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The Famine Blog

Entering into the World of Your Teenagers


By Eric Woods

“You don’t know me. You don’t understand me. You’re nothing like me.” These are words I hear all too often from the students I serve. And the truth is… they’re mostly right.

The youth in my ministry mainly come from backgrounds of abuse and neglect. Most have been in and out of foster care much of their lives. And more than a few have involvement with the juvenile justice system. None of them are currently living at home with their families.

It really is hard for me to understand what they’ve been through, what they’re thinking, and what’s bugging them today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. My family life wasn’t perfect growing up, for sure. But when I was their age, I wasn’t worried about where I was going to find to sleep that night, or if someone was going to do something to me they shouldn’t. The biggest thing on my mind was probably more like which seat I would get on the school bus, or whether there would still be chocolate milk available when I went through the cafeteria line.

But the more time I spend with these students, the more I realize that understanding who they really are, where they really come from, and what they’re really like is crucial to me being able to make the Gospel real to them, and bring the Word of God to life in their world.

A couple of weeks ago, just before Christmas, I asked them to turn to their neighbor and tell them about the best Christmas gift they’d ever received.

“I’ve never gotten a Christmas gift,” one high-school student said very matter-of-factly to the staff person sitting next to her. It was probably true, and those words shook the young staff person to her core. How can a fifteen-year-old never have received a Christmas gift?

And as she later related that student’s comments to me, I realized that my message about God’s amazing gift to us at Christmas probably didn’t have the kind of impact I thought it would.

Perhaps it was more powerful to her. (You mean, there’s a God who gave me a gift even when no one else has?)

Or maybe not. (Christmas is a joke, I don’t need anything from anyone. Or, Am I the only one who’s never gotten anything?)

Either way, it was a reminder to me to spend a few extra minutes to pass my stories and illustrations through the filter of my students’ lives: stories about going to work with my dad, about being in a car accident, or getting beat up at school… these have the potential to bring up very different memories and emotions for people who have had very different experiences in life.

I don’t avoid these illustrations altogether. They can be powerful tools to engage my students. But I do recognize now, more than ever, that used carelessly, they can do just as much to distract and discourage them.

I don’t always get it right. But the more time I spend with my students, in their world, the better I’m getting at bringing God’s truth to bear in their lives.

Why I Believe in 30 Hour Famine


By Mark Oestreicher

I first participated in the earlier version of 30 Hour Famine when I was in high school, back in the middle ages. I proudly wore my “Let it Growl” t-shirt until it was so threadbare my mom threw it out.

All these years later (really, all these decades later), I believe in 30 Hour Famine—even in doing the Famine year after year after year—more than ever. Here’s a handful of my reasons:

Teenagers are uniquely wired for passion

Honestly, it’s just not easy to move the heart of an adult. But teenagers—due to the glorious uniqueness of their brains, lovingly designed by God—are naturally given to risk and passion. An experience like 30 Hour Famine can ignite a Jesus-y love for others in ways that can quite literally shape teen’s lives over the long run.

Famine is multi-sensory and holistic

The impact of funds raised through 30 Hour Famine are holistic (we’ll get to that in a bit); but so is the learning experience itself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had other ministries say, “We want to develop something like 30 Hour Famine, but we can’t figure out what that experiential piece is that so naturally connects to our cause as fasting does with world hunger.”

Teenagers NEED regular opportunities to broaden their worldview

Since we live in a connected world, teens have more access to stories from Aleppo to Zagreb; but that doesn’t mean most of them are aware. Due to the massive quantity of changes they’re experiencing teenagers are naturally self-centered. Helping them get their focus off of themselves and gain a perspective on the whole world (and specifically those in need) is rocket fuel for intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual growth.

I’ve seen the world of World Vision with my own eyes

I’ve been on two trips with World Vision, and have deeply studied their approach to development. I believe in the approach and the organization, and I know that it works. Individual lives and entire communities are truly changed, in every way, through this brilliant work, and it’s an honor for us Famine leaders to get to partner with this Kingdom work in such a tangible way.

I know the people of World Vision

None of us youth workers do this job for the money. Youth ministry (whether you’re paid or not) is a calling, a passion. I’ve seen the same in the countless World Vision staff I’ve gotten to know over the years, from the executive offices to the amazing staff working on 30 Hour Famine. And nowhere is this truer than with the indigenous field staff I’ve met in World Vision offices around the world.

We’re heading into months that are traditionally Famine season—when groups tend to schedule their 30 Hour Famine events. I hope you have yours on your calendar already, and are fully engaged in planning. If not: I hope you’ll click through and join us!

Setting Your Intention


By Emily Robbins

The end of the year is such a great time to reflect over the past year and look at your growth and experiences; to notice your successes and failures both as an individual and in your ministries. It is also a fantastic time to name some intentions for the year to come. 2017 is right around the corner!

What do you hope to accomplish?

Where do you need to grow?

Where do you need to give yourself permission to take care of yourself?

I have had a practice of prayerfully choosing a theme for each year in my youth ministry. Over the years our themes have been “mystery,” “beloved,” “hope,” “notice,” “Sabbath,” and many more! Sometimes I had one scripture connected to the theme and sometimes there would be many scriptures that we would use for different events that connected to the theme. Much of what we planned for the year connected back to our theme. It was an incredible practice and I love to see my youth grab hold of that theme and see it come to life in their lives.

Have any of you ever done that within your ministry?

But…while being so intentional within my ministry, what was often missing was that I was not being quite as intentional in my own life. I was not living up to my potential in quite the same way. As many of you have probably experienced: It is easy to put your own needs, hopes, families and expectations to the side for ministry. It might even feel selfish to want to focus on your own growth or family instead of our ministry. We’ve been told we need to have balance between work and family. Work and adventure. Work and spiritual growth. I mean, sometimes in youth ministry I get to have all of those at the same time – right? But our youth ministry is still work. Where do you take care of you?

I have tried to be so good at taking care of myself but I find myself falling short again and again. But recently I read this quote by Richard Rohr, “Your True Self is who you are, and always have been in God; and at its core, it is love itself. Love is both who you are and who you are still becoming.” It’s who God made us to be. And who you are still becoming. Every year we get multiple chances to grow and change. To move closer to love. Thank goodness. I get to try again.

I would invite you to prayerfully try a practice this year to recognize your dreams and intentions for yourself in 2017. Not goals but practices. Goals (and resolutions!) can tend to set us up to fail. Practices and intentions help us to line up with “who you are still becoming.” This would be a cool practice to do with your youth sometime in the next month as well. START WITH YOURSELF FIRST!

  1. Set some time aside to pray and dream about 2017.
  2. Have a blank piece of paper in front of you with markers & images (if you draw/doodle/dreamboard) or a pencil if you prefer to use words.
  3. Prayerfully ask God to show you areas of your life where you need growth, healing or inspiration. Think about what brings you passion and gives you energy!
  4. Spend about 10 minutes in silence listening. Need to go on a walk while doing this – do it.
  5. Come back to the piece of paper and write or draw everything you think of. Don’t censor your thoughts. There is no wrong answer.
  6. After looking over your responses, take some time to see if a theme shows up. Choose a word or phrase that sums up your intentions for the year.
  7. Put your word(s) or phrase in a place where you can see it every day. Let this word be your prayer every single day in the next year.
  8. Now go and do it!

I pray that all of us experience 2017 as a year of love and growth!

Find Yourself in the BIG Story


By Luke Lang

It was my big debut and the very first time I sported a beard in public.

I was five.

It was a Christmas pageant at a small Baptist church. I was a wise man, which made sense because I was in Kindergarten, and when I wasn’t eating paste, I was a virtual fount of wisdom and knowledge. I wore a tattered bathrobe and a paper Burger King crown. But the whole reason that I wanted to be a wise man was because I got to wear a fake beard. It was scratchy and it made me look like a two-foot tall Oak Ridge Boy. I gotta admit, that fake beard awakened something in me…something raw…something downright primal. I think I can trace my love for facial hair back to this moment. I didn’t have a speaking role. I didn’t care: I had a beard. My job was pretty easy, walk over to the baby in the manger and deposit a gift. The baby was a shiny plastic doll that looked like a miniature Winston Churchill. The gift was a bedazzled shoebox. My parents were incredibly relieved that I didn’t trip over my bathrobe.

I was a part of the BIG story.

Flash forward to 1993, in a little church on the east side of Tulsa. It’s another nativity, I was Joseph in a pair of Chuck Taylors and this time the beard was real! My wife, Diana, was Mary. She was beautiful. And, our two-week-old baby girl, Delanie, made her big debut as sweet little baby Jesus. I gotta say, despite the fact that she was playing a boy, she nailed it! She was both calm and bright, and no crying she made. She did make something else in her swaddling pampers, but nobody beyond the second row realized that.

We were a part of the BIG story.

That is the way it is supposed to work.

The Nativity is meant to awaken something in us…something raw…something downright primal. The Christmas story was never meant to be a stand-alone story. It has always been an invitation.

We are invited to find ourselves in the story.

It is designed for crowd participation. We were never meant to just be spectators. We are supposed to become a part of the pageantry. We fancy ourselves wise men: regal, wise, gifted. Truth be told, we are more like the shepherds: misfits entrusted with majesty. We should find ourselves in the mission of Mary, carrying the Hope of the World into the world.

THE story is OUR story.

We get to invite the teenagers we work with into the story.

THE story is THEIR story too!

So look close at Christmas. Find yourself in the BIG story. The fake beard is optional.

This Advent, Let’s Practice What We Preach



By Brad Hauge

My natural inclination in ministry is almost always to think of ways to help others engage in service, compassion, and ministry. When our church’s staff took the StrengthsQuest inventory earlier this year I rated high on almost all things strategic. I love to be efficient and logical and pragmatic—and anything else is a waste of time. (Kidding. Kind of.)

Unfortunately, I’m realizing that my natural focus on the strategic often leaves me in a place where I am not living out the very things I’m encouraging the students in our community to do. I confess that, outside of the 30 Hour Famine, I don’t regularly fast. I don’t regularly engage in conversation leading to increased awareness of unnecessary hunger around the world. I don’t often create space in my own life to mourn how many lives are lost to completely preventable causes; and then to be moved to action as a result of this sort of Spirit-led reflection.

Do I pray regularly? Yes.

However, if I’m honest the prayers that I pray both personally and lead corporately during the Famine are prayers that rarely reappear once the event is over.

Do I care about hunger related issues in our world? Yes, absolutely.

However, both my advocacy and activism toward this reality often takes a back seat to, well, many things for most of the year.

Do I believe that middle and high school students have the power to change the world? Yes, 100%.

However, they hear that from me far more often when leading up to, or in the middle of, a large-scale mission trip or event such as the 30 Hour Famine than they do on a day-to-day basis.

I’m a little ashamed to admit how often I allow myself to compartmentalize the priorities and passions on my personal faith around our ministry’s calendar of events. Not simply because it’s pretty lame to live from a place of passion with a sort of end-date, but also because it limits the authenticity in which I can lead our students. They know when I’m leading from a place of obligation or from a true stirring within my soul.

So let’s fast a little here and there and see how God uses that as we lead up to our Famine events. Let’s practice fighting hunger in our communities among our peers so that when we ask students to do it we can lead by example. Let’s set aside time to read, learn, pray, engage with the areas of the world funds will go toward helping, so that the information we present during the Famine isn’t simply read off a card provided by World Vision.

When it is time for your group’s 30 Hour Famine event, you’re going to want your group to engage with the strategic activities and content you provide them. In short, you’ll want them to practice what you preach. During this Advent season I’m going to commit to creating a rhythm where I do a better job of practicing what I preach, at least a little bit each day. So that when it comes time for the main event, I’ll be leading from a much healthier and authentic place where my passion and hope won’t simply feel strategic, but will be a result of what the Spirit is calling me toward.

Finding Comfort in Waiting


Finding Comfort in Waiting

By Chris Luper

In this time that we so often just refer to as the “Holiday Season,” it’s often hard to just wait. I see this struggle on a daily basis through my children. As exciting as Halloween (or as I prefer to call it – Disney Princess Day) is to my daughters, it’s the week leading up to Thanksgiving that really sends them into excitement overdrive. Perhaps it’s the fact that they don’t have to head off to pre-school for a week, coupled with the fact that Mommy (an elementary school teacher) is off for the week, but something sends their little minds into overdrive. Each day, I watch them wrestle with what at times seems to be overpowering anticipation for the days to come.

Let me also note that my wife and I are both guilty of helping perpetuate their excitement. The day after Thanksgiving our Christmas trees go up, garland is wrapped around the banister, lights are placed outside, and of course the stockings are hung with care.

In our day-to-day life and within our faith tradition we have been observing Advent, the season of expectant waiting and a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus. Each Sunday in church, we see the excitement level continue to build in our daughters. This concept of waiting, though, has taken on a completely different meaning within our community this year. Living in East Tennessee, just over thirty miles from Gatlinburg, we find ourselves in a season of waiting…waiting to see if friends and family were harmed in the wildfires, let alone if their property and businesses survived this natural disaster. Even now as most people are learning the fate of their property, we find our faith community in a season of waiting to see how we can help, what missional outreach we can provide.

The impact of these fires has affected everyone in our community, from the oldest down to the youngest. Students in the youth program watched as friends were evacuated— some rushed out so quickly that they were forced to even leave behind pets. Questions of why God lets such horrible things happen to people, coupled with feelings of resentment and anger abound, as our students wrestle with the devastation of this fire. Still, though, we wait, letting our faith guide us as we actively seek the ways we can best help our neighbors in Gatlinburg.

Obviously if you’re reading this, you have some connection to the 30 Hour Famine. Through this event, we’ve all experienced what it’s like to not have, to want, to need. Maybe some of you have actually experienced what it’s like to need beyond the realm of a weekend church activity. Whether you’ve just been down on your luck at times or you’ve gone through a community tragedy like that in Gatlinburg, it’s truly impossible to understand the devastation such events have on one’s life until you are forced to experience it first hand. If that’s still you, know that as I write this post I’m praying for you. I feel your pain, my heart breaks alongside you, and I pray that no matter your situation, you simply feel the love of God in your life.

Back to waiting though: our family eagerly anticipates the celebration of the birth of Christ. I challenge you for the next few days to patiently wait during this season of Advent. Our natural propensity is to rush headlong into the next moment, but during this holiday season, find comfort in the waiting. Christ the King is coming, so let us be thankful for the blessings in our life and find comfort in our faith for those things we don’t have.

“Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you – wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:10-14, CEB)

The Gift that Keeps on Giving


By Brian Mateer

This Christmas will be different for me and my family as we will not be taking our annual trip to Pennsylvania to visit with extended family.  It is the first time I can remember we will not be making the trek north between Thanksgiving and the New Year.  My last remaining grandparent passed away earlier this year.  It will be strange and sad this tradition will not continue.

Several months after grandma died, my mom contacted me to let me know she wanted to do something impactful with a portion of my grandmother’s estate.  Her suggestion was to donate money to build a well in the northern region of Haiti where our church is in ministry.  With great excitement we wired the funds to our Haitian partners to drill and build a well and eagerly awaited word of its completion.  After a few weeks I received confirmation the well was complete and would significantly improve the quality of life for a village hit hard with the disease cholera.

In October, I had the chance to visit this well.  Hopping into the front seat of my Haitian friend’s truck we set off to a remote community surrounded by mountains.  When I say remote, picture a paved road leading to a gravel road, leading to a dirt road, ending at a sometimes dry and sometimes flowing creek bed.  After several miles of twisting around and through the stream we finally arrived at a small community seemingly cut off from the world.

With growing excitement, I emerged from the truck to see the well my family was responsible for funding.  Grinning, I walked over to the hand pump to test out the well.  Before long, children and adults gathered from the surrounding village to find out what was all the commotion about.  My guess is, it’s not every day a white skinned man and a Haitian in a pickup truck visit their village. Pumping the well arm several times, the crystal clear, clean, life giving water flowed out for this community. Then I glanced down and I saw the inscription on concrete well base: “Because of Jesus Christ, our living water.

After several other demonstrations of the functionality of the well from some of the children gathered, a woman walked up to me and said something in Creole.  My Haitian friend translated.  She said, “This well is a gift from God.”  Fighting back tears I could not muster any words and just nodded my head.

As we prepare for the coming of the birth of Jesus I have held this experience close to me.  I am reminded of how precious the gift of clean drinking water is.  I am thankful for the legacy of those before me, including my parents and grandparents, instilling in me the gift of serving the least of these. I am grateful for ministries like the 30 Hour Famine giving opportunities for youth leaders and young people to learn and participate in the kingdom work of providing the gift of “living water” across the globe.

Give the gift that keeps on giving.  Do the Famine.

Take a Break



By Justin Cox

A few years ago I found myself on a hospital gurney in the emergency room. After ignoring chest pain for a week, I finally decided to tell my wife. The doctor conducted a number of tests and came back with shocking news: I was completely fine.

The pain I was experiencing was being caused by stress. Overwork. Burnout.

The doctor prescribed a week off — my first in quite some time. I was instructed to take that week and start working on two things. First was to discover ways to better manage and identify my stress. Second was to take a break from time to time so as not to wind up back in the ER.

I’m assuming readers of this blog have some sort of calling to help teenagers discover a lasting and meaningful relationship with Christ. This is an amazing opportunity, but it doesn’t exempt us from the same trials and stresses that everyone experiences. There are still students to lead, budgets to amend, programs and events to plan, relationships to juggle… the list goes on and on. And if you’re called into ministry, chances are you are pretty good at putting other people before yourself.

Yet, Jesus provides an example to take a break and get away. Throughout his three-year ministry, Jesus constantly found times to go off by himself and get away from the crowds. Even Jesus needed some time away to pray and recharge, yet we in ministry often feel there isn’t any time to spare. Or when we do, we feel guilty that we’re not doing enough for the people we’re called to serve.

When was the last time you did something restorative for yourself?

It’s not selfish to take a break and care for yourself. In fact, if you don’t then it will be all too easy to burnout. Over the years I’ve discovered a few ways to take a break and recharge: annual vacations with my wife, monthly massages, weekly yoga, and daily moments of silence.

Truth is I could do more to take a break and follow Jesus’s lead of recharging, but I’m in a much better place than I was a few years ago. Since you took a few moments to read this, I ask that you take a few more and grab a pen. Write down a few ideas on how you can take a yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily Sabbath. They don’t have to be extravagant things, but think of a few ways that you can help manage the stress of ministry.

Follow Jesus’s lead and find ways to care for yourself.

Take a break.

Ministering in the Midst of Personal Grief



By Julie Floyd

When you work in the church world for a length of time, you begin to see patterns. One I have noticed is that deaths often seem to come in waves. My husband is a rural church pastor and can often go months without needing to perform a funeral. Then, like the last two weeks, he will have three in rapid succession.

In this same time, death hit my family as well. A few weeks ago, my mom’s identical twin sister died suddenly. Three days later, her oldest sister died of breast cancer. Two amazing women, gone far too young. I flew to my hometown and stayed for 10 days. Cried, laughed, remembered. Returned home. My heart is still heavy with this grief but I was reminded of how taking time for intentional grieving can be water for the soul.

I think ministers especially forget this. We often get so caught up in shepherding others and forget how important our wellbeing is. We must find ways to grieve when loss comes. How do we do this?

  1. Know yourself. Everyone grieves differently, and your grief may not look like someone else’s in the same situation. It is OK to feel what you feel when you feel it. Maybe you will cry at a funeral, or when you are alone at night, or not at all. You might want to be around a lot of people or desire solitude. Be self-aware enough to know when your desires might become unhealthy, such as sleeping or eating to excess or not at all. However, give yourself grace to grieve as you uniquely need to.
  2. Take some time off of leading your ministry groups. If you read that and laughed to yourself thinking, “I can’t do that,” you, most of all, need to. Others can respect this time of grieving and take care of things on the ministry front. Are you the kind of person that wants to stay busy in the midst of grief? Great! Go make a casserole, build something, or go fishing. Don’t try to continue life as though nothing has happened. This doesn’t model healthy grieving for our youth, and it makes you a less healthy leader. Take the time off. You need it and those who follow you need to see you doing this.
  3. Set an appointment with a counselor. Talking with friends and family in times of grief is awesome, but you need a professional counselor. Those of us who are used to ministering to others frequently have a hard time allowing people to minister to us. So hire someone to do this. Find someone that you can pay to listen to you and help you develop productive coping skills in the midst of pain. If you have health insurance, check to see if this might be covered! Otherwise, consider it a wise investment for your wellbeing.

These tips boil down to one thing: Allow yourself to grieve. As my sweet cousin so eloquently stated, you only loose your mom once. This person was special to you. This person’s life mattered. Your life, and your ability to grieve, matters.

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.