In a previous post I told you about some mystery events we planned for my youth ministries over the years to keep the students on their toes. Today I want to tell you about a little more elaborate event we pulled off three times at three different churches- and all with astounding success!
It all began in High Point, NC in the late 1980s. I was looking for a way to help some of our less committed youth feel more a part of our student ministry at Springfield Friends Meeting, and I wanted it to be something with pizazz. A few years earlier I had read of a group that organized a "kidnapping" of some youth on a Saturday morning, and from that a plan began to brew in my brain. I advertised to our kids that something big was going to happen on a particular Saturday morning, and that is was crucial that they be at the church by 7 AM. If they weren't there, then they needed to Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid! I called a few parents of students I felt confident would not show up and arranged to arrive at their home early on the specified date. The plan was simple. We would awaken the "victim" with loud noises and then take them away for breakfast with our group. We intended to startle them and make the moment memorable. To insure those things, I rented a gorilla costume. One of our high school guys, Jamie Robinson, wore the costume with great joy and did a wonderful job of grabbing our unsuspecting students and hauling them away. It was awesome. And effective- although as you can see in the picture, Keri Vinson did take his head off! Several of the kidnapees went on to become important members of our youth family.
I decided to repeat the adventure my first summer at FUMC-Kissimmee. This time the targets would be our newest group of 6th graders who were just joining the youth ministry. Jerry Hanbery, who would later serve 4 years as my summer intern, was so excited he showed up at our house next door to the church around 6 AM. My wife was not amused. Jerry had gone with me to pick out the costume he would wear, and so instead of a gorilla this time they kids were grabbed by Chewbacca! For reasons I cannot fathom, I have no pictures. But again- it was AWESOME!!!
I set it up once more in 2005 while serving Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa. This time the event featured a member of our Youth Ministry Team, Josh Shapiro, wearing a PINK Gorilla suit. It went a little less smoothly because a couple of the parents had blabbed and because one of the kids slept with a gun next to his bed! It ended on a high note when we stopped by the home of Travis Aiken. Travis was a regular who had not shown up, so no one at his house knew we were coming. It caused quite a scene, and Travis attempted to beat up the gorilla- but it was all good!
The Gorilla Kidnapping event is a winner in so many ways. It allows for great promotion and anticipation, for extreme creativity, and for a very exciting Saturday morning with your students. I would encourage every youth pastor to try it at least once. Just make sure and tell the parents to keep their mouths shut...