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The Famine Blog

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.

Happy New Year (almost) from 30 Hour Famine!


By Emily Robbins

Happy New Year from the 30 Hour FamineI experienced my first 30 Hour Famine when I was 19 years old.  I drove a couple hours to spend the weekend with my best friend in college and she was doing this thing called a Famine with friends from her church. It was also a lock-in.  I wasn’t really sure what I was going to, but I figured there would be guys there all night long!  How could that be bad??  I remember playing Frisbee and watching a video about a little kid who needed food. I also remember wanting to help.  I was moved by the Holy Spirit that weekend to want to do more for children in places that I may never visit.  It messed with me.  I have never been the same.

It is now almost twenty years later and that 30 Hour Famine experience continues to impact my life. I lead the Famine for my youth group every spring and watch them realize just how much we have and how easy it is to share.  We will never know what praying for children who don’t have food will do to the hearts of our teenagers.  We also won’t know how the money we collect helps children and family around the world.

I also have the opportunity to sponsor a little girl named Emily in Zimbabwe. She and I exchange letters and pictures periodically and I love seeing her grow up and grow stronger. I pray for her and she prays for me.  I love that I am connected to her. I love that she is teaching me about God’s grace and provision. I love that knowing her messes with me.

I pray that every one of you have multiple experiences planned for your teenagers in 2016. I especially pray that the 30 Hour Famine is one of those experiences!  If you have never participated before – expect to change and hopefully become grateful for what we have and never take it for granted.

If you HAVE participated before, please look at it with new eyes this year. Get excited!  Pray to experience it the way your teenagers experience it for the first time. We have the opportunity to impact them in a way that could still be messing with them in 20 years.  Who knew when I went to a 30 Hour Famine when I was 19 years old that I would still be involved. I choose to not eat for 30 Hours so that others can – over and over again: so much so that it has become a holy ground for me.

Christmas Week Pause


By Mark Oestreicher

Hey Famine leaders – we know what it’s like to be a youth leader at this time of year, on top of the craziness of your own to-do list for Christmas week. We want to invite you to take three minutes and fifty-two seconds to pause, and watch this video. Don’t think about how you can use it in your ministry; simply ponder the profound beauty of the true story these cute little New Zealand kids are re-telling:

Emmanuel. God with us. Jesus—the creator of the world—entered into the world as a baby. And this changes everything.

(Ok, now you can think about how you’ll use that awesome video.)

Meet Ekai


Seattle1You’ve probably heard that 2016 will bring a lot of changes to the 30 Hour Famine. In a survey we sent out last year, you told us that you wanted more videos, new activities, and a way to connect to the kids we go hungry for. We took that seriously and invited a small group of youth pastors out to Seattle this past summer to take all your feedback and really dig in to what that meant and what changes really needed to take place.

Many brilliant ideas came out of that gathering of youth pastors, but one idea in particular will allow the 30 Hour Famine to take on a new shape. We took this idea and ran with it, and you’ll see it firsthand it when you receive your kits for 2016. The idea is this: Re-structure the 30 Hour Famine event into “modules” that start with a video, then go into an activity, then a debrief. We are really excited about the videos that will usher this time. Through the videos you’ll follow one child from the field and experience what a day in life is like for him. We sent our videographer friend Max to Kenya to find the perfect person for this video series. We’d like to introduce you to him…


Meet Ekai.

Ekai is a 12-year-old boy living in Kakuma, Kenya. As you get to know him through the videos, you’ll learn how he spends his days, which usually involve school, soccer, and taking goats to pasture. You’ll learn what he wants to be when he grows up and what games he plays with his friends and siblings. You’ll learn about the food his family eats and how often they eat.

We pray that knowing Ekai’s story helps your students put a face to the big and sometimes impersonal issue of hunger. Our goal with this experience is for your students to see humanity there, to know that people who are hungry are just like us – they play and learn and have amazing dreams for when they grow up. They just lack a resource that most of us are so blessed to have access to.

So this year, we go hungry for Ekai and for the millions of kids out there like him, the smiling, fun-loving, full-of-potential kids who need some good nutritious food. We go hungry for 30 hours, but we’ll stay hungry for justice until this world is Hunger Free for every. single. person.  Are you in?