image description

The Famine Blog

Enter the Advent



By Tash McGill

I’ve just finished a vacation. Which meant two weeks with no urgent notifications or demands to clear my inbox. It should have been bliss, but it hasn’t been easy this time. This time, seeing many of the people I love and celebrating Thanksgiving hasn’t been the energizing, mood-boosting lift I wanted. I hoped for vacation to signal the end of a hard road, but instead it simply illuminated how far there is still to go.

At the end of Thanksgiving Day I wrote the words, ‘Sometimes because my dreams, hopes and desires are so big, it’s easier to forget how much I have to be thankful for.’ And I do have much to be thankful for – a good job, great friends in many parts of the world, the ability to move freely and work on many things I’m passionate about. The rub is, I’ve spent the last year and the year before that and even the year before that, travelling down the road of letting dreams, hopes and desires go.

I could write this all poetically but it would take too much time. Here are the bullet points that will get me to the point:

  • Letting go of hopes and dreams is surrendering your desire to get what you want
  • It means surrendering your desire for control and false ideas of control and power
  • There is nothing easy about this task of emotional and neural reprogramming, because you must learn new ways of being over and over
  • In the process of surrendering your sense of how things ought to be (control) you realize how much space it consumed
  • You realize it when you are left with the corresponding emptiness

So that is where I find myself, at the end of the dark road peering into even darker emptiness. Enter the Advent season. Into the darkest of moments, when all I want is the assurance it will all be ok, that my feeble little self won’t be left behind and mostly, that there is love enough for me in the world, to fill the emptiness – enter the Advent.

Dependence on God is not a strong enough description of the answer to my emptiness. The answer is an equally deep need of God. Surrendering control and that aching emptiness is in fact creating capacity and openhandedness to receive God answering my emptiness. Enter the Advent. How desperately I need the hope of the incarnated God made flesh with us, made real. I so desperately need the flesh-and-blood God to remind me that I am part of the oneness of humanity.

Hope wasn’t made for me alone, but for us. How desperately I need the Advent to reorient me to the love of God made flesh for all of humanity, not just myself.

Enter the Advent, where I have opportunity to turn my eyes away from the darkness of my own emptiness and to the light that is coming to shine in all our emptiness.

Thanksgiving or Black Friday?



By Aaron Wolgamott

Thanksgiving is, of course, a day that we set aside to take a break from the busyness of life, spend time with friends and family, eat lots of food and enjoy one another’s company, and remember to be thankful for all that we have been blessed with. Personally, it is my favorite holiday…it involves a lot of food and football, so it’s a win-win!

Black Friday, though, is the next day. A day set aside to have crazy deals in stores all across America, leading many people to get up extremely early that day to be at the stores when they open so they can take advantage of as many deals as they can. This day has even begun to spill over into Thanksgiving Day as stores are opening earlier and earlier to accommodate all who come to the stores wanting these deals.

I have always found it ironic that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are back to back, because the purposes of these two days can be very opposite of each another. The intent of one is to be thankful for what we have, and the intent of the other is to get new things that we don’t have.

Now please don’t get me wrong here, this is not an anti-Black Friday post. I know that many use Black Friday as a time to get lots of Christmas gifts at good deals; so I’m not saying that it is an evil day in-and-of itself. There are other days and times of the year where stores have deals as well, and it’s not a bad thing to take advantage of that. Buying things on sale is a good way to save some money. So I’m not saying Black Friday is bad, I just find the comparison of these two days coupled with the fact that they are back to back to be ironic…and that irony is something that we can use to help us reflect on our own hearts during this time of year.

1 Timothy 6: 6-11 says:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”

According to this passage, nothing good comes from pursuing gain and the desire to get more. It says that pursuing gain leads to falling into temptation and many senseless and harmful desires that lead to destruction.  It also says that the love of money leads to all kinds of evil.

On the other side, contrasted against pursuing gain and the desire to get more, we see that we as followers of Christ are to be content with what we have because we trust in God to provide (and we can’t take anything with us when we die). We see that we are to be content with food and clothing, and that we are to pursue Godly things: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.

We are to be content with God and thankful for all that he has given us, pursuing him in this life rather than all that this world can offer us. We can go shopping on Black Friday and have a heart of thankfulness—that is totally possible. We can also go through Thanksgiving and not be thankful at all. The real question we must all ask ourselves is, “Am I truly thankful for what I already have, or do I feel like I need just a little bit more in order to be happy?” It’s a tough question to ask ourselves, but it is a very important question that we need to be willing to reflect on.

Spend some time reflecting about this idea. Read through 1 Timothy 6:6-11 again on your own and spend time thinking and praying through what that passage is saying. What do you focus on and pursue in life? Which day would best define your focus: Thanksgiving or Black Friday? What can you do to ensure that you pursue God more than what the world offers?

May you have a truly thankful Thanksgiving Day as you reflect on all that God has done for you and how God has blessed you.

Giving and Showing Thanks



By Dan Kiefer

The month of November is usually a time where we reflect and give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. So, allow me to share something with you that I have recently been challenged with in my own life and ministry. Philippians 1:3 says, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” I have been challenged to not only give thanks to God this month, but to also take an additional step and express my gratitude and thanks to the people I am thankful for in my ministry.

There is absolutely no way I could do all that our ministry does for students by myself. Our children and student ministries HEAVILY depends on volunteers. From Nursery workers, Kids Church volunteers, Sunday School teachers, Kids Ministry volunteers and Youth Ministry volunteers, we have over 100 volunteers giving their time to serve in our church on an average weekend. I am extremely grateful for each one of them (especially those changing diapers!); but when was the last time that I showed them my appreciation? So I have challenged myself to hand write a thank you card to each of them.

We do things periodically for our volunteers to show them our appreciation from the church staff, but this is something different. I want to personally thank each one, expressing how I specifically value them and the time they volunteer to the ministry of our church. Paul in his letter to the Philippians specifically expressed why he was thankful for the people of that church, and I believe I should do the same thing in my ministry.

It doesn’t take long to write a personal thank you card to someone, but it will go a long way to encouraging them in their own ministry. So how do you show your appreciation to those who volunteer in your ministries? What creative ways do you express your thanks to your volunteers?

And while I have your attention: Thank You for all you do in the lives of children, students and adults in your ministry.

30 Hour Famine Teaches Empathy



By Becky Gilbert

When I was a child—not sure of my exact age, but probably about 5 or 6—I remember my parents talking about having some friends come over for dinner and they were going to grill hot dogs. At some point during the day, I must have looked in the refrigerator, because in my 5 or 6-year-old brain, I had seen a partially opened package of hot dogs and I was afraid that our company would eat all the hot dogs and I would not get one. So I ran into the house and took a bite out of one of the hot dogs (this of course meant that this hot dog was mine) and put it back into the package.

After a while, my mother asked what happened to the hot dog, so I told her. I did not realize that taking a bite out of food and putting it back in the package was a problem. I remember being asked, “Why would you do that?” I am sure my answer must have been, “I didn’t want to not get a hot dog” or something equally ridiculous.  I have a vague recollection of a conversation about how rude it was for me to take a bite of the hot dog and put it back and that we had plenty of food for everyone. It was true. I did not grow up in a wealthy house, but we never went hungry and we always had everything we needed.

This event may not sound like much, but I do remember feeling very upset when I was asked about my actions. We didn’t miss meals when I was a child and I do remember feeling…I guess it was embarrassed…to take food away from our guests.  We cannot always pinpoint each place in our life where we learned lessons that would carry into adulthood; but as I think back, it might have been here when I began to understand how to empathize with others.

When Jesus heard of the death of his friend Lazarus, he wept. When an angry crowd brought a woman to Jesus with the intention of killing her, Jesus protected her. When the woman at the well gave Jesus a drink, he talked to her about her life and made her feel known and accepted. Jesus was able to empathize with others and understand what they were feeling. Yes, He is God and we are not. However, that does not prevent us from trying to feel and/or understand what other people are going through.

This is why events like the 30 Hour Famine are important in youth ministry. The 30 Hour Famine and the work World Vision does to educate people and help end hunger has inspired me for many years. For those who may be new to the Famine: for 30 hours, youth go without.  Some groups choose to fast from food, others choose to fast from talking or from technology or social media. Whatever the groups picks, for those 30 hours, youth step out of their world and into another one.

When we step into an unknown situation we become uncomfortable, and that uncomfortable feeling helps us grow and develop. We can develop the ability to notice when people around us are in need. We can develop the empathy to care enough about the need we see to do something about it.  As people called to lead youth, we are given the unique opportunity to help teenagers and young adults develop into caring adults who look beyond a hungry person to the reason that hunger exists.

Hopefully, the experience of the 30 Hour Famine will lead both youth leaders and youth to think about others if they are presented with an opportunity to “take a bite out of something and put it back in the fridge,” like my 5 year old self, and empathize with the needs of others first and instead find a way to help.

Are You a Big Deal?



By Jeff Lowry

Have you seen the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens? If you haven’t, then don’t worry; this won’t spoil anything, I promise. There is this scene where Finn (played by John Boyega) is talking with Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford). Finn says, “I’m a big deal in the resistance.” After that line Han refers to Finn as “Big Deal” several times.

I think we as youth pastors, ministers, and volunteers can learn a ton from that one little scene and the other mentions that follow. Why? Because we tend to think we are a Big Deal. Having been in youth ministry for close to 25 years, I’ve had occasion to interact with all sorts. From the meek, humble and completely lost volunteer who was thrust into the role out of need, to the so-full-of-himself headstrong Big Deal, and everything in between.

In Matthew 23:12 Jesus, talking to the Scribes and Pharisees, said these words, “If you think you are a Big Deal, you’ll be humbled, but if you humble yourself, you’ll be made a Big Deal” (That’s my paraphrase, of course.) Somehow we tend to miss that, or even worse, teach it in a youth service but don’t believe it applies to us! (True confession: I’ve been guilty of this type of thing on numerous occasions.)

The issue is really this: because our teenagers love us, because our youth parents love us, because camp directors love us, we think we can walk on water. And maybe you can. I can’t, but I found it so easy over the years to think about what a Big Deal I was. Reflecting back over my 25 years, I realize now that more than anything I was a Pied Piper. I played the songs, knew the lingo and was a fun guy, all the while frequently relishing in my status as a Big Deal.

Now comes the ‘so what?’ What am I suggesting? Simply this: Our true identity is not in our status as a youth worker, especially if we think we are a Big Deal. Our true identity lies in the simple fact that we are a child of God. Nothing more, nothing less. He’s called us all to do amazing things, gifted us in various areas and given us killer skills that are mind-blowing to some folks. He’s called many of us to be youth workers, and that is no easy calling by any means. But in the end, we are all just sons and daughters of the King. And here’s the thing; when you are focused on being a big deal, that becomes all you know, who you are, and your worth. When it’s gone, whether from God moving us, our own ministry choices or simply stepping down, we suddenly find ourselves confused and questioning so many things.

Don’t get caught up in the thought that you are a Big Deal. Just be you. Just be a child of the King. Just do what God has called you to do. Work with youth. Lead the choir. Clean the toilets. Work in the nursery. Preach the gospel. Do all those things humbly. Allow God to make you the Big Deal you are, but stay humble in that. You’ll be glad you did.

Understand Your Context



By Matt Wilks

I remember talking to parents as a youth pastor and many of them would describe their child as unique, which usually meant that they were odd and miracously I would need to figure out how to include them in our minstry plans.

Of course, you also have a few unique students in your group. But did you know that your ministry is unique?

One area I believe student ministries (and the church) need to do a better job is understanding their context. When a ministry can understand the complexities of their own unique context and serve out of that understanding, I believe that they find the spiritual and sustainable success they are looking for.

The dictionary defines context as the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event or situation. This definition is mostly accurate except that when you add the spiritual component to it, it can supernaturally affect the circumstances. God places us in a context and gives us the tools to understand and affect the circumstances in that context.

The church I ministered at struggled with understanding their ministry, which is directly attached to an understanding of a ministry unique context. Now, don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t that we wanted to be something that we weren’t; but we weren’t as intentional as we could have been with the resources that God had given us. God had placed us in a community that needed us, and instead of looking at the whole city as our mission field, we needed to look right outside of our windows at the community that needed us.

God was calling us to understand the people who made up our community. What were their needs? How did they understand “community”? What was their view of the church? How did they communicate to each other in this community?

Jesus was masterful at understanding his context. Whether it was sitting with the Samartian woman and discussing water or using a farming illustration as he talked with farmers on the side of the road.

How are you becoming an expert in the context around your church? What ministry could God be calling you that is right outside the front door of your church? What people need you to be Jesus to them? How can you communicate the truth of who Jesus is in a way that the people who you have the privilege of ministering to can understand?  How are people in your community learning? What are they learning? There are thousands of questions that you can ask to become an expert in the community that you are a part of. What are the questions that you are asking currently?

I would challenge you to become an expert in understanding the context of where God has entrusted you to work for Him. As a church, when we finally understood what the context was around our church and asked God to open our eyes to see the needs that our community had, God gave us the ability to intelligently and effectively minister to a group of people in the area around our church who needed us to be agents of restoration for them.

3 Ways to Get Through 30 Hours



by John Denton

As a teenager I loved participating in the 30 Hour Famine. As a Youth Director I learned that to create an event youth love, you need to plan and intentionality. While planning for the 30 Hour Famine you face the same issues that you do while planning a lock in, just with no pizza or broom ball. 30 hours is a lot of time to program. This can be scary but is actually one of the greatest aspects of the 30 Hour Famine. You have 30 hours to learn from each other, serve others, and share thoughts.

One of the easiest programing mistakes you can make is filling your schedule with lots of small 15-minute activities. Another mistake is having a small activity that could take 5 minutes filling an hour time block. These errors can leave you facing hour long programing gaps and trying to save your students from boredom.

Here are 3 ideas to get you through 30 hours:

Friday Night Fundraiser 

A Friday Night Fundraiser could be a concert, or a dinner and silent auction. The goal of the Friday night event is to get your youth involved in a fun event for your church community or the community at large. This event also can raise money and awareness for the 30 Hour Famine.

Saturday Morning Work Project

Nothing says 30 Hour Famine like a great work project. Call your local food bank today and book your famine work project before someone else beats you to it. A food scavenger hunt could also a great use of your morning. Divide your group in teams, give them grocery bags, shopping list, famine facts, and send them into the neighborhood around your church to go door to door collecting food. This is fun and helps spread knowledge to your local community.

Saturday Afternoon Service Project

Ending Saturday serving others is a great way to close out your famine. If you did the food scavenger hunt you can take the collected food with you and donate it to a shelter or food bank. This will be instant gratification for your group. Start searching out a homeless shelter or even an area in your community where homeless people congregate.

These three 4 hour projects will make your event memorable and ensure there is limited lag or downtime. The remaining downtime will be easily filled with discussion and small activates. With the help of these three ideas you will be left searching for extra time. I encourage you to think big, to look at ways you can impact your neighborhood and to impact those in need.

30 Hour Reunion



By Matt Andrews

One of the classic frustrations we face working with students is the “selective memory” of young brains.  We put together a great lesson or a great event, knowing full well that the whole thing might be forgotten six months from now.  Maybe three months.  Let’s face it: we’ll be happy if they still remember the point we were trying to make next week!

The first generation of students I worked with are all adults now, and one of my favorite things to do is ask them if they remember anything I taught them.  It’s always surprising, usually humorous, and sometimes profound to be reminded of something that God laid on my heart back then that I’d forgotten completely.  In those cases it’s hard to blame them for forgetting things, too!

Interestingly, it’s often “events” that students remember later: lock-ins, fundraisers, camp, or mission trips.  Some have mentioned the 30 Hour Famine specifically when I ask.  After I’d had several of these same conversations it occurred to me how often I moved right from one topic to another in ministry, failing to reinforce or re-visit lessons later, even when I knew they were especially important ones.

In Luke 4 we read the story of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness: the classic tale of his temptation by Satan after he reached the limit of physical weakness and hunger.  I’ve always incorporated this story of Jesus’ epic fast into preparation for Famine events, because I wanted to make sure the students understood that 30 Hour Famine is more than a fundraiser.  It’s also about facing what happens to our hearts when we deprive ourselves of something for just a little while, and we become more vulnerable.

Recently I read Luke 4 again. But this time it was the end of the story that stayed with me; the last word about what happened after Jesus successfully endured the fast and Satan’s temptation: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13, NIV).  In The Message translation it reads, “That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.”

I hate to think of students learning profound lessons during an event, only to forget them and give in to the world’s temptations later.  A great way to reinforce the 30 Hour Famine experience (and remind students of what they learned) is to plan a “30 Hour Reunion.”  Three to six months after the event, schedule a “feast” or an ice cream party, and put together all the photos and videos you took during the Famine into a presentation.  Give students the mic to share their favorite funny and serious memories from the event.  Take the opportunity to remind them of the lessons they learned that might have faded.  Decorate your space with 30 Hour Famine props and pictures and enjoy the time together, knowing that–even though temptation is always lying in wait–your students are twice as likely to remember the important lessons you tried to teach them by participating in the Famine.

Give Your Famine Away



By Travis Hill

Confession: I’m a huge Middle Earth and Tolkien nerd.

However, one question I had upon my first reading of the Lord of the Rings was this: if the entire fate of Middle Earth rested on the destruction of the One Ring, why didn’t Gandalf, who had the ability to communicate with the Eagles, call up Gwaihir and ride him all the way to Mount Doom? Why did he go through the trouble of giving the ring to an unknown hobbit from the Shire and wish for the best?

Obviously, not giving the ring away would have made for a less epic tale, one that I’m grateful Tolkien never wrote.

Sometimes I think doing an event in youth ministry feels like going on an epic journey. There is the planning, the meetings, the phone calls, sign-ups, email lists, dissemination of roles and jobs, cajoling parents to provide food or rides, and on and on and on. All these details can easily overwhelm us. But if we do everything, aside from simply burning out, we will also steal away an awesome experience for our students, an experience that they can learn from and share with others.

My challenge to you is to give your Famine away. Create space for your students to lead and learn. In fact, the more hands-off you can be with 30 Hour Famine, the better the experience will be. Is this direction messy? Of course. Will some of the students who express interest and take charge of certain roles fail? Most likely. Does Famine have the potential of being “not as good” as years past? I don’t think so. From my experience, the more students are in charge, taking leadership, the more the other students will buy into it.

It’s really interesting to see how students grow by having them:

  • On stage speaking
  • Writing devotional material
  • Configuring and designing games
  • Gathering supplies
  • Running check-in

I’m constantly amazed by the middle schoolers who can lead just as well as high schoolers, and even better than me. It shouldn’t be a question of age and wisdom, but rather of heart and desire. One of our best Famine experiences was when we gave the speaking and organizing role over to one of our seniors and let him direct the entire weekend. Was it tough? Yes. Was it worth it? Incredibly.

Too often we feel we have the “best solutions” and forget that it’s not about us; it’s about the students.

Imagine: would Frodo have grown if Gandalf had taken the ring to Mordor instead? Would Frodo have come back wiser, acknowledged as an elf-friend, garnering respect? Would Sam have added on his loyalty and leadership traits to eventually become Mayor of the Shire? Sure the journey was grim, but it was worth it.

What would it look like to relinquish control and give your 30 Hour Famine away to a group of students? This time around, let them make the decisions. Help them and guide them, of course. Give them the room to breathe and rise and fail. But always be there to carry them home on the backs of eagles.

Create a To-Be List



By Kim Collins

REST. A necessary but not always embraced word in our vocabulary. You might be thinking, “She has lost her mind; I minister with youth, how can I rest?” Or you might be thinking, “Oh, she’s singing to the choir; but it’s a good reminder this time of year.”

Regardless of what you’re thinking, it’s true…youth ministry is busy work with to-do lists that run a mile long as do the hours of the days, days of the week, as well as weeks and seasons of the year. Regardless of whether or not there is a holiday upon us, every season is a “busy season” in ministry, and that’s in addition to our personal lives of family and friends. So, while we take time to make our to-do lists, how about making a “To-Be List”? This is not a traditional or routine list that we check-off when done, but an intentional and essential part of our lives. It is a time to just be, to recharge in the presence of God.

I am a huge advocate of self-care and taking a Sabbath…a rest or a pause. I also think that we can have Sabbath moments each day. The creation story in Genesis tells of how God created everything, said it was good, then rested on the seventh day and called it Holy! God, who is infinite in all things, did not need to rest but took a rest. So why do we think that in our human frailty, we must be like the Energizer Bunny and keep going and going?

Rest sometimes seems to be like a four-letter curse word instead of a holy practice. I admit that when it’s my rest day and I take the time to sit a bit, my mind sometimes whirls about things I need to do and should be doing, or, I’m reflecting on how something can be done better, or completely changed. It’s easy to innocently check emails or voicemails to find that–BAM!–we’re back to “doing” again. So, what do we need to do to be more fruitful in being? Simple: step away.

Some of the ways to step away are through physical exercise (i.e. walking, running, cycling, etc.), gardening, having a cup of tea or coffee on the porch as you listen to God’s orchestra through nature, or going somewhere that’s not part of your daily norm. I’m an avid runner, so I consider my runs as “Running with Jesus”. While I’m exercising my physical body, I’m also gaining spiritual muscle. For me, running is a time of prayer when I’m listening, discerning, lifting up others, being intentional about the abundance of creation around me, or just simply being. Stepping away is tuning out the demands of the world and tuning in to God’s voice.

Rest is not being lazy; it’s necessary! It’s a time for our bodies (and mind and spirit) to recharge, regenerate, and renew. If we are always busy and do not take a break, how can we continue to be the cool, hip adults that mentor, equip and nurture young lives in their faith journey? Furthermore, how can we expect youth to follow Christ’s example of “going to the mountain”, when we do not also model it? Rest, it’s necessary!!! Rest, it’s Holy!! It is a time for the created to be with the Creator…to just be. It is taking care of ourselves so we can take care of others.

Take time to rest…to be holy…to sit with God. Rest is a blessed, holy commandment in which we should give many thanks!