant life events that had impacted his behaviour and what he revealed was harrowing. He had witnessed several members of his family shot in front of him and it became apparent that he had shot people too. His Krunch mentor was able to identify techniques that would help him cope with the flashbacks he suffered. Since he was a huge football fan, they helped sign him up for a football coaching course and it’s really encouraging to see how this has helped him deal with some of the things he’s seen.”
The number of similar case studies that Jon shared with me that morning would fill a book. This small, Christian organisation, run from the backstreets of the Black Country’s most deprived borough, reaches thousands of our region’s most hurt and hard-to-reach children and young people every year. Their work has had such an impact that they were visited by Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2011 to launch his £400 million national initiative to connect with and support troubled families across Britain.
“David Cameron’s visit was incredible but that kind of accolade isn’t the motivation for our work,” explains Jon as my visit draws to a close. “We believe that God loves people on the margins. We want to be Jesus to people on the very edges of our society. We want to be able to model a family where young people can come in and realise that they are loved and valued by God so that true transformation can take place in their lives.”
As I left Krunch that morning, I saw much evidence of Jon’s heart in action. A group of children with learning disabilities from a special school just down the road were walking around the building, looking for answers to a scavenger hunt designed to encourage independence and increased responsibility for self. In another part of the building, a handful of teenage lads were learning how to wire up a PA system as part of a music workshop. Throughout the building, I could hear the Krunch staff appraise the young people’s efforts.
“Well done, you’re doing brilliantly.”
“Awesome teamwork guys, you’re great!”
Instantly, I was reminded of the exhortations of the Apostle James. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:17). How many times have those young lads been told they were hopeless? How many people had discouraged and talked down to them on their way to exclusion from full-time education? Yet, at this small centre in Oldbury, Jesus Himself was counteracting those negative words with His love in action through his servants at Krunch.
It’s one thing to wax lyrical about how Jesus loves those who are or can be marginalised. It’s another thing to engage with those very people and prove it to them. This is what the staff at Krunch do on a daily basis in a very practical way. And as a result, there are thousands of young people across Sandwell who have been supported and cared for during some of the most tumultuous times in their young lives, giving them hope for a better future.
This is the Kingdom of God in the Black Country.
This is true faith in action.
If you’d like to find out more about the work of Krunch, including how to support them financially, please visit their website.