Working to educate the youth

Doug Harris, member of the <a href="http://www.reachouttrust.org/">Reachout Trust</a>, explains the

My job, simply put, is to convince as many people as possible that cults and occult practices are potentially dangerous. It's obviously not your typical nine-to-five gig. Recalling my childhood daydreams of what I would do when I grew up, this certainly wasn't even on the list.

Just how I got to this point began in the early 1980s when Reachout Trust was born, initially to “reach out” and provide help to local people who had suffered as a result of their being involved with one cult or another. However, in just a few years we had expanded geographically and also philosophically. We ultimately realised that we needed to help those still involved in occult practices.

The creation of Reachout Trust drew responses from a few young people who realised that they needed to be free from the spiritual powers that had trapped them, and could achieve that freedom by turning to the greater power of the God of evangelical Christianity.

Since then, the work of Reachout Trust has often been maligned as being negative and hopelessly idealistic, but we maintain that what we do is positive; we help people find a better life. Also, what some people consider idealist rhetoric is actually some very sound advice that has helped many people. Nevertheless, there are an increasing number of young people today, who do not or will not accept this.

At first, this rejection was perplexing. We were, after all, trying to help them, but all they wanted to do was criticise and contradict us. However, over the years we have come to understand why young people are often hard to reach. Throughout their largely secular and media-influenced lives, they have not received any clear Biblical Christian education. They have instead been bombarded, or at least showered, with various aspects of the occult and other do-it-yourself religions. How can they understand and accept a message that has not been on their radar during their formative years?

Keep in mind that we are not accusing parents of falling asleep on the job. Starting in primary school nearly everyone warns his or her children about with stranger danger and the risks associated with playing near railway lines. As children grow the dangers of drugs and promiscuous sex become relevant. All this amounts to one big list of prohibitions, a list of what not to do. Yet is this advice perceived as negative? Certainly not! Then why shouldn’t we, in a similar vein, share information on the dangers of the occult, which can also yield negative consequences?

Unfortunately, such a warning is seen as too religious, and is discarded in favour of a more liberal stance on youthful experimentation. Most young people, however, do not content themselves with just a small dabble into the occult. They start to wade in to the excitement, intrigue and mystical paths that are explained in magazines, TV interviews and, of course, the Internet.

This is the struggle that Reachout Trust has been increasingly facing for the past 25+ years. It certainly isn’t going to get any easier and as long as society continues to label our efforts and intolerant and conservative.

Should we give up? Certainly not; that is the worst thing we can do. We will adapt to the situation in which we find ourselves, speak with a reasonable and considerate voice, make clear well-constructed arguments and continue to educate all those who will listen on the dangers of the occult. We will, in the same way, seek to show that there is a far safer way to experience spiritual enlightenment: through the tried-and-tested beliefs of the abundant life in the Jesus Christ of evangelical Christianity.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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