Home > Youth Ministry > The FBI wants to Talk to You – Youth Ministry Story

The FBI wants to Talk to You – Youth Ministry Story

Monday 7:00 AM

It was a Monday morning like every other Monday morning.  I’m half awake and tired from a long day at church.  I’m climbing into the shower wondering why my senior pastor thinks Monday morning meetings are a good idea.  Just when I was almost asleep in the shower, the phone rings.  My wife leaves earlier than me to go to work, so I get out of the shower to answer the phone thinking she needs something.

Me: Hello

Other Person: “Where are you?”

Me still groggy:  “Home, who is …”

Other person: “Did youth meet in the house behind the church last night?”

Me: “Yes. Why?” (At this point I’ve figured out that it is Sue Ann, the church business administrator.  You know the staff person who thinks they have the most power and is in everyone’s business especially the youth ministers.)

Sue Ann: “The FBI wants to talk with you. Be here in 15 minutes.”

Me: “About what?”

Sue Ann: “Classifed. Be here in 15 minutes.”

Me: “I live 20 minutes away.  In the shower …”


Monday 7:40 AM

I arrive on my churches campus to find police and firefighters everywhere.  The back half of our church property has been quarantined with yellow tape.  I’m not sure where they found that much tape.  I park my car and put my life in jeopardy evidently by crossing the yellow line, because the nearest police officer is ready to arrest me on the spot.  I explain that my presence was requested.  After confirming that the FBI is looking for me, I am escorted to where the FBI have set up their post and are coordinating the actions of the police, fire department, and now I realize special response force.  I can see a two guys getting suited up in toxic suits talking with one of our maintenance staff members.

Agent X: “Mr. Kirk can you tell me what transpired in this building (the house used for some Sunday school classes and small groups behind our church and our counseling center) last night?

Me: “We have two youth small groups that meet in that building.  Can you tell me what’s going on?”

Agent X: “No. Do you have the names of all individuals known to be in that building last night?”

Me: “Yes.”

Agent X: “We need those names and any contact information you have now.”

Me: “Not until you tell me what’s going on.”

Agent Y: “Mr. Kirk, we have discovered a mysterious white powdery substance covering the entire upstairs hallway of this building.  We believe it to be anthrax.”

Me: “You’ve got to be kidding, why would someone anthrax our counseling center.”

Agent Y: “That’s what we are trying to find out.  So if you would kindly aid us by giving us those names.”

At this point, my youth ministry investigative brain that has watched enough CSI and working with youth for 15 years goes to work.  I realize that one of the two small groups that meets in that building includes three of my primary troublemakers.  I tell the agent that I can give him all the names or I can give him those most likely to be involved.  He wants both.  I suggest that Jamie, Jim, and Stan would be the young men to begin with.  He inquires of their location.  I tell him they are in school as far as I know.  Agent X and a police officer immediately leave headed to the high school.  I’m thinking this will scare them.  Being pulled out of class by the FBI should scare anyone.

I give Agent Y the other names and sit down on the curb with those in charge including Sue Ann (whatever!) talk about the next steps.  They radio the special task force on the house porch telling them to hold off on entering the premises until they hear from Agent X.

My youth ministry brain kicks in and I think I know what the strange white powder is.  I ask if I could make a suggestion.  They ignore me.  The special task force is suited up and wants to go in and look around since they put everything on.  In they go and I can hear the report coming in over the radio.

“Yes.  Confirmed light white powery substance all over floor and door handles.  Foot prints leading out the door also white.”

Agent Y finally decides that he’ll listen to me.  I suggest, “While they are in there could they check the fire-extinguishers to see if the pins are missing or if they have been discharged.”  Agent Y gives me a look that conveys you think we haven’t thought of that.  He relays the message anyway and the message comes back “all pins are in place.”  I kindly suggest that the youth might have put the pin back in place.

I’m told that my assistance is no longer needed at this time.  Please stay where I am.

8:45 AM

A call comes in from Agent X.  They have interrogated all 3 boys separately and their stories almost agree.  I learn later that Sam has taken creative liberties related to the story to protect his innocence (or guilt).   They had removed the pin from a fire extinguisher and gentle squeezed the handle.  The fire extinguisher had released a big cloud of smoke (or powder).  They freaked out, put the pin back in place, and ran out the door.

9:15 AM

Everyone is packing up and I’m informed of what happened with zero acknowledgements that I had been right or helpful.  Instead, I got a lecture on how much government resources where spent on this incident and how I needed to do a better job keeping an eye on the youth.

10:15 AM

My senior pastor has arrived after a good nights rest, complete shower and shave.  I still look half put together from running out the door.  We have a long talk about what happened and the severity of the situation and we make a game plan for how to address it with the boys and their parents.  I’m at a large church so he is unfamiliar with the families, so I share some of the challenges these boys present and their family situations as I have experienced them.

We decide to meet with each youth and their parents one at a time to check their stories and to look for signs of repentance.  We will determine what punishment or our response after meeting with them.

3:15 PM

Jim and Jamie and their parents arrive at the church.  We meet with each of them. They tell the story.  They clearly are telling the truth, probably an after effect of the FBI interrogation.  They show remorse.

5:15 PM

Sam and his dad finally show up.  Sam has a different story blaming the other two.  The story does not hold water, but his dad backs him up.  The conversation got pretty heated between the senior pastor and his dad.  Everyone finally settles down and they leave.

6:15 PM

Senior Pastor and I talk about what’s next.  He feels that the boys should respond with some community service at the church.  He wants them to understand the seriousness of what has taken place.  It is probably important to note that this is only 3 months after 9/11 during all the anthrax scares.

I express that I am confident that they had no idea fire extinguisher powder would be mistaken for a deadly substance and that although they cause me headaches much of the time I think the FBI scare was sufficient.   Sue Ann has influenced this decision clearly by giving her two or twenty cents.  He settles on 10 hours that I’m going to supervise.  Sam gets twenty hours for lying and the senior pastor would like me to get his dad involved too!

7:30 PM

Back in the shower, tired, and not about to answer the phone.

What I learned?

  • My senior pastor could laugh and be an enforcer when it came to our students doing dumb stuff.
  • A relationship with all the maintenance staff that encourages them to call you before freaking out is important.
  • The over controlling staff person is not going to help you in these situations seek help from someone above them.
  • To finish your shower, shave, and get fully dressed even in an emergency.  You don’t know how many meetings you may have to go to.
  • You do not want to be responsible for supervising 40 hours of community service.  Find a different method.
  • Be nice to the FBI.  You might need them in the future.  I had to get there help almost a year later and talked with Agent Y, but that’s a story for another day.

How it worked out?

  • Jamie and Jim did about 6 hours of their 10 before I excused the rest.  I did get good one-on-one time with both Jamie and Jim that was significant in our relationship going forward.
  • Sam did about 2 hours.  He quit coming to youth group which was a blessing in some ways, but he will always be one of those kids that I wish I had tried harder with.  His life was difficult over the next two years at one point his dad reached out to me, but my relationship with Sam was not strong enough to allow for any help.
  • My senior pastor and I laughed for years about the whole deal.  He died from cancer, but I bet is getting a real kick out of this story going in a book.

What I would do different now that I know what I know?

  • Finish my shower and get fully dressed.
  • Looked for ways for the punishment to not be my responsibility.
  • Stayed on Sam.  He needed the church the most.

This post was also shared at ymblogs.com/failblog. Share your crazy stories there too!

Categories: Youth Ministry
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