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The Famine Blog

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.

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.