By Brien Bell
Sometimes you just do something because it’s there.
That was me when I was younger. I was the “church kid;” my parents brought me to church when I was three years old, and I pretty much never left. I was there for their worship meetings and their fellowship gatherings. I was there for Sunday school and children’s choir. I was there for the ground-breaking of new buildings, the Eagle Scout projects, and the Easter egg hunts.
For younger me, “doing church” was a whole lot easier to grasp than my faith. When Jesus blessed the little children and said “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15), He knew that children trust and love and do because they haven’t been conditioned not to trust and love and do. I had faith because I knew God through the people of my church community, the people I saw every day, and the work I saw them do.
Growing up at my church eventually led to a growing of my faith, as those people and events and things I’d just done over and over as a child took root in the power of the Cross. And of all those things I did, few had more impact on my growth in the understanding of Christ’s love than the 30 Hour Famine. Five out of my six years in the youth program, the affectionately named Munchies (Jr. High) and CREW (Sr. High), I spent 30 hours in solidarity with people around the world who don’t always get to have a meal before bed or when they wake up. I spent those hours preparing meals to give to those in need in our community. I spent those hours playing games and drawing with chalk on sidewalks and taking naps, because after all I was still a teenager.
I spent those hours in community. I spent them learning, about who God is and how God works — not just through us, but in us. And I spent them watching our leaders, brave souls who, for some crazy reason, wanted to spend their Friday night and weekend shepherding a bunch of hormonal, cranky, hungry adolescents around Sacramento instead of doing, oh, just about anything else.
And that’s part of the reason why I decided to be a youth leader when I grew up.
Graduating from high school in 2003, I could have moved on from my life at church and in faith; some statistics says that as many as 50% of children who grow up in the church end up leaving the church. That would’ve been easy. But I hung around. I wasn’t involved, at first, but I was there. I watched as my younger friends did the Famine, or went on mission trips, or had epic games of whatever you can imagine on the lawn. I watched as they grew up and moved away and left the church. I watched as new youth came in, and left, and came in, and left.
And then something clicked. I was asked to help with our middle school students by our new youth pastor, began in January, went to an event, sprained my ankle, and then couldn’t go back to youth group for the rest of the year. Maybe I would’ve stayed away for good; spraining your ankle on a trampoline your first month on the job might be God’s way of saying “this might not be for you!” But then there was the Famine — and I remembered why I wanted to do this. To be a youth leader and mentor.
I was there for that Famine, five years after leaving the youth program that had ‘raised’ me. I’ve been there for each Famine since. And I’ve never once walked away saying “oh well, maybe something transformative will happen next year.” I see it all the time. Every time one of our students has that “ah ha!” moment during a service project or in TRIBE, I remember why I do this. Why I give up my Tuesday nights and Sunday mornings and Saturday afternoons and 30 hours once a year that I could be eating. And in the 20 years that my church has participated in the Famine, I know that God has been at work throughout it all.
The Famine makes a difference. The Famine invites change, in ourselves, and in the world. The Famine provokes us, challenges us, and encourages us that “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8).
The Famine changes lives — it absolutely changed mine.