Contextualization and Conversations: Two Critical Aspects of a Great 30 Hour Famine Event


By Keely DeBoever

I once took a group to a youth conference where the students were asked to participate in a poverty simulation to give them an opportunity to walk in the shoes of someone else.  On the front end, I thought this was a great idea.  It would be an interactive experience that would give my students a deeper understanding of the struggles that many in our world face every single day.  As the conference approached, I began to become a little more anxious, as it suddenly dawned on me that a couple of the students attending the conference might actually already have a deeper understanding of these experiences…because they lived them.  I wondered what it might feel like for them, as other students “pretended” to be in poverty.  I went back-and-forth questioning whether I should pull my students from the simulation and plan something else or just let them go and hope for the best.  In the end, I allowed my students to attend the simulation; however, I made sure that there were lots of conversations happening before, during and after.

When thinking about hosting a 30 Hour Famine event at your church, it’s important to think about this very issue well beforehand.  While the type of hunger that 30 Hour Famine is raising awareness for may seem far off from what our students may be facing, it could be a lot closer to home than you think.  Does this mean that the 30 Hour Famine experience should be avoided?  Not at all! It simply means that, as leaders, we should take care to make the experience a meaningful one for everyone who participates.

There are two very important elements to achieving this: Contextualization & Conversations.


As ministers to students one of the most important things that we do is contextualize.  We read the room! We know our students and our community, and we tailor-fit our messages and our programs to their needs and interests.  This requires some preparation—meaning you probably shouldn’t crack the seal on your 30 Hour Famine materials the day before your event (this is probably not a good idea with any programming)!  Read through the material carefully; ask the hard questions and always keep your specific students in mind.  Make changes! The World Vision police aren’t going to show up and know that you skipped a segment or added your own flare.  I can assure you that the goal of 30 Hour Famine is not to alienate students who have actually experienced hunger in their own lives.  Rather, one of their main goals is to promote awareness about people around the world who face daily struggles to survive…this includes the people in our own communities, schools, and churches.


The other important element to making sure your Famine experience is a meaningful one is to have multiple conversations.  When I finally decided to allow my students to participate in the youth conference poverty simulation, I did so knowing that I would pre-brief, de-brief, and just generally talk to them about it until they were tired of hearing me!  30 Hour Famine events can be meaningful and a lot of fun, but it is important to communicate to your students that we are not “playing” at being hungry.  Do the activities, but be sure to take the time laid out in the materials to properly debrief your students and talk about the experiences in a meaningful way.  One of my students, who had experienced homelessness first-hand, had a lot to share with our group following the poverty simulation experience.  That student’s input made the whole experience come to life for the other students in a way that I never expected.  Participating in the simulation also gave them a chance to walk in that students shoes and helped them relate a little more!

That’s really what these events are all about…helping our students understand others better, so they can better serve the Kingdom of God.