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The Famine Blog

The Do-Nothing Mission Trip


Morgan Schmidt

10574429_767006965415_5634582883828316290_nConventional youth ministry wisdom says you probably shouldn’t walk a group of high school students through the red light district of Tijuana. You also shouldn’t make them walk across the border each way, especially when re-entering the United States requires waiting in a four hour line in the August sun, with 1,500 people ahead of you in line. And you would certainly never, ever, orient the “mission” or “work” or “service” of the trip around hours of meeting with people, hearing their stories, engaging in conversation, asking questions, and learning to emulate the kind of peacemaking posture that Jesus practiced.

You wouldn’t, until you did, and then you’d never be the same again.

From the beginning, pitching an experience to students and parents where we would go to San Diego and Tijuana and immerse ourselves into the stories of people affected by the immigration crisis was incredibly daunting. My own doubts skyrocketed as the trip came closer and closer, and I kept getting barraged by texts from students: “What are we going to be doing exactly?” or “But aren’t we going to do something?”

Here’s where my internal voice started screaming, “What have I done?!” But there’s no turning back from this crazy thing that maybe the Spirit led us to try.

My response – “We’re going to go be with people, learn their names, immerse into their stories, practice curiosity, contend on their behalf, and imagine what complete restoration looks like for the immigration conflict” – didn’t do much for solidifying our “mission” in the minds of my concrete-thinking young people.

Our student ministry has a tradition of mission trips that are primarily service-based, and they have participated in some really great projects over the years. We have a rich history of voluntourism – going new places to volunteer and then play tourist. Many, many good things can come of these experiences, and they can be life changing.

For our students, it was quickly becoming another program to add to their college applications, or simply a way of going some place cool and doing good so they could feel more heroic, accomplished, and self-less. It was just one more itinerary crammed into a summer full of camps, vacations, opportunities to volunteer through school programs, and as we re-evaluated our approach the most important question kept coming up: “What will be most meaningful and helpful way to form students in the way of Jesus?”

I’m not the first person to say that we underestimate teenagers. But I will say it again: We underestimate teenagers when we assume they need to be constantly occupied with tasks, entertained by everything, protected from honest questions and shielded from actual engagement with the most marginalized and vulnerable of society.

And so we did nothing. We didn’t build houses or run a vacation Bible school.

We met with local people working for peace on behalf of immigrants, women and men who are contending for justice and imagining what the kingdom of God looks like on earth as it is in heaven. We ate dinner with folks who had just been deported away from their families and livelihoods in the U.S. We cried with a legally blind grandmother who will likely never see her sons or grandchildren again. We were awed by one man whose sacrifice and love reconnected over 40,000 deported children with their families in Mexico and Central America. We were terrified to hear a U.S. border patrol agent describe how he systematically profiles people along the border. We played soccer and ate pizza with teenage boys seeking asylum in the U.S. after fleeing death threats and gang violence in their home countries.

We did nothing except be present enough to listen, learn, weep, and imagine alongside beautiful human beings who long for peace. And my students have sworn mutiny if we ever go back to the way our trips have been before. Every one of us will never be the same again, because we have seen the faces the world has forgotten, and are compelled by love to wage peace for all our sakes.

May we consider the sacred work of being present and doing nothing as we seek to form our students and our selves into the kind of people who follow in the way of Jesus.

The Mother of All Injustices


Jen Bradbury 

Open hands beggingOver the weekend, I watched an episode of one of my favorite TV shows, The West Wing. In it, two Native Americans show up at the White House and refuse to leave until they get an answer on an application their tribe submitted… fifteen years ago.

Near the end of the episode, White House Press Secretary CJ Cregg asks them, “How do you keep fighting the smaller injustices when they’re all from the mother of all injustices?

This question captured my heart and attention because I believe it’s an important one for those of us in ministry to continually wrestle with.

Thanks to social media, it seems as though every week we’re exposed to a new “mother of all injustices.”

  • Child soldiers.
  • Water scarcity.
  • Hunger.
  • Racism.
  • Refugees.
  • Human trafficking.
  • Inequalities of all kinds.

To be sure, injustices like these deserve our attention. But I wonder if focusing on the “mother of all injustices” actually get in the way of addressing smaller injustices?

After all, the “mother of all injustices” are big issues that are often faceless.

Because of this, it can be difficult to figure out how to even get started (though organizations like World Vision definitely make that easier).

Once you finally do get started, it can be equally difficult to see how what you’re doing matters; to stay motivated to keep up the fight.

Given this, maybe we’d be better off reversing the order and focusing first on the smaller injustices before then focusing on the “mother of all injustices”.

At the very least, I wonder what would happen if we connected the smaller injustices we see everyday in our local communities with our fight against the big ones found in our global world.

Doing this was something that changed my experience of the 30 Hour Famine.

The first few years my teens participated in the Famine, we focused only on global hunger. We played Tribe. We learned about world hunger. And what we learned was good.

But time and time again, students left saying, “Now what?”

So one year, we finally connected our community’s small injustices with the big global ones.

We went to a local homeless shelter where we cooked and prepared dinner for their clients and neighboring community. We did so even as we raised money and awareness to fight global hunger.

You see, you fight the small injustices because you can; because they are no more or less important than the “mother of all injustices.”

And when you fight them, rather than leave teens feeling paralyzed by the size of the “mother of all injustices”, you empower them to go out and continuing fighting injustices—whenever and wherever they see them.

Waiting on the World to Change


By Paul Martin

baby age of 1 year looks out of windowPerhaps you’ve heard the John Mayer song, “Waiting on the World to Change.” Maybe you’ve even sung along to it in your car or listened to it on your iPod while waiting in the line at Starbucks. You might have even said, “Oh, I love this song!” when you heard it piped in as background music at Target.

I know I have.

After all, it’s a catchy song. It’s honest, too. So honest it makes me wince, actually.

Here is just a snippet of the lyric:

“Me and all my friends

We’re all misunderstood

They say we stand for nothing and

There’s no way we ever could.

Now we see everything that’s going wrong

With the world and those who lead it

We just feel like we don’t have the means

To rise above and beat it

So we keep waiting

Waiting on the world to change.”

Ugh. Just…ugh. Sadly, my only response to that lyric is, “Guilty.” If we could be honest, I think many people would admit to having the same feelings of powerlessness over the suffering in the world.

A few verses later there’s this line:

“It’s not that we don’t care

We just know that the fight ain’t fair

So we keep waiting

Waiting on the world to change.”


Since when did the relative fairness (or unfairness!) of a “fight” exempt me from doing the right thing? Which begs the question, “Then why aren’t ‘we’ doing the right thing to change it?”

Poor John Mayer, I just threw him under the bus with myself and all the rest of us who find ourselves identifying with the brutal truth of this song. But it IS an excellent question. Why aren’t more of us changing the world, instead of waiting for it to change itself? I have a theory that might give at least a partial answer to that question, but it isn’t very comforting.

I think we are deceived…by ourselves. Oh yeah, and we forget.

James 1:22-24 says this, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

James really does not mix his message here. He says those of us who do not act out of our understanding of God’s word “deceive” ourselves. Another version calls it “fooling ourselves.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being called a fool, much less acting like one. When my actions don’t line up with my beliefs, though, I do exactly that. Put another way, when I wait for the world to change, instead of doing something about it myself, I deceive myself and forget what I have heard in God’s word.

James goes on to say, in verse 25, that “the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” [emphasis added]

So…what have I heard in God’s word? So glad you asked.

I have heard that God loves and cares for orphans, widows, and displaced persons. And that I should, too.

Don’t believe me? Then check this out:

Deuteronomy 10:17-19

For the LORD your God is God of gods, Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” [emphasis added]

Our very great and awesome God defends orphans and widows and loves people who have been displaced from their homeland. It says so right there in the text. If that’s not enough, check out Psalm 68:4-6 sometime.

Or just read James 1:27.

Here it is:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

I thought John Mayer’s songwriting was brutally honest, but James assessment of what God desires and calls us to do (and even accepts as a pure expression of our faith) is in many ways even more blunt. He removes our excuses, our self-deceit, and even our forgetfulness by reminding us what God has asked us to do. Not because of who we are or what we feel, but because of who GOD IS.

And isn’t that always the remedy for the powerlessness that we feel when we see everything that’s wrong with the world?


A Year Later


By Tess Cassidy, 2013 Study Tour Participant

tess2Two years ago I dreamt of going to Africa to show love to others.

A little over a year ago, I wasn’t dreaming: I was in Ethiopia spreading love in the form of smiles, hugs, and high fives.

The study tour was a whirlwind of happiness and heartbreak. We laughed so hard we cried. We shed tears at the sadness we were now seeing first hand. We were constantly meeting people and constantly travelling by plane and van. Through all of this, I became true friends with the nine other study tour students.

Unfortunately, I went from spending 24/7 with my team to being at least 4 hours away from any of them. Less than two weeks after the study tour, I was thrust into my freshman year of college. Not only was I now in a town where I knew no one, I was trying to wrap my head around the best and most impactful trip of my life.

I kept in contact with a few study tour friends, but it was hard to stay in close communication with our busy lives. No one, not even my best friends and family, would ever understand what I experienced in the gorgeous, lush countryside of Ethiopia. I told a few friends about different experiences as I perfected my verbal summary to give people a concise, fulfilling answer. Although it was wonderful to share, I began to feel like a broken record talking about this incredible life-changing trip. Despite all this, I was still so in love with World Vision, the 30 Hour Famine, and Ethiopia, that I kept talking about it to the select few that enjoyed hearing more.

It might have seemed like I talked about it a lot, but I thought about it all the time. A day hasn’t passed since the trip that I haven’t thought about my time in Ethiopia. The more I thought about it, the more discoveries I made about my experience, God’s kingdom, and life as a follower of Jesus Christ. Even 9 months later, I had epiphanies about certain parts of the trip. A homeowner we met told us, “I will remember you forever, and I hope you will remember me forever.” The children’s smiles and the sparkle of joy in the adults’ eyes are certainly ingrained in my memory forever.

Despite being far away from all of my study tour friends, I was fortunate enough to see a few of them over the past year. Just a few weeks ago, I met up with one other participant. As we talked, she reminded me of a mother and two children we visited that World Vision was helping. They graciously offered our group corn they cooked right in front of us. It was just a small serving for each of us, but added together it was a few ears of corn. The mother lives on a small income and has two children to feed. She has a long walk into town to buy food, and must carry what she buys for her and her children. She wasn’t planning on cooking all of her corn for us, yet she gave all she had to strangers. It took me over a year to realize this wasn’t easy for her to give us all she had, but she did it so cheerfully and graciously I didn’t even realize it until now.

This past year has been a pivotal year, but it has been completely shaped by the study tour. My eyes and heart have been opened for good, and the passion stirring in my heart for people around the world pours out through my words and actions.

My dream I had two years ago of going to Africa was answered. I thought I would go to show love to others. Looking back, I didn’t show love to others in Africa. They were the definition of love. It radiated out of everyone we met. Now, I hope to carry their love into my daily life.

Feeding a Legacy: starting a passion for the Famine early


By Sean Garner

big old tree in autumn timeSo, you launched your ministry (college, youth or otherwise) as fall approached and you’re already creating a culture that will show its fruit by the time Spring arrives, good, bad, or otherwise.

Your indivdual teachings (as awesome as they are) and amazing announcements (so interesting, we bet…) get lost in the busy-ness of life. If you work with middle schoolers, they get lost within an hour.

You know the reality: every mistake you make in front of students gets repeated somehow–even if it’s even in whispers. And, successes (whether planned or not) create momentum and positivity. These little moments shape the tone of your ministry year, spilling over each other into the feel and tone of your group’s culture.

At our fall launch, we were greeting a new student who was entering our program for the first time, following in his older sister’s footsteps. When we asked if he was excited for a new school, a new bus, new classes, he interrupted us by yelling, “Yeah! And I get to do the Famine this year too!”

That’s the completely unexpected result God can bring when part of your ministry’s DNA includes the 30 Hour Famine. We weren’t manufacturing it–but since we lived it, he believed it and was excited about it. Using the Famine as part of your illustrations, parables and stories weaves it into the story of your ministry’s culture. It becomes a part of your group identity.

What simple ways can you include the 30 Hour Famine, not just as an event, but as part of your group’s culture? How can you use both your success and failures from last year’s Famine as stories to inspire and entertain the next year’s participants before they even commit to attending? Is there a way to partner their exploration and meaning of faith into action for the millions in need around the world?

This year’s theme is “Make It Your Fight.”  Can that be weaved into your stories, announcements and conversations BEFORE students even think about joining you?

Start now. In your first few weeks of the fall, become a group that lives and breathes the Famine–in a way that the next generation of teenagers can’t wait to participate in it with you!

Meeting Felicia


By Beth Hofmann, 2014 30 Hour Famine Study Tour participant

hoffmanWhat we saw and did in El Salvador, on the 30 Hour Famine Study Tour, changed the way I think about myself, my life, and the world around me.

The experience that impacted me the most was when we met Felicia. Felicia is a sponsored child through World Vision. We got the chance to go to her home, learn about her life, and how World Vision sponsors are making a difference in her life. Felicia started off talking about her family and what she does in her free time. I didn’t expect to have much in common with her at first. We’re from different countries, speak a different language, and live 2000 miles apart. While talking with Felicia, we learned that she is 16 years old with an older brother and younger sister. She attends school and her favorite subject is math. She likes to play softball, her favorite food is spaghetti, and she wants to be a nurse when she grows up.

While we sat and listened to Felicia tell her story, I couldn’t help but smile when I heard that we did have things in common: our older brothers and love for Italian food. As she went on to talk about her daily life, my smile faded and my heart began to ache. Felicia explained how she walks two hours every other day to fetch clean water.  We learned that her father is a corn farmer who struggles to provide income for his family. She said there isn’t enough food for everyone some nights.

When I heard about her everyday challenges, it became clear why we do the 30 Hour Famine. We fast and fundraise for children and teenagers like Felicia. You and I have big dreams and bright future plans. Felicia and her family worry about where their next meal is coming from. It takes them hours to get water. We just turn on our faucet.

Being welcomed into Felicia’s home, and getting the opportunity to hear her story, made me realize that I’ve taken things for granted. I’ve never questioned if there will be a roof over my head, clean water to drink, and food on the table. Felicia, and many of the people we met while in El Salvador, think about survival. I’ve never had to worry about my survival. I’ve never questioned tomorrow.

During our debrief sessions we were all asked to share with the group about an experience, a story, scripture, testimony, anything that was on our mind. I shared James 4:13-15. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit,’yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”

No matter what our circumstances are in life, some things we can’t control. Just like the passage suggests, tomorrow is not a guarantee.  Every day we have is a blessing and a gift, and it was a true blessing to have heard everyone’s stories in El Salvador.



By Brian Mateer

Choices - 30 Hour FamineThe alarm woke me this morning and I was confronted by the decision to either get out of bed or hit the snooze button one more time.  My wife starts her work day before I begin, so I have the responsibility of finishing breakfast and getting our four kids out the door to school on time.  If there aren’t setbacks, I know the exact time I need to leave the house with the kids in order to have everyone, including myself, where they need to be on time.  Five minutes can make or break our morning and can set the tone for the day.

Of course I opted to hit the snooze button and get the all-important five extra minutes of sleep.   And of course, we were late this morning.  It was the first of many choices I would have to make today.

What should I wear today?

Should I eat breakfast?  If, so what should I have?

What kind of coffee should I drink?

Which route should I take to work in order to avoid the most traffic?

Every day I have many choices and decisions to make, mostly small ones; but sometimes I’m faced with the opportunity to make big, life changing choices.

I was recently given a book by a senior pastor called, He Walks Among Us:  Encounters with Christ in a Broken World, written by Richard and Renee Stearns.   Rich is the president of World Vision and Renee is his wife.  The pastor knew I had partnered with World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine for many years.  The book is written about real people the Stearns’s have encountered during their travels around the globe.  I have used this book as a part of my morning devotions over the last year.

One of the quotes from Renee Stearns, from a trip to Romania, has echoed in my mind since reading it:

When I consider all of the things I have to be thankful for, I rarely consider the luxury of having choices.

Many people around the world don’t have the luxury of choice.  Sometimes when they do have a choice, it’s an almost impossible one, such as the young mother I met in Honduras in July who gave her child to an orphanage because she was unable to feed and care for her.  Every Sunday when this young mother is not working she travels six hours round trip to spend time with her daughter.

Participating in and raising funds for the 30 Hour Famine provides someone with the opportunity of a choice.  Choice is a luxury.

Make the choice today to sign up your group! And consider your other choices today, thanking God that they exist!

My Experience on the 30 Hour Famine Study Tour


By Haley Stanley, high school student

haley stanleyIt is a country about the size of Massachusetts with roughly 6.3 million people. Beautiful mountains, active volcanoes, and lightning storms every night like clockwork, the country is absolutely stunning. The people are surrounded with gang violence and extreme poverty everywhere you turn, but among all of these tragic events, they have hope. For all these reasons, and many more, I have fallen in love with the country of El Salvador.

August 2, 2014—just a month ago—was the date everyone on the Study Tour team had been waiting for. Armed with a week’s worth of clothes and an open mind we were off to a whole new world. It wasn’t until the next day that we actually got to experience the country and culture firsthand.

Driving on the roads we saw barbed wire on almost every building to protect homes from gangs. This opened my eyes to the violence that happens on a daily basis.

Another common sight was seeing small houses made out of tin and other scrap. We saw a shopping mall almost identical to the ones you see in the United States; and right across the road was a community of houses made of tin scraps. I was so surprised by the contrast. I caught myself thinking about how challenging some of these lives must be compared to mine. But it wasn’t until we visited a World Vision sponsored child that I realized how easy my life is compared to others.

The sponsored child’s name was Patricia, and she was beautiful on the inside and out. We followed her up a rocky, narrow path to her house. On the way, I looked left and right and saw house after house right on top of each other, all made of any material that could be found. It broke my heart into pieces. We got to the top and there sat her family, full of smiles. We met her little brother, littler sister and her mom and learned that her dad was at work. He works as a corn famer but doesn’t sell the corn; it is solely used for food for their family. He also finds odd jobs now and again that pay five dollars a day! I thought back to what five dollars could buy them; it certainly didn’t seem like enough to provide for the whole family. Patricia began to tell us about her daily life and some of her struggles. She doesn’t have running water in her home so her and her family have to walk two hours to get their water every other day.

She showed us the pictures of her sponsor family and the letters they sent her. She begin to tell us about all the gifts she received from them that included a bed, enough money to buy a cow, and small gifts like hair bows, playing cards and pencils. The smile on her face was priceless when she was showing us her sponsor family. She told us that when she receives letters or gifts from her sponsor family it makes her feel so loved. After visiting her cows—which her family use for milk and income for the family—we were off to our next destination; but my thoughts were still with Patricia. At first, I felt so angry with myself, wondering why she has to live this way while I live in a 2-story house with five working sinks.  My life seemed too luxurious compared to Patricia’s everyday struggles.

How did she make it through the day?


She had hope.

Even though her life was hard and her family did struggle to put food on the table, she didn’t let that get in the way of bigger picture. With the support of God and World Vision Sponsor Program she was free to dream big! She has an optimistic future of becoming a nurse and I truly believe that she will achieve that one day.

I look back on my trip and think of the many people I met. They could very easily have a ‘’woe as me’’ attitude about their lives. But instead, they lift their heads up high and say yes. Gang violence and poverty are problems, for sure; but with every problem comes a solution.  I am going to strive to have this type of optimism in my daily live and continue to support World Vision every chance I get. This trip has been life changing and I am so blessed to have gone.

Planning Ahead


by Shawn Kiger

Planning AheadIf you are like me, the end of summer is bittersweet. I enjoy the summer mission trips and the break from the school year routine. But I also look forward to school starting back, getting to meet new students, and returning to the routine of weekly youth group.

One of the end of summer tasks that I have found to be helpful is planning out the coming school year, and starting to think about the following summer. I’ve really had to force myself to do this, because my tendency is to procrastinate and plan weekly. I used to tell myself that planning last minute was better because I could respond to things happening in the students’ lives more effectively than when I was locked in to a plan. Several things have changed my mind.

My volunteers are much happier when I can lay out the plan for them. They feel more comfortable knowing when the trips are, where we’re going, and a general idea of what we will be doing weekly. Quite frankly, it also makes me look good in front of them too!

Having a yearlong plan also helps me look at the church calendar and talk with the pastor about how we can incorporate youth into the larger life of the church. Programs like 30 Hour Famine are much more successful when they fit into the plans of the entire church.

Finally, this way of planning is very helpful for parents. They can add trips and events to their calendars and begin planning for the cost. Their teenagers are super busy, and if they want to include the youth ministry in their lives, then they have to be able to plan ahead.

My yearlong planning doesn’t mean that I don’t make changes throughout the year. Things come up that will force or call for a change of plans. I could be trying something and figure out that it doesn’t work; so I stay flexible enough to make adjustments.

But having a clear direction at the beginning of the school year gives me a much better shot at having a successful year. Plus, it never hurts to look like you have it all together in front of parents, volunteers, and your pastor!

The World Changers Among Us


By Nikki Myers, 30 Hour Famine team

study tour students and patriciaAs we sat around a table for our first nights’ debrief in the lobby of a tiny Comfort Inn in San Miguel, El Salvador the tears started to come. It wasn’t the students… it was the four adults of the trip (our two trip leaders and our two in-country hosts).  I think I can speak on behalf of everyone in saying they were tears of joy and of hope. We were honored, encouraged and blown away by the depth of the students, by how much they have experienced, what they can handle, and the eyes with which they see the world.

The high school student on our 30 Hour Famine Study Tour had eyes that saw hope and joy when getting to play with young kids who they couldn’t communicate with verbally but bonded over bubbles, soccer balls and laughter. They had hearts that experienced righteous anger when meeting a 16 year-old girl who spends 2 hours walking to get water and who often doesn’t have enough to eat.  Their thoughts about security and comfort were challenged after walking the long, unpaved, hilly path many young kids have to take to school.

As we talked and shared (and the adults choked back tears) about where we saw God that day and what challenged our current perspectives, I was reminded yet again of the hope that I have in this generation: a generation that often gets a bad rap with their weird fashion styles, ability to speak only in text language. They are often labeled egocentric. But these students were anything but. They were compassionate, full of grace, strong and spiritually grounded. They saw the world and wanted to bring biblical justice and hope to it. They are world changers.

Each of these students has had people like you invest in them: people that have shown them the gospel, both in teaching and through action. Men and women who have challenged them to love others and to love themselves, and you guys, it’s working.  These seven students are just a small representation of the hundreds of thousands of world changers that walk among us in the form of 14, 15, 16 year-old students. They are doing big things, they want to do big things; and it’s people like you who help guide them.

I often hear from Famine leaders about the transformation that takes place in their students during the 30 hours of their Famine experience. There is something so powerful about the physical act of giving something up for others…and the impact goes far beyond those hours alone. It is creating young men and women who see the world through the eyes of Jesus.

What I experienced during our trip to El Salvador was something really special and I can’t wait to see what these students will be doing in 5, 10, 15 years. It was such a reminder to me about the impact you all as youth leaders have on the lives of students. Thank you for what you do and please know as organization we want to support you how we can!