I've done the 30 Hour Famine – an event where students fast for 30 hours in order to "taste" hunger and raise money and awareness to fight world hunger - ten times as a youth worker. Traditionally, it's been one of my favorite events but I've gotta tell you, this year, I just didn't want to do it.
My schedule over the last two months has been frantic – a series of major ministry events one right after the other. In between them, in addition to regular ministry maintenance, I've been hard at work on research for the culmination project in my master's degree. All of this has resulted in exhaustion.
To make matters worse, a smaller number of student signed up for this event than has been typical in the past and most were unable to stay for the entire event due to conflicts with other activities. Now, as I've blogged about before, even though I don't want to compete with school events or make my students feel guilty for attending something other than youth group, I'll admit my frustration over this got the better of me last week. It's awfully hard to plan a program for a constantly rotating cast of characters.
Nonetheless, I buckled down and planned the best event possible for my students and leaders, hoping that through it, students would encounter God in powerful ways.
And they did. Students encountered God during the discussions we had about our theme, “Feed Your 5000”, team-building, prayer for our congregation and one another, photographing what hunger looks like, and serving at a homeless shelter downtown Chicago. They saw God work through the nearly $1000 they raised to fight world hunger.
No doubt about it, this weekend, God moved.
And even though I saw God move consistently throughout the Famine, for me, the most holy moment of all came at the tail end of the Famine, just before we broke our fast.
For the last several years, my ministry has ended the Famine with a Break the Fast Celebration. The catch is, this celebration doesn't just involve those students and adult leaders who participated in the Famine. It also involves a wider representation of our entire congregation.
Prior to the Famine, we extend an invitation to my congregation to join us for our Break the Fast Celebration in order to see what God did and through the Famine. In particular, we target two groups: Families of Famine participants and fasting buddies.
Fasting buddies are people who fast with us during the Famine but who do not participate in the Famine retreat. As they fast from something (not necessarily food), buddies commit to praying for one specific student or adult leader. Before the Famine, we send buddies specific information about the Famine Retreat and the person they've been partnered with in order to help shape and focus their prayers. Buddies also write the student they've been paired up with a letter of encouragement, which students open just before they go to sleep on Friday night. Through this, fasting buddies provide a powerful connection point for students and our larger church family, the type of intergenerational connection that Kara Powell and her team found important in the development of sticky faith.
Most of the fasting buddies then attend our Break the Fast Celebration, during which we give them the opportunity to sit with the person they've been praying for and hear, first hand, about their experience. To help facilitate these conversations, we give buddies some questions they can ask their students like
1. What's one word or phrase you'd use to describe this weekend? Why?
2. What surprised you about the Famine? Why?
3. When were you most overwhelmed during the Famine? How did you respond to that feeling?
4. What was the hardest part of fasting for you? Why?
5. What'd you learn about hunger, homelessness, and God through this experience?
6. How did you see God at work this weekend?
As soon as buddies are given the opportunity to connect, they spread out around our sanctuary. In that moment, the sanctuary becomes alive, as conversations abound.
As I watched this scene unfold from my vantage point at the front of our sanctuary, this year, I could not help thinking, “This is my favorite moment of the Famine.”
In a year in which I wanted no part of this event, watching this eclectic group of fasting buddies – a group comprised largely of people who ordinarily have very little interaction with our teens – connect with and pour into our students was the moment that made everything worth it to me.
What's more, I believe this is also a moment that will stick with our kids. Years from now when the exact details of the 2013 Famine have long-since faded from their memories, my hunch is that students will remember not only having tasted hunger during the Famine, but also having tasted genuine community in the form of a fasting buddy who cared for and invested in them in this small way.