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The Famine Blog

Whoever believes IN HIM


By Jake Kircher

“Thanks for clarifying what you believe about [X]. God knows we couldn’t have anyone on staff who believed differently.”

I sat in my office with my boss slightly stunned. Did he just indirectly threaten my job because of the growing questions I was asking? What was even more shocking was that the topic we were discussing wasn’t even a major theological topic. It wasn’t something covered in the church’s statement of faith. It wasn’t even something that was talked about much within the life of the church. Yet somehow, it was a topic that if I didn’t believe exactly right, as defined by my boss, my livelihood would be put in jeopardy?

Over the last few years, I’ve been doing a significant amount of reading and studying a varying array of scholars and Christian leaders about many theological topics. The biggest conclusion I’ve come to? There is a wide, vast world of belief out there and it’s not easy to break down these beliefs into “right” and “wrong.” The fact is, I was finding God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Holy Spirit-seeking, prayerful and thoughtful people on both sides of different beliefs, and everything in the middle.

I believe we as Christians have, often unconsciously, taken Jesus’ claim that “whoever believes IN HIM shall not perish but have eternal life,” and added all sorts of other beliefs into that sentence.  Adam and Eve, Revelation, baptism, and more. I’m not suggesting these aren’t important topics! But as the list grows, it often forces us to look at someone who believes differently than us and condemn or judge their eternal salvation, calling into question the very God-given identity within them. In an attempt to “follow God,” we have created an idol of having the right beliefs about several things, many of which are honestly debatable.

The biggest thing missing from most faith communities today, both conservative and liberal, is thought diversity. Instead, emphasis is placed on comfort and surrounding ourselves with people who think and believe the same things as we do. The problem with that is that in that kind of environment, no one grows. More so, we don’t really love. (See Luke 6:32) Real growth and true love only gets fleshed out in the context of diversity, differences and challenge.

Following Christ and believing IN him doesn’t mean that we tell everyone what they should believe ABOUT any number of things. It means that we build loving relationships with others who are IN Christ and we talk and pray and discuss and debate ABOUT what it really means and looks like to live in Christ. This is what Jesus prayed for in John 17, “that all [believers] would be one…then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Again, what is the emphasis on what the world would know? The right answers to every sub-point? No. That Jesus was sent and that the world is loved.

As we invest in this next generation; as we teach them how to study Scripture and ask deeper questions about life and faith, we must teach them how to respect differences and how to have loving dialogue that challenges us all to be more like Christ. We must help teenagers understand the paradox that we live in as far as finitely knowing the unknowable, infinite God. Don’t just teach the teens you work with the right answers. Instead do everything in your power to help them be lifelong learners with The Answer and the amazingly, diverse and beautiful community of others committed to the same thing.

The Importance of Planning Flexibility


By Aaron Wolgamott

Summer… the time when every Youth Leader is stretched to their limit with activities, events, trips, and seeking to take advantage of students’ free time as much as possible. It can easily become a 2-month whirlwind of sheer craziness with all that goes on. Thank goodness for coffee!

If your summer has ever been anything like mine, then you look forward to the Fall season as much as I do; because that means school is back in session, and some sense of normalcy returns. When school is back in, things slow down (at least for a bit) as everyone’s schedules become more organized. It is often easier to make plans during the school year because we know what to expect, and we as youth workers like to take this opportunity to create a well-organized plan and schedule for our youth ministry for this school year.

We plan trips and events for the Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons. We organize the curriculum for that year, figuring out how to make all of the lessons that we want to teach fit into the school year before next summer arrives. Of course, we schedule our 30 Hour Famine event! We create a calendar, begin to contact and organize who will teach which lessons or who will run which events, and we make sure that our team of volunteer leaders are all fully aware of and on board with the plan for the year. Then when all is set, we share it with parents and students.

I love that feeling of accomplishment, when the youth ministry schedule is organized and planned well, and everyone is aware of what to expect that year. It takes a lot of work to put it all together, and to see it all come together just feels good.

Planning Flexibility

Several years back, I learned a valuable lesson that changed the way I planned the schedule. It happened when, the day before our youth group meeting, a tragic event took place at the local high school where many of my students attended. The students had questions, the parents had questions, and everyone was trying to process and think through what had happened. I spent a good amount of time talking with and listening to students and parents as they tried to work through their questions and pain.

I knew this was something we needed to talk about in youth group. It wasn’t the planned topic for the night, but it was definitely the right topic to discuss that evening. So, I changed the plan and didn’t do the originally scheduled lesson that night.

Sometimes, we have to allow our schedule to change. We have to be flexible. And not necessarily just for major tragic events either. I’ve had parents ask me if we can talk about a specific issue in youth group because their student is struggling with it, but it wasn’t a planned lesson. I’ve felt led to share something…or had another leader feel led to share something, but it wasn’t a planned lesson.

Plans and schedules are awesome! They keep everything on track, and they help everyone know what to expect and prepare for. However, we must also learn to make room for flexibility in our plans and schedules.

The next Fall, I began to create my schedule differently. I still planned events and trips, still organized the curriculum and lessons for the year, and even still made everyone aware of the schedule once it was completed. But I began adding something new to the schedule…planned flexibility. I intentionally left some youth group dates open. I referred to those nights as “Flex Nights”. The purpose of those nights was to allow for more flexibility in our schedule to make changes as I and the other leaders saw fit.

If the plan for a particular night needed to be changed, then I could simply readjust the schedule by moving things around a bit and filling in one of those “Flex Dates”. This gave myself and the other leaders both the comfort of a well-organized schedule for the year as well as the ability to be flexible and make changes when necessary, without having to throw out something we had already felt the importance of planning.

It also gave us as leaders the ability and freedom to allow the Spirit to lead. I must admit that sometimes I am so good at making an airtight plan that I can easily miss the Spirit leading in a direction that might be different than what I had planned. The ministry that we oversee should not be our own, but rather the Lord’s that we are managing. He gives us the gifts and abilities to make good plans, but we also need to make sure we are continually seeking him and the direction he wants to take the ministry in, even after our schedules have been set for the year. We never know when God will lead us to share something we had not planned for, or to allow something big to happen in the lives of the students that we need to make sure to talk about.

Having a plan makes for a well-organized and well-run youth ministry. Having the ability to be flexible makes for a ministry that can reach out to and speak to students where they may be at in that particular moment. Having a plan that builds in room for flexibility makes for a Student Ministry that can accomplish both.

So, as you begin to nail down schedules for this coming school year, I want to encourage you to make sure to plan some flexibility into your schedule.

The Value of Gearing Down


By Andrew Esqueda

Summer is over and the new school year is here! For many of us we have tried to spend time recovering from our crazy summers of camps and mission trips, and we are already gearing up for our fall kick offs (although Fall has now been pushed earlier into summer). We are planning parties, grill outs, and the like, renting fun toys like bouncy houses and booking live music, and it’s likely that either you yourself will be doing the grilling/cooking or that you’ll be the one tasked with asking congregants to volunteer. I mean who doesn’t want to stand outside cooking in 80-90 degree weather while hovering over a 450-degree grill while basking in the smoke of meat and fiery coals? Yeah, we’ll let the youth person do it (oh, also if you could take care of all our sound needs that would be great as well).

We are gearing up and getting ready for 2017-2018, and it’s time to have energy to kick off what we all know is going to be a great year. Kick offs, grill outs, bouncy houses (especially bouncy houses) are all great and serve as vehicles for bringing people together. However, in the midst of gearing up for the school year, I’m also going to “gear down”, and I’m going to encourage you to do the same.

Instead of having a much-needed break and time to refresh our mind and spirit we’re rolling right into another year of the craziness that is youth ministry. The truth is that not only do we need a break, but our students do as well. They are beginning a new school year filled with new classes, new clubs, football and other fall sports, more attention-grabbing technology than ever, and more pressure for perfection from their peers and their parents. Our students are re-entering the world of over-programming, and the last thing we need to do is contribute to the problem. And, not only are they over-programmed, but often, we are too.

So, have your regular programs, but consider not adding anything extra; instead reinforce relationships. Programs can be life-sucking: there’s planning and execution, and so much more. But, relationships (at least usually) are life giving. Texting a student or a group of students and asking to get froyo is far more life giving than planning a lock-in that is guaranteed to leave you worn out the following morning when you realize that you got two hours of sleep or none at all. Go to a football game, be with people, and meet them in their own space. Not only are these things life giving for all parties involved, but they are also healthy modes of growing in relationship which will then, in turn, expand the reach of the Kingdom of God.

So as we gear up for all the 2017-2018 will bring, do your best to “gear down” and take some much needed time to focus on yourself and relationships with students and parents. Unfortunately, in the ministry that we have been called to, if we don’t “gear down” all that 2017-2018 has to offer might just pass us by.

Missions for Post-Teenagers Who Don’t Go To College


By Kathy Jackson

I am just 2 days back from a Praying Pelican Mission Vision Trip in Haiti and am slowly getting acclimated back to home. This was a trip for church leaders to get a hand on just how PPM works and to visit with the Pastors they are partnering with. None of us on this trip were new to missions but for some of us, it was our first time in Haiti. What an eye-opening experience.

I am not going to tell you all the gory details of the trip. Basically we visited pastors and the churches, saw the projects that were ongoing by PPM groups and heard the dreams of the pastors. The work the pastors are doing in ministry is amazing. They are the hardest working people I know.

But while I was listening, what I kept hearing was the need for people to help their school students to learn trades. They are in need of tradesmen who can teach their students about electrical, plumbing, wastewater treatment, carpentry to name a few.  The basics that we take for granted.

What does this have to do with youth ministry, you ask? Well, in my church, our kids come through youth group and they love doing missions. They want to do it, they will work hard to earn the money needed. But then they graduate high school and many head off to college. Many times they are not connected to us.  But guess what: they still hunger to be out on the mission field. If they are wise, they will connect to a group in college that will still fulfill that hunger.

But what about those who go into the work force or to trade schools? Where do they go to get involved? Many times, a smaller church like mine does not even offer a ministry for that age. We lose them completely or they find that it is easier to sleep in on Sunday and they will show up once in awhile at youth group just to visit. Yes, they are employed making good money, going to school at night to get their licenses for electrical, plumbing, and other fields. But they are not being led into the mission field. They now see that the mission field is impossible because of being too old to do what their youth group did.

I wonder if there are ways to combat this. I know in my church we are going through a revitalization that could attract those twenty-somethings back to our church. We are also forming small groups of people who like the same things. We are going to try to attract young people who are working and need a place to be social. Perhaps we will form a group that is called Young Adult Missions to attract those who have moved into the trades.

God is at work everywhere. He needs everyone’s help. Youth groups, medical groups, tradesmen and adult groups.

Planning for Justice


By Tash McGill 

Well, It’s August and you’ve made it. I’m not sure what kind of state you’re in, but you’re here. If you’re wrecked from a summer’s worth of mission trips, camps and other programs, take a big deep breath. If you’re recharged from getting away with the people you love on vacation, high fives to you. And if you’re reading this, along with hundreds of other emails as you start to get deep into kicking off another year of youth ministry – I’m with you.

If you’re in youth ministry, you’ve probably seen at least one ad offering you the perfect youth ministry planning tool or an article on the 10 Things You Must Include On Your Calendar. Those resources are probably really helpful. But there’s a key element to your youth ministry planning that I want to encourage you towards.

Plan for Justice. Plan for intentional activities and programs that will help you build a bridge towards Micah 6:8 living for your students. That’s why I’ve been involved in World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine for more than 25 years. I started participating when I was 9 years old (please, don’t do the math!) and continued until now. I’ve become a child sponsor, a volunteer and a leader of Famine in my own youth ministry programs. My involvement with Famine has become part of my life-long justice walk.

It’s one thing to teach on topics of justice but to participate in acts of justice is entirely another. From the first time I participated, when the world was in the throes of actual famine sweeping parts of Africa and ‘til now, I’ve not seen a movement so powerful for engaging students in what hunger means and how it changes our world.

So that’s why I would encourage you to engage your students in the Famine. In a world that is now more global than ever, we’re now facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, driven by famine and civil war in many parts of the globe.

When you connect your students to the work of World Vision, they are connecting their sacrifice, fundraising and participation directly to support work that helps those suffering most in the world. Telling that story can help them connect to a life-long commitment to justice and living out Micah 6:8.

So hopefully you can take some time to plan for justice in your youth ministry program this year. Not just the Famine events but how you can extend your students understanding and participation in broader justice issues. Why not use your 30 Hour Famine activity to prepare students for next year’s summer missions or to further take these ideas into your local community.

The beauty of the 30 Hour Famine is the touchstone element it provides. A touchstone that can start in youth ministry but live on in the lives of your students for 20+ years. What a beautiful life.

Late Summer Break


By Mike Cunningham

Every year it seems like summer is over before it started. One day you’re celebrating the end of the school, making summer plans, and starting to work on your lovely tan. Then, in what feels like a blink of an eye, you start looking for the best fall deals, making plans and preparing for another year.

In ministry, summer is an amazing season, full of events, opportunities to connect and try new things, summer camps and road trips. A lot of great work is done! But, if you’re like me, sometimes you forget to take a break. Maybe it’s because we wrongly believe activity is a sign of health, or because we want to maximize time with students.

The reality is…YOU NEED A BREAK. Your Leaders NEED A BREAK. And let’s be honest, your students NEED A BREAK.  Taking a break – resting, relaxing, recouping —  those are all needed to keep a healthy pace of life for you, your leaders, your students, your parents and your ministry.

Every August, our group intentionally takes the entire month off (school doesn’t start where I live until late August). Was it hard at first? Absolutely! I felt guilty. I felt fear. I had a serious case of FOMO. What if parents get upset? What if my kids start going to another ministry? What if they don’t miss me, or us? What if they don’t come back?

The enemy we face everyday tries to convince us that we need to be busy. That our personal value is wrapped up in how much we achieve, both personally and in ministry. The truth is, though, your body needs a break. You need to enjoy life. Create space to play, to dream, and to sleep.

Taking a break is not only good for you, but also your leaders. If we truly do appreciate all the sacrifices they make then one of the biggest gifts we can give them is time and the freedom to take a break.

Taking a break also allows you to recalibrate and refocus. Taking a break from the week-to-week grind of ministry allows you to assess how you’re doing, prune things that need pruning, and create space for you to plan ahead.

So, before summer comes to a close and you launch into another fall season take my advice and shut things down for at least a couple weeks. I promise, it will breathe new life into you, your leaders and your ministry.

When 30 Hour Famine Activities Miss the Point


By Kevin Alton

I was once the volunteer I am about to warn you about.

Most church youth groups have at least one of these volunteers—loves the kids, first to jump in and play, probably a bit of a rough-houser if it’s a guy. That was me in my mid-late twenties—if Kevin was playing, probably somebody was eventually going to get hurt having fun.

I was eventually the paid staff person at that church, and the summer I was leaving one of the youth raised this question: “Kevin, have we ever gone on a trip with you where somebody didn’t go to the hospital?”

“Of course!” I replied, but quickly trailed off. His point, as we sat in a hospital room waiting for his broken tailbone X-rays to come back, turned out to be accurate. To be fair, I had long since stopped being the cause of injury, but we recounted every overnight trip I’d chaperoned in all of my years there and—sure enough—professional medical care had been involved in each. There was one standout mission trip to Arizona where the only day we didn’t go to the ER was the day I refused to go get stitches just to break the streak.

I still have a small scar on my right arm from the first 30 Hour Famine I ever attended as the aforementioned rowdy volunteer. The suggested activities that year included having the youth build cardboard shelters to sleep in. We gave them duct tape and a bunch of flattened boxes and let them have at it. I don’t remember if this was suggested or something we came up with on our own, but we added an extra sprinkle of flavor to the experience by waking them up in the middle of the night by blaring a thunderstorm recording over the gym loudspeakers and running around tearing down their houses. Naturally, I threw myself into the work. Somewhere around half-court I encountered a group of resistors to our destruction, and ended up with a bleeding cardboard burn on my arm.

All we were going for was giving the kids a sense of the difficulty of finding shelter and how easily it could even be lost to the elements. My over-the-top effort made it about something else—I blustered the meaning right out of it, and that’s what I’m hoping to help you avoid. There are often elements in the 30 Hour Famine activities that are meant to provide a mental check-in to the difficulties present in the existence of others around the world. Where you can, treat these activities with respect; don’t let them become just another goof for your crowd.

Power of Presence


By Mark Eades

I was reading an article by Jim Burns called “The Power of Being There” the night that I was sitting in a PEDS ICU with the family of a boy from our youth group – three states away from home! While on vacation in Michigan, sixteen-year-old Patrick had a major asthma attack that had caused him to stop breathing. In just a matter of minutes after the attack, his brain started shutting down.

The family had contacted me about six hours after the situation occurred. They were over six hours away from home in a hospital they did not know, in a part of the country that they were not familiar with, and their son was in a life-threatening situation.

I made a quick decision to go. Less than two hours after they contacted me I was in a rental car on my way to them. I had been with the family for a couple of days when I started to read Jim’s article and it made me think about how important it was for this family that I was there. This wasn’t really about me at all; it was about the power of presence. When I first arrived at the hospital the dad and mom were having trouble processing all that they had just heard about their son. But with my familiar face to talk to and share what they heard they were able to think better. I really didn’t do much; I just listened and listened and listened. That was what they needed and it was an awesome God moment.

During that time we found out that their son’s brain had stopped working. The fact that I was there to just be a sounding board to talk about their son, to cry with, just supporting them by sitting with them was huge to this family. They didn’t need words or even actions – they just needed to know someone was there for them. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I jumped in that car and went.

The next time you get a call to be with a hurting family remember what they may need is not your advice, wisdom or expertise – it may simply be your presence.

30 Hour Famine Around the World


By Adam McLane

Recently, I came across a story about World Vision Taiwan’s 30 Hour Famine:

Nearly 20,000 people in three cities in Taiwan ended a 30-hour hunger campaign Sunday night and chipped in nearly NT$1 million in donations to help the needy both at home and abroad.

World Vision Taiwan, which sponsored the 28th 30 Hour Famine Hero Rally in Kaohsiung, Changhua and Hualien, said participants were divided into small groups for a variety of activities aimed at increasing knowledge about poor and war-torn countries around the world.

Did you know that the 30 Hour Famine isn’t just an American thing? The 30 Hour Famine activates people all around the world, in at least 10 countries, to take action for other people around the world struggling with issues like food insecurity. In each place the 30 Hour Famine takes on a different shape or approach but the desire to serve the needs of others through World Vision is always the goal.

Why am I sharing this? First, because it’s really cool! But more importantly, because your students want to– I’d even propose need to– know they are part of a movement that is bigger than them. Teenagers have a tendency to see the world through their own eyes. Yes, we the Famine challenges them to make sacrifices on an individual basis, which for many is legitimately hard. But at the same time we, as a tribe of youth workers around the globe, are challenging the collective us to put our faith into action. It’s truly powerful to know that we’re not just part of a local effort but that our local efforts are part of Jesus’ people saying, “We’re here to help.”

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

Changing the World So We Can Be Changed


By Teer Hardy

My entry into youth ministry and youth missions was not typical of many youth ministry volunteers and professionals. After my wedding, the pastor who officiated, Jason, mentioned to my wife and I that the church still needed chaperones for their middle school mission trip as we were exiting the sanctuary. I do not recall my exact response but it was most likely “good luck with that”. When Jason looked to my wife and mentioned that our marriage license was still on his desk, Allison quickly looked at me and said, “Well I guess you’re goin’ on a mission trip this summer.

Mission trips, whether we go willingly or we are conspired against, will change our lives. For me, our trip was the beginning of responding to a call to ministry I had been ignoring and hiding from for many years. The same is true of the students who attend these trips.

We all know the students who are overly-excited for the trips and then we know the students who don’t want to be there or who could think of other ways to spend a week in July.  For mission trip participants in both of these groups transformation will normally occur. It may occur during the trip either on a worksite or during worship. But for some, maybe those who were conspired against, transformation might take longer. A mission trip could be the beginning of a long walk towards discernment of one’s life.

I think there are times when we do students a disservice, placing expectations that they are able to identify a God-sighting or lead a workteam devotion, when for many this will be the one and only time they are encouraged to consider where and how God is at work in their lives.  Mission trips, for all their good, can place unintentional burdens of living into a life most of our students, and in my case leaders, do not fully understand.

Mission trips (and events like 30 Hour Famine) are opportunities for us as leaders to teach what living out our faith means to students who are often taught countering lessons the other 51 weeks of the year. Living lives of service, showing others the love and grace afforded to us without any requirements, and openly talking about the love of God is not something many of our students do when they are not on a mission trip. Then, in many cases, we increase the intensity 1000% because we think that for this week, it could be our only chance.

Mission trips are the perfect opportunities for us to acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit. We talk a lot about how the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of groups; but what about acknowledging that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of those students who could think of better ways they’d like to spend one of their limited summer weeks. Rather than us trying to squeeze too much into the limited time we have, what if we just provided the space? Afterall, if we truly believe the Holy Spirit is the acting agent of the trinity, then we already know the Spirit is at work and that it’s not up to us.

This was a lesson that came to me the hard way. On that first trip in the summer of 2010, I tried really hard to be the perfect youth leader. My work crew had the best devotions (I thought), we got the most work done of any crew, and we made the biggest impact on the community (we thought). In hindsight though, what I remember most about that week was not the devotions or work. What I remember most was the way in which I was changed for the long-term and that is the work done by the Holy Spirit, not by programs.

Looking back on that week I wish I had known this. I wish I had allowed more space for the Holy Spirit to work instead of trying the fill every single moment of our time with what I thought was discipleship or Christian formation. I wish someone had said to me, “Hey, Teer! You cannot do this on your own. It won’t work!

Yes, student mission trips are about doing work. But these weeks are about so much more. These weeks provide our students with the space many of them will not have for the next 51 weeks: uninterrupted space for the Holy Spirit to move.

It’s the Holy Spirit that moved in my life back in the summer of 2010 and led me to ministry. I pray that this summer the Holy Spirit moves as mission teams head out into their ministry fields ready to change the world, while at the same time being changed.