Shifting from Other to Friend

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Brad Hauge

TJ RoadEarly last April I made a walk that many youth pastors have made over the years as I walked from our mission trip host site (in our case an orphanage) to one of our work sites (home building in Tijuana). What set this particular walk apart was the fact that along the half mile stretch of road I was stopped at least four times by those in the neighborhood I can call friend. There’s the Morales boys at the hardware store, Juan who lives in the blue house our students built for him three years prior, and that one lady whose name I never can quite understand at the store where we get Fresas con Crema (strawberries and cream) far too often. They all either smiled, shouted hello or gave me a hug as I walked past. This is their neighborhood but I, and our entire group, am welcomed each spring as if it is our neighborhood as well.

This isn’t just because of good ol’ fashioned Mexican hospitality, though that totally does exist! Our relationship has evolved from that “group of suburban gringos from Washington State here to help,” to “group of suburban gringos we now call friend,” because our church has been working alongside those in the same neighborhood for over 20 years. Over those 20 years our good intentions have become trusted, our commitment to be good news to their neighborhood has seen real fruit, and the hugs between us have become true embraces because we have chosen not to “mission trip hop” to whatever location we think our students would find most exciting. The promise of consistent relationship has caused both our students in Spokane and our neighbors in Tijuana to move from seeing each other as “other” to seeing each other as friend.

Consistent relationships can and should be an important part of our 30 Hour Famine weekend as well. One of my favorite aspects of the 30 Hour Famine is the encouraged opportunity to use some of those 30 hours to serve your own communities and neighborhoods. If your group hasn’t taken advantage of this encouragement for whatever reason, I suggest you start right away. The goal and focus of the 30 Hour Famine to raise funds and awareness for hunger needs around the world is beautiful and worthy, but has the potential to allow our students the option of simply seeing the needs of the world as “out there.” The 30 hours spent together provides a real opportunity to see the needs and hurts of the people right outside your church’s door. This is an idea the Middle School students at our church here in Spokane have fully embraced year after year. They spend parts of their Saturday morning serving meals at the local soup kitchen, cleaning bathrooms at the Women’s Shelter down the road and even picking up trash alongside the roads in our neighborhood.

The best part of serving locally during the Famine weekend is that it has turned into frequent involvement and service with the same neighbors and organizations throughout the entire year. Students from our community now serve meals at the soup kitchen once a month and frequently help with childcare or cleaning needs at the shelter. The best part of those developing partnerships? The fact that they are consistent. Is the idea of cleaning toilets at a women’s shelter one that middle school students are going to naturally jump at? Of course not. But the idea of seeing Mary again or playing with Amy’s kids one more time once they’re done scrubbing sure can be.

Youth workers, please make it a value of your ministry to invest in consistent relationships. This isn’t a revolutionary or controversial idea, but for some reason when it comes to our mission trips or our 30 Hour Famine service opportunities it’s one we need to do a better job of living into. I wnt to encourage you to stop mission trip hopping from year to year in hopes of attracting more kids with a more exotic locale. Stop searching for a more exciting option for this year’s Famine service projects when the people you served last year are still in need right outside your door 365 days a year. Instead trust that the faces you’ll see and come to love from year to year will be all the draw your students need to engage.