By Matt Andrews
As youth workers, it’s our job to make kids lose their appetite! I feel a slight pang of guilt when I think about the food hazings I’ve been a part of as a youth worker (a very slight pang). I’ve watched kids eat bananas through pantyhose, and prayed for their immune systems while they ate gummy worms pulled from a vat of chocolate pudding by another kid’s stinky toes. I’m even old enough to remember the “gallon challenge,” which starts in an attempt to chug a gallon of milk but always ends in (or near, or all around) a large trash can (it’s probably for the best that the gallon challenge has been deemed unsafe).
I love grossing out teenagers probably because I learned from the best. I remember when my youth pastors (John and Lori) put on a “utensil-less meal” for us when I was in high school. We didn’t know what would be served, but we agreed in advance to eat whatever it was with our bare hands. When I told my mom what we were going to do at youth group that night she scowled, and that made me want to do it even more! The meal was a ton of fun, but the highlight of the evening came after the “appetizer” (pudding or something) when Lori said dinner was jusssssssst about ready, as John emerged from the church kitchen in a muscle shirt with a dirty apron on, smashing raw hamburger meat in his armpit. “I’ve got all the patties ready!” he proclaimed.
We get to gross them out, and we also get to awaken their hunger for God. Working with teens is often about contradictions-maybe because they’re not supposed to act like kids anymore, but they’re not supposed to act like grownups yet, either. It’s our job to make them lose their appetite, and also our job to help them find it. My youth pastor, John, did make hamburgers in his armpit, but he also hauled me to Mexico for my first experience in service and ministry outside the U.S. Because of him, I went from taking my faith quietly for granted, to being asked to talk about it publicly in another country with the help of a translator- an event I had no idea I would repeat again-and-again in adulthood. More importantly, by taking me on that trip and investing in me, John and Lori sparked my awareness of a hunger I didn’t know I had. It took some time for my teenage brain to interpret, but eventually I understood that it was time to stop relying on adults to feed me spirituality, and time for me to take some of that responsibility on myself.
30 Hour Famine is a fantastic opportunity for your group to focus on the hunger of others- but also on their own spiritual hunger. The next time (or the first time) you hold a Famine event, don’t miss the chance to engage in yet another great contradiction: addressing their spiritual hunger at the same time you’re depriving them of food!