By Emily Robbins
I was asked over Labor Day, by a friend of mine who just took a job as a youth minister, about some of my favorite youth ministry tools and curriculum. We were sitting in North Carolina on the deck overlooking gorgeous mountains. I sat quietly for a long moment and then said, “I believe that the one of best things we can offer our teenagers is the chance to experience life in someone else’s shoes. To live for a moment outside the box teenagers live in.”
There are many tools that help us achieve that within our youth ministry context; but one of my favorites–by far–is the 30 Hour Famine.
For 30 hours our teenagers (and adults) are hungry. Maybe hungrier then they’ve ever been before! They are uncomfortable. They question why they are doing this. They learn about individuals in other countries who live with this hunger every single day. They realize that not eating for 30 hours isn’t as hard as they thought it would be. Or maybe it is just as hard as they imagined. Every single one of them is taking a risk to give up food for 30 hours: but they do it.
I use some of the 30 Hour Famine curriculum with my youth group – especially the TRIBE games. During TRIBE, the youth take on the identity of a hungry child and join others to create a tribe. These tribes compete through the day with games that educate and challenge youth to survive while hungry. I ask them periodically to reflect on taking on the identity of a child that lives with less than we do.
We also spend our morning working at a local food pantry; we watch videos about world hunger; serve by offering Random Acts of Kindness around town; and close out our evening at hour fifteen with a candlelit worship service. We go to Sunday School and Worship really hungry and then we celebrate and break the 30 hour fast with a yummy meal together.
After the candlelight worship service I ask my youth to take some time in silence to write a letter to the child whose identity they took on for the day. Or if they’d prefer, to write a prayer to God for that child. It’s extraordinarily transformational for them to identify with someone else, and to realize just how much they have and to be grateful for it! It takes my breath away to get to see inside my youth’s hearts through these letters and prayers. Here are a few real samples:
Dearest Zinabu, My name is Shelby. I am in a youth group at my church and I want you to know that you are not alone. There is no way that you having unclean water and no food is fair when people everywhere are wasting it. I don’t even know you but I know that you are loved by God.
Love, Shelby, 9th grader
Dear Tayitu, I just want to say that you are a very strong young lady. You are a beautiful person and need to know that you matter to me. Everything you go through in your life means a lot to me. I would like to pray for you and your family: Dear God, I thank you for Tayitu and her family. I pray for a good life and good health. Tayitu, I hope you gain a strong faith and hope. I just hope you re-gain your strength even though you live with fever and chills. I just wanted to say – stay strong and healthy and you are great – don’t forget that! Amen.
Love, Ali, 7th grader
I know what I am experiencing amounts to nothing compared to the pain you go through. But I want you to know that I know what you go through is hard. And I want to help end it. I know I have little to give, but I hope that it’s enough.
Stay safe, Ben, 10th grader
I recently asked my youth different questions about their faith development at this church and 30 Hour Famine came up as something that has challenged and enriched their faith since they’ve been in the youth group. We’ve already got our 2016 30 Hour Famine dates on our Youth Calendar!! Do you? Help your teenagers experience life in someone else’s shoes this year. They will be forever changed.