Famine Weekend: Offer Yourself — As a Living, Thriving Sacrifice


By Ross Carper

The hard church pew felt like a rock digging into my body, causing me to wonder what was causing me more anguish: my aching back, my pain-throbbing stomach, or my racing mind. As a brand new youth director, I was in charge of the 30 Hour Famine for the first time, and the 60-some humans under my watch had all been asleep for several hours. I hadn’t slept a wink, and wasn’t sure I would.

You see, I had failed in that most basic, clichéd way a minister can fail: I hadn’t practiced what I’d preached. When it came to hydration, prioritizing great sleep in the nights before the Famine, eating a well-balanced last meal before the fast, and following the packing list–you know, THE PACKING LIST I HAD WRITTEN–I was batting .000.

Sure: my heart was in the right place. The Famine is a big deal in my church, and in my attempt to lead well, I had put all my energy into this group of young teenagers and their adult leaders. We’d gone through weeks of engaging with global injustice; we’d raised tons of money toward our Famine goal, and I had put zero energy into some simple self-care tasks that would allow me to thrive during the meticulously planned event itself.

In that dark moment around 3:30am, I felt pretty powerless. I didn’t have a pillow or sleeping pad, and this whole sleep-on-the-church-pew idea was about as productive as my half dozen painful trips to the restroom (I’ll spare you those details). There was nothing I could do to get through the night I was experiencing.

I remembered whining HARD as a child when my mother enforced a no-TV household during Lent. “Offer it up,” she would say as I pouted about missing a show. Lying on the pew that night, I connected her statement with Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

As I tried to “offer up” my pain, sickness, and exhaustion that night, it occurred to me how many people across the globe lie in anguish, night after night, struggling with chronic hunger, much more severe pain, and preventable illnesses. I considered the obvious difference between them and me: my privilege and riches mean that all will be made right, and fast. This was Friday night, and no matter how difficult it would be to pull off the remaining 1,086 details of the Famine event the next day, by Saturday night I would be in my own perfect bed with a stomach full of food and clean water.

For so many of our neighbors facing extreme poverty, including children, there isn’t an end in sight. The full weight of this seemed to press me into that church pew, and I just spent time with that reality, for a long while. I fell into some pretty real prayer and lament for these little ones: my students, and the children for whom we were fasting and fundraising. And before or since, I don’t know if I’ve had a better night of “true and proper worship” in that sanctuary.

This year will be my 8th famine. Since that first one, I’ve learned that these moments of authentic sacrifice will seek me out in one way or another, so it’s okay to be much better prepared.

When I take care of myself in the ways I hadn’t that first year, I am still able to offer my body as a living sacrifice, but as a thriving one, too. I’m able to be wholly present with the students or leaders who, like me, did a poor job of following directions and are in some real pain: physical, emotional, or both. Often, students get hit all of a sudden with the reality of why we are doing this, and things get real–in an imperfect, gritty, spiritual, beautiful way.

Maybe this year’s 30 Hour Famine is your first, or your 40th. No matter the case, thank you! You are doing something incredible with these students: you’re allowing them to walk that Jesus-like road of sacrifice (even in this small way), and to meet Jesus in it, because he is there. You’re doing something incredible alongside the children and families and communities who benefit from the Famine funds you raise: I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

So do what you can to thrive this weekend. Be smart. Pray. Embrace your tough moments of sacrifice and remember it is worship. Recognize your privilege. Lead your students and volunteers well. Offer it all up. It’s worth it.