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The Famine Blog

Meet Micah Estelle, 30 Hour Famine Leader


hauge.MIcahBy Brad Hauge

Micah Estelle is just 19 years old, but his involvement with The 30 Hour Famine is already extensive and varied: multi-year participant as a middle school student, accomplished fund-raiser, and the unanimous choice for “best maker of Tang during juice breaks while volunteering as a high school student.” The 30 Hour Famine is a big deal at the church Micah grew up in. Every year after the holidays, “Famine season” kicks in for the middle school ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA and serves as what Micah describes as “the focal point for everything we do, from fund raising together, connecting all of the messages at youth group back to poverty and justice, and creating energy and excitement for the upcoming event itself.”

I’ve known Micah for years (not only was he a student leader in the high school ministry I lead, but my sister babysat him back when he was in diapers) and am proud to watch him now spend every Tuesday evening as a volunteer with the middle school ministry where he’s about to get his first taste as an official Famine leader with dozens of hungry students. Below is a taste of the fun and meaningful conversation we recently had regarding all things 30 Hour Famine.

Thinking back to your own 30 Hour Famine experiences when in middle school, does anything stand out as a particularly transformative memory or moment?

One year we set a goal to raise enough money to “stop hunger for a day.” Basically, we learned that somewhere between 21,000-25,000 people die every day due to hunger-related issues, so we wanted to raise at least $21,000 to metaphorically stop hunger for a day.

That year each of us had been assigned a World Vision “kid” that we’d be supporting over the weekend. We were given their name, a picture, and some background info on their life. I remember so vividly at the very end of the weekend as we broke the fast and our leader let us know if we had met our goal, and if it wasn’t for us stopping hunger for one day these kids could have died. They had taken the pictures of the kids assigned to us and put X’s over their faces to represent the amount of children that could still die tomorrow.

The symbolism was super raw, but also good motivation. We had done so many incredible things and were empowered by that, but it also served a huge reminder how much more there is for us to do.

Was the idea of fasting for 30 hours ever daunting as a kid? 

Yeah, it was definitely a challenge. But the way we do The Famine (with months of preparation, fundraising, community building, and service), we had so much determination to follow through that a little bit of hunger wasn’t going to stop us.

You then volunteered to help work behind the scenes and support The 30 Hour Famine as a high school student. What sorts of ways were you asked to help serve in that capacity?

My main role was to make sure the kids had enough juice and water to drink to stay hydrated during their juice breaks. Basically it was kitchen duty. Which is really quite simple when there’s no food to prepare! I’d also help out with the scavenger hunts, service projects, small groups—whatever was needed.

We didn’t fast alongside the kids one year. I remember a few of us made a midnight Taco Bell run. We tried to be intentional about not eating in front of them or letting them know we were eating. But they could smell it on us or something, because they could always tell!

What a punk! Outside of Taco Bell runs, did being present in a service role for those middle schoolers have any lasting impact on you?

At the time, I didn’t really have a relationship with very many of the middle school kids prior to that weekend, so it was an interesting perspective to have the opportunity to just step back and watch them have their first big interaction with poverty and hunger.

It was pretty great to see this mass of kids respond to the call to be the people who clothe the naked and feed the hungry—to watch them do it and live out this close connection between what Jesus was talking about and literally going out and doing it. Seeing them take Jesus’ actual words and live it out was an incredible thing for me to witness.

That’s a great perspective to bring up—the power of seeing kids connect with a newly expanded worldview, a Christ-centered worldview, even if you don’t know them well. Which brings us up to present day. You’re about to begin your first 30 Hour Famine in a leadership position with middle schoolers you do know.

I’m so excited to be in the middle of and experience like this with them. I’ll get to see guys in my small group raise money, serve in soup kitchens, be immature, have their worldview expanded, create friendships, be educated and see how it all connects together in real, life giving ways. Knowing the guys in my small group I’m equally excited to see their little dance celebrations once they find out how much money they’ve raised!

Now seven years after your first 30HF experience, is this still a valuable thing for kids to experience?

It’s incredibly valuable! It broadens the idea that charity often starts at home or the local community, which is great—but we’re exposed to that a lot through our church. So to have a season of the ministry not focused just on our local community but the entire globe—it’s an incredible to thing to see them start to realize there’s more to this world outside of their school, Spokane, or even our country.

It’s critical to help give them a sense of the bigger world and all that’s at play. [Talking about poverty and death] can be a harsh reality for someone that young to realize, but they’re ready and prepared for it. I know they’re ready because they’re able to respond to it in incredible ways. Ways that are very good.

Famine Sponsorship


By Travis Hill

hill.famine sponsorship.student info cardHopefully, if you have been doing 30 Hour Famine, you have bought into the greater aspect of World Vision, that of child sponsorship. One of the best and easiest ways to build a connection between hungry children and adults your teenagers know is through this sponsorship model. Not only do you get to send things, games, toys, letters, pictures, and more to your sponsor child, but you also receive things back as well: encouragement, gratitude, updates, and more.

We wanted to build a similar connection between the students participating in 30 Hour Famine and the larger congregation. So last last year we tried a Famine Sponsorship plan. Students took and sent us selfies, which we quickly added to an info card. On the front, we printed the student’s name and grade, along with a picture and our team’s website for donations and updates. On the back we called the congregation to do more (see attached sample). They were asked to Pray, Donate, Advocate, and even Fast with the students.

We set up a booth very similar to what you see at events in our lobby. By folding cardstock, we crafted envelopes with student names for the half-paged information sheets and stuffed each envelope with four or five identical info sheets. Then when more students added on, we made more envelopes and more flyers. If an envelope ran out of info sheets, we would print more or move others closer to the edges of the table to encourage people to support all our students.

Over the 6 weeks we had a presence in the church lobby, we didn’t just pass out information about students participating, but also engaged and interacting with people who had never known what 30 Hour Famine was all about. It was a huge success: students felt supported, congregation members engaged in what we were doing, and we raised more awareness (which also translated into more financial support!).

30 Hour Famine Profile – Stephanie Warner


by Jen Bradbury 

steph warner famineA junior at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Stephanie Warner is majoring in biology and global health. While in high school, Stephanie was active in her church’s youth ministry and a part of it’s student leadership team. She’s a 30 Hour Famine veteran, having participated in the Famine every year during high school.

30HF: When did you first participate in the Famine?

Stephanie: My freshman year of high school in February 2010.

30HF: What made you decide to participate in the Famine?

Stephanie: I remember hearing about the Famine when I was younger and being excited to participate in it when I was in high school.

30HF: You did the Famine four times. Why did you keep participating in it year after year?

Stephanie: I kept doing the Famine because it was fun and I got to hang out with my friends during it. I also liked the challenge of fundraising for it. Knowing that every dollar would help feed one child for one day made it easier to ask friends and neighbors for donations because every little bit helped.

30HF: What was your most memorable Famine experience?

Stephanie: Breaking the fast through communion. After we had worshipped together and shared our Famine experiences with members of our congregation, we had communion. It was a tangible reminder of God’s provision for us both physically, through the bread, and spiritually, through Jesus’s body.

30HF: What did you learn from the Famine about fasting?

Stephanie: Fasting is hard. It’s hard to give up something that you’re used to having easy access to, like food. Every time my stomach would growl, though, it was a physical reminder of who the Famine was for. It was a reminder to pray for the children we were raising money to feed.

30HF: What did you learn from the Famine about poverty & global hunger?

Stephanie: I think the individual stories of children suffering from hunger were most impactful. Hearing or reading about these children put a face on hunger and made it not just an issue on the other side of the world. These stories taught me that hunger is a very real issue that children much younger than I was and are forced to face. It would be easy to imagine that most hungry people are adults and that children are always well-fed but the Famine taught me that isn’t the case.

30HF: How have your Famine experiences continued to impact your faith & your understanding of justice?

Stephanie: I know that we live in a world that is broken and not fair. That’s why there are children around the world suffering from hunger. But we are also loved by a just God who calls us to practice justice. I continue to practice justice by learning more about hunger and other world issues, praying for these issues, and serving locally and globally.

30HF: What would you say to a student who’s trying to decide whether or not to participate in the Famine?

Stephanie: Do it! 30 hours might seem like a long time to go without food but at the end of it, you can eat again and you’ll know more about hunger and ways you can help. Also, you grow closer to the people you’re fasting with and to God through the Famine.

30HF: What advice would you give youth workers who are planning their group’s Famine?

Stephanie: Challenge youth to make the Famine their own. Have them pray during the Famine for a child World Vision is currently helping and continue to pray for that child afterwards. Set a goal that they should raise a certain amount or have a certain number of donors besides parents. If they put in effort before or after the event, it’s no longer just 30 hours but a way through which they can continue to grow in their faith and passion for justice.

The Power of Words


By Paul Martin

power-of-wordsAs someone in the business of giving words of life, I linger over my choice of words. Maybe you’re like me and always push yourself to find the best word for every situation. Or you might also share my need to review conversations looking for what words I should have used. If you’re neither of those people, let me explain why words make so much of a difference.

I grew up in the south, a typical boy who loved being in the woods and hanging out with friends. Like many of my friends I struggled at times with the desire to be manly. Back then, the image of manhood came to me from pictures on paper towels via the Brawny brand and courtesy of a certain pack of cigarettes that leveraged a rugged man to sell tobacco. Looking back, it was silly; but then, it was all I had.

As a teenager, I tended toward the thinner side of weight. I heard all kinds of discouraging words from chicken legs to bird chest (why the comparison with birds?!) to toothpick and pencil neck. I heard lots of others, but they don’t bear repeating. Because of those words playing on my ill-formed self-image, I felt inadequate. I didn’t measure up to the manliness I thought essential for life.

This is probably an insider secret that might get my man card revoked, but not very many men likes being called skinny. It just sounds weak. Slender is better. Even lean sounds like you might be talking about meat. See? Words are important.

Like many men, as I grew up, my ability to put on extra weight became easier. What seemed impossible from over eating in my teens became inevitable in my twenties and a fight against momentum in my thirties. It wasn’t until I found myself taking painkillers everyday that I made a connection between my physique and my life. My career in youth ministry lent itself to poor eating and constant snacking. Sugar was a great reward for finishing a project and I finished plenty on most days. Through the prompting of my wife, I decided to start eating better.

It didn’t start out as having anything to do with the way I looked. I just wanted to feel better and some nutritional changes helped. As an unintended consequence, my weight and appearance started to change. I wouldn’t say that I’m ripped or even particularly athletic looking. I just looked healthier.

Here’s where I realized something big though. I friend visited one night who I hadn’t seen in a year or so. When we met at a nice restaurant for dinner, he glanced at me and commented, “Hey, look at you! You look…svelte.” It was the perfect word. It redeemed the years of being called skinny or worse. I felt great about my choices to eat well. We then went inside and enjoyed a meal that was filled with those kinds of life-giving words (and a really awesome chocolate brownie dessert).

Words make the difference. They take broken pieces of us and mend them together in strong bonds. They create friendships that change lives. Inevitably, in the hardest times in life, our words turn our struggles into our celebrations. So if you’re a word person (as all youth workers should be), be encouraged. You’re making a difference. If you’re not, join us. Be in the ranks of people who turn mourning into praise by using words.

Whose Struggle is Real?


famine-struggle-is-realBy Shawn Kiger

For the first time in my life I am trying to lose weight. For me, giving up soda and snacks after dinner (my favorite is a bowl of cereal before bed), has been hard.  I have caught myself several times whining about what I wish I could eat. The struggle is real!

But then I remember the lessons I have learned through leading 30 Hour Famine events and going to Zimbabwe several years ago with World Vision. While I have so much to eat that it makes it unhealthy for me, much of the world does not have enough to eat. I have to struggle to not eat things that are not good for me; many have to struggle just to have enough to eat to survive. I was wrong before. Their struggle is real, while mine is only an issue of discipline!

As we head into the season when so many groups will be doing the 30 Hour Famine, let’s think about our relationship with food. Particularly, let’s use our interactions with food to remember those who don’t have adequate access to food.

Big and Small


think-big-think-smallBy Brian Mateer

We like doing big things.  We like planning big things.  We like being a part of big things.  We like big numbers, big crowds and big results.

Most things start small.  A small risk, adjustment or conversation.  A single person, idea or prayer.

I love how the scriptures speak of big and small things used by God for God’s purposes.

Great crowds coming to hear Jesus, thousands of converts at Pentecost, Jesus feeding 5000.

Tiny mustard seeds, little David versus Goliath, and a small boy with a small lunch of fish and bread.

30 short hours. Small steps by youth leaders, participants and donors. Thousands of student participants, thousands of perspectives changed and thousands of lives saved.

Think big, think small.

Do the Famine.

In Praise of Hunger


By Tash McGill

In Praise of HungerWhen I was a kid and my sisters and I completed the Famine for the first time, there was no option to give up technology or any other substitute. There weren’t all-nighters or tent cities.

My mother fastidiously guarded the fruit juice and boiled candies we were allowed. Before it was cool to be sugar-free, we were restricted to a single cup of juice and 2 sweets to replace each meal.

We were hungry. Really hungry. Listless and without energy, just the nasty lethargy of tiny sugar rushes and crashes every few hours. At least we had a countdown clock to watch. I couldn’t imagine going any longer or not knowing when it would end. Empathy is what my first Famine experiences gave me.

Yes, we raised money by knocking on all the doors in our neighborhood, talking to teachers, family and friends asking for sponsorship. We carefully collected the money, feeling the twinge of pride as we counted out dollar bills and coins to tally the totals. How much of a difference we were going to make.

Within a couple of years, we started to make the 30 Hour Famine ‘more interesting’.  We built tent cities, we slept outdoors, we ran Famine film festivals and all-nighters; we did anything we could to distract ourselves from the hunger we felt.

We raised lots more money. But our Famine mission also became more about our ambition to raise more money than other groups, more than we raised the previous year.  It was about our sense of achievement, rather than the problem solving we were contributing to.

Our ability to be distracted from what’s uncomfortable is remarkable. But I only learned empathy when I was without distraction. And empathy is how we change the world effectively. Empathy is what helps us solve the problems that matter most because we can directly understand what impact these problems have on people.

Empathy is a more powerful force that ambition, every time, because empathy makes the problems human and real.

It’s a Long Term Commitment


By Amanda Leavitt

20151127_114058Almost 30 years ago the Leavitt family, my husband’s family, moved into a fixer-upper farmhouse complete with 96 acres of rolling hills of old cow-grazing farmland. They had no plans to invest in cows, so a friend suggested they plant Christmas trees, because they would “grow themselves and require little investment.” So began Candle Tree Farm, my family’s Christmas tree farm. So the story goes… and boy, was that friend wrong! Not all Christmas trees grow in that beautiful cone shape we love, and weeds are happy competitors with baby pine trees, and droughts are a real thing, and deer think fir trees are delicious snacks. Unlike ordinary crops, it takes a Christmas tree five to fifteen years to mature, be cut down, and enjoyed in a family’s home at Christmas time. Christmas trees require yearly pruning, weeding, an assortment of sprays, and they need protection from bugs, disease, and their arch nemesis, cute adorable deer. Of course, as they are harvested, about 4000 more need to be planted yearly, and as any gardener knows, every year a garden needs to be tilled to make the soil hospitable for new plants.

20151127_114157My fourth Christmas tree selling season with the Leavitt family came and went with 2015. We collapsed on December 25th and hid for a few days after Christmas before I plunged back into ministry. It may seem curious that I am sharing about trees, but I began reflecting about that at the end of the year; selling trees occupies all of my waking moments, and I can’t quite contain it from seeping into my ministry thoughts as well. Truth be told, trees–their lives, well being, and care plans–usually occupy my husband’s thoughts every day of the year. They just fill mine for about 30 days, where I join in during our busiest farm season.

But, I am a youth minister. As I was thinking about tree season, I began thinking about my 365 day a year “work”. I began picturing my church’s little children as the little tiny pine trees we plant at our farm. The way my husband is deeply invested in his trees; I am deeply invested in the lives, well being, and spiritual “care plans” of the students in my church and community. I began realizing: in the way my whole family tends to our trees at the farm, whole churches should be caring for growth of young people. At the farm we have a specific care plan for each season and for each variety of tree. Every few years, a new variety becomes popular, and we have to learn to care for that type of tree. Every few years a new disease or pest becomes a problem and we have to learn to combat that issue and add that into our care plan for the trees. For the success of our family business it is important that our whole family and crew are aware of and invested in our care plans.

20151127_115416A challenging but important part of what we do in youth ministry is having an equally specific care plan for all the different varieties of people God gives us to help grow in our communities. Just like my husband has to help me understand what Swiss Needle Caste is, why our Christmas trees are suddenly Halloween Orange, and how we can help them heal, as a youth leader I can guide my church community to have an awareness of cultural shifts and community problems and pains that influence people of all ages, and then help identify the ways we may need to adjust our care plans to help teenagers thrive in their faith lives. Like I said, I have trees on my mind:  I noticed this year how gorgeous some of our 15 year old trees are, and how 15 years of purposeful tending from my husband has a lot to do with their vitality. Raising students in our churches is a long term commitment of purposeful tending. That tending will allow them to have vitality as they grow in their faith. What is that old saying? “It takes a village to raise a child.” Youth workers have the position to help our faith circles effectively tend to the growth and care of both the children and adults in our communities: it takes a careful plan for all people growing in the Lord to continue growing with vitality.

I am reminding myself too, how important it is to have a well-prepared care plan of my own to grow in faith myself, so I am prepared for changes, challenges, and rough patches life and ministry may put in front of me. From what I understand, all of us youth ministry folks need reminding of that, and often. Happy New Year and Happy Growing!

Loving Yourself


By Jake Kircher

loving-yourselfA lot of time is spent in churches talking about the importance of serving others and giving of our time, talents and treasures. That message is often extra loud in the season we’ve just come through: amidst the Christmas season and celebrating the biggest gift ever given, many of us develop numerous ways for the teens we work with and their families to give of themselves.

Now, all of that is good…VERY good! We should be teaching teenagers to give and serve others. We should be helping people to consider others before themselves. However, the problem with this is that if we always give, and give, and give, and give, we will eventually find ourselves burnt out. No doubt, it’s a feeling that may have crept into your life this past month as church responsibilities increased to coincide with the Christmas season.

I have always found it very interesting to look at the greatest commandment as quoted by Jesus:

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself. (NLT)

That last word is one that often gets overlooked. Amidst the “love God, love others” reminder, we sometimes miss that fact that we are to love others in the same way that we love ourselves. So, what does this actually mean?

First, when you really get down to it, when we don’t love ourselves, our actions can quickly and easily become attempts to earn the love and affirmation we so desperately want from others. In other words, that act of service can sometimes be more about us than the other person. And when we’re empty and trying to be filled up, we’re really not giving much of anything to anyone.

Second, loving others as we love ourselves means that we are taking the time that we need in order to be filled up. Sometimes that means saying no to an opportunity to serve and give. Jesus is the perfect example here. A handful of times throughout the Gospels, Jesus stepped away from the healing and the teaching and the ministry in order to spend time in prayer and take time for himself. That’s not being selfish: it’s being smart and taking care of yourself so that you can in turn give more to others.

Finally, loving ourselves isn’t about what we have or can accomplish. Instead, it’s all about understanding our worth and value from the perspective of a Creator who gave up everything for us. That’s the heart of the season we just wrapped up; a God professing his immense love for us, not because of what we had done, but simply because of who we are. When we can fully understand that, we can have life “to the full” as expressed in John 10:10. The Greek term for “full” in that verse can be translated as overflowing; so full that it’s bubbling over the top. That is what it means to love ourselves; that we are so secure in our identity in Christ that we don’t need anything else but Jesus to fill us up.

And as you can see, when we can learn to fully love ourselves, we’ll have even more to authentically and lovingly give to others. As this New Year gets underway, take time to consider your own energy levels. Are you filled up, or empty?

When Things Go Wrong


Paul Martin
IMG_0002We had a great weekend on the mountaintop at our most recent fall retreat. Despite being down a team member, we pulled off all of our plans, had a great time of fun and felt God in moments of spiritual renewal. Our buses rolled out on time, headed for home, and I sent the first group text to our parents telling them of our arrival time. Then, the unexpected happened. Our second bus in our eight-vehicle convoy didn’t make one of the turns coming down the mountain.

What started as a slight miscalculation ended with the people hauler hanging at a very precarious angle. Suddenly, there was smoke and screaming where only moments before there were jokes and laughter. Students were scrambling out of the emergency windows and adult leaders were frantically helping them down from the bottom ledge of the bus. The right front tire was hanging about four feet from the ground.

IMG_0003That’s the scene I arrived at after a long, exhausting weekend. My first thought was how could this have happened?! As we regrouped, we began to understand the trauma we were facing. Students were stunned, or crying silently, or screaming hysterically. These are the moments when we learn the most. Here’s what I learned.


I met two of my adult leaders as I arrived, and we came up with a list of what was most important. The first thing we did was gather everyone, make sure they were physically unharmed, and pray. Thankfully, we didn’t have any injuries. Secondly, we took care of immediate needs. Our plan was to give space for those who needed to process what had happened. We also needed to occupy those who weren’t affected by this experience. We also needed to assess our travel plans and come up with a plan to get everyone home safely as soon as we could.

Make Assignments

When we knew what needed doing, we split up our team to best provide the help needed to our teenagers. Some of our leaders leaned more towards counselors in that time. Some just kept our youth occupied. Some took the task of finding food. I had three tasks. I talked to the camp director to make sure we could stay at the camp should we need to, and to see if there would be food. Food is a great comforter in these times. I talked with the travel company to establish a plan for getting us home. I also had one more task.


It has been this ministry’s policy that youth not bring cell phones on retreats. That meant, of course, that most of them had them anyway and were already contacting their parents. As much as I could, I wanted to stay ahead of any escalation of this event with parents. So I started texting through our group text ( and posting on Facebook. I posted a picture of what happened and explained that that no one was hurt and everyone was safe. I then started communicating every 20 minutes, even if we didn’t have any news to report. In anxious times, parents just want to be updated.


Even with this plan, I learned a lot. What was most helpful, though, was our team’s response to do what it took after a weekend of togetherness. Through it all, we stuck together. The investment in our leaders was apparent in their ability to help manage all of the cascading issues created in this incident. Most importantly, our group was reassured of God’s faithfulness through the whole situation. I know we can’t plan for everything, but I feel so much better prepared for another one of these times, should it come.