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The Famine Blog

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!

The Priority of Soul Care



By Alex Ruzanic

I have a theory – in today’s culture our time is as important a commodity as money. Therefore how we spend our time speaks loudly about what and who we treasure. As youth workers we have a unique opportunity and tremendous responsibility to model a wise stewardship of our time for the students we care for and minister to. This MUST include something that I’m willing to bet many of us struggle with on a regular basis: SOUL CARE.

It doesn’t matter if you are a volunteer or paid staff, ordained or lay, full or part-time – the example you set for your students in this area can have an enormous impact on how they learn to incorporate soul care and by extension, self-care, into their everyday lives. If we want to buck the trends and see our young people still engaged in their faith 10 years down the road we MUST help them learn the importance of creating a regimen within their crammed schedules to slow down and experience God in the depths of their souls.

So I have a few questions: what are you doing today to take care of your soul? Are you substituting doing ministry for real interactions with the Holy Spirit? Do you expend the same effort on your relationship with God that you do with your significant other or best friend? Do you desire to experience the Holy Spirit in real and tangible ways?

From the creation story it is evident that we are designed to be in relationship with God. God pursues us and never stops. However the pace that we are living at in 2016 is not how I believe we were designed to live. Working 55+ hours a week, running errands in our “free” time, schlepping from event to event and taking care of life’s mundane tasks keep us busier than we should be. We have perfected the smartphone relationship – where we mistake characters in text message for meaningful interaction and reading scripture on an app for a spiritual connection. When we do this we are depriving ourselves of being connected to the One who made us and desires our presence each day. Don’t get me wrong, technology CAN be a great thing for us and for our students, but it cannot be the only thing. We must develop strategies to personally invest in our own souls in ways that will meet the longing that exists in all of us to be one with our Creator.

Properly caring for your soul is all about living in a place of abundance and not deprivation. Some ways to do this are carving out dedicated time, reading, having conversations, sitting in silence, praying in new ways, resting, and most importantly engaging in God’s presence to hear his Spirit speaking into your soul which is at the core of your spiritual life. When we don’t slow down and nurture our souls we grow dry, tired and frustrated. There is not a one size fits all solution – everyone has different needs and different constraints on their time. What a single person can do versus what a married person with multiple children can do is different and both are okay. Whether you meet with someone one on one take time out to pray and sit in solitude, or try a directed prayer time – if you stick to it the trajectory of your spirit life WILL change. When you invite God into your soul in new ways things will happen, that you can count on.

I encourage to you find a spiritual director or a mentor. This should be someone a bit further down the path than you are and who is at a place where you desire to be as well.  A place of peace and true joy. Search for someone who exudes authenticity in their journey with God – remember nobody’s road is free of struggle but how they deal with the hard times is what should draw you to them. Be honest and ask them to help you in this process, it’s that simple. There is no magic or science, don’t make it harder than it has to be.

Spending time to allow your soul feel to rested and restored so that God can transform you will also transform your students and ministry.  When you care for yourself you will be equipped to care for others in healthier and deeper ways. You will find renewed energy to get through tough times and soar in good times. The first step is always the hardest – we can always find ways to avoid self-care because it can be intimidating to open ourselves up to God in ways that make us feel vulnerable. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to find a way to enter this journey, to begin a process of SOUL CARE in your life.

The Meaning of Fruitfulness



By Russ Polsgrove

When the Senior Pastor at my church asks us to turn to a passage in a meeting, we sometimes interrupt him.

“Let me guess….John 15?!?”

Because we talk about that passage ALL THE TIME in our church. It’s on the walls, our website, even the concrete floor underneath the stage has that passage written on it. It’s a reminder of what our church cares about, and how we’re called to live in our community. Jesus is talking to his disciples in this chapter, and issues a command in verse 5.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing…

As much as we love that passage, it’s easy to misread it. And youth workers are notorious mis-readers of this passage. Because there IS a command in there, but it’s not what we remember it to be.

We think the command is to be fruitful. Fruitfulness can be defined in lots of different ways. A teenage girl who’s been involved in youth ministry for four years finally coming to faith is fruit. A student confessing to you he’s kicked a destructive habit is fruit. A group of middle schoolers who voluntarily give their time to serve at the downtown food pantry is fruit.

Fruit is good, but it’s not the command. The command is to “remain in me,” and fruitfulness spills from that.

Too often, youth workers have too much to do. On top of the Wednesday-Sunday grind, there are trips to plan, parents to counsel, and basketball games to attend. We do all this because we love it; but all this work is an effort to produce fruit. We do this work because we hope a light will turn on in more teenagers’ heads so they will be participants in the kingdom of God. Even if we don’t count baptism numbers or conversions, the metric by which we judge ourselves is fruitfulness in our ministries.

But Jesus doesn’t ask for us to strive towards fruitfulness. He asks us to do one simple thing.

Remain in me.

We are not commanded to bear fruit. We are commanded to remain in Christ. The command is to cultivate relationship with Jesus, so that any fruit that grows is borne out of that relationship. Out of the overflow of our “remaining” is where the best fruit springs forth. Jesus simply asks us to stay connected to him.

This means reading scripture for our own sake, and not to prepare a lesson. This means travel to the lake on our own time, and not just to take our group on a weekend retreat. This means praying from the comfort of your own couch, rather than blessing the pizza that came before worship. This means making space for silence, for reflection, for honest conversation with God about your hopes and dreams and failures. The saddest irony about youth workers is we all got in this work because of an encounter we had with Jesus, then we often neglect further encounters with Jesus in order to facilitate those encounters for the students we serve.

This isn’t new. Many of you have read a post like this before, or thought about this before, and the grind is just too much for you to stop and consider what to do. So pull out your calendar right now, identify a time this week for you to knock off, turn your phone on silent, and just remain.

This isn’t a request from Jesus. It’s a command.

Our Role In Drawing Out The Fish and Loaves From Our Students



By Bobby Benavides

The Feeding of the Five Thousand has always been a great teaching tool about God’s provision.

We’ve all heard the story many times from John 6 of the young boy coming with his tiny lunch, and Jesus using what was given to feed a multitude of people. Such a small amount of food, but God was able to multiply it to provide sustenance for the large crowd of five thousand plus.

The story is definitely one that demonstrates Christ’s great power and love for His people.

Yet, I think there’s something we can gain from the story that provides guidance and encouragement for our role as youth workers and mentors.

After seeing the large crowd, Jesus asked his disciples how the people were going to eat. Then we find this interaction:

[Jesus] asked this only to test [Philip], for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).

I think by asking his disciples, but having a plan in place, Jesus shows a sense of humor (at least for me). But the important piece we have to acknowledge is, “He himself knew what he was intending to do.” That means Jesus knew exactly by what means he was going to provide a meal for the entire group of people. He was waiting for the right time to reveal his plan of action.

Jesus knew he was going to use a young boy the entire time. He knew he was going to multiply a small lunch into something greater, and it would make an impact on the lives of many.

What does this have to do with our role as leaders and mentors in the lives of our students?

Look who pointed out the kid’s lunch! It wasn’t Jesus, but one of his disciples, Andrew! Andrew saw what the kid had and brought it to Jesus’ attention. Although Jesus already knew what the kid was carrying, he wanted Andrew to share it with him.

Not only that, but I believe the boy needed Andrew to show him that he had something worthwhile to offer. No matter how small the lunch was, it was still worth something and Jesus could use it to influence a community of people.

The role of the youth leader is to help our young people discover what they have. We are to help them discover what kind of lunch they are holding and help them offer it to Christ in order for him to use it for his glory.

Jesus knows what our kids hold inside. Sometimes we can also see what gifts they have. Perhaps if we went to Jesus with the gifts we see in our kids, and allow him to do the work, we might see more young people rising to leadership and service within the church because they discover that they have something to offer!

What if our young people had more Andrews in their lives? What if they had more people pointing out their lunches and offering them up to Jesus? What if more youth were told that even the smallest gift can be used by God to change a community?

5,000+ people were fed that day from a young boy’s lunch. Andrew showed the community that a boy could provide something that could keep them going. Christ used what Andrew revealed and the gift of the boy, to open the eyes of a large group, and demonstrate his power in their lives.

May we help our young people discover their gifts. May we lift their gifts up to Jesus and allow him to use them for his glory.