I have been working in youth ministry for about 5 years now (where that time has gone I’ll never know) and this year was my fourth 30 Hour Famine. If you are unfamiliar with World Vision or the 30 Hour Famine process I highly suggest you visit their website.
For my first two 30HF’s I did a traditional lock in style event with a service project. We would stop eating around 1pm Friday and then break the fast with communion and then a meal together. For the past two years I’ve been blessed to live in the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church where we have an amazing camp called Lakeshore where we hold a famine retreat every year. This experience is an unforgettable one every year, and every year we inevitably get the same question “Why would you not eat for 30 hours?”
I’ve given lots of answers, some really in depth and some really superficial. I have decided to give it some real thought and offer some of the top reasons why we continue to do the 30 Hour Famine year after year.
1. Fundraising for a Cause I Believe In
Part of the effort behind 30 Hour Famine is fundraising for the work World Vision does. One in eight people in the world are hungry and World Vision works to combat hunger and poverty related issues around the world. $35 feeds and cares for a child for a month, we are able to make a tremendous impact in a child’s life through fundraising for World Vision. Over the past 5 years and 4 famines my small groups of students (anywhere from 4 to 20 per year) have raised around $7,000 to combat world hunger. Its just a piece of the greater puzzle, but its our piece, and I’m proud of my students for making it a priority.
2. Fasting is Becoming Uncommon
Fasting, as a spiritual practice, has become less and less common. Fasting at its root is about self denial for the purpose of bringing us closer to God. Much of our life is all consuming, even the food and drink of which we partake. I for one am a wee bit obsessed with coffee and Diet Coke. And by a wee bit, I mean of course a lot. My friends are constantly posting pictures on my Facebook wall like this one.
And while this is all in good fun, its kind of true too. I can be a really hard person to deal with if I don’t have my coffee. So some self denial of what I consider to be a “necessity” for my life, is always a good thing. It reminds me of what I take for granted, not just caffeine, but food as well. When we participate in the famine we have to face the fact that we take our readily available abundance of food for granted, and that our neighbors, not just people in some far away country, experience real hunger every day. This may be the only form of self denial my students experience, but for once a year they get to practice fasting, and its well worth it.
#3 Developing Empathy
Lets be real, not all of our students are incredibly empathetic, and I’m not here to say that every child will end up with this overwhelming understanding of what it means to go hungry by participating in the famine, but it does open the eyes (or stomachs ) of some. Here are some quotes from students over the past five years.
“I never really thought about the fact that if you were on free lunch, and your family was struggling, you might go from Friday afternoon until Monday morning without eating. I can’t imagine doing that every week, I’m having trouble doing it for 30 Hours” – Girl, 8th Grade
“I have a headache, I’m sleepy and I don’t want to do anything. I wouldn’t be able to even get up and go to school like this, I sure wouldn’t learn anything” Boy 9th Grade
“Did you know Ethiopians live on like a $1.50 a day? Who can live on that? How is anyone supposed to live like that” Girl 11th grade.
Now, will every student go on a crusade to change the world after experiencing the famine? Probably not, but in the middle of being forced to realize what other people go through, maybe an activist will be born.
#4 Youth Group is more than silly games and pizza
One of the main reasons I love the 30 hour famine experience is it takes students out of the fellowship mode youth group can turn into. There is a time for fellowship, and as I’ve said before games teach great lessons, and pizza is an easy food to fill the masses, but at times it can seem like we get in a rut of pizza games and fellowship. But the famine forces us out of our normal routine, both physically and spiritually. We have to gather together without the focal point of food, forcing us to focus on each other. We also are forced to take a look at the justice issue around hunger, which can be an uncomfortable task for middle to upper class churches. But Jesus did not call us to be comfortable, and at least once a year the famine gives us the chance to step way out of our comfort zones and participate in the living work of the gospel.
I hope if you’ve never done the 30 Hour Famine that you will seriously consider participating, either this year or in the future. This can be a life changing event for you and your students, or at least an eye opener to the world of hunger. I pray you have an experience like this with your students, and that you allow yourself to be changed.
Peace be with you.