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The Famine Blog

Programming Through the Lens of Values

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Emily Robbins

Cool Cat #3About three weeks ago, I stood up in front of our Church Council to make a report about what is happening in the youth ministry.  I looked at all of the expectant faces and I said, “There are a lot of amazing things happening these days in our youth ministry but before I tell you about them – I have to tell you – our youth are tired and overwhelmed with responsibility.  This morning before Sunday School when I asked teenagers how they were – each responded with, ‘I am tired’.

I believe that it is my job as their Youth Minister to help them find ways to say no, to slow down and to not offer too many opportunities here at the church that they feel they have to or want to attend.  I can tell you now that our church has a different opportunity for our youth to participate in every weekend in February.  Every weekend.  Are we helping them and their families or hurting them by having so much to do?  I don’t have the answers to all of this but I want to ask all of you to please be in prayer with me as I, along with the youth leadership, figure this out…”

When I look at our schedule and I try to discern what amazing ministries to include and which ones to get rid of – it is often hard because there are many amazing opportunities for our teens to experience Christ’s love.  But we just can’t say yes to them all.

How do you decide which ones to include in your schedule?

Here are a few values that are important to me as we decide which activities to say yes to.

  1. Interest – Do the youth want to do it?  I ask them.  I let them give input.  I may still decide to try something that they are hesitant about but that’s when it’s our job to get them excited about the unknown.  We have to be excited about it ourselves as well!
  2. Sacrifice – I love it when our teenagers learn to give beyond themselves.  That they realize that they can sacrifice and don’t hesitate to do it again.  Whether they are teaching, listening, painting, fasting, praying – find ways for them get a little uncomfortable!  It’s life changing!
  3. Fun and laughter – they are teenagers right?  This happens no matter what.  But I try to be intentional to give them down time and games.  And I want to have opportunities to laugh and play with them.
  4. Time to reflect – some of my favorite ministry moments have happened when I just ask them to share what they are taking away from a conversations or an experience.  It’s amazing what is really going on inside those hearts and heads. Definitely create space to ask them!!!
  5. Prayer – We try to create many prayer moments for our youth to participate in – prayer stations, one word prayers, prayer journaling, etc.  It is amazing to watch the Holy Spirit move and change our teens through prayer.
  6. Service – I try to find many chances for them to offer service in multiple different ways inside our church and in our community.  I’m hoping to get even more creative with this one – because they have passions that I haven’t even thought of!
  7. Relationship – this one is key for me. I would like my youth and my adults to grow in relationship because of their experiences with our youth ministry.  Grow in relationship with each other and with God.  Luckily, relationships grow even during a shaving cream fight.
  8. Schedule.  Even if its not my favorite event – if it fits our schedule and the youth really want to do it, then we will go.

The youth leadership decided not to participate in two of the February weekend activities after the Church Council meeting a few weekends ago.  I am very proud of them for looking at all of the different choices and for making the hard decision to say no to a few things.  I also feel a sense of peace myself as we prepare for the others things that we are going to participate in.  And I can’t WAIT to see how they incorporate many of the values listed above into our 30 Hour Famine at the end of the month!

4 New Resources for National Famine weekend!

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

Make it your fight

February is an exciting time at World Vision, especially for our small & mighty Youth Team! Why? Because this month alone, ONE THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED AND TWENTY-EIGHT GROUPS are Making Hunger THEIR fight. Yeah, go ahead and let that number sink in. That equals more than 43,200 teens giving up food, serving their communities, growing closer to Christ, and raising funds so that others may eat. In February alone! That’s right, you’re kind of a big deal.

As you look over your own Famine weekend checklist, please take advantage of the brand new resources we’ve created just for you & your group:

 

  1. Texting awesomeness. Get out ye ole cellular device right now and text 30HF to 44888. Why? We’ve got some fun stuff up our sleeve to send your way during your Famine weekend! Fun updates & encouragement for you & your students to huddle around. (We promise we won’t over-do it).
  2. Videos galore: We have 3 brand-new short videos showing you how the funds you raise make a difference. These can be used leading up to your event, and ruing your Famine Weekend! Check out the National Weekend Playlist to preview them now.
  3. “Make It Your Fight” bible study: Lesson plan from 1 Samuel 17 and short video connecting your group to this year’s theme. Find it on the resource section of your group’s event page.  
  4. Photo contest! We LOVE to see what your group is doing. Honestly—it feeds our soul. Submit a photo of your favorite Famine Moment to hhilpert@worldvision.org. We’ll select a few winners to be featured in next years’ 30HF Materials! Make sure to include a short caption! (Ideas: A unique fundraiser, the TRIBE game captured in action, students joined in prayer, breaking your fast, etc.)

We love you, leaders. Thank you for inviting 30 Hour Famine into your student ministry and partnering with us as we MAKE HUNGER OUR FIGHT. You have heard us say this before, but without your hard-earned funds, the Famine is just a nice idea.

Incredible progress is being made to reduce the number of deaths related to hunger. In fact, the number of kids dying from hunger today is HALF of what it was in the 90s. Still, there is much more to be done, but together, we are WINNING THIS FIGHT.

The GOOD NEWS about Hunger!

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Chris McKenna

surpriesd ladyThat subject line was a really unusual statement to type. Good news about hunger? Seriously? YES! Let me explain.

Our church has held the 30 Hour Famine for years with just our middle school students, leaving a big chunk of leadership and planning for the Famine to an amazing, invested group of high school leaders. Just a few nights ago, I was white-boarding ideas for our upcoming Famine in March with these leaders. Amanda, one of my soon-to-graduate seniors, piped up and said, “Hey, Chris, do you remember when I was in middle school and we did that ‘blow the candle out’ thing every three seconds all around the room, with each snuffed flame representing one life that ends due to hunger?

I did. I remember the experience very clearly as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder around the perimeter of the sanctuary. It was intense, and she hasn’t forgotten it. And, since it has been seven years, we felt it was safe to “recycle” this experience for our Friday devotion time. I was satisfied! I knew it was going to be powerful.

Then Emmarie spoke up. She’s a junior and I could tell there was something on her mind.

Why wouldn’t we RELIGHT the candles representing how many lives their fundraising has SAVED? I mean, there are kids who are going to LIVE because of the Famine, right?

I froze. She was absolutely right. I’m just as guilty as the next youth pastor – I love to throw around big, gaudy figures about hunger-related deaths and show videos of kids suffering from malnutrition. There’s nothing wrong with this information because it’s true. But, Emmarie was pointing out the fact that I’ve only been telling part of the story.

This year, we’re going to be much more intentional about throwing around HOPE-FILLED, audacious figures about LIFE!

Emmarie is right! Because of our little 30-hour Famine, there will be human beings walking this planet! Life saved! Hearts beating! Children laughing! Smiles that need no translation! Families and communities transformed! And, not just surviving, but THRIVING under the careful and deliberate care of World Vision’s child sponsorship and Area Development Projects all over the world, where their stomachs and their souls will be filled. “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (John 10:10 MSG)

Thousands of human beings will have an opportunity to experience this “more and better life” because of the 30 Hour Famine. Immediately, my mind was whisked back to San Juan de Tipín in the mountains of Ecuador. In September 2014 I was there with a World Vision Team where I saw a colorful, vibrant community teeming with life.

This, my friends is the GOOD NEWS about hunger! It was a fantastic reminder that I must do a much better job at telling the rest of the story. This year, we will focus on LIFE. Will you join me?

Famine Leader Metaphors: Part 2… You’re a Coach

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Ross Carper

Sports Coach Metal Whistle, sport conceptOn Tuesday, the universe received a blog post from a certain fella who is a good friend of mine (and, full disclosure, his office is also right next door here at First Pres Spokane).  His general question is intriguing: how do youth workers see our role as leaders of mission experiences like 30 Hour Famine? And the specific answer Brad gave provides something to chew on: we’re tour guides. If you haven’t read it yet, do so now: ready, set, click.

I love the tour guide metaphor. I just got back from a family vacation, and part of it included taking our animal-obsessed daughter on a whale watching tour. Our tour guides exhibited many characteristics I think youth workers need, but two rise to the surface (pun intended): (1) deep knowledge of the meaning behind what participants are experiencing, combined with (2) selflessness and wonder (it’s not about me, it’s about the whales, and yep, they are amazing). We need to be prepared enough to frame students’ experiences as we teach and lead and debrief. We also need to be humble enough to just let God be God in the moment.

For part 2, I want to play with metaphors, too. I’ll add my own, and also provide some specifics on how we can play this role during 30 Hour Famine season.

OK, so here goes… in addition to being tour guides, I think as Famine leaders we get to be coaches. Go with me on this for a moment; our culture is sports-obsessed anyway, so let’s just embrace it. Here are a few reasons this metaphor works for me.

  • Coaches coach for a full season. First, notice I wrote “30 Hour Famine season” above. This is the first—and maybe the most important—way to describe our role as coaches. I firmly believe 30HF should never be a one-off event on the calendar, like “laser tag night” or something. This project begs to be given a full season, just like the sports teams many of our students are involved in. It’s not an event; it’s a community growing together over the course of a couple months, working toward a series of goals for a common purpose.
  • Coaches instruct at the level of their players. For veteran leaders, it’s easy to forget that many of our students are new to this. They don’t really understand the connection between the gospel and why Jesus-followers should care deeply about people who are facing extreme poverty. We need to remember how beautiful this connection is, meet our students where they are, and help them discover what it all means for their own faith. Basically, we need to coach the basics of the Christian faith in action.
  • Coaches don’t go through motions; they cultivate teams. When you look at the very best coaches at any level of sports, you’ll notice they aren’t just busying themselves making up a schedule, planning practices, drawing up strategic plays, and organizing rides to tournaments. They do these things, of course, but their major priority is to create a culture—hopefully one of teamwork and interdependence. This is where the real coaching happens. Leading up to your Famine weekend, what are you doing to form a real, functional team? In my context, we are trying to empower a core group of team captains (student leaders) and giving them real responsibility, letting them lead and create. And we’re trying to make sure our role players (those who are slightly less involved) are using their gifts to contribute as full members of the team.
  • Coaches hint at what is possible. This week Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski reached 1,000 wins for his career. The Internet became thick with stories of how he has changed his players’ lives by empowering them, helping them achieve their full potential. Speaking on how he motivates players, Coach K is quoted as saying, “I tell them, ‘It’s in you. I know it is. I wouldn’t have recruited you if it wasn’t.”‘ It’s not easy convincing a few dozen middle schoolers that they can raise ridiculous amounts of money and go without food for 30 hours—and that they can actually change the lives of children across the globe who desperately need food, healthcare, and education. But once they actually start believing it, watch what happens. The wins start piling up, both for the students and for those they are trying to serve.

So that’s why I think we get to be coaches. But don’t forget, what we’re doing isn’t a game. As a 30 Hour Famine “coach,” your team’s purpose isn’t to throw a ball through a hoop more times than another group of teenagers over an arbitrary duration of time. Unlike sports (and don’t get me wrong, I love sports, too) the stakes are actually high on what we do. We must coach our team well for a full season if we really want our students to engage with what it means to be Christ-followers in a world full of hunger, poverty, and injustice.

Question: What’s your metaphor for what you do as a youth worker?

Famine Leader as Tour Guide

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

Downtown movementBy Brad Hauge

Three or four years ago I was standing in front of our group giving a standard service/mission experience speech about the rules (“don’t do these dumb things and do make sure to do these awesome things while in an unfamiliar place”), when a heckler (a 15-year-old girl) from the crowd called out, “But what do YOU do all day while we are out working, serving and interacting? Just sit here on your butt and eat and nap and wait for us to come back just to tell us there’s no hot water for showers?

There were many ways in which I wanted to respond to this sweet girl (heckler), but before I had much of a chance to think about it I said something I hadn’t put to words before: “I’m your tour guide.” By this I meant two things. First, I’m their tour guide in the most obvious, stereotypical sense. Over the years I’ve spent what’s accumulated to months of time in this particular neighborhood where we were at this moment and, like a good tour guide, could point out the basics: interesting views, landmarks, and the best places to get tacos.

However, my intent was not to insinuate that my role as their leader for this experience was to simply walk alongside them noting interesting facts, food tips, and historic locales. No, the second reason I used the term Tour Guide was to let them know that my role that week was to help them recognize, reflect on, and remember the experiences, thoughts, and conversations where God was alive to them.

By labeling myself as Tour Guide, I was pointing out that I wasn’t simply going to be the guy who taught from up front, or who would make sure everything was ready to go each morning, or who would bark orders at that group of ladies who. always. wait. ‘til. the. last. minute. to brush their teeth before lights out. Though I did do these things, and for good reason, I was also committing to leading this particular mission experience in a new way.

What does it look like to lead a mission/service experience as Tour Guide when working with young people?

It looks like pausing not just to point out the best place to get local food, but to highlight the God-filled, and perhaps wordless, conversation they just had with a new friend who doesn’t speak the same language.

It looks like making space to allow them to put down an ebenezer, a spiritual marker, and commit that experience to memory as being not simply significant, but proof that God was at work in this world and using them to participate in it.

It looks like literally stopping kids in their tracks and pointing out, over and over again, the ways they are actively being a part of bringing heaven to earth.

It looks like making space for students to write actual notes and say actual words, actually adjusting your schedules to help mark moments, conversations, interactions, thoughts, feelings, words, whispers, prayers, and desires, and allowing students to say with confidence that God is real.

One of the best parts of my job in youth ministry is getting to play Tour Guide. I expectantly wait for moments where I get to ask the questions that causes them reflect on and then verbalize what it’s like to touch and taste the kingdom of God in the midst of their adolescent struggles. I love getting to literally stop them and point at the things around them and say, “Don’t miss this! This is what you are capable of when you follow Jesus. This is what you get to be a part of when we realize God is up to stuff in our world. This is what all this Jesus-y stuff is all about! This, THIS, is what it means to follow a loving Savior and bring a bit of that love and saving to the world around you. And…isn’t it great?

If you’re reading this it’s pretty likely you’ll find yourself with an opportunity to lead a 30 Hour Famine as Tour Guide in the near future. And if you read this blog regularly, which you should, it’s pretty likely you’ll find some real life examples and helpful tips on how to do just that.

Your Role and Theirs, part 2: The Teenagers

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

bowl full of rice on white backgroundBy Travis Hill

Earlier this week, my friend Matt Williams wrote about our role of encouraging students in the Famine, how you are an integral part of the story. Today, let’s talk about the other half of the story: the teenagers.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, the pressure given to students to perform, excel, succeed, and be the best at something is overwhelming and constant. Teenagers’ egos have been laid with the foundation that self-fulfillment is measured incrementally via social media popularity or becoming a reality show contestants or YouTube star. Increasingly, we witness teens losing hope in themselves that they can achieve any modicum of self-worth, simply due to their faces not appearing on TV or getting enough likes through a posted digital picture.

But we know teens can succeed. We know it because we work with them and we’ve seen it. We know it because God has never shied away from using the very old or the very young to accomplish great things.

What happens when you give students a problem they cannot beat alone?

One of the beautiful aspects of working with students (and specifically middle schoolers in my case) is the way they get excited and fired up about things. You remember Kony 2012? Regardless of your own thoughts about the campaign, it was built on the popularity and excitement produced by young people. Every student pastor should have learned this valuable lesson, that even though students could not fix the problem of Kony, they believed they could. And if we are to truly exact a demonstrable force of change in this world, then we must harness that energy and power, guiding it in an appropriate manner through avenues that not only encourage and empower teenagers to “succeed,” but in ways that cause them to see how important helping others can be.

When I ask the middle schoolers in my student ministry why they do 30 Hour Famine, it’s not because they want to go hungry for 30 hours. Of course, I always have to fight to get students to participate. “I can’t do it,” one will cry. Or I’ll hear, “That’s impossible!” But when I really start to get them think, they start answering in ways that surprise me.

“I have so much and they have so little.”

“But what if I don’t do it? Then a kid won’t be able to eat tonight.”

They know it’s impossible for them to fix the global pandemic of hunger, but they know they can affect one person. And how valuable is it for teenagers to learn that each and every person matters, that each person (here or abroad) they come in contact with is a creation of God? Akin to what Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,’” our role is to love those we can with all that we have.

This year’s 30 Hour Famine theme is: Make It Your Fight. So let’s focus on our teenagers, encouraging and empowering them, finding that desire to affect change across the world through 30 hours of solidarity with the world’s hungry.

Your Role and Theirs, part 1: You

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

guardian angelBy Matt Williams

“But Lord,” Gideon replied, “How can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

Judges 6:15 (NLT)

I love reading the biblical encounters between God’s messengers and the individuals chosen to act for God.  Almost every time, the human response is, “Uh, excuse me, are you sure you have the right person, because that’s a big job and I cannot do it.” And usually God’s angel or prophet quickly dispenses with that argument by responding, “It is okay, for God is with you…now get to work.”

I have some humbling news for all my fellow 30 Hour Famine leaders.  Are you sitting down?  Okay, here goes: YOU are the angel of the Lord in the 30 Hour Famine story. Now before you start downplaying your role, or before you start listing your sins and faults which disqualify you as a divine messenger, hear me out.  When it comes to your group, who is the one that says God has a mission for them?  YOU do.  Who is the one that sets aside doubt and reminds them that all things are possible with God?  YOU do.  And who is the one that tells your group it is time get to work?  YOU do.

Consider this illustration from our group’s Famine last year:

And so it was that in throughout the land people were hungry.  So the Lord sent His Angel Matt to the youth of Charlotte, way, way, way west of Jerusalem.  And there did Matt find Justin from the village of Waxhaw.  Matt spoke to him saying, “Fear not! God’s people are hungry throughout the land, and you Justin will feed them.”  But Justin was filled with doubt and replied, “I want to help, but this is only my second Famine.  I lack experience so I will try to raise $360 to help one person for a year.”  But the Angel Matt said, “Justin, God knows you, and is with you.  Make your goal $1,000, and be at peace.”  So with trepidation Justin began sharing the stories of hunger, and many were inspired to share their blessings.  As the days passed, Justin quickly had $300, then $600, then $900.  And soon, Justin’s gathering surpassed his goal, climbing higher than he ever thought possible.  And when the Angel Matt returned at the appointed hour, Justin said to him, “It is as you said: I have enough for five people for a year.”  And Matt said, “Well done Justin.  You used your gifts and talents and heart for the Lord, and He helped you do more than you could imagine.  Rest for a season, and then return to your work, for while five are fed, more are hungry.”  And Justin said, “I will serve the Lord.”

When your group does the 30 Hour Famine, remember your role is more than an organizer and planner.  You are an angel for the Lord.  Speak boldly about what God can do with and through the youth.  Help cast their doubts aside, and remind them of God’s presence in their efforts. Because when a young person experiences God helping them do more than they could ever do alone, it leads to a lifetime of faithfulness.

Now, put your wings on and get to work.  We’ve got messages to deliver!

Walking a Path Together

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

Half The Sky

By Adam McLane

There’s a lot of money given to charities around the world. I’m not an economist, I’m a youth worker. So I don’t know how much money is given but I’m pretty sure it’s in the bazillions.

Until 2010, I was relatively ignorant of the long-term impact of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world. Sure, I’d heard rumbles here or there from a visiting missionary at my church or a talking head on TV, but I largely assumed that all money and efforts coming from the Western world were somehow good for the Developing world.

That changed five years ago when an earthquake rocked Haiti. For all the charitable giving, for all the investment, for all the generations of money that had been given to help Haiti… it all just crumbled in an earthquake which devastated the infrastucture of the nation and killed hundreds of thousands.

It wasn’t just buildings that crumbled. It was the world getting exposed to the epic fail of generations of aid work.

When I went and saw the impact of the earthquake on Port-au-Prince in February 2010 my eyes were opened to the good and the bad of international aid groups. As my group drove around, helping where we could, we saw lots of charities not helping others but instead making sure that their logo caught the attention of media cameras. In short, we saw a lot of “helping.” (Where they were helping themselves while helping others, raising money while not helping suffering.)

That experience shifted my focus with aid groups. When I put my name on work with organizations like World Vision it’s the culmination of the work, not the beginning. Books such as Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts helped validate some of what I feared, that lots of international aid not only didn’t help end suffering but often times created dependencies which made things worse. Since 2010, I no longer make an assumption that any and all help for the developing world must somehow be helping to a much more difficult form of engagement. Instead I do a lot more homework. I am more than willing to invest in things that can show me how their work makes a long-term, sustainable impact.

A couple years ago I read the book Half the Sky from Nickolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I was taken aback by not just their presupposition that long-term change in a society is effected by investing in women, I was also encouraged by their approach to issues of social justice. As trained journalists they listen to the anecdotal stories so pervasive among aid groups, but they also take the time to investigate each groups claims to reveal what’s really going on. Then, only when evidence backs up the claims, they help find ways to make sure that the good guys get the funding they need to build on their success.

That resonates with me. I want to get behind that.

In their new book and PBS Series, A Path Appears, they take this concept a step further to look not just at gender inequalities but also cycles of poverty, systemic traps, and evidence-based approaches which are actually solutions for these problems.

This idea, taking an evidence-based approaches to solve problems, is one of the things I love about the 30 Hour Famine.

You, as a youth worker, have the opportunity to educate your students about the issues our world faces and then challenge them to take a very practical step– raising money to fund programs that make a massive difference. When you do that, you don’t just have something really awesome in your youth group (and the Famine is, indeed, that.) You even do more than raise much needed funds to address today’s problems. You are actually helping your students see what role they can play today and into the future.

To borrow a line from a credit card company… when you do that: It’s Priceless.

 Photo credit
Audrey Hall – Used with permission of A Path Appears

Four Reasons to Partner with Other Churches for 30 Hour Famine

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

Partnering Together for the 30 Hour FamineBy Jake Kircher

At one point in time, I was part of a 30 Hour Famine event that yielded one of the highest fundraising totals in the country. Do you want to know what the secret to our success was? It was pretty simple actually: rather than do the Famine on our own, we partnered with other churches in the area to one big, joint Famine together. Through this simple partnership, we have seen a number of really awesome benefits to our ministries, students and our county.

First, partnering has allowed small churches to have a “big” feel. Now, we all argue in ministry over the value of “numbers.” Having a big group doesn’t mean a successful event in and of it self. However, more students do mean more energy and the benefit of feeling part of something much bigger than yourself. Doing the Famine together meant having hundreds of teens together, which created an environment with even more excitement, it created a healthy competitive spirit, which spurred our fundraising goals upward, and it made it easier for students to invite non-church friends to be involved.

Second, partnering has helped us make the programming better. One youth pastor can’t do it all and can’t connect with every kid. But working together helped considerably with making the Famine be far better than it would have been to do it on our own. The partnership allowed each church and youth worker to really focus on the programming elements they do really well and know someone else was tackling the stuff that doesn’t come as easy. We also had some ideas come out of the planning meetings simply because of the different perspectives that were at the table that never would have come up planning on our own.

Third, we’ve seen more carry over after the event was over! This is always one of the most difficult pieces to a big event like this: what’s the after effect for our students and was it worth all the time and effort of the event itself? Partnering together on the Famine has been a huge benefit to seeing our students get more out of the event itself. First, as mentioned above, the energy and excitement of a much larger event has been a big factor in this. Second, being exposed to more perspectives and ideas from different teens and leaders they are not normally around has been another. And third, it’s actually helped our students connect with other Christian at their schools who attend different churches. It’s so much fun to watch teens make the realization that there are other Christians at their schools that they weren’t aware about before hand.

Fourth, and lastly, the joint Famine has helped spur our network to do more together. Since that 30 Hour Famine, we’ve had joint worship nights and events to get all our students get back together. A large part of that was because our students were begging to be together again since they loved the energy at the Famine. We developed an annual day of service to clean up a local park together and are discussing a joint mission trip as well. We also have a number of us joining up for a Winter Retreat together too. It’s amazing what can happen when the Church starts to work together and with so many churches doing the 30 Hour Famine already, it’s a great place to start!

Keep it Going

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Jen Bradbury

Young Woman StudyingI’ve often heard people moan about the ineffectiveness of big youth ministry events like the 30 Hour Famine or summer mission trips. Such rants usually go something like this:

You spend a lot of time, energy, and money on X. And sure, teens are into it for the weekend but even you’ve got to admit, it has no lasting impact on them or anyone else. As soon as they return home, life returns to normal. 

While that may be true for some teens, it doesn’t have to be the case for all teens. In fact, as youth pastors there are a lot of things we can do to combat the mentality that when the event ends, so too does that way of life. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Call out the passion you see in teens. Justice work gives us the opportunity to see teens in unique settings that others – including their parents – may never see them in. When you see teens get passionately involved in some kind of justice work, name that. Ask teens questions about why they find that particular type of ministry so interesting. Connect them to like-minded adults in your congregation who share similar passions and encourage them to serve together. Equip them with resources (like places where they can serve as well as books or articles about that particular area of justice work) that will help them in their ongoing ministry. Encourage them to keep cultivating their interest in that area.

2. Specifically ask teens questions about how your event will impact their life on an on-going basis. As you talk about world hunger during the Famine, ask teens: “It’s great that we’ve been fasting to raise money and awareness to fight world hunger during the Famine. But what will you do later this week, month, or year to continue raising money and awareness about this issue?

3. Ask teens to make a concrete commitment in the presence of their families. During the break the fast celebration at the end of your famine, ask teens to commit to continue serving in some way AFTER they leave the famine. Have them write their commitments down so you can hold them accountable to them. Then have them articulate their commitment aloud in front of their families. Hopefully, they too will get involved in their teens’ ongoing justice efforts.

4. Hold teens accountable for what they commit to. Build time into your small groups or various gatherings to check in and actually see how teens are doing at living out their commitments. Show grace when teens fail. At the same time, celebrate those teens who honor their commitments. Share their stories to inspire and challenge other teens to continue to work on theirs.

Whether it’s during a weekend event like the Famine or a domestic or international mission trip, I’ve started incorporating these four steps into every justice event our high school ministry participates in.

Often, teens fail to keep the commitments they make. But sometimes, they surprise me.

For example, at the end of last summer’s mission trip, it was clear that one girl in particular had developed a huge heart for social justice. I offered to meet with her one-on-one to read and discuss a book together. We chose Jen Hatmaker’s “Seven.” At the end of every discussion, I challenge this teen to do something. Sometimes these are big things. Other times, they’re little things. At the end of Hatmaker’s chapter on waste, I asked this girl, “How can you reduce waste in your house?”

She immediately pointed to her lunches and identified disposable items as a source of too much waste.

When last we met, this girl sat down and excitedly told me that she baked a tray of brownies at the start of the week and was now taking one to school each day in a reusable container – thereby eliminating the waste she’d generated from single-serve desserts. Since doing that, she’s become even more conscientious about the waste others produce. When a friend told this girl how much food waste her place of employment generates on a daily basis, my student wrote that restaurant’s corporate office imploring them to donate their food rather than throw it out. Since learning that donations are up to each individual franchise, this girl’s been stalking the manager at the franchise her friend works for. Her goal is to get him to donate rather than waste their leftover food. To help with her this, I’m connecting her to an older woman in our congregation who’s been gleaning and redistributing food from local grocery stores and restaurants for years. I look forward to seeing what God will do in and through this girl’s continued efforts!

To be sure, not every teen will respond like this one did but what I’ve learned the hard way is this: If we don’t actually challenge and equip teens to continue serving beyond our major justice events, they won’t.

But if we do, who knows how they’ll surprise us… And in the process, positively impact our communities for Christ.