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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 November 2006, 02:05 GMT
Earthly reward for church vandals
Microsoft Xbox
Just one of the electronic games included in the "love baskets"
Three teenagers who burgled and vandalised a church in the US state of Montana will be given "love baskets" of electronic games by the congregation.

The three youths broke into Missoula's South Hills Evangelical Church two weeks ago, stealing money and smashing windows and computers, police said.

Officers caught them still in the church and charged them with burglary.

Church pastor Jason Reimer said the congregation wanted "to reach out and extend love and mercy to them".

"A lot of us, whether we're churchgoers or not, have been in their shoes before and have made some bad choices," Mr Reimer said. "But God forgives us."

Marijuana and pills

The teenagers are accused of breaking into the South Hills Evangelical Church (SHEC) just before midnight on 12 November and causing several thousand dollars' worth of damage.

"They did smash some stuff, like computer monitors, windows, televisions and sprayed a fire extinguisher in the gym," Mr Reimer said.

Cannabis, a pipe and some pills were found on the teenagers, he said.

The following Sunday, the church's main pastor, John Erbele, used the incident in his sermon to preach about the Christian virtues of mercy and forgiveness.

Church members began to collect donations for "love baskets" to present to the youths.

"We've collected several hundred dollars' worth of gift cards, Xboxes and controllers, a DVD, a VCR," said Mr Reimer.

If the teenagers escape a jail sentence, the church hopes the gifts will help keep them off the streets and out of trouble.

If the gadgets are not enough, the SHEC also offers a skateboard park, a centre for teenagers, a weight room and an addiction recovery service.

In addition, the church hosts a band, Goofyfooted, which features rock-and-roll pastor Erbele on guitar.

"We want to help them get their lives straightened out," said Mr Reimer.

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