An Angry Parent and a Broken Nose

It was September 2004, and I was helping lead a retreat/weekend away for a youth group in Sheffield, England. I've done dozens of these over the years, and thoroughly enjoy them, sleep deprivation and all. This one, though, is possibly my most memorable, though not for the best reasons.

This wasn't my normal youth group, I'd been invited along to help out, and was more than happy to offer whatever support I could. The group was run entirely by volunteers, I was full time at another church.

This one was a Friday morning to Sunday afternoon event, in the beautiful (see photos) Peak District National Park. Friday afternoon, we took the students for a short hike, and watched as different kids with different attitudes expressed themselves. Some stayed close to the adults, some ran ahead, some responded to shouts of "stop" or "wait" better than others. One pair of brothers stood out.

We got back to the centre we were staying at and folks headed for the showers, table-tennis, whatever. That's when I heard something "kicking off" in one of the dorms. It was one of the brothers.

He was standing in the doorway to one of the smaller rooms, several people inside it, throwing stones at or very near to them. Before he even saw me, I bearhugged him from behind, lifted him up and carried him outside where others could see what was going on. I set him down to get his side of the story, which involved a few kicks and punches aimed at me, and it involved a lot of they said, they did etc etc.

Eventually, he settled down enough to be left to do his own thing under supervision while the adults decided what to do.

I'm fairly tolerant of most things and can be lenient when it comes to discipline, but this was clear to me, he was going home, for the safety of others. It was dinner time.

Eventually, he settled down enough to be left to do his own thing under supervision while the adults decided what to do.

We called, but his Mum and step Dad refused to come and get him. We called several times, and still they refused. Eventually, we called the police and told them what had happened and what we were planning to do. They told us to bring him home, and if there was no-one there when we got there to call them again. We told the parents this, and got words to the effect of "we won't be there".

Sure enough, when we got there (3 adults, this lad and his older brother, who later chose to return to camp), they weren't there. By now it's gone 11 pm. We called the police, who, late on a Friday night, we unsurprisingly, kinda busy, and said they would be with us when they could. Shortly afterwards, the parents arrived in separate cabs, home from the pubs they had been drinking in.

Dad got out, came over to me, and asked was I Andy. I said yes, and was very swiftly headbutted. His wife told him to stop, that I wasn't worth it, just get the boys and bring them in.

While he didn't hit me again, he spent the next 20 minutes or so in my face. (When we called the police to report the assault their response time improved no end!) He spent that time provoking me, insinuating things about me, itching for a fight that would give him a self-defence defence in court. I knew if I laid a finger on him he'd break me in half no problem, so spent that time silently praying "God, keep me calm" over and over again.

Sure enough, the police arrived, settled everything down, and when we got back to camp, one of the adult leaders, a doctor, looked at my nose and reckoned it was broken. I had it reset the following week.

In due course, charges were filed, he pled guilty and it was in the local paper "Man, 41, head-butted youth worker after drinking in pub" (yes, I still have it, see the scan below). (Article from the Sheffield Star, Feb 22nd 2005.)

Epilogue - When Jesus told people to turn the other cheek, he may or may not have had a drunk headbutting someone on a Friday night in mind, but either way, when I teach on that passage, it's a lot more dramatic and authentic now! I can certainly say turning the other cheek works, not least because in this case it kept the situation from escalating, but I'm also fairly sure Mr Richards was also fairly confused when I didn't retaliate.

The Aftermath

It was most definitely some weekend. The older brother came back to camp with us that Friday night, and continued causing trouble Saturday until he asked to go home. Mum and Dad arrived to get him, all smiles. Saturday evening and Sunday were so different after that. Everyone relaxed, you could almost see the communal sigh of relief as the older brother departed. While sending someone home is a last resort, there are times it has to be done, and that collective sigh of relief confirmed that to me.

It took me a day or two to decide to press charges, wondering what the impact on the brothers might be if (step) Dad was put away for a while, but ultimately, as friends counselled, the right thing was that justice be done. Although it went to court, I didn't have to appear as he pled guilty.

The broken nose was relatively painless, 1 Tylenol was all I took for it, and there was only a tiny bit of blood, but to this day it's not quite straight.

Seventeen years on, I still wonder occasionally what happened to that family. Although it was a challenging situation to be in, I learned a lot about myself and my ability, in my weakness, to rely on God, and face whatever an angry parent might throw at me. Thankfully, nothing like that has happened since, though I have upset a few parents with decisions I've made. To this day, it remains the only time I've sent someone home, though I have been close once or twice.

And when the compensation came through? The youth group got 10% of it, my then wife got an iPod and the rest went on some very nice camera equipment, some of which is now in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that's a whole other story!