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The Famine Blog

The Gift that Keeps on Giving


By Brian Mateer

This Christmas will be different for me and my family as we will not be taking our annual trip to Pennsylvania to visit with extended family.  It is the first time I can remember we will not be making the trek north between Thanksgiving and the New Year.  My last remaining grandparent passed away earlier this year.  It will be strange and sad this tradition will not continue.

Several months after grandma died, my mom contacted me to let me know she wanted to do something impactful with a portion of my grandmother’s estate.  Her suggestion was to donate money to build a well in the northern region of Haiti where our church is in ministry.  With great excitement we wired the funds to our Haitian partners to drill and build a well and eagerly awaited word of its completion.  After a few weeks I received confirmation the well was complete and would significantly improve the quality of life for a village hit hard with the disease cholera.

In October, I had the chance to visit this well.  Hopping into the front seat of my Haitian friend’s truck we set off to a remote community surrounded by mountains.  When I say remote, picture a paved road leading to a gravel road, leading to a dirt road, ending at a sometimes dry and sometimes flowing creek bed.  After several miles of twisting around and through the stream we finally arrived at a small community seemingly cut off from the world.

With growing excitement, I emerged from the truck to see the well my family was responsible for funding.  Grinning, I walked over to the hand pump to test out the well.  Before long, children and adults gathered from the surrounding village to find out what was all the commotion about.  My guess is, it’s not every day a white skinned man and a Haitian in a pickup truck visit their village. Pumping the well arm several times, the crystal clear, clean, life giving water flowed out for this community. Then I glanced down and I saw the inscription on concrete well base: “Because of Jesus Christ, our living water.

After several other demonstrations of the functionality of the well from some of the children gathered, a woman walked up to me and said something in Creole.  My Haitian friend translated.  She said, “This well is a gift from God.”  Fighting back tears I could not muster any words and just nodded my head.

As we prepare for the coming of the birth of Jesus I have held this experience close to me.  I am reminded of how precious the gift of clean drinking water is.  I am thankful for the legacy of those before me, including my parents and grandparents, instilling in me the gift of serving the least of these. I am grateful for ministries like the 30 Hour Famine giving opportunities for youth leaders and young people to learn and participate in the kingdom work of providing the gift of “living water” across the globe.

Give the gift that keeps on giving.  Do the Famine.

Take a Break



By Justin Cox

A few years ago I found myself on a hospital gurney in the emergency room. After ignoring chest pain for a week, I finally decided to tell my wife. The doctor conducted a number of tests and came back with shocking news: I was completely fine.

The pain I was experiencing was being caused by stress. Overwork. Burnout.

The doctor prescribed a week off — my first in quite some time. I was instructed to take that week and start working on two things. First was to discover ways to better manage and identify my stress. Second was to take a break from time to time so as not to wind up back in the ER.

I’m assuming readers of this blog have some sort of calling to help teenagers discover a lasting and meaningful relationship with Christ. This is an amazing opportunity, but it doesn’t exempt us from the same trials and stresses that everyone experiences. There are still students to lead, budgets to amend, programs and events to plan, relationships to juggle… the list goes on and on. And if you’re called into ministry, chances are you are pretty good at putting other people before yourself.

Yet, Jesus provides an example to take a break and get away. Throughout his three-year ministry, Jesus constantly found times to go off by himself and get away from the crowds. Even Jesus needed some time away to pray and recharge, yet we in ministry often feel there isn’t any time to spare. Or when we do, we feel guilty that we’re not doing enough for the people we’re called to serve.

When was the last time you did something restorative for yourself?

It’s not selfish to take a break and care for yourself. In fact, if you don’t then it will be all too easy to burnout. Over the years I’ve discovered a few ways to take a break and recharge: annual vacations with my wife, monthly massages, weekly yoga, and daily moments of silence.

Truth is I could do more to take a break and follow Jesus’s lead of recharging, but I’m in a much better place than I was a few years ago. Since you took a few moments to read this, I ask that you take a few more and grab a pen. Write down a few ideas on how you can take a yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily Sabbath. They don’t have to be extravagant things, but think of a few ways that you can help manage the stress of ministry.

Follow Jesus’s lead and find ways to care for yourself.

Take a break.

Ministering in the Midst of Personal Grief



By Julie Floyd

When you work in the church world for a length of time, you begin to see patterns. One I have noticed is that deaths often seem to come in waves. My husband is a rural church pastor and can often go months without needing to perform a funeral. Then, like the last two weeks, he will have three in rapid succession.

In this same time, death hit my family as well. A few weeks ago, my mom’s identical twin sister died suddenly. Three days later, her oldest sister died of breast cancer. Two amazing women, gone far too young. I flew to my hometown and stayed for 10 days. Cried, laughed, remembered. Returned home. My heart is still heavy with this grief but I was reminded of how taking time for intentional grieving can be water for the soul.

I think ministers especially forget this. We often get so caught up in shepherding others and forget how important our wellbeing is. We must find ways to grieve when loss comes. How do we do this?

  1. Know yourself. Everyone grieves differently, and your grief may not look like someone else’s in the same situation. It is OK to feel what you feel when you feel it. Maybe you will cry at a funeral, or when you are alone at night, or not at all. You might want to be around a lot of people or desire solitude. Be self-aware enough to know when your desires might become unhealthy, such as sleeping or eating to excess or not at all. However, give yourself grace to grieve as you uniquely need to.
  2. Take some time off of leading your ministry groups. If you read that and laughed to yourself thinking, “I can’t do that,” you, most of all, need to. Others can respect this time of grieving and take care of things on the ministry front. Are you the kind of person that wants to stay busy in the midst of grief? Great! Go make a casserole, build something, or go fishing. Don’t try to continue life as though nothing has happened. This doesn’t model healthy grieving for our youth, and it makes you a less healthy leader. Take the time off. You need it and those who follow you need to see you doing this.
  3. Set an appointment with a counselor. Talking with friends and family in times of grief is awesome, but you need a professional counselor. Those of us who are used to ministering to others frequently have a hard time allowing people to minister to us. So hire someone to do this. Find someone that you can pay to listen to you and help you develop productive coping skills in the midst of pain. If you have health insurance, check to see if this might be covered! Otherwise, consider it a wise investment for your wellbeing.

These tips boil down to one thing: Allow yourself to grieve. As my sweet cousin so eloquently stated, you only loose your mom once. This person was special to you. This person’s life mattered. Your life, and your ability to grieve, matters.

Enter the Advent



By Tash McGill

I’ve just finished a vacation. Which meant two weeks with no urgent notifications or demands to clear my inbox. It should have been bliss, but it hasn’t been easy this time. This time, seeing many of the people I love and celebrating Thanksgiving hasn’t been the energizing, mood-boosting lift I wanted. I hoped for vacation to signal the end of a hard road, but instead it simply illuminated how far there is still to go.

At the end of Thanksgiving Day I wrote the words, ‘Sometimes because my dreams, hopes and desires are so big, it’s easier to forget how much I have to be thankful for.’ And I do have much to be thankful for – a good job, great friends in many parts of the world, the ability to move freely and work on many things I’m passionate about. The rub is, I’ve spent the last year and the year before that and even the year before that, travelling down the road of letting dreams, hopes and desires go.

I could write this all poetically but it would take too much time. Here are the bullet points that will get me to the point:

  • Letting go of hopes and dreams is surrendering your desire to get what you want
  • It means surrendering your desire for control and false ideas of control and power
  • There is nothing easy about this task of emotional and neural reprogramming, because you must learn new ways of being over and over
  • In the process of surrendering your sense of how things ought to be (control) you realize how much space it consumed
  • You realize it when you are left with the corresponding emptiness

So that is where I find myself, at the end of the dark road peering into even darker emptiness. Enter the Advent season. Into the darkest of moments, when all I want is the assurance it will all be ok, that my feeble little self won’t be left behind and mostly, that there is love enough for me in the world, to fill the emptiness – enter the Advent.

Dependence on God is not a strong enough description of the answer to my emptiness. The answer is an equally deep need of God. Surrendering control and that aching emptiness is in fact creating capacity and openhandedness to receive God answering my emptiness. Enter the Advent. How desperately I need the hope of the incarnated God made flesh with us, made real. I so desperately need the flesh-and-blood God to remind me that I am part of the oneness of humanity.

Hope wasn’t made for me alone, but for us. How desperately I need the Advent to reorient me to the love of God made flesh for all of humanity, not just myself.

Enter the Advent, where I have opportunity to turn my eyes away from the darkness of my own emptiness and to the light that is coming to shine in all our emptiness.

Thanksgiving or Black Friday?



By Aaron Wolgamott

Thanksgiving is, of course, a day that we set aside to take a break from the busyness of life, spend time with friends and family, eat lots of food and enjoy one another’s company, and remember to be thankful for all that we have been blessed with. Personally, it is my favorite holiday…it involves a lot of food and football, so it’s a win-win!

Black Friday, though, is the next day. A day set aside to have crazy deals in stores all across America, leading many people to get up extremely early that day to be at the stores when they open so they can take advantage of as many deals as they can. This day has even begun to spill over into Thanksgiving Day as stores are opening earlier and earlier to accommodate all who come to the stores wanting these deals.

I have always found it ironic that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are back to back, because the purposes of these two days can be very opposite of each another. The intent of one is to be thankful for what we have, and the intent of the other is to get new things that we don’t have.

Now please don’t get me wrong here, this is not an anti-Black Friday post. I know that many use Black Friday as a time to get lots of Christmas gifts at good deals; so I’m not saying that it is an evil day in-and-of itself. There are other days and times of the year where stores have deals as well, and it’s not a bad thing to take advantage of that. Buying things on sale is a good way to save some money. So I’m not saying Black Friday is bad, I just find the comparison of these two days coupled with the fact that they are back to back to be ironic…and that irony is something that we can use to help us reflect on our own hearts during this time of year.

1 Timothy 6: 6-11 says:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”

According to this passage, nothing good comes from pursuing gain and the desire to get more. It says that pursuing gain leads to falling into temptation and many senseless and harmful desires that lead to destruction.  It also says that the love of money leads to all kinds of evil.

On the other side, contrasted against pursuing gain and the desire to get more, we see that we as followers of Christ are to be content with what we have because we trust in God to provide (and we can’t take anything with us when we die). We see that we are to be content with food and clothing, and that we are to pursue Godly things: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.

We are to be content with God and thankful for all that he has given us, pursuing him in this life rather than all that this world can offer us. We can go shopping on Black Friday and have a heart of thankfulness—that is totally possible. We can also go through Thanksgiving and not be thankful at all. The real question we must all ask ourselves is, “Am I truly thankful for what I already have, or do I feel like I need just a little bit more in order to be happy?” It’s a tough question to ask ourselves, but it is a very important question that we need to be willing to reflect on.

Spend some time reflecting about this idea. Read through 1 Timothy 6:6-11 again on your own and spend time thinking and praying through what that passage is saying. What do you focus on and pursue in life? Which day would best define your focus: Thanksgiving or Black Friday? What can you do to ensure that you pursue God more than what the world offers?

May you have a truly thankful Thanksgiving Day as you reflect on all that God has done for you and how God has blessed you.

Giving and Showing Thanks



By Dan Kiefer

The month of November is usually a time where we reflect and give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. So, allow me to share something with you that I have recently been challenged with in my own life and ministry. Philippians 1:3 says, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” I have been challenged to not only give thanks to God this month, but to also take an additional step and express my gratitude and thanks to the people I am thankful for in my ministry.

There is absolutely no way I could do all that our ministry does for students by myself. Our children and student ministries HEAVILY depends on volunteers. From Nursery workers, Kids Church volunteers, Sunday School teachers, Kids Ministry volunteers and Youth Ministry volunteers, we have over 100 volunteers giving their time to serve in our church on an average weekend. I am extremely grateful for each one of them (especially those changing diapers!); but when was the last time that I showed them my appreciation? So I have challenged myself to hand write a thank you card to each of them.

We do things periodically for our volunteers to show them our appreciation from the church staff, but this is something different. I want to personally thank each one, expressing how I specifically value them and the time they volunteer to the ministry of our church. Paul in his letter to the Philippians specifically expressed why he was thankful for the people of that church, and I believe I should do the same thing in my ministry.

It doesn’t take long to write a personal thank you card to someone, but it will go a long way to encouraging them in their own ministry. So how do you show your appreciation to those who volunteer in your ministries? What creative ways do you express your thanks to your volunteers?

And while I have your attention: Thank You for all you do in the lives of children, students and adults in your ministry.

30 Hour Famine Teaches Empathy



By Becky Gilbert

When I was a child—not sure of my exact age, but probably about 5 or 6—I remember my parents talking about having some friends come over for dinner and they were going to grill hot dogs. At some point during the day, I must have looked in the refrigerator, because in my 5 or 6-year-old brain, I had seen a partially opened package of hot dogs and I was afraid that our company would eat all the hot dogs and I would not get one. So I ran into the house and took a bite out of one of the hot dogs (this of course meant that this hot dog was mine) and put it back into the package.

After a while, my mother asked what happened to the hot dog, so I told her. I did not realize that taking a bite out of food and putting it back in the package was a problem. I remember being asked, “Why would you do that?” I am sure my answer must have been, “I didn’t want to not get a hot dog” or something equally ridiculous.  I have a vague recollection of a conversation about how rude it was for me to take a bite of the hot dog and put it back and that we had plenty of food for everyone. It was true. I did not grow up in a wealthy house, but we never went hungry and we always had everything we needed.

This event may not sound like much, but I do remember feeling very upset when I was asked about my actions. We didn’t miss meals when I was a child and I do remember feeling…I guess it was embarrassed…to take food away from our guests.  We cannot always pinpoint each place in our life where we learned lessons that would carry into adulthood; but as I think back, it might have been here when I began to understand how to empathize with others.

When Jesus heard of the death of his friend Lazarus, he wept. When an angry crowd brought a woman to Jesus with the intention of killing her, Jesus protected her. When the woman at the well gave Jesus a drink, he talked to her about her life and made her feel known and accepted. Jesus was able to empathize with others and understand what they were feeling. Yes, He is God and we are not. However, that does not prevent us from trying to feel and/or understand what other people are going through.

This is why events like the 30 Hour Famine are important in youth ministry. The 30 Hour Famine and the work World Vision does to educate people and help end hunger has inspired me for many years. For those who may be new to the Famine: for 30 hours, youth go without.  Some groups choose to fast from food, others choose to fast from talking or from technology or social media. Whatever the groups picks, for those 30 hours, youth step out of their world and into another one.

When we step into an unknown situation we become uncomfortable, and that uncomfortable feeling helps us grow and develop. We can develop the ability to notice when people around us are in need. We can develop the empathy to care enough about the need we see to do something about it.  As people called to lead youth, we are given the unique opportunity to help teenagers and young adults develop into caring adults who look beyond a hungry person to the reason that hunger exists.

Hopefully, the experience of the 30 Hour Famine will lead both youth leaders and youth to think about others if they are presented with an opportunity to “take a bite out of something and put it back in the fridge,” like my 5 year old self, and empathize with the needs of others first and instead find a way to help.

Are You a Big Deal?



By Jeff Lowry

Have you seen the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens? If you haven’t, then don’t worry; this won’t spoil anything, I promise. There is this scene where Finn (played by John Boyega) is talking with Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford). Finn says, “I’m a big deal in the resistance.” After that line Han refers to Finn as “Big Deal” several times.

I think we as youth pastors, ministers, and volunteers can learn a ton from that one little scene and the other mentions that follow. Why? Because we tend to think we are a Big Deal. Having been in youth ministry for close to 25 years, I’ve had occasion to interact with all sorts. From the meek, humble and completely lost volunteer who was thrust into the role out of need, to the so-full-of-himself headstrong Big Deal, and everything in between.

In Matthew 23:12 Jesus, talking to the Scribes and Pharisees, said these words, “If you think you are a Big Deal, you’ll be humbled, but if you humble yourself, you’ll be made a Big Deal” (That’s my paraphrase, of course.) Somehow we tend to miss that, or even worse, teach it in a youth service but don’t believe it applies to us! (True confession: I’ve been guilty of this type of thing on numerous occasions.)

The issue is really this: because our teenagers love us, because our youth parents love us, because camp directors love us, we think we can walk on water. And maybe you can. I can’t, but I found it so easy over the years to think about what a Big Deal I was. Reflecting back over my 25 years, I realize now that more than anything I was a Pied Piper. I played the songs, knew the lingo and was a fun guy, all the while frequently relishing in my status as a Big Deal.

Now comes the ‘so what?’ What am I suggesting? Simply this: Our true identity is not in our status as a youth worker, especially if we think we are a Big Deal. Our true identity lies in the simple fact that we are a child of God. Nothing more, nothing less. He’s called us all to do amazing things, gifted us in various areas and given us killer skills that are mind-blowing to some folks. He’s called many of us to be youth workers, and that is no easy calling by any means. But in the end, we are all just sons and daughters of the King. And here’s the thing; when you are focused on being a big deal, that becomes all you know, who you are, and your worth. When it’s gone, whether from God moving us, our own ministry choices or simply stepping down, we suddenly find ourselves confused and questioning so many things.

Don’t get caught up in the thought that you are a Big Deal. Just be you. Just be a child of the King. Just do what God has called you to do. Work with youth. Lead the choir. Clean the toilets. Work in the nursery. Preach the gospel. Do all those things humbly. Allow God to make you the Big Deal you are, but stay humble in that. You’ll be glad you did.

Understand Your Context



By Matt Wilks

I remember talking to parents as a youth pastor and many of them would describe their child as unique, which usually meant that they were odd and miracously I would need to figure out how to include them in our minstry plans.

Of course, you also have a few unique students in your group. But did you know that your ministry is unique?

One area I believe student ministries (and the church) need to do a better job is understanding their context. When a ministry can understand the complexities of their own unique context and serve out of that understanding, I believe that they find the spiritual and sustainable success they are looking for.

The dictionary defines context as the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event or situation. This definition is mostly accurate except that when you add the spiritual component to it, it can supernaturally affect the circumstances. God places us in a context and gives us the tools to understand and affect the circumstances in that context.

The church I ministered at struggled with understanding their ministry, which is directly attached to an understanding of a ministry unique context. Now, don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t that we wanted to be something that we weren’t; but we weren’t as intentional as we could have been with the resources that God had given us. God had placed us in a community that needed us, and instead of looking at the whole city as our mission field, we needed to look right outside of our windows at the community that needed us.

God was calling us to understand the people who made up our community. What were their needs? How did they understand “community”? What was their view of the church? How did they communicate to each other in this community?

Jesus was masterful at understanding his context. Whether it was sitting with the Samartian woman and discussing water or using a farming illustration as he talked with farmers on the side of the road.

How are you becoming an expert in the context around your church? What ministry could God be calling you that is right outside the front door of your church? What people need you to be Jesus to them? How can you communicate the truth of who Jesus is in a way that the people who you have the privilege of ministering to can understand?  How are people in your community learning? What are they learning? There are thousands of questions that you can ask to become an expert in the community that you are a part of. What are the questions that you are asking currently?

I would challenge you to become an expert in understanding the context of where God has entrusted you to work for Him. As a church, when we finally understood what the context was around our church and asked God to open our eyes to see the needs that our community had, God gave us the ability to intelligently and effectively minister to a group of people in the area around our church who needed us to be agents of restoration for them.

3 Ways to Get Through 30 Hours



by John Denton

As a teenager I loved participating in the 30 Hour Famine. As a Youth Director I learned that to create an event youth love, you need to plan and intentionality. While planning for the 30 Hour Famine you face the same issues that you do while planning a lock in, just with no pizza or broom ball. 30 hours is a lot of time to program. This can be scary but is actually one of the greatest aspects of the 30 Hour Famine. You have 30 hours to learn from each other, serve others, and share thoughts.

One of the easiest programing mistakes you can make is filling your schedule with lots of small 15-minute activities. Another mistake is having a small activity that could take 5 minutes filling an hour time block. These errors can leave you facing hour long programing gaps and trying to save your students from boredom.

Here are 3 ideas to get you through 30 hours:

Friday Night Fundraiser 

A Friday Night Fundraiser could be a concert, or a dinner and silent auction. The goal of the Friday night event is to get your youth involved in a fun event for your church community or the community at large. This event also can raise money and awareness for the 30 Hour Famine.

Saturday Morning Work Project

Nothing says 30 Hour Famine like a great work project. Call your local food bank today and book your famine work project before someone else beats you to it. A food scavenger hunt could also a great use of your morning. Divide your group in teams, give them grocery bags, shopping list, famine facts, and send them into the neighborhood around your church to go door to door collecting food. This is fun and helps spread knowledge to your local community.

Saturday Afternoon Service Project

Ending Saturday serving others is a great way to close out your famine. If you did the food scavenger hunt you can take the collected food with you and donate it to a shelter or food bank. This will be instant gratification for your group. Start searching out a homeless shelter or even an area in your community where homeless people congregate.

These three 4 hour projects will make your event memorable and ensure there is limited lag or downtime. The remaining downtime will be easily filled with discussion and small activates. With the help of these three ideas you will be left searching for extra time. I encourage you to think big, to look at ways you can impact your neighborhood and to impact those in need.