Who Would Jesus Bribe?

I work on the third floor of a little historic building on the Lower East Side. It’s technically a 19th century Federal style row house. What this means is there is no elevator and the building has a lot of character and charm. What this means is it looks like it’s falling apart in some places. But at least I have a nice little office with a door that locks and a front-facing window. What this means is that I can see a parking lot and a tree or two and some old projects.

I’m usually thankful that I have a window in the front of the building. I get good light. I get a good breeze. In summer I get the music of the ice cream truck, which is cute for about a minute. I also get the floor-rattling hip-hop bass of passing car stereo systems — and the car alarms that the vibrations set off. So it’s good, but it’s not always good.

Lately, on Thursday afternoons, I’ve been hearing a new and wholly more disturbing sound through that window.

In the minutes leading up to 5:30, when the neighborhood children are walking home from their after-school programs, someone gets on a microphone with a squeaky sound system and calls out to them to gather round. She lures them with a treat. The first time I started paying attention, it was pudding.

“Every kid who comes gets two cups of pudding. This is not one cup, but two big cups of delicious chocolate pudding. Go home and bring your friends back. Tell them they get free pudding. Two cups of pudding for every kid. We’re going to start in a little while. Just hang tight.”

She said “pudding” so many times, the word began to sound weird and slightly embarrassing to me.

It seemed odd, but I was working late. I assumed it was a legitimate after-school thing. And it was too warm indoors to close the window, so I tried to ignore it.

Five minutes later, the voice returned. First the pudding call. Then: “We have prizes, too. Fill out these pieces of paper here, and if we draw yours, you’ll win a Yankees backpack.”

This was back when the Yankees had a chance.

“We’re starting in about 10 minutes,” she continued. “So go get your friends and bring them back here for the show.”

And, of course, free pudding.

Then 5:30 hit. They started a countdown: “Five! … Four! … Three! … Two! … One!”

The next week it was pumpkins (with two cans of soda, “for you and a friend!”). The week after that, it was a “candy grab” — apparently, as much candy as the kids could stuff into their arms. Then blow pops. Then another candy grab. Every week, it’s another treat.

After the countdown, a male voice and a female shout and yell in a vaguely celebratory way for a bit — “Hey! Yeah! Who wants to play a game! You want to play a game?” — before they separate the boys from the girls.

Eventually, I was curious enough to stick my head out the window to see what was going on. I saw a man and two young women bouncing around near the side of the truck facing the building. The side of the van had been folded down to create a sort of stage or platform.

Earlier that day I had seen that truck parked in front of the building. It was painted an optimistic shade of yellow with an airbrushed picture of three cartoonish bears in street clothes — they refer to their show as “Yogi Bear” — with the words “Metro Ministries” in bright, cheerful red letters.

Ministries. They’re preaching to these kids. With candy. Is it just me, or is this a very cynical approach? Doesn’t the word of God stand on its own?

As far as recruitment schemes go, it’s a far cry from “Hell House.” They tell stories about vegetables at the supermarket that are mean to other vegetables. They sing songs, badly, with karaoke tracks to popular songs in various styles — rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, even army style — about about praising Jesus and worshipping God. “We want to live in you. We want to please you!”

They tell them, “If you don’t live for God, if you live the way you want to live, you will not get to heaven. Don’t look at your friend. Your friend won’t save you. Only God will save you.”

They collect the kids’ names and addresses before every show. If they don’t or they don’t get the treat. And they are made to wait til the end to get the treat. They’re like taskmasters — “You won’t get your lollipop until the end!”

They’ve been doing it for a few weeks now, and I can tell they recognize most of the kids. They’re familiar enough with them that they jump right into a barrage of Hallelujahs and Amens right at 5:30. They start their shows, they shout (and I mean shout) “I love Jesus! Do you love Jesus? Who here loves Jesus? Hallelujah!

And I can’t help but wonder a few things. Do these kids’ parents know what they’re doing on the way home? Did anyone ever tell them how to deal with strangers who offer them candy out of the side of a parked truck? Does anyone have permission to proselytize to these kids? Do the kids ever care waht they’re being told, or are they just in it for the free stuff?

1 Response to “Who Would Jesus Bribe?”

  1. January 17, 2010 at 3:30 am

    Well… that is quite the funny blog. There is alot I could say about this, so here are a few things. 1. They do not lure anybody to do anything… they are simply offering something for free.. which seems strange nowadays.. but they are just giving to the community. Treats, or food, or clothes… and the BEST thing ever.. JESUS' love.2. This 'program' does nothing negative, in fact it keeps the kids from being on the streets getting into trouble.. and falling into the same shoes their older siblings have. Giving them hope and an alternative to being in gangs, on the streets or in jail.3. Jesus loves EVERYBODY and did so many things for people. He provided their needs, performed miracles, and in turn people followed Him, knowing He truly loved them. This is portrayed through Metro Ministries as they provide needs for the community.. and yes treats and toys for the kids too. But we all deserve that sometimes. 🙂

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