Finishing the Famine


ending-the-famineBy John Sorrell

I love planning food for the Famine!

Does anyone else like planning food for the 30 Hour Famine? It’s the best part! Just a whole lot of juice, water and cups and you are set. Simple. Although, the whole time the Famine is happening and even before it starts, everyone is thinking about what they will eat after.

We have always kept our Famine-breaking segment a little mysterious. As anticipation builds for filling our bellies it has become one of the most effective teachable moments during the event. My favorite was the year when we broke the Famine by passing out different colored poker chips to each student. They ran down the stairs turned in their chips and were met with one of three meals based on global statistics: 60% received a bowl a rice; 25% received a bowl of rice with meager vegetables; and 15% were handed a value meal from McDonalds. It was a social experiment playing out right in front of us.

One student would be handed a bowl of rice as he watched the person in front of him given a large drink and fries. I could hear the complaints from two floors up. Some students screamed or yelled, a few cried. The reactions were raw. We knew there would be a response, but not like this. After so many hours of imagining a smorgasbord of their favorite foods, and this is what they were getting?!

After everyone was served, we watched. Some students shared fries or parts of their burger. Some gave out of their small bowl of rice to those who were still hungry. Cokes became community drinks. We didn’t prompt it. We just ate the meals given to us along with the students and waited to see how they processed it.

After a few minutes we debriefed. We simply pointed out that at home each one of them had food in their fridge. No one in the room was going to starve that night. We talked about why we do the 30 Hour Famine. Life looks different outside of our bubble; let’s be as affected by that truth as we are that we didn’t get the best meal. We had their attention. For a few moments we had their elusive undivided attention. Students continue to talk about how we ended that Famine and others since. We haven’t repeated methods yet, because we know that at the end of the famine we have more of their attention than most of the time throughout the year.

Attention is a great gift in youth ministry. Students don’t have to listen. There are enough voices, images and videos that vie for their eyes and ears at any given moment. I’ve noticed that the Famine opens up an area of their attention we don’t usually have. Phones and electronics are set aside (those are collected at the beginning), meals aren’t expected, and we struggle together not to worry about the fast. Their attention from their eyes and ears is heightened as the rumbles in their stomach desire to be filled. Over the past almost decade of participating in the Famine, we’ve learned to take advantage of what seems to be the elusive undivided attention.

How will you end your Famine in a way that seals the meaning of what the experience represents? If they could take away one thing from your 30 Hour Famine, how can you use that final part of the time to instill it in their hearts, minds and even bellies?