image description

The Famine Blog

More Than Money


By Danny Kwon

Our group has been doing the 30 Hour Famine every year of its existence except the first year. I am always impressed when I see posts of the different youth groups after their 30 Hour Famine event, and the amount of money they raised through their efforts. And, if I’m honest, sometimes I’m a little insecure we didn’t do more. I even wonder if some of these groups who did such an incredible job with their Famine fundraising surpass our group’s lifetime total. 

Ultimately, I share this not because I feel shamed or insecure. But the efforts and totals of my group and other groups tell me something again that we all know: that 30 Hour Famine is about more than the money or totals we raise. Even greater, that teenagers are incredible and can do so much good, often greater than the expectations we set or have for them. Last summer I was on a mission trip with The Youth Cartel and Praying Pelican Missions, and Mark Oestreicher (who was on the trip) told my youth group an incredible story of his church and how the youth group decided to do a talent show fundraiser where at first there was pessimism by the adults leaders about how much could be raised. Of course, he shared this story because they raised an incredible amount. In addition, the greater point was: more than the money, the huge amount raised was a reflection of the incredible faith and passion of the teenagers in his church.

For me, each year as we finish the Famine and start to count the funds we raised, I get really blessed to see the incredible efforts of our students; but again, it is about more than the money. We not only do the Famine, but since our Famine is the weekend of Easter, our teenagers participate in a Philadelphia-wide event called Easter Outreach. As part of that, our youth group travels down to Philadelphia early Saturday morning, loads and unloads trucks of chickens, vegetables, groceries, and desserts, then packages them and delivers them to those in need. It is an incredible time of serving and joy for teenagers.

As I reflected on this again, counting our funds raised, I started thinking that not only are the funds we raised a reflection of the awesome teenagers we have, but maybe while counting our funds, we need to count how much more our teenagers can do. What I am saying is: if our teens can do so much for just this one event, can’t they so much more? How are we utilizing their spirit, passion, energy, and God-given giftedness to do even more? 

I love the Famine. It is a lot of work as volunteers and youth workers to execute. But if it is about more than the money, can we be challenged to do more with our teenagers, to direct their passion to do good in the world, all in the name of Jesus? 

An Important Note for Those Leading a 30 Hour Famine Event This Weekend


By Erin Betlej

Dear Youth Leader,

When you signed up for the 30 Hour Famine months ago you knew it was a great decision. You were even excited about it. You came up with some crazy fundraiser (that may or may not have involved a shaved head or died hair) that was super successful and excited your youth. You spent each week promoting, making sure that attendance would be great. Thousands of dollars raised, dozens of hours spent planning the actual event. Now, you are merely days away and you’re not so sure. Maybe you’ve done this before. You remember what happens in those late night hours. You know that somewhere between hour 25 and hour 27 your youth change. Your youth become aliens who are lethargic, distant, and have no interest in the activities you’ve spent hours planning. And let’s not forget about what you’re feeling: you’re hangry. Hungry and frustrated that your youth no longer have the same level of excitement they had at hour 1.

But here is the deal: you are doing a great job. Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.” Fasting for 30 hours is a small thing in the grand scheme of the battle against hunger, but it is something great. Fundraising is important because it can put food on tables, but walking youth through 30 hours of fasting is a beautiful thing. Each step of the way you bring awareness to the WHY of the fast.

So here is my encouragement: First, YOU CAN DO IT! 30 hours will end. This too shall pass. Second, remember your WHY. You chose this event for a reason. Come back to that in the tough moments. These 30 hours will have a longer lasting impact on the culture of your youth group – hang onto that.

My dearest youth leader, take a deep breath, pray for patience and grace because YOU CAN DO THIS! You are a rock star, you will survive and the 30 Hour Famine is a game changer. Way to change your youth and the world!

In Christ,

A fellow Famine survivor

What’s the one thing you want them to remember?


By Katie Swift, 30 Hour Famine Director

It’s that time again – national 30 Hour Famine weekend is upon us! If you’re hosting a Famine event this weekend, you might be feeling a little frazzled right now (in fact, I’d be surprised if you have time to read this!). But I just want to offer you a question to focus on as you are preparing for this weekend: What’s the one thing you want your students to remember after the weekend is over?

I participated in the 30 Hour Famine back in Middle School. It was held at a camp, and churches came from all over the United Methodist Conference that one of my best friends was a part of. I would go to this event with her church because I loved that camp, and then I came to love 30 Hour Famine. My first year doing the Famine, there was a guest speaker from West Africa. He spoke to us about his childhood and how it was to grow up not having food for three full meals a day. At the time, his country was going through a devastating civil war. While I don’t remember all the details of what he told us, I do remember that it was one of the first times that I truly understood that there are things that happen all over the world that are causing people to suffer. For the first time, I realized that I have some power to help, even if it’s just by feeding and caring for one child with a $40 donation. I do vividly remember him saying, as he pointed to a spot on a map, “If there’s one thing I want you to remember from this weekend, it’s that I’m from Sierra Leone. Remember that place.” 

And I remembered that place. Years later, I went on to spend a college semester in Ghana, less than 1,000 miles from Sierra Leone. I’ve thought of that man a lot as I traveled in West Africa and as I learned about different issues, from hunger to civil wars, facing millions of people around the world. I remember him and that 30 Hour Famine experience as the first time I was introduced to the needs of the world and my ability to make a difference, even if it’s a small one. 

So, my question for you as you prepare for this weekend is: What is the one thing you want your students to remember – next week, next year, or even 15 years from now, as they look back on this experience? It might be different for your group than other groups, or maybe even for different students within your group. Maybe you just desperately want them to remember that God loves them, because maybe you’re not sure they know that. Maybe you want them to remember that there are people in need around the world and that they have the power to change things (and that they ARE changing things by fundraising for 30HF!). Maybe you want them to remember that you are there for them as perhaps the only adult in their life they can depend on… 

I want to challenge you to think about that this week, pray about it. And if things don’t feel 100% organized, or all the way prepped, just remember that not getting the schedule perfect, or having to skip an activity, will ultimately probably not make a huge impact on their experience. Just remember that one thing that you want them to walk away with, and focus on how you achieve that. 

We’ll be praying for you this weekend. May God give you clarity and focus as you prepare, good sleep these next few nights, and extra energy and strength this weekend! And may God be working in the hearts of your students, as they grow closer to Him and learn about the call that Jesus has for us to care for our brothers and sisters around the globe, from your own community, to Sierra Leone, and beyond.  

Little by Little


By Brian Mateer

I don’t know about you but my life seems chaotic.  Work, kids, church, school, commute, activities;  it seems as though I wake up each morning and run a marathon for that day, crash in my bed then start it all over the next day.  I feel I am always in a constant state of catching up.  I yearn for a rare Saturday with a clear schedule and nothing to do but “be” and enjoy the company of my family.  

Sometimes I feel as though I am doing nothing well.  I reflect on my busyness and wonder what I have really accomplished other than surviving each day.  Furthermore, I ask myself, “Could I be doing this better, if I give this or that up?”  Yet, perhaps but by God’s grace, in my retrospection there are so many wonderful things that happen despite the messiness.

Though now I am a mission director at a church, I received a bachelor’s degree of science in biology.  One of my favorite classes in my academic career was an ornithology class.  Our lab was simply to observe birds in their natural habitat, identify them and to journal on their behaviors.  Despite predawn class gatherings, which no college student wants to endure, it was the most memorable and fascinating course.  My professor, Dr. Fisher was a wacky, near retirement age, self-proclaimed “king fisher” and a lover of birds.  He once almost ran off the road because he spotted a red-tailed hawk in route to a nearby park.  Thankfully, I was following behind in the college van.

In one of our class observations, my lab partner and I sat near a bluebird box and watched the activity.  Busily, a bluebird flew in to the box through the tiny hole bringing wadded up hair, twigs, and grass. It would stay inside for a short time, then would fly away to return with more building materials.  This went on for a long time.  As activity ceased, my lab partner and I lifted the latch on the bird box to observe a neatly twisted, perfect nest prepared to protect the precious eggs of the blue bird.

In my position as mission director, I’ve had the privilege of travelling to Haiti to be in ministry with my brothers and sisters of this beautiful yet challenged land.  On a recent trip, I learned a Haitian proverb I keep close in my thoughts.  “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”  

God takes the seeming twisted up chaos of my life and is able to make something orderly, comforting and safe for me and my family.  Little by little. Keep going. 

Dropping The Ball


By Joel Dunn

I remember leading my very first 30 Hour Famine back when I was just a wee lad (at the age of 22). I thought I was a big deal because I finally was a Youth Pastor and I was one at a fairly young age. I thought I had it all together and that this 30 Hour Famine was going to be one of the best in the history of forever because I [clap] AM [clap] AWESOME! Wow… let me tell you I get served a piece of humble pie that night.

So there I was with 40+ teenagers who were dropped off at 7pm at the church. We started our fast that morning at 6:00am and we fasted on a Friday, so the students did a whole day of school, sports, and extra curricular activities before we met up. As they showed up to the church they were already in a cranky mood (a.k.a. ‘hangry’). I knew exactly what they needed that night… DODGEBALL and GAMES! I thought, “what could go wrong?” 

Lots of things went wrong… Lots [clap] Of [clap] Things! As we started playing some crazy games with lots of running around I noticed a couple of the students were feeling dizzy. They were also losing color in their faces. I went to go grab them juice to get their blood sugar back up and gave it to them. Within 5 seconds of this student chugging the juice, that same juice decided to come back out into this world and all over me. As that happened other students were watching and it turned into the carnival scene from The Sandlot. Please Google that scene if you don’t know it (or maybe just use your imagination).

As we started cleaning up that mess we saw that we were missing multiple kids. They decided to leave and to go to the mall that was a couple of blocks over. Luckily one of the students had a cell phone and PICKED up! They said they weren’t going to come back. We ended up calling their parents and they were furious with me and my team. 

After that whole ordeal got sorted out around midnight, we decided to go into worship. As we were finally getting centered and calming down one of my leaders said, “Hey there are 6 cop cars outside and a police helicopter. I think something bad is happening across the street.” So we went into our lockdown procedures and we started hearing banging on our doors. We got everyone into a small room and I realized one of my leaders was not there. I went searching for him but I also brought a bat in my hand as a “just in case”. I went outside to see what was going on. My leader was handcuffed and on the ground. The cops immediately see me with bat in hand and draw their weapons and tell me to put the bat down and to get on the ground. I chucked the bat and laid down. I was so confused with what was going on. The cops then asked me questions as I was laying face down on the sidewalk. I told them who I was and what was going on. The Sergeant said, “We had neighbors call in that they heard violent noises coming from the inside and they also heard teenagers yelling “Help me, I can’t move”. (Note to self: don’t play freeze tag at 11:30pm.)

The cops walked into the church saw 40+ students, laughed, and said, “Good luck.” After that I told the students, “Time to go to bed”. I threw away all of the others plans we had for the night because I dropped the ball and basically failed. I was ashamed and thought I would never do a 30 Hour Famine again. I sat with all the bad feels that night.

The next morning when we all woke up after the whirlwind of the night, the students wanted to have solo silent time. They decided that they wanted to spend quiet time with God. I was completely blown away! Then at 11:00am the students all started helping in the kitchen as we prepared our noon victory meal. As we made Pasta, some of the students said, “Wow last night was crazy! I love Youth Group!!!” and “I’m so excited for the next one of these!” Again I was in shock. I thought I did damage to these kids, but luckily God is in charge. I dropped the ball so many times during this event but I can honestly say GOD was in control. Sometimes we go through crazy things so that we can be sharpened, humbled, and stretched. I know I approach every event differently now because of how GOD stretched me during that first Famine event.

So noon hits, and kids started scarfing their food… and let me tell you it basically turned into the blueberry pie scene from Stand By Me. Please Google that scene if you don’t know it (or maybe just use your imagination)!

A Very Different Famine


By Britt Martin

We did it! We made it through Easter! We successfully (hopefully) created environments for our community to experience and celebrate the grace, love, forgiveness, hope, and peace found in the resurrection of Jesus.

Holy Week is always a wild week in the life of ministry leaders. This year, at my church, Holy Week came the week after a Spring Break Mission Trip and four weeks after a Disciple Now weekend. We had a youth local missions day on Good Friday, an Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday, and a huge Easter Breakfast for Youth on Sunday morning. Now this week we dive right back into our regularly scheduled programming heading towards a busy summer. It’s so easy for me to find myself in these long crazy seasons of programming (some dictated by the church calendar, and some because of my poor planning) where it seems like there’s one big event after another and never ending to-do-lists on top of family demands and the everyday tasks life throws our way. It’s a little embarrassing, but sometimes when I find myself in these places I can’t remember the last time I prayed. I can’t remember the last time I read scripture for myself and not for a lesson I was going to teach teenagers. Sometimes when I find myself in these seasons I feel like a zombie just going through the motions. I feel like I’m under all sorts of pressure to create the perfect event that draws a high number of students that stays within budget. Sometimes that pressure feels crushing.

Have you been there? Maybe it’s just me (but I don’t think it is). In times like this it feels like my SOUL is experiencing a famine. It feels like all that matters are the things I produce. It’s in times like when (even though sometimes I don’t realize it) I’m in desperate need of Sabbath. I spent years thinking that Sabbath was just going to church or not doing any work on Sunday.  The longer I do this stuff the more I realize that Sabbath is much more.

In the story of scripture, the Israelites practiced Sabbath as a subversive act against those that enslaved them. They took a day each week to gather, to rest (even though slaves don’t get an off day), to sing psalms, and to hear the story of their people and their God. They took this day to remind themselves that their worth wasn’t measured by the amount of bricks they produced. Their worth was measured by the fact that they were children of God. They practiced this Sabbath God gave them not just as an act of subversion against their oppressors, but as a practice necessary for survival—to make it through the next week.

We may not be under Egyptian, Babylonian, or Roman oppression, but for me, sometimes I become a slave to the programs of my ministry. It’s in those seasons I find it SO necessary to get away, spend some quiet time with God, and hear the story that reminds me my value doesn’t come from how many kids I can get to sign up for the mission trip or how cool that stage design is. My worth (and yours) comes from the fact that I’m a child of God.

Sometimes Great Ministry Means Taking One More Step Forward


By Russ Polsgrove

A few years ago my friend hiked Mount Kilimanjaro. He told me two things about his trip:

  1. The view at the end of the trail is much better than the view at the beginning.
  2. Toward the end it’s quite frustrating. No matter how wide your steps, the rocks slide under your feet, so you only gain a few inches every time.

Ministry sometimes feels like that.

10 years ago, the high school ministry position at our church was vacant. As the middle school pastor, part of my job was to work with interim staff and a few volunteers to keep the ministry moving. A big breakup between a couple in the youth ministry had caused a major rift in the social dynamic of the group, and we scrambled to put something together that would be a bonding experience for the teenagers in our church.

So we hastily put together an overnight event. We should have taken more time to plan it, but we felt desperate, and wanted to get everyone in a room together just to spend time with each other. We went to a minor league hockey game in town. While we are all sitting together, a small group of teenagers snuck away from our group, went outside the arena and were barred from re-entering by security. We tried to play some group games in the middle of the night that resulted in a screaming match between four or our students. The HVAC unit went on the fritz, so we fluctuated between sweltering heat and freezing cold. When we look back on that event, we laugh. We joke about what a disaster it was.

It’s funny now, but it was terrifying at the time. It felt like a failure. And when something I do feels like a failure, I feel like a failure. The ministry felt like it was in shambles. Our interim HS guy, who had been a volunteer for years, thought there was no coming back. The week after, we had the smallest crowd in the history of our high school ministry, and we felt personally responsible for it. We didn’t know where to go from there.

Then the next week came. And the next. And our ministry slowly started to find its footing. It’s been 10 years, and our high school ministry is stronger than it’s ever been. Now, I could give you all types of metrics to show you why it’s stronger than it’s ever been, but I’d rather tell you stories.

  • I want to tell you about that interim director—at the time a volunteer working a day job at a machine shop in town—who now oversees our entire family ministry staff, while still being the point person for high school ministry. He’s the best youth pastor I know.
  • I can give you a name of a student that was AT THAT VERY EVENT who now works as a youth pastor in another city. She was one of the ones that kept everything together when it felt like everything was falling apart.
  • I can tell you how excited I am about officiating 4 weddings for former students who live, love, and serve because of their faith.
  • I can give you names of 25 students who have asked us for recommendation letters to work at summer camps to share the story of Jesus with children.

In retrospect, I don’t know if I’d consider that one event a failure. It didn’t go well. We should have done things differently. But we moved forward, and sometimes that’s all you need. A willingness to act. Not one day, or for one event, but repeatedly move in the same direction. It may feel like you’re taking steps backwards. At times you probably are, but if you have a commitment to keep walking forward, you’re going to look back and celebrate. The view at the end of the trail is much more beautiful than the view at the beginning.

Total Impact: 4 Levels of 30 Hour Famine Planning  


By Sara Clarke 

Planning a youth event can be a daunting task, but planning an intentional 30-hour block of time with hangry teens can seem downright impossible. As a former youth director—now youth volunteer—I know how difficult it can be planning events and retreats. It’s especially challenging when you’re trying to create a meaningful experience that will spark a lasting impact in the lives of the teens you serve. So when I asked the youth director at my local church what was planned for the upcoming 30 Hour Famine, I could totally relate to the “deer-in-the-headlights” look on her face. When I also learned this was going to be the youth group’s very first Famine experience, the youth director and I immediately started brainstorming ways this event could have the most impact within our own context and group dynamics.

Our brainstorming session quickly revealed 4 areas to jump-start and focus our planning for the Famine event:

1. Impacting the Youth

2. Impacting the Church

3. Impacting the Community

4. Impacting the World

These areas can work together to create a lasting impact both during and after your group’s event. Using the tool kit available through the 30 Hour Famine website as a starting point, you can create the framework for a powerful and meaningful Famine experience. Intentionality is key. You can of course keep it simple, but if you’re looking to up your Famine game or really want your students to get the most out of this event, i encourage you to take some extra time to think through why you’re doing the 30 Hour Famine and how this experience can be unique and meaningful for your youth group.

When planning it helps to start personal, explore local, and expand global. Below I’ve listed some thoughts and questions regarding the four areas to help plan the event for your group’s individual context.

1. Youth Impact – Creating a foundation for your students to care

You may start planning and wonder, “what if the youth don’t care and can’t relate to hunger-related issues?” To be honest, this may be the case. If it’s your group’s first Famine experience you may want to consider exploring the “whys” before your event takes place. Start talking about the issues during youth group or Sunday school. Discuss global hunger as well as local hunger. The key is to make the subject relatable to the youth so they feel a connection with the issues at hand. Get conversations going about what they’ve seen or know about hunger. Challenge them to start paying attention at school, work, or when driving around town. It may help to keep these three questions in mind:

-How will I educate the youth about the issues and why we’re doing this?

-How will the youth relate or connect with the issues?

-How will their experience during the 30 Hour Famine impact their understanding of hunger? 

2. Church Impact – Getting your local church involved

We all know it takes volunteers and additional support to pull off any youth event. But think beyond volunteer recruitment and start considering ways to involve and engage your congregation in the overall Famine experience. After all, it’s not just about what the youth can do to make a difference, but how the church as a whole can work together both during and after the event. Consider the following:

-How will your church learn/hear about what you’re doing? 

-How can your church support the youth before/during/after the event?

-How can your church play a role in the Famine experience and any follow-up? 

3. Community Impact – Learning about hunger in your local community

World Vision is a great resource for learning about hunger on a global level. But what about hunger on a local level? Every community has different issues and unique needs. Take the time to educate yourself about the needs and available resources in your local community. Your youth may have never considered how hunger reaches their classmates and community members, so this will help them better understand hunger on a more personal level. It also provides opportunities for your youth to serve and get involved. Partnering with local organizations during your event is a great way for your teens to serve and learn about hunger in their communities. Consider these questions when planning your event:

-Where does hunger exist in my community?

-What resources are available to meet the community needs, and what is missing? 

-How can we build relationships and continue serving after the event ends? 

4. Global Impact – Being a part of the change the world needs

Here is where things come full-circle and where a lot of the hard work has already been done for you. Yay! Use the resources available in your Famine kit and online to help your students grasp an understanding of hunger on a global level. These resources can help inspire and motivate your youth to raise money and learn how their involvement can create change worldwide. Global hunger will play a role in all aspects of your event; so don’t forget to consider the following:

-What and how will my group learn about world hunger before and during our event?

-Why is fundraising important and how will it help? 

-How can we provide continued support on a global level?  

Many of you may already use one or all of these components to guide your Famine planning, and that’s awesome! But by keeping all four components in mind throughout every aspect of planning, hopefully the impact will go beyond 30 hours and create lasting change on all levels. Teenagers want to make a difference, so let’s provide a solid platform for them to start.

Creativity Sandwich


By Joel Dunn

Do you think of yourself as a creative person or… do you not think of yourself as a creative person? Whichever camp you sit in, you [Yes, YOU!] are needed for a “Creativity Sandwich”. What is a “Creativity Sandwich” one might be asking? Well it’s a Melted Ooey-Gooey, Meat-Packed, Veggie-Lover, Bread-Praising, Gluten-Free Sandwich with all of the fixings!


The beauty of sandwiches is that there are millions of different types of them; and in the same way, there are so many of us with different types of personalities. For one to create a true “Creativity Sandwich” you need all different types of toppings* [*personalities] that go into the mix. If you feel like you are just a boring Bread and Bologna sandwich then go find someone who’s like a jalapeño spread who can spice up your thought process. If you feel like you like are a Jelly sandwich and are too sweet to try new things, go find the peanut butter person to help you smooth things over when you take chances and might not come off sweet in that moment. If you are Meatball Sandwich who can push through and possibly bulldoze others, find the person who is your onion, who helps remind you their are other tastes and ideas in this sandwich.

I want to encourage you to be creative with people who aren’t exactly like you; because some of the best ideas and creativity comes from eclectic combinations – pairings and groups with big time diversity. And if you feel like you aren’t creative, I want to encourage you to find a group who can help pull out the creativity that’s inside you. Always be open and on the lookout for making new Sandwiches because you never know… it might just be the best sandwich you ever had.

I Can Relate To Wonder Woman


By Becky Gilbert

Last week an impromptu Girl’s Night turned into an opportunity to watch Wonder Woman again. It was fantastic! Very few movies in the last few years have lived up to the hype, but Wonder Woman certainly did!

At one point of the movie Diana (Wonder Woman) leaves her home, the only place she has ever known, and travels with Steve—one of the heroes of the movie—to London. Diana traveled to find Aries, the god of war, in hopes of putting a stop to the war. When Diana arrives in London, Steve and his secretary work hard to help Diana ‘fit-in’ with the rest of society. They were embarrassed by her way of dressing and thought her weapons would draw attention to their plan to stop the war. What really struck me about this part of the movie was that Diana seemed to have no idea that she didn’t fit in and was fairly annoyed at the idea that she should cover up what made her unique.

I can relate to Wonder Woman—how about you?

As a college student, I was certain about God’s call on my life and I entered the Biblical Studies degree program to learn all I could and prepare myself for ministry with youth. It was a huge shock to find out that there were people—classmates, even—who were upset and embarrassed that I thought God would call me into ministry. Even my college advisor asked me at one point if I wanted to add some education courses to my schedule “in case the ministry thing didn’t work out.”  What?!? Was I going crazy? All of my life, growing up in church, I heard/learned/experienced people who were called by God to become pastors, youth pastors, musicians, teachers, doctors. God calls people and God had called me to youth ministry. Like Diana, there was no question in my mind what I needed to do. Much like Diana, I charged forward into ministry; and like Diana, was fairly annoyed at people who seemed to have the idea that I was doing something wrong.

Most of us who work with teenagers will receive pushback about our calling. Sometimes that’s in the form of a backhanded compliment (“I don’t know how you do it; I’m glad that someone works with teenagers, but I never could!”). I received resistance because of my gender; but I know so many youth workers—male and female—who hear voices of judgment or suspicion merely for your choice to pour yourself into the lives of teenagers.

It has been more than 20 years since I first questioned my calling—but they were not able stop the calling God placed on my life. I would love to tell you that all these years later, I’m past people questioning my calling. I would like to say that, but I would not be telling the truth. Sometimes I think about doing something easier, when it seemed that the fight to do what God called me to do was not worth it.  Looking out over the group of strong students and young adults I have had the privilege to do ministry with, I wonder how many of them feel the same way? God is still moving and God is still calling men and women of faith to get involved and be part of His mission.

So ask yourselves, youth pastors, youth leaders and youth volunteers: which of your students feel called to impact the world, called to follow the invitation of Jesus, but are told that they’re too young, too inexperienced, or “not ready” in some other way? Don’t make them hide, change or ‘fit in’. Give them a sword and a shield and let them fight.