I Don’t Love the Famine, But I Love the Famine


By Erin Betlej

The first time I ever participated in the 30 Hour Famine I was a 22 year old youth volunteer. It was beautifully awful. Four churches came together for this huge event – games, worship, cardboard city, and of course, no eating. As most of us youth ministers like to do, there was also tolerable torture. Saturday before we broke the fast we baked what felt like 50 dozen cookies for a prison ministry on an empty stomach. I remember feeling listless, unable to make decisions or focus on anything for any length of time, irritable, and weak from hunger. As a newly graduated Master of Social Work student, a close-to-home realization hit me: this is how many of my clients feel. It was no wonder my homeless day shelter folks couldn’t stay away, fill out a job application, or even motivate themselves to move. They were hungry, exhausted from sleeping outside, and focusing on simply surviving. It wasn’t the intended learning of the Famine event, yet it was one I’ve continued to remember almost ten years later.

After that Famine experience I wasn’t looking to repeat it. Ever. So when I found out that the youth ministry at my current church does a 30 Hour Famine, I was less than thrilled (just being honest with you!). But we did it. And here are the two main reasons I will continue to do it: student leadership opportunities and modeling.

Our 30 Hour Famine event cannot and does not happen without involvement from a group of student leaders. They plan everything: fundraising, the schedule of the event, worship during the event, games, and the ‘fact’ focus. They work together to develop a “marketing” strategy to engage the congregation and the youth group in the event. In order to educate the congregation, they film videos, write announcements, and paint canvases with hunger information on them to help people understand why they are fasting. During the event itself, they lead different parts of the time together and lead during the worship services. Without student leaders, our 30 Hour Famine doesn’t get planned or even happen at all. It’s my favorite part of the 30 Hour Famine. Working with students and helping to develop leadership skills is one of the key reasons to host your own 30 Hour Famine.

It’s not easy to host any event like this, even more so when you’re fasting. I will continue to fast during the 30 Hour Famine because my youth are watching me. Often we share with our student’s struggles, challenges, and adversities we encounter throughout life. We use these as teaching moments. Fasting alongside your youth is in itself a teaching moment. Fasting is hard and youth need to know that you’re willing to do hard things with them. They will watch how you deal with being hungry, tired, short tempered, and irritable. It’s a beautiful time to model behavior and responses for your youth. It’s also an opportunity to call out when you’ve messed up because of the hunger. The conversations this shared experience creates is worth every hunger pain.

I’m sure some of you absolutely love every aspect of the 30 Hour Famine. Honestly, that’s not me. It may not be my favorite event coming up on our youth calendar in 2018, but it’s one I won’t remove or change, because I’ve seen the impact over and over again. I hope you’ll plan on a 2018 Famine with your group also!