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The Famine Blog

One Size Does NOT Fit All


Slide1Early in my youth ministry days, I’d assumed teenagers were teenagers were teenagers. My thinking was: now that the Internet has normalized youth culture – at least across any particular country, if not across the globe – it just doesn’t seem that teens will very different in one locale than in another.

With that thinking, I’d assumed that the same approaches to youth ministry would “work” with any particular group of teenagers. But I got surprised when I arrived at the church where I currently serve as a volunteer youth worker.

It surprised me that I was surprised. I’d been doing youth ministry for almost 20 years by then, in churches of varying sizes and denominations, in different parts of my country. So I didn’t expect to be surprised. But these kids were different. And my assumptions about what would work and what wouldn’t were off. I couldn’t trust my intuitions or training or experience.

I realized that I had become confident in my understanding of a youth culture that doesn’t change. I needed to re-affirm my calling as a missionary to youth culture – a friend and minister who joins up with the work God is already doing in the lives of teenagers. And, just like a minister needs to exegete a scripture passage (understand, interpret) in order to effectively communicate truth from it, I needed to exegete culture – the local culture of this group, in particular – in order to effectively communicate truth into it.

Bottom line: one size does not fit all. There’s no one model or approach or curriculum or program that will “work” in all contexts. Sure, there are similarities, and things we can learn from each other. But great youth workers become a specialist in understanding and reaching into the culture in which they serve.

Remember this when you think about your 30 Hour Famine. Remember this, even, when you read stories and suggestions here on this blog! Your context is unique; and while we can still learn from one another, your best ministry—even your best 30 Hour Famine—will be wonderfully unique to your context and your group. Embrace your uniqueness and fly your freak flag!

What I Learned Working with Special Needs Teenagers


By Paul Martin

From the very first day I started youth ministry, I’ve worked with people with special needs. That early ministry had one person for more than eighty youth I worked with. It seems lately—at least in my setting—that the special needs population has grown. Maybe better healthcare or diagnostics have helped ministries to make the leap, but I just see more people in this crowd, and more intentionality and thoughtfulness required.

As I’m writing, I’m in the middle of a camp designed for about 130 special needs children and teens. It has been a surprising experience. This event relies on pairing a non-special-needs teenager with a special needs camper. That’s a lot of young people doing a lot of work. It takes a lot of planning, effort and expertise.

Probably the most helpful part of the camp comes from our staff of teachers, therapists and nurses who volunteer. They help us serve every person who walks through the door, from the campers to their families and even each other as we all learn that we have special needs. We have special training for each need we see, so that our teenage helpers are prepared to meet campers where they are. Here are a couple of take-aways:


Time for many of our campers is different. Most of them have to be a lot more patient than we do. Schedules help with this, but our camp doesn’t follow their regular schedules. What I’ve found is that they’re used to waiting and taking life as it comes instead of how they want it to go. Sure some of them get frustrated; but when we take to time to empathize with them, their frustration is almost always understandable. Most of our campers are much better at going with the flow than the rest of us. They simply have to take life as it comes to them.


Many of our campers are nonverbal. They can’t speak and only hear simple instructions. Our camp helpers have to become extra good at listening. With those who can’t express themselves with words, we have to pay very close attention to their posture and mannerisms. We watch for as many clues as we can to see what they need. They might need to go to the bathroom or eat but have no way to express that. So our listening skills with both our ears and our eyes have to be super attentive. I’m realizing that increasing this skill would benefit all of us!


Gather over 100 special needs people in one room and try to give a talk, or sing a song, or do anything without getting interrupted. I dare you. It just happens. With few exceptions, they aren’t as bothered by those intrusions as we are. Anything that changes their expectations is an interruption, and they cope with those regularly. I need to grow in flexibility!


From what I’ve seen, our campers have a very simple faith that I’ve found refreshing. They believe deeply in a Creator who wants the best for them. They trust in a Savior who died for them to have eternal life. For many of them, their perspective is still very concrete, so they easily accept mysteries in our faith. Mostly, they just believe whole-heartedly that they are created special to do all the things God has planned for them. Their faith is pure and beautiful.

I have learned so much about my own faith and myself from our camp. It still blows my away to have one of the campers tell me about their faith. Just today one of our campers shared his lunch with me because I forgot mine. He didn’t even hesitate. After giving me half his lunch, he started telling me about how Jesus shared everything he had. I was touched. And, honestly, I was challenged when I considered my own hesitation to share so freely.

What I found through working in this camp is that we all have special needs. We all need help when the things in this world that don’t make sense to us. Every one of us has a special way of looking at life. Challenges—physical, mental or emotional—are a part of all of our lives. Maybe the best thing we can do is be patient, listen more, try to empathize with others, and strive for a simple faith.

Finding Love


Tess Cassidy

finding-loveAs I was flipping through my journal the other day, I stumbled upon this entry:

February 27, 2014


Give me a heart to serve others.


Normally, I write more, whether it is specific prayer requests or notes from the Bible. On February 27, 2014, this was all I had to offer up to God. It was all I had to learn. Flipping back over the previous weeks in my journal, I found it filled with prayers regarding decisions on how to spend my time during my freshman year of college: Am I being a successful 30 Hour Famine Ambassador (after returning from the Ethiopia Study Tour)? What organization on campus do I feel my time is best spent? What do I want to be involved in? What should I be involved in?

Flipping back a few days earlier:

February 23, 3014

John 13:1-17 (Jesus washes his disciples’ feet)

My thoughts: Love people by serving them. This is how to be a leader. This is how to follow Christ.

At the time, those were just random thoughts I had while wrapped up in the whirlwind of life that God had so generously intervened on. Looking back, it couldn’t be truer. “Give me a heart to serve others,” has become more than just a one-time prayer for me. It has become a centerfold into my relationship with God and community with others. I continually pray it week after week, month after month.

Fast-forward from 2014 to this current year and the prayers seemed to have changed a bit.

I’ve been pondering what “love” is. As a busy college student, I find it so easy to get wrapped up into what I’m doing and center my focus on my never ending to-do list I constantly add to. I get so bogged down by my own world sometimes I forget to look into others. So in my crazy life, what does love look like?

It’s an intangible thing. It’s the strongest force there is. It’s incomprehensibly passionate. Despite these invisible qualities, love is ever present and so easy to spot.

As I look around, I see love through service. I see it in the service of others, but more importantly I see where love is lacking. Here, service is the fix. My life has become a constant search for who I can serve.

So what makes service so special? Why can’t I just give a hug or a gift and move on with my day? James 2:17 resonates well, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Hold up, that’s a strong statement—faith is absolutely nothing without service. Furthermore, faith is nothing without love. Faith provides love that we can shine onto others, because without God, love doesn’t exist. God is love. The bible even continues to say, in 1 John 4:11, that, “God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Now to me, this is crazy powerful stuff! Service is love and love is faith. Since God is love, we can only love others in the capacity we love God. The amount we serve others is a direct reflection of the amount we love God.

Just this past week, I received a gift from a volunteer for the organization I work for (Appalachia Service Project, a home repair ministry in central Appalachia). It was a bandana with some nice notes, but there was one that stuck out saying, “Thank you for your heart of service.” He is answering my prayers and He is living here. Through service, I’m finding love.

When the Fireworks are Over!


Sean Garner

after-fireworksThe week AFTER Fourth of July is unique.

There are trash bags full of napkins, half-eaten food and aluminum cans. The garage is full of folding chairs that didn’t QUITE make it back to right place. The refrigerator is full of strange dishes covered in plastic wrap with various success. The back yard looks like there once was some sort of significant tribal meeting that has since faded away to history. The driveway has mysterious black smudges that smell like sulfur that hold within them the distinct memory of cheers of excitement or the moans of disappointment. And, your mind and body have to make an adjustment back to a world where work starts early every morning and no particular weekend is filled in the same way until the summer ends.

If we’re quiet enough, reflection is a powerful tool that God uses to transform us. Now, to be clear, reflection is a step beyond assessment (where you just look at the mess you made)–it adds a layer of depth with emotion to help us see “what did it all mean?” versus the intellectual “what did we just do?”

Here’s a great way to bring reflection into your week (even if it is full of recovering and preparing for your summer ministry’s activities).  Find a quiet place in your day and look at your ministry’s calendar for the last year. Instead of asking, “What did we do?” prayerfully ask, “How did I FEEL about what we did?”

You’ll find God resonating with your heart over the things the events, ministries (and even the messes) that matter most to Him: things that reflect His desire for justice, mercy, love, and grace. Plus, you’ll find your heart rejecting those things that God has a distain for as well: strife, want, envy (even busy-ness).

Taking the trash out after the Fourth of July is a humbling experience. We see how wasteful we are with our resources (which adds weight to commitment to the cause of World Vision to share our stuff with those who have none). We see how short-lived every experience is (it all goes into the bag and out to the curb). We get a feeling that the most important parts of our lives can’t be boiled down to paper plates and hot dog buns.

As your body adjusts to life after the Fourth, take time to find a place of peace and FEEL your way through your ministry for a short time of reflection. You’ll find that your commitment to God’s causes become firm and unmovable, ready to be pivot points for future success when you move from simply assessing the mess to reflecting on its meaning.

Just His Presence


Chris McKenna

just-his-presenceWe just finished a 4-week prayer series at our church. Let me be very honest – I don’t really like to pray. Can I admit that as a youth pastor? It’s a struggle for me! It requires a few things that I’m just not good at – sitting still and listening. I compensate for this by being creative in my time alone with God: for example, running for miles without any music (yes, it’s possible!). I often joke that I’m a kinetic Christian since I tend to hear God in the movement. Step after step.

The title of the series was “Breakthrough,” really hoping our people would experience breakthrough in their prayer lives. This could be an answer to a specific prayer, or maybe just a breakthrough in their understanding of who God is.

One thing I’ve realized through this series is that how we pray says much about our view of God. A small view of God will elicit small prayers. A works-based view of God often creates a quid-pro-quo relationship, where I do certain things in order to earn certain favor. A less-than-sovereign view of God means I do everything in my power first, and turn to prayer as a last resort. I’m guilty of all of these and more during certain stages of life.

But, the disciples had a radically different view of prayer. A spectacular example of this is shown in Acts 4. Peter and John are being harassed by the Jewish Sanhedrin, but eventually released. Once reunited with their fellow believers, their first response was to pray! They thanked God for being sovereign and in complete control. They asked for boldness in their testimony (More!? Are you serious?). They asked for miracles and for His very presence to fill their room. When they finished, the Holy Spirit filled them and shook the house.

Here’s the breakthrough for me. God’s presence is enough. Whether or not God answers another one of my prayers in the way I’m asking, I’ve already been given enough. HIM.

I was reminded of this last week while at camp with my middle school students. A 7th grader named Rachel approached me at lunch on Wednesday. She was smiling and almost unable to speak because she was so excited to tell me something. In the midst of some personal darkness, she had simply been praying to hear God. That’s it. Not even to be delivered from whatever it was that was causing her pain. She simply wanted to hear God. And during her quiet time, IT HAPPENED. She told me she heard God simply state her name. “Rachel”. There was no doubt in her mind it was God. And let me tell you SHE IS NEW. She is visibly changed. Whatever was bothering her is gone. All it took was God’s presence to radically shift and shake her life.

As I think ahead to next year’s 30 Hour Famine, I think I might pray a bit differently. I’ll still ask for a flood of financial support for the hungry and hurting. But, I will plead for God’s presence. I desperately want His Holy Spirit to show up and shake our room. For me and my students, that would be enough.

Finding Contentment in Ministry


By Jake Kircher

contentmentTake a second and just think about this question: are you content in your current ministry setting?

If you’re employed in youth ministry, do you enjoy going into to the office every, or even most, days?

Do you have satisfaction in the work and ministry you are doing?

Do you feel peace around your peers and your boss?

If you answered adamantly “yes” to all of those questions, awesome! Please post in the comment section describing how it is you got to that point for the sake of the rest of us.

On the flip side, coming out my own experiences as a youth worker for 14 years, as well as numerous conversations with others in youth ministry, I think it’s safe to say that many of us would probably answer no to some, if not all, of those questions. And I think this is proven more so by the short stints (18-months to 3 years depending on the research source) that most have at a given church.

But let’s go a little deeper with this. If you don’t feel content in your current ministry setting, I would encourage you to take a few minutes to ask why. Or put another way, what would need to change in order for you to find contentment?

If you’re like me, over the years I have chased many answers to that question.

A bigger budget.

An associate youth worker.

For my boss to “get it.”

A raise.

More or better volunteers.

The list could go on and on…

Here’s the thing, though, with these lists that we make. None of them will actually give us the contentment we want. Why? Because there will always be more reasons for being discontent.

You get a bigger budget and now the finance person at your church is asking more questions.

Your boss finally “gets it” but now the head of the church board doesn’t.

You get a raise and quickly find ways to spend it, and subsequently more things that you “need” but now can’t afford.

The fact is, we will always be able to find reasons to be discontent, and for some reason the human spirit seems to grasp on to them pretty easily. The true secret to finding contentment is to not look to our external situations, but instead to learn how to look within.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” (NLT) The word he uses for content is an interesting term, especially given that it is the only time it shows up in the Bible. “In Stoic philosophy, autarkes (‘content’) described a person who accepted impassively whatever came…This philosophy fostered a self-sufficiency in which all the resources for coping with life were located within man himself.” (Baebrlein, Frank E. Expositors Bible Commentary. Zondervan, 1990. Olive Tree.)

Then Paul cites in verse 12 a number of situations that he has gone through in his life. (He describes these things in greater detail in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.) Paul understood that his external situations could always change. That even when he hit a point where everything was good, the tide could turn at any point. But, when life changed, contentment didn’t have to. Why? Because he learned to find contentment from within.

However, Paul goes a step further than the Stoic philosophers and adds in verse 13, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (NLT) It’s not just ourselves finding peace within, but it’s Christ in us. That is where true contentment comes from.

This is nothing new. It’s something that most of us have taught to our students. But how many of us actually, authentically, really live this out?

Yes, some of the things that cause us discontentment are valid issues in regards to supporting our families or being in a healthy ministry setting. Yes, sometimes the right decision is walking away from a church or ministry position for somewhere else. But what I have learned in wrestling through my own discontentment in different seasons is that the best response is learning how to go to God with your discontent and allowing Him to change you from within. Along the way, He will sometimes lead you to new external situations too, but fight the urge to put your faith and contentment in those things, because tomorrow could bring that all too familiar feeling of being discontent all over again.

So, what would need to change in order for you to find contentment?

Let us learn, as Paul did, to respond to that question with the answer of Jesus, and Jesus alone. May we remember on a daily basis that, “this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

When Only Lament Makes Sense


By Adam McLane

to-lamentMost mornings, I get up, have a cup of coffee, pop on my headphones, and sit down to write.

My morning routine makes sense to me. Writing is easy for me. I enjoy it. The blinking cursor of my word processor greets me and I quickly fill a page with new words.

Writing every morning brings sense to my day. Most days make sense.

But today doesn’t make sense.

The cursor blinks at me waiting for words to flow; they don’t. They won’t.

I sit in a comfortable chair, feeling the cool Pacific breeze drift through my house, the wafts of freshly ground coffee fill my nostrils confirming that a new day has started.

Yet today words pile on top of one another, they don’t make sense.

The alarm sounded but darkness pushed away the sunrise. The familiarity, the expectation of what can happen today was replaced by news, reactions, assumptions, presumptions, and questions.

Nine people are dead in a church shooting in South Carolina.

1100 miles South and hundreds of thousands of Haitian immigrants, many who have been in the Dominican Republic for generations, face deportation. (Read World Vision International’s call to not separate undocumented children who “look Haitian” from their parents.)

I grasp to make sense where there is none. I seek comfort in words that won’t come. And so I’m left, staring at the blinking cursor, asking God to make sense of what doesn’t make sense.

Did you know this wordless feeling has a word?

Lament – /ləˈment/ – (noun) a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. (verb) to mourn

On days like this all I have is lament.

To care is to lament. To pray is to lament. To listen or read is to lament. To hear and see is to lament.

So today, all I have to offer is this prayer of lament:

Great God of love, your creation weeps.

Hear the cry of the voiceless.

See the pain and injustice perpetrated on your children.

Bless those who grieve and mourn the broken kingdom on Earth.

“It’s the Holy Spirit’s role to convict, God’s role to judge, and ours to love.”

We ask that you help us to love.

We release the resentment and bitterness we hold towards people who have hurt us and our friends.

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.



The Tides of Balance


By Tash McGill

balance-tidesWhere I live in the world, it’s getting cold right now. Snow is starting to fall, people have been stocking firewood. Where most of you live, it’s getting warmer. In fact, Summer is here.

I sometimes think of Summer as a demanding girlfriend that drags all the heat and warmth over the other side of the Earth as it suits her but it’s not hard to imagine Winter as a bit of a bully, encroaching on the sun with cloud and darkness and eventually pushing the warmth right away. This push and pull is the earth’s way of constantly balancing herself.

In Physics class, you learn fast that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. Then in Chemistry class you learn how to balance the reactions of chemicals to one another to achieve a desired result. It’s called equilibrium. No matter how small the molecules or large their force, every push creates a pull.

We sometimes long for balance, the point of equilibrium between the action and reaction. We like to think of balance as a peaceful place, we make it a virtue when we talk about people being well-balanced.

Sometimes, Winter feels like everything is out of balance for me. While the sun is out, I’m busy indoors with work that demands my time and when I want to play or need to rest – inevitably it’s dark, raining or the sun just doesn’t want to come out. When it starts out, Summer feels like balance – there are plenty of daylight sunshine hours to work, play and to be warm. It doesn’t take too long for the shine to fade a little. I’m sunburned, tired from constantly socialising and cash-low from vacation costs. Summer doesn’t always offer that perfect peace.

Perfect balance is always the smallest moment. Those few days in Fall and Spring when the sun is still warm and the earth rich enough to feel alive. Balance is a state you move through, when the forces and reactions are equalised for just a moment.

The tide demonstrates this even better than the seasons with unceasing regularity. It’s always coming or going, only ever finding the mid-point between high and low on it’s way between the two.

So perhaps balance isn’t the moment after all. Perhaps true balance and moments of peace are found in being tuned into the rhythm of the push and pull. Understanding the rhythm of the journey. That the seasons we leave behind and the seasons we lean ahead into will in fact, return to us again – in different stages, different places.

Balance is not the moment where everything feels perfect, it’s the way we lean into the rhythm, perfectly in time.

Be You!


By Mark Oestreicher

Misty Forest TrailYouth workers who pretend that they have the Christian life all figured out are boring! Let’s face it, none of us want to follow someone who thinks they have anything all figured out; we want to learn from people who are on the same journey we’re on, a journey of messiness and incompleteness, of bumps and turns and twists and surprises. In short, we want to learn from people who live with honesty–people who live out the truth of their own journey in front of us.

For you to be a youth worker who lives with honesty, and for me to be a youth worker who lives with honesty, we have to live, speak and act boldly–whether that means a boldness of knowing or a boldness of unknowing. See, honesty and passion are closely linked. And when I live in truth (the truth of my real story with God), I live a passionate life, and honesty naturally leaks out in my interactions with students. When I do this, I become more “attractive” to real students (unfortunately, not more physically attractive!). The truth of Jesus alive in my life is attractive!.

I can’t stand it when I see youth workers trying to be hip, trying to be cool, so students will like them. And part of why this bugs me so much is that I used to be like that: I tried so hard to be the kind of cool adult I thought teenagers wanted.

But somewhere along the road of youth ministry, I discovered that my uniquenesses–the things about me that make me different than you–are a massive strength in my ability to connect with teenagers. And I saw this in other effective youth workers as well.

As you ramp up face-time with teenagers over the summer—particularly at camps and missions trips and other summer programming—commit to embracing your uniqueness; and commit to being your honest and authentic self, warts and all.

How Do We Talk About Poverty With Students?


By Ross Carper 

foggy beach with young boyOne of the best things about youth ministry is the fact that every student I interact with is in a different place. Every student. I’m a Junior High Pastor, so they’re all 7th and 8th graders; but this season of life means I’m dealing with a vast range of developmental stages—from 7th grade boys who still play with action figures to 8th grade girls who act like they’re 23.

But there’s something else aside from brain chemistry and puberty and abstract thinking capabilities. There’s the nurture factor—the physical, emotional, and spiritual landscape in which each student has been raised. They’ve all had different amounts and types of exposure to the Christian faith—at home, at church (or lack of church), in conversations, friendships, and in media of all types. And the same is true for how each student thinks about poverty.

Over the past few years, as we’ve engaged in 30 Hour Famine and other local service projects and regional mission trips, we’ve felt the need to pay close attention to how we talk about poverty, and particularly about people who are affected by it. As staff, volunteers, and students, our community has needed to develop and maintain a shared vocabulary and mindset.

In my setting, many of our students are from materially affluent homes. The last thing I want is for our justice-oriented work to perpetuate harmful stereotypes or foster a savior complex within these students. If those we serve become an afterthought to us—just the “less fortunate” we help to make ourselves feel great, then we’ve dehumanized humans, which happens to be the root of injustice. Yikes.

We’ve tried hard to model something different through the ways we talk—not in an overbearing, “PC-police“ way, but by proactively framing the work we do with empathy and humility, and by gently correcting students who (often unintentionally) use demeaning language. It’s crucial to add this layer of teaching to promote dignity, empowerment, and the equality that comes from all humans being made in the image of God.

I have a favorite resource that has shaped our church’s language and thinking on poverty. The Chalmers Center’s book When Helping Hurts is quite helpful, and their website offers content that has often helped me prepare to speak to students.

As we attempt to shape disciples who love God and love others, we need to teach deeply about both our view of God and our view of others.