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The Famine Blog

A Prayer for the New Year


By Sara Clark

The calendar page has flipped to a new year and we all know what that means…

New resolutions, new promises, new goals, new ideas, and renewed energy.

Well, maybe not the last one. I experienced a surge of new energy until January 2nd when the overwhelming to-do lists stained my new clean calendar for the unforeseeable future. I was exhausted and it was only the second day!

Maybe some of you have experienced the same thing. Regardless, I believe it’s time for a new approach. Many of us, including the teens we work alongside, are starved for spiritual nourishment. So before we’re consumed by busy schedules and endless planning, take some time to consider our spiritual lives and how that need can be fed. Spiritual famine is something we don’t want to address one or two times a year, but each and every day.

Below is a prayer I wrote for the New Year’s Day worship service at the church I serve. It was my honest prayer to God and one that I’ve continued to read each day. I hope it will help feed your soul and nourish your spirit.

Amidst countdowns, final splurges, and resolutions promising renewed determination, we think back on the past year; a year that’s been filled with both the gift of joy and the weight of despair. A new year signifies an opportunity to live differently while striving to be better. As the sun sets we cannot help but wonder if tomorrow will be the day we slip back into old habits and mindless routines.

So we ask, what will make this year different, oh God? What will create lasting change instead of the feeble attempts we believe will work? We vow time and time again that today will be the start, today will be different, and today will be what we imagined for our lives. Sometimes we succeed and find contentment and peace, and sometimes we fail.

Perhaps the difference will never come from us, but from You. After all, You alone are the only constant that can create and sustain authentic change. You alone are the only source of genuine love and hope. Looking elsewhere will guarantee an unending search and desire for something more.

The time has come for us to stop running in circles and let go of what we desperately hang onto for the sake of a “better life.” Perhaps our New Year’s resolution should consist of only one thing, a step towards You. Doing so will bring us closer to the fulfilled life You’ve promised. For some people that step may be forgiving someone. For others it may be a changed outlook or attitude, more compassion or patience, while for others that step may require an action. 

We ask for your guidance, Lord. Direct our steps toward you. 

We pray our lives will truly change because we’ve finally let go and allowed You to transform our heart, mind, and soul. Gracious God may this year be filled with You, and may we experience and share the lasting fulfillment of your sustaining love. Amen. 

Will You Be My Val…Oh Wait! It’s Famine-time!


By Amanda Leavitt

What do February 24th and April 28th have in common? Well first, they both have a number two in them. Which is two true (ha-ha-ha…soo punny!), and not a very informative answer. The more helpful answer is this: both dates are the first day of the National Dates for 30 Hour Famine.

If you were wondering how 2017 is suddenly upon you, there’s a good chance you will also be shocked when you miss the beginning of February altogether also. It could happen because you may be disoriented from all the pink and red of Valentine’s Day and the warm fuzzy feelings that perforated Valentine cards and low quality chocolate give you.  And then, February 24th will jump out in front of you with jazz hands, all like “AH-HA, I’m heee—eerrrre!” And then you will think “Oh man, time travel is real…How’d I get here?” It happens to the best of us, even the ones who look at their day planners every day.

Time can dupe you, and the 30 Hour Famine is coming — quickly. You may want your youth ministry to be a part of it. You might be super stoked about getting your free Famine Kit filled with goodies to make your students’ experience of fasting to feed hungry people even more meaningful. The idea of your students learning about and being empowered to care for the world with the heart of Jesus and in turn having their hearts changed forever may have your heart glowing. Or, you may be one of the ones thinking “Oh yes! Oh wow! I can’t wait to hang out with hungry teenagers all night and day!” And God bless you.

Whether you were thinking about the 30 Hour Famine or weren’t thinking about it at all because you are still struggling to write “2017” at the end of the date, the 30 Hour Famine national dates are February 24th and April 28th this year, and right now it is a perfect time to register and begin planning! You can also set your own date if your schedule won’t work for either official date!

So, ward off the side effects of New Year’s disorientation and the Valentine’s time travel illusion. Register here to partner with World Vision to fight world hunger together!

Celebrating Those Who Are “Not in Youth Ministry”


By Ross Carper

I recently changed jobs at my church, shifting my ministry role, and I’ve caught myself saying it a few times now: “I’m not in youth ministry anymore.” It’s been sort of a shocking thing to hear out of my mouth, since I’ve been involved in youth ministry pretty much since I was a “youth” myself.

But it’s not true, really. I’m still engaged with teenagers, just in different ways.

It’s not true for a lot of people around me, either. There are so many who are “not in youth ministry” as a job title or even an official volunteer role, but are having a huge impact on young people around them. Today I want to celebrate a pretty obvious example: teachers.

People of faith who work with hundreds of teenagers every day at school are absolutely in ministry. They usually don’t get to profess Christ with words very often, but they get so much time with students that they can’t hide their identity. For better or worse, their lives play out in relationship with teenagers: their love, their priorities, their passions, and the simple act of consistently caring for their students during an often-turbulent time of life… it all speaks volumes.

Once, a well-intentioned friend was trying to affirm my calling as a youth director by saying something like, “You are so clearly called to what you do. If you were to stop and become a teacher or something it would really be a loss for the kingdom.” The funny thing is, he said this right in front of both our wives, who happen to be teachers who radically affect their students’ lives! He caught himself and clarified: there are some unique gifts that help a full-time youth director be effective, but there certainly isn’t a kingdom/non-kingdom divide between the two professions (or any two professions). The question is: what do you do with any role for the sake of God and others?

My wife Autumn is in the process of starting a “Dumbledore’s Army” club at the public high school where she teaches math. In the fifth Harry Potter book, the DA is a community of students who come together to fight against injustice and darkness in their world, and that’s exactly what Autumn’s club will be… with a bit of wizarding nerdiness mixed in, too. By the way, she honestly doesn’t have time to lead this club.

But it will be worth it. It will lead to new relationships, and if appropriate, some of these relationships may even cross over into settings where deeper things can be discussed. Perhaps even some of them will discover our church’s high school group, which is both very open to all teenagers in our city, and very focused on how Jesus calls us to actively love all of our neighbors. Over the years I can count just as many students Autumn has affected deeply as a teacher as she has in official “youth ministry” roles she has held. The key is: when she isn’t in one of those official roles, she is still relational with teenagers, but also is intentional about how she might collaborate with those who are “officially” youth ministers, for the sake of her students. And I love that about her.

If you work with young people in some “non youth ministry” capacity, remind yourself not to draw those lines in ink. You might be right where you need to be, with all kinds of opportunities in front of you.

If you are a professional youth worker, think of some ways you might partner and collaborate with people who are doing ministry just as much as you are, though in different settings.

As for me, I’m still doing a bit of classic youth ministry stuff: still meeting with teenagers for coffee to talk about life/God/relationships, still praying for them and seeking their well being. But job-wise, I’m challenged by a new role, which is coordinating service and missional engagement for our church. This is a huge opportunity to blur the lines between “youth ministry” and everything else inside our church community. Actively living out our faith and loving our neighbors together is pretty much the best way I can think of to have a healthy intergenerational faith community. One specific thing I’m working on in partnership with World Vision and our new middle school ministry director is taking this 30 Hour Famine thing we’ve been doing, and broadening it to our whole church community (and our city, too) in fresh new ways.

Here’s to doing youth ministry in 2017 from all kinds of different angles, and doing God stuff together that actively loves the poor, the hungry, and the marginalized, at home and around the world.

Contextualization and Conversations: Two Critical Aspects of a Great 30 Hour Famine Event


By Keely DeBoever

I once took a group to a youth conference where the students were asked to participate in a poverty simulation to give them an opportunity to walk in the shoes of someone else.  On the front end, I thought this was a great idea.  It would be an interactive experience that would give my students a deeper understanding of the struggles that many in our world face every single day.  As the conference approached, I began to become a little more anxious, as it suddenly dawned on me that a couple of the students attending the conference might actually already have a deeper understanding of these experiences…because they lived them.  I wondered what it might feel like for them, as other students “pretended” to be in poverty.  I went back-and-forth questioning whether I should pull my students from the simulation and plan something else or just let them go and hope for the best.  In the end, I allowed my students to attend the simulation; however, I made sure that there were lots of conversations happening before, during and after.

When thinking about hosting a 30 Hour Famine event at your church, it’s important to think about this very issue well beforehand.  While the type of hunger that 30 Hour Famine is raising awareness for may seem far off from what our students may be facing, it could be a lot closer to home than you think.  Does this mean that the 30 Hour Famine experience should be avoided?  Not at all! It simply means that, as leaders, we should take care to make the experience a meaningful one for everyone who participates.

There are two very important elements to achieving this: Contextualization & Conversations.


As ministers to students one of the most important things that we do is contextualize.  We read the room! We know our students and our community, and we tailor-fit our messages and our programs to their needs and interests.  This requires some preparation—meaning you probably shouldn’t crack the seal on your 30 Hour Famine materials the day before your event (this is probably not a good idea with any programming)!  Read through the material carefully; ask the hard questions and always keep your specific students in mind.  Make changes! The World Vision police aren’t going to show up and know that you skipped a segment or added your own flare.  I can assure you that the goal of 30 Hour Famine is not to alienate students who have actually experienced hunger in their own lives.  Rather, one of their main goals is to promote awareness about people around the world who face daily struggles to survive…this includes the people in our own communities, schools, and churches.


The other important element to making sure your Famine experience is a meaningful one is to have multiple conversations.  When I finally decided to allow my students to participate in the youth conference poverty simulation, I did so knowing that I would pre-brief, de-brief, and just generally talk to them about it until they were tired of hearing me!  30 Hour Famine events can be meaningful and a lot of fun, but it is important to communicate to your students that we are not “playing” at being hungry.  Do the activities, but be sure to take the time laid out in the materials to properly debrief your students and talk about the experiences in a meaningful way.  One of my students, who had experienced homelessness first-hand, had a lot to share with our group following the poverty simulation experience.  That student’s input made the whole experience come to life for the other students in a way that I never expected.  Participating in the simulation also gave them a chance to walk in that students shoes and helped them relate a little more!

That’s really what these events are all about…helping our students understand others better, so they can better serve the Kingdom of God.

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)