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The Famine Blog

Less Church, Please!

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Chris McKenna

SOver the past month, you’ve probably read a few 30 Hour Famine blog posts written by individuals who visited World Vision Ecuador in September. I had the amazing privilege of being a part of that trip; and even though I’ve been home for just over a month, I’m still somewhat wrecked inside. Meaning, I was given this amazing gift, and I’m still not sure exactly what God wants me to do with it!

I’ve participated in many international mission trips with students over the past twelve years, and we always preach heavily on the difficulties of re-entry. For anyone who has had a mountaintop mission experience, you know what I’m talking about. We tell students to prepare themselves for the “valley of real life” that is waiting for them – complete with family and friends who won’t understand the experience, and a way of life that might seem trivial and trite.

But, this time, it was me! I’m just not sure how to digest all of what God showed me.

So, I will continue to wrestle and wonder. But in the meantime, my Ecuadorian experience has helped me see that although I’ve done a decent job preaching about the developing world, but I’ve pretty lousy job preparing my kids for first world issues they see daily. Meaning, I’ve shown them hundreds of videos about world hunger, slavery, disease and malnutrition. And, they should be aware of these brutal realities. But, on any particular Monday, how will my 7th graders apply those videos to the first world issues they see in their middle school hallways?

And, I think World Vision has pointed me towards part of the answer.

World Vision’s approach to community transformation is community-centric. This means that different communities have different needs; and instead of World Vision dictating the steps to transformation, they instead sit down with community leaders, young and old, and ask, “What things bother you about life in your town?” For one community, the primary issue was violence in the home. For another, it was infant mortality. For another it was drugs; and yet another, environmental degradation. Each of these issues had a unique response from World Vision in partnership with the community.

This led me to ask myself: When was the last time I asked my students, “What things bother you about life in your community/school/town/neighborhood?” The truth is, I’ve never asked them that question. Do I want them to care about the global food crisis? Absolutely. But the reality is that a 12-year old is more likely to make significant change at school, at home, or somewhere local. So, here are some questions and thoughts I’ve been wrestling with:

  • If the student ministry of our church ceased to exist, would any of the schools or the community even notice?
  • Why haven’t I had breakfast with the local principals to ask each of them what issues are most prevalent in their schools?
  • Instead of always asking kids to get involved at church volunteering in the nursery, why not encourage and even train certain students to get involved in student council so they influence school decisions from a Christian perspective?
  • Instead of complaining about sports schedules, why not teach and mentor my talented athletes into being Christ-like leaders on their sports teams?

All of this has me wondering if should do less ministry at church and more ministry in the community. Crazy talk? Who knows: maybe I’ll work my way out of a job. But it feels like I’m on the scent of something. And if any of you have great things you’re doing to partner with schools or your community, I’d love to hear more.

 

Don’t Shy Away from the Big Question (part 2)

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

by Ross Carper

Note from the Famine team:
Yesterday, Famine leader Ross Carper wrote about the importance of being ready for Big Questions (BQ) that come up when working with teenagers—complex questions that don’t have easy answers. Ross suggested that BQs often come up during an experience like the 30 Hour Famine, since teenagers are in a place where they’re thinking more deeply about tough issues. Yesterday’s blog post suggested the first two of six responses to BQs. Here are Ross’s remaining four suggested responses:

  1. Don’t treat the BQ as a solely intellectual question. Given that my own dealings with this topic began in an academic setting, this has definitely been my biggest mistake. I’m working on it, though. It’s often better to just “mourn with those who mourn” and deeply recognize the darkness in our world than to launch into a sterile, rehearsed explanation of why it’s there. In fact, many students are dealing with this question because of a personal pain they are experiencing, not just because of the general existence of evil.
  2. Don’t claim there is only one catch-all answer to the BQ. The technical term is theodicy. Giving a theodicy is what we do when we provide God’s reason for allowing evil. Gnome-dialog-question.svgOne of the most popular is the Free Will theodicy: in a nutshell, bad stuff happens because God has good reasons to give us free will, and we’re seeing the bad results of that free will. There is powerful conversation to be had in this area—conversation that invokes the broad scriptural narrative and where we currently stand in it (you know: creation, the fall, the resulting brokenness, the ongoing redemption of all things through Christ, and the fact that we’re not yet at the end of the story, when all tears will be wiped away). This is good stuff to explore in conversation, for sure; mentioning free will and perhaps some other theodicies can be an appropriate part of the conversation. But there needn’t be only one answer to the BQ: remember that God is big enough to have a variety of reasons, many of which we may not understand, ever. So it’s not our job to make every tragedy in our world fit within our favorite theodicy. Some theodicies are kind of messed up, too, and they get mixed in with weird bumper-sticker theology, like I mentioned above… nope, it’s not okay to respond to the BQ with “Well, we wouldn’t be able to recognize the good without also experiencing the bad.” Here’s a much better (and actually far more biblical) answer: “I honestly don’t know why God allows that to happen.”
  3. Don’t just grab a Bible verse willy-nilly. Look into the context and narrative. Of course, there are some great passages from scripture that deal with the BQ. Two of my favorites are John 9 (when Jesus blows a popular theodicy of the day—evil as sin punishment—out of the water), and the book of Job—the oldest book in the Bible, which shows through the narrative that there are some of God’s reasons for allowing evil that we should never expect to understand. But if we’re not careful, sometimes students will think we’re trying to use the Bible as a band-aid. If their doubt has some depth to it, it’s not as easy as telling them to memorize something from Philippians 4 and get on with their lives. The last thing we want to do is have students lump scripture in with those all-too-cheesy slogans. So let’s make sure we don’t use it that way.
  4. Don’t succumb to hopelessness. Be a part of the answer. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of suffering in our world, especially as we are trying to square that reality up with the beauty we also experience—and the God we’re trying to follow. And as we deepen the conversation by admitting that we don’t have all the answers, apathy can sometimes set in, and we can begin to shrug off our responsibility to fight these tragedies. Find ways to turn the conversation toward how we are invited to be a part of the answer to the problem of evil. With both prayer and action, we get to live our lives as a protest against death in all its forms. We get to join God in his redemptive work. If our questions are concerned with whether God is doing enough to protect the innocent, we need to be sure we’re actively engaged on their behalf as well.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to walk alongside students who are dealing with the BQ, especially when we’re able to respond with love together, rather than just ponder big ideas. We may not know all possible answers to the BQ, but we do know the answer to hunger. Spoiler alert: it’s food. As participants in the 30 Hour Famine, God’s love compels us to respond in a big way, empowering whole communities to become more food secure. This is our bright hope in the midst of questions and doubts.

Don’t Shy Away from the Big Question (part 1)

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

by Ross Carper

It’s going to come up. Or at least it should—every once in a while. When you’re doing the 30 Hour Famine or some other justice-oriented ministry experience with students, there’s going to be a time when what I call the Big Question arises.

The BQ: “Wait… if God is so loving and so powerful, why does he allow horrors like extreme hunger in the first place?”

It might come from a quizzical student, just beginning to look outside herself for the first time. It might come from a volunteer leader, heartbroken in a new way as your team engages in a fight against tragic circumstances. It might come from a voice in the back of your own head. Wait… I’m the leader here. Should I be dealing with that question, and the big ol’ lump of doubt that comes with it?

Here’s what I’m not going to do: provide a neat’n’tidy blog-post answer to a question that people of faith have wrestled with for thousands of years. But, as youth workers, we do need to be thoughtfully prepared for it… so this post will be kind of long. I’m passionate about this because dealing with the BQ for myself, and by default preparing for such conversations, has been a big part of my own story.

Gnome-dialog-question.svgA decade ago, I finished a degree in philosophy at a secular university. My emphasis was in philosophy of religion, with a year-long thesis project on the problem of evil—specifically studying the ways thinkers use the horrors of our world as evidence against God’s existence, and whether there are any good responses to these arguments (basically, I studied the BQ). We had a small but excellent department, and those of us who were philosophy majors (including the woman who has since become my wife) developed great friendships with our professors—half of whom were atheists, and half of whom were Christian theists. As a fairly new disciple myself, this was a challenging and stimulating environment. On Tuesday nights at Rudy’s downtown, this vibrant community would meet for philosophical discourse over the best pizza in Bellingham. Good times.

Of course: none of this makes me an expert, but dealing with the BQ directly was important to my faith as a young adult. So I devoted a year of my life to the topic. Did it result in a perfect response—that nice, comforting answer to deliver smoothly whenever the BQ comes up? Nope. In fact, what I learned most deeply is how NOT to respond to the BQ. Here are some basic “don’ts”, with a few “do’s” mixed in:

  1. Don’t sweep the BQ under the rug. You’re in the midst of your biggest event or trip of the year, and suddenly a student is deeply struggling with doubt—seriously, it’s good we’re doing this project, but why are kids needlessly dying in the first place? As leaders, our minds are in a thousand places: we’re modifying the schedule on the fly, managing volunteers, and grabbing the next set of guitar chord sheets. But as busy as things are, do not ignore this question or brush it off. You probably don’t have time for a real conversation in the moment, so schedule it on the spot. You’ll need a full 1-on-1 coffee sesh (and probably some refills) to explore this stuff together. But don’t let that student out of your sight without scheduling a meetup. One major thing we’re learning in youth ministry is this: if we don’t provide supportive communities where it’s okay to face doubts and questions as a part of one’s faith, we’re dropping the ball. Our students will not be prepared for having a grown-up faith, and as young adults they’ll probably seek to air questions and doubts outside of faith communities rather than within them—because our ministries have implicitly told them there is no place for these questions within the church. Yikes. Schedule that meeting.
  2. Don’t give easy-cheesy answers to the BQ. I know this should go without saying, but hey, we all have our not-so-great moments in conversation with students. It’s better to be silent than to overconfidently roll out a couple lines from an old apologetics book, or say stuff like “God never gives anyone more than they can handle.” The amount of suffering in this world, especially the child suffering World Vision is trying to alleviate and prevent, is more than any of us can handle. Leave the slogans and platitudes for the greeting card store. Our students are increasingly allergic to oversimplified answers, which are never a source of good theology either.

(Tomorrow we’ll give you Ross’s remaining four suggestions for dealing with BQs)

Be Cautious about Number Fixation

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

by Mark Oestreicher

Like King David counting the troops (which, if we’re reading the Bible correctly, sure didn’t have a happy response from God), youth workers and other church leaders tend to be obsessed with counting. I do not believe that numbers are useless. They are an indicator of something. We just have to be very, very careful not to quickly assume what that something is.

It kills me when I hear a youth worker (especially a young youth worker) say something like, “We have 27 in our group right now.” That kind of accuracy is usually a reflection of number obsession. When pushed on this, some will respond with, “Yeah, but each of those numbers represents a real teenagers. Numbers are a reflection of people. I really care about people.” No. You are wrong. People are not numbers. Numbers quantify people, dehumanizing them. Numbers are not a reflection of people; they’re a reflection of our own need to justify our youth ministry jobs and feel good about ourselves. Dang, I wish I could wave a magic wand and deprogram this youth worker self-image building block.

countingOften, the question of numbers is one of comparison. As in, “I have more teenagers that that church, so I must be amazing.” Or, “I have less teenagers than that church, so they must be amazing.” Or, “I have less teenagers than that church, so something must be wrong with me.” We wrongly do this math: quantity = significance.

Maybe you even do this when you read articles on this blog about other churches’ 30 Hour Famine numbers. If that’s you, know this: some of the best youth ministry (and 30 Hour Famine experiences) is taking place in small churches with small youth ministries.

Again, I am not saying that numbers have no place. If your youth group suddenly swells from 4 to 72, you should probably ask some questions about what’s going on. It could be that the Spirit is moving. Or, it could be that something is significantly wrong, like they’re only coming because you’re giving away free beer. If your numbers steadily drop over a few years, it’s probably a reflection of something. But it could be that God is winnowing the group down to a size that makes sense for your gifting and calling. Or, it could be that your group is inbred and exclusive, and that there’s no place for outsiders.

I’m thinking about this today, because I came across an old comment on an old youth ministry blog from a veteran youth worker in a new church. He was sitting at a youth ministry roundtable event, at a table of 8 youth workers. During a discussion time, this occurred:

I did get asked the numbers question by someone. “How many students do you run?”

I said, “Somewhere between 2 and 1,000. I’m not sure; I’m still new”.

I love it. Focus on being true to your calling with whatever numbers you have. After all, Jesus only had 12 disciples.

Embrace the Routine

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Travis Hill

beautifull woman taking a deep breath at the sunsetAt some point during the summer I told myself, “Man, I can’t wait for school to start again.” Then people began asking me if I was nervous or excited for the new school year, which I was a bit of both, but then our back-to-school kickoff arrived. That last Wednesday in August came and went, and there I understood I was back where I belonged. Much like you know, summer is a perfect season to intentionally spend more time with students. They have more time off, so we should capitalize on that. However, as an introvert, the constant week-to-week activities can wear me down like none other. Needless to say, I was quite ready for school to start. I craved the routine that came with a weekly planning session, a weekly sermon, and a weekly gathering of students.

Despite the praying, reading, and writing involved to craft a sermon, despite the battles with Photoshop and iMovie to make announcements come alive, despite the futility of getting all of the information you need from a middle schooler in one text message to register them for an event, the weekly work is where I thrive. And it’s not because I have a set schedule, but rather I can take time out of my day and focus on God exclusively. I can take an hour to pray and write, to think and meditate. This seems strange, right? I should be making time for God every day. But when I get bogged down in the summer, I slump a bit and find my solitude better spent napping.

Thomas Merton wrote, “The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not something to be known and studied; it is to be lived. Like all life, it grows sick and dies when it is uprooted from its proper element.” It took me a while to realize my proper element was a daily process of reading, meditating, and writing. Over the last year, I spent the first part of my morning, before anyone else comes into the office, connecting with God through words. Not only do I write out my own thoughts, but I pen prayers to God. And more often than not I have found in this process the direction I needed to be heading that day. More often than not, it wasn’t the direction I intended, but rather the direction that God sent me.

I don’t know your church background or where you are now, but I only really discovered and sought after the spiritual disciplines in the last few years. Terms like: praying the hours, lectio divina, solitude, meditation, silence, fasting, sabbath, and soul friendship always felt strange to me. But over the years I have learned from myself that my soul craves these. My heart needs silence and solitude. When you’re with students a lot, and your heart breaks for them and the struggles they go through, it’s easy to take all of that fear and pain home. But sometimes your heart is telling you that it needs a break, to get away from all of that hurt. Daily, I need to shut everything out to meditate and write. How can I ever find God if there is no space in me? How can I find the direction I need to go if I’m filling my day with so much stuff and not enough God?

Despite my love of weekly meetings, sometimes the routine breaks me as well. It is easy to get in a rut week-to-week, too. We write, think, plan, outreach and then rinse and repeat for the next week. It is also in these spaces where I find I need God to help center and direct me. Trusting that God will speak to and lead me is merely the seed by which beauty blooms. Merton wrote once again that,

“Faith alone can give us the light to see that God’s will is to be found in our everyday life. Without this light, we cannot see to make the right decisions. Without this certitude we cannot have supernatural confidence and peace. We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened.”

Find your balance. Try new things, new ways to connect with Christ, but do so intentionally. Do so with the idea that this spiritual life of ours should not be boiled down to staff meetings, crazy games, email lists, and calendar events, but rather a wholehearted focus on where the Spirit is leading us. Find that place your soul seeks.

 

A Newbie Perspective on the Impact of World Vision

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Cody Petersen

costume indigeno sudamericanoI am a World Vision newbie. What I mean by that is that my interaction with World Vision as an organization consisted of looking at a 30 Hour Famine website for around 15 minutes because I had a friend in ministry that mentioned it to me. So when I was given the opportunity to accompany some other ministry leaders on a Vision Trip to Ecuador, I had a variety of feelings and emotions that I encountered at the same time. I was over the top excited because I was being given the opportunity to travel to another country. I was confused because having no interaction or previous partnership with World Vision, I wasn’t sure why I was selected to go. I was also a little bit skeptical because I had no clue what World Vision was all about or what I was getting myself into.

My goal on our Vision Trip to Ecuador was to learn as much as possible about World Vision, how they work, how they partner with different countries and communities, and what my options were as far as partnering with them goes. As we entered Ecuador I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the country and God’s creation. I was overwhelmed with the hospitality of our hosts and the love and kindness that was shown to us by each community that we came in contact with. Most of all, I was overwhelmed with the way that God is using World Vision to make a difference in Ecuador on a national level and individually within each community.

We were able to meet with some of World Vision’s national directors on our first day and they expressed their purpose in everything they did with World Vision. This purpose was broken down into three points: Worship through service, Mutual Transformation, and Hope. Over the course of our week in Ecuador, I was able to see this vision manifested in the communities that we visited. It was evident through each Area Development Project that we visited the real life changes that were happening in each community, but also in many individuals within those communities. The communities had a dream for what they wanted to accomplish to strengthen their communities, and World Vision was able to come alongside them and not only serve them, but also serve side by side with them. Because of the ownership given to each community, the changes that happen in those communities are completely sustained in the long term by the communities themselves. Instead of giving help then leaving the people right where they were when they started, World Vision gives them the tools and resources to sustain the changes and thrive on their own once World Vision ends a project. This process fulfills the purpose of World Vision that I mentioned earlier and helps to change REAL PEOPLE from the inside out.

One person that we met along the way was named Nicolasa. Her story hit me hard because it is a familiar story, as I have friends struggling with the same thing. She is unable to have children but was the resident midwife for her community, delivering all the babies in the community. There was a real problem with losing mothers and babies due to poor nutrition and not having the proper training to deliver these babies. So in partnering with World Vision and also the national government, Nicolasa was able to receive the training she needed to better help the mothers and children of her community. She was able to teach pregnant mothers how to take care of themselves and their babies by eating right and not over working. She was able to receive better training to help with the delivering of the babies. She was also able to receive spiritual healing from the pain of not being able to have children on her own. When she was telling her story, a few things that she said resounded with me. She said that she went from struggling with the pain of not being able to have children to feeling like she had many children because of the relationships she was able to develop with the mothers and babies in her community. She also said that God provided her with a child of her own when a mother abandoned a baby that she in turn raised as her own child. It was absolutely amazing to see how God worked through Nicolasa, World Vision, and even the government to make this all happen and help strengthen this small community.

I came away from the trip inspired and eager to do whatever I can to partner with World Vision and the real people that they are partnering with every day in communities all over the world. It was refreshing to see that all the resources they receive as an organization make it to these communities and are impacting the lives of real people. I wish that I could share more stories of people that we encountered while in Ecuador and the communities that are being changed there, but that would be a book instead of a blog post. Whether you are like me and are a World Vision newbie, or you have been partnering with World Vision for many years, know that through the work of World Vision, the lives of real people are being impacted for the better and real communities of people are growing and thriving. I would encourage anyone to partner with World Vision whether it is through supporting a child, fundraising through a 30 Hour Famine, or simply spending time in prayer each day. I can say from personal experience that you are not only helping to better people physically, socially, and spiritually, but you will walk away from your experience changed as well. Like we learned on our first day, this truly is a partnership where everyone benefits through being able to worship and serve alongside each other, having that mutual transformation of our lives from the inside out, and by sharing the hope that we have all received through Jesus Christ with those around us.

 

The End of the World

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Jake Kircher

With the reboot of Left Behind, the Internet has been abuzz with articles about the end of the world from Christianity Today, Relevant Magazine and others. It quickly brought me back to my own days in high school and college, along with all the debates my friends and I would have about when the rapture would happen, if we were currently in the end times or not; and if so, whether we were currently dealing with scrolls, trumpets or bowls. I was excited to dive into some of these debates again with my current group of students.  However, things didn’t quite go as planned…

As we held a movie night to watch the original Left Behind movie with our group last week, I was pretty surprised by my student’s reactions. First, almost none of them had heard about the rapture before and they were both confused and shocked when the movie portrayed that. Second, when I explained in a bit more detail what the rapture was and how it fit into the Left Behind interpretation of Scripture, the majority of the students thought it sounded ridiculous. “People don’t really believe that, do they?” one of my students asked me. And third, as I explained a few other perspectives and beliefs about the End Times, my students just ultimately didn’t care about the specifics.

Hazy Sunrise in the SmokiesThis was such a far cry from 15-20 years ago when it seemed like all Christians had heard about the rapture, and the bigger question was whether you were pre-trib, mid-trib or post-trib. As I processed our movie night and conversation the couple of days after, it dawned on me the slow shift I have seen over the last decade where students are asking less and less about the specifics of End Times theology. Yet another consequence of the shift to a post-Christian world where students have no context of Revelations and end of the world prophesies.

As I talked with more students throughout the week, and as we dove in the topic of where our world is heading in this past Sunday’s sermon, my optimistic-self landed on the conclusion that I think this shift is actually a good thing.

First, on the Biblical front, my students only really cared about the generalities of what the end of the world would bring. All they wanted to know was that Jesus would be coming back, at a time that no one knew, and that when he did come back he would judge the world based on a relationship with him and then he would make all things new. That’s it. And honestly, isn’t that what is most important in the whole story of Revelations anyways? Jesus is coming back and it could be any moment. Am I living in a way that reflects that I am ready and that helps others to be ready as well?

Second, when it came to specifics, my students cared more about the things happening in the world right now: Ebola, ISIS, world hunger, clean water, sex trafficking, etc., than they cared about any potential tribulation. It was almost this attitude of, why debate about what might happen when we can spend our time debating about what we can do concerning the things happening right now. That for sure was an attitude I wasn’t going to argue with for one second!

When it comes down to it, does it even matter what we all believe about the specifics of what Revelations predicts? The bottom line is that Jesus is going to come back and stuff is going to go down. Our job is simply to be his witnesses here on earth until that point, and that means living in a way that everyday brings Jesus’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.  I, for one, am excited that my students pushed me in this direction this past week. It gives me pride to be a youth worker and makes me want to do everything I can to get behind this generation to making a dent in the issues they are passionate about solving. And I hope that you feel the same way.

Fanatics of Hope

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

Nikki Myers, 30 Hour Famine Team

ESTA FOTOGRAFIA TIENE DERECHO DE AUTORI recently took a trip to Ecuador with some 30 Hour Famine Youth Leaders. We had the opportunity to meet with the World Vision Ecuador staff. We started our time with the National Director who shared about his vision for the country and for utilizing World Vision staff to bring hope to the communities of Ecuador. One particular phrase jumped out at me as I furiously took notes… “As Christians we must be fanatics of hope.

Hope. It’s a word we use all the time…

“I hope you have a good day”

“Hope I can make it on time”

“Hope the Seahawks win this weekend”

Fanatics of hope.

This phrase stuck with me, in fact it plagued me. What does that mean… am I that? This sounds more serious than hoping my phone stays charged. How does that go in line with what we are here to do? But as the week progressed, I began to see fanatics of hope all around me.

I met World Vision field staff and community leaders who worked tirelessly to bring hope to their communities. One in particular was a young woman, Nicholosa. Nicholosa was a very quiet, humble woman with a heart nearly visible. She is unable to have children herself but felt called to caring for children. So she was trained by World Vision and the Department of Health as a midwife. Their community was hours from a town and subsequently a hospital. So, when women are unable to make it to town Nicholosa steps in. I had the best kale omelet of my life as Nicholosa shared about teaching the community about nutrients needed for pregnant mothers and their children.  Nicholosa is a fanatic of hope.

I met a Pastor who felt called to move to a new community and start a church. This new community struggled with poverty, malnutrition and jobs for the families living there. He attended a World Vision pastor training as well as a training on starting small business. As a result, he rallied the women of the congregation and through World Vision they were able to start a cheese business, guinea pig farm and vegetable garden. The women now grow their own food, plus enough to sell in a market to earn a small income. He was a fanatic of hope… and now the community is flourishing (and so are those guinea pigs).

As youth leaders you all are fanatics of hope. You invest in students who might never say thanks. You rarely, if ever, turn off your phone and close your door to their needs. You answer questions and share your refrigerators with students yearning to be known. You bring hope to students who are looking for their place in the world. Further, when you do the 30 Hour Famine, World Vision is able to bring hope to communities that are struggling to flourish. Opportunity for women and children, proper nutrition and prenatal care and the gospel message. You are a fanatic of hope.

 

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.

Even Cooler Than I Thought

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Matt Williams

AlpacaA few weeks ago, I received an incredible gift.  World Vision invited me to join with four other 30 Hour Famine youth leaders to travel to Ecuador to see how they operate.  Needless to say, I accepted the invitation with gusto! So for nearly a week, we travelled through the central part of Ecuador visiting different WV partnership programs.  As you might expect, the trip was full of remarkable moments, wonderful people, and great insights.  But if I had to boil it all down into one sentence or one nugget to share my experience with everyone who does the Famine, it is this: World Vision’s approach, partnerships, and work are far more innovative, hope-filled, and downright cooler than I ever imagined.

There were numerous times where I was surprised at the way WV works to improve lives and communities, but I won’t try to pack them all in to this blog.  Instead, let me tell you about one project in one village that might give a glimpse into what we saw and experienced. They called it The Alpaca Project.

When WV began a partnership with this one community, there were many challenges the leaders wanted to tackle.  One of the more pressing challenges was the slowly degrading quality of the community’s water supply.  Now, we all know that WV helps people find and sustain sources of clean water, so it is no surprise that they were willing to help the community with this challenge.  What blew me away was the way WV addressed the problem.  The answer was not digging a well, creating a water pipeline, or building a purification system.  Instead, WV found a far more ecological, economic, and sustainable solution.

A few decades ago, the community started farming sheep.  The sheep were a good source of wool, and occasionally protein, for the people.  But sheep ate a lot of the grasses on the mountain slopes. Over time, the hungry sheep over-grazed the limited pasture land, resulting in erosion.  Without the grasses and soil to act as a natural filtration system, more minerals and runoff entered the water supply, slowly eliminating it as a drinkable water source.  WV proposed switching from sheep to alpacas as a remedy.  See, alpacas produce a comparable amount of wool as the sheep, but they eat one-sixth the amount of food.  They also breed more quickly than the sheep.  The village agreed, and WV provided 15 alpacas (and some necessary how-to-raise alpaca training).  Because the alpacas eat less, the mountain grasses regrew and thickened, making the pastures viable again.  Because the grasses were thicker, they again held the soil and acted as a natural water filter. This, in turn, reduced the contaminants entering the water table, and improved the water quality.  Now the village has 90 alpacas, a surplus of wool (which is turned into clothing and blankets for sale in nearby markets), and a clean source of water.

How cool is that!  By simply partnering with a community and coming up with a creative answer, WV helped to stabilize water quality, to introduce more biome-friendly livestock, and to create a long-term income source.  But the more important thing WV created is this: hope. Instead of struggling simply to survive, this community is starting to see a better future.  Who would have thought that looking into a water quality issue would so completely transform a small community?  Well, I guess WV does, and that is why the work they do is even cooler than I thought.

Thanks for all you do to support WV and the 30 Hour Famine.  Please keep working hard, because it truly changes lives and brings hope to communities that so desperately need it. Oh, and should the 30 Hour Famine team ever invite you to travel to see WV in action, go for it.  You might find yourself more hopeful too!