When 30 Hour Famine Activities Miss the Point


By Kevin Alton

I was once the volunteer I am about to warn you about.

Most church youth groups have at least one of these volunteers—loves the kids, first to jump in and play, probably a bit of a rough-houser if it’s a guy. That was me in my mid-late twenties—if Kevin was playing, probably somebody was eventually going to get hurt having fun.

I was eventually the paid staff person at that church, and the summer I was leaving one of the youth raised this question: “Kevin, have we ever gone on a trip with you where somebody didn’t go to the hospital?”

“Of course!” I replied, but quickly trailed off. His point, as we sat in a hospital room waiting for his broken tailbone X-rays to come back, turned out to be accurate. To be fair, I had long since stopped being the cause of injury, but we recounted every overnight trip I’d chaperoned in all of my years there and—sure enough—professional medical care had been involved in each. There was one standout mission trip to Arizona where the only day we didn’t go to the ER was the day I refused to go get stitches just to break the streak.

I still have a small scar on my right arm from the first 30 Hour Famine I ever attended as the aforementioned rowdy volunteer. The suggested activities that year included having the youth build cardboard shelters to sleep in. We gave them duct tape and a bunch of flattened boxes and let them have at it. I don’t remember if this was suggested or something we came up with on our own, but we added an extra sprinkle of flavor to the experience by waking them up in the middle of the night by blaring a thunderstorm recording over the gym loudspeakers and running around tearing down their houses. Naturally, I threw myself into the work. Somewhere around half-court I encountered a group of resistors to our destruction, and ended up with a bleeding cardboard burn on my arm.

All we were going for was giving the kids a sense of the difficulty of finding shelter and how easily it could even be lost to the elements. My over-the-top effort made it about something else—I blustered the meaning right out of it, and that’s what I’m hoping to help you avoid. There are often elements in the 30 Hour Famine activities that are meant to provide a mental check-in to the difficulties present in the existence of others around the world. Where you can, treat these activities with respect; don’t let them become just another goof for your crowd.