Brian Mateer, Youth Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Martinsville, VA
I recently went with my four daughters to an aquarium store in Richmond, VA. We were going to help their grandfather select a few fish for his new aquarium. I had been to pet stores before but never to a store that specialized just in aquariums and the creatures that go in them. I was not prepared for walking through the front door of the store and seeing floor to ceiling tanks with fish, amphibians, aquatic plants and anything else you can think of that can live in an aquarium. I was amazed by the different habitats and the variety of animals in this relatively small strip mall store.
Just when I thought I had looked at all of the tanks, I was told by an associate that there was a completely different area that housed all of the salt water tanks. My daughters and I were directed through what seemed to be a stockroom to the other side of the store that had just as many salt water tanks as fresh water. As my daughters “oohed and awed” over the sea stars, colorful lobsters and exotic fish, something caught my eye in one of the lower aquariums. I crouched down to see the most beautiful and gracefully floating orange jellyfish with blue spots that seemed to be shining.
I quickly checked the name tags on the tank to see if I could identify the name of the jellyfish. Exotic names such as Star Polyp, Vietnamese Mushroom and Flowering Anemone appeared on the tags. As the associate walked over, I asked her the name of the orange jelly fish.
“Orange Jellyfish” she replied. Perhaps sensing my disappointment she said, “It can go in fresh water and salt water!”
Excitedly, I thought to myself “Wow, this is one of God’s amazing creatures.“
“How much is it?” I said.
“$19.99,” she said.
“Is it hard to care for?”
“Not at all. It is artificial!” She began to chuckle. “It tricks everyone.”
I left that day a little bit dejected and I have thought about it numerous times since then.
After reflecting on that experience, I have come think of it as a metaphor for youth ministry.
During my early years in youth ministry I was always looking for the next best thing: a new book to read, a new curriculum, a new song or game to play, an exciting trip or something cool for the youth room. The new idea looked good from the outside, and to some degree was successful. However, there was a problem; we could have taken that same youth ministry model and put it in any other church anywhere. It did not matter the location of the ministry or who the participants might be, it would always look good and be successful. The problem is that it just floated along with no life and there wasn’t much growth.
More recently when I look for what I want to do with our youth program, I look for flexibility and ease in being able to tailor it to our unique context in Martinsville, VA. It is one reason that I put such a high value and attention to the 30 Hour Famine. There are excellent ideas, materials and suggestions on how the whole event could look; but, it also allows opportunity to make it unique to your individual ministry.
Furthermore, the 30 Hour Famine has many intangibles that I look for in an event that can be transformative in a teenager’s life: leadership opportunities, it’s experiential, mission focused, it can be intergenerational, has a global emphasis and allow for participants to live out the teachings of Jesus.
This is why the 30 Hour Famine is the perfect LIVING orange jellyfish for our little aquarium.
“Do the Famine!”