Page last updated at 20:21 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 21:21 UK

Robbers return takings to pastors

By Robert Pigott
BBC religious affairs correspondent

Pastor Ade Omooba
Pastor Ade Omooba persuaded a street gang to return his money

An armed gang which robbed three church pastors in London gave the preachers their money back shortly afterwards, it has emerged.

Pastor Ade Omooba of the Christian Victory Group, and two colleagues were ambushed in their car in New Cross Road in New Cross, south London, last week.

Mr Omooba, an anti gun-crime activist, handed over 250 and told the youths they were just like his own son.

A few minutes later two young men returned and handed back the cash.

'Surrounded'

Mr Omooba, who heads a number of black majority churches in London, had just drawn up in his car outside a restaurant at 1700 BST on Thursday last week when the vehicle was surrounded by youths.

They pointed guns directly at the three men and demanded money and their briefcases.

As a gun was held to his head, Mr Omooba informed the young men - two of whom were black and the other Asian - that he was a pastor.


You are our boys... you are just like my own son

Pastor Ade Omooba

Mr Omooba helps run programmes tackling knife and gun crime among young black people, and had just finished helping to organise 33 days of prayer for the issue in every London borough.

He has also taken part in several marches demonstrating against stabbings and shootings in the city.

He told the group that using guns would not get them what they wanted.

He said: "You are our boys...you are just like my own son.

"We want to help you."

Mr Omooba gave the gang 250 in cash that he had intended on using to pay a bill for his sister, but persuaded the youths not to take his briefcase, telling them that he needed the contents to do his job.

He said: "Take this money and share it out among yourselves."

Calm

The gang grabbed the offering and checked the boot of the people carrier the men were in before running off.

Mr Amooba said: "They were so calm. You knew they had done this before."

The three pastors, shaken by the event, spent some time collecting their thoughts, and were amazed when a few minutes later two of the group returned and quickly handed back the cash.

Mr Amooba said: "One boy came back. They had left the back door open. He stretched his arm in and didn't say anything.

"I said thank you.

"At that point I felt so much compassion. I just thought these boys were lost. They just wanted someone to care."

Mr Omooba said of the event that it showed that even armed gangs robbing people at gunpoint were capable of finer feelings and redemption.

He said: "They turned out not to be as bad as we might have felt."

Mr Omooba - who helps to run a charity called Faith Action - which among other things mentors young men recently released from prison - said the incident had reinforced his determination to counter the prevalence of guns and knives on the streets.

He said he did not report the crime to police because he wanted the boys to have the opportunity to change their lifestyles and it would be harder to do this with a criminal record.


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