"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-18)
Before I wrote anything about the fasting that our youth ministry took part in this weekend, I wanted to begin with that verse to remind myselfthat I am sharing these thnigs not to boast but to encourage and edify. After all, one central purpose of fasting is to humble ourselves, not brag of our supposed righteousness (Ezra 8:21).
This weekend a number of our students and leaders participated in the 30 Hour Famine; an overnight event where students commit to go 30 hours without food and raise support for starving families worldwide in the process. It is truly a remarkable event and certainly one that I would encourage any youth ministries to consider being a part of.
This year was particularly special because it was Ashley's (our practicum student from Judson University) first opportunity to really plan, organize, execute, and lead an entire youth ministry event, with the help of the rest of us, of course. What a great challenge for both her and I to respect that position. It often meant directing inquisitive teens to ask Ashley, and to allow her to think through the logistics of the event she planned. It can be so much harder to let someone else do the job I love than I realize sometimes.
We began the evening with prayer and then we were off to package meals with an outstanding organization called Kids Against Hunger. Here, we had the opportunity to package hundreds of uniquely developed food packets that will be sent and distributed to starving families in Central America. Students had the opportunity to hear the incredible stories of real people, in real space and time, receiving the life-changing nutrition in these small plastic bags.I think that it is even more inspiring to be told these wonderful stories through the eyes of Darrel Malcom; a vivacious and inspiring 79 year-old pastor with a blatantly obvious passion for God and service to others. Even on his Facebook page you can read the words:
"My greatest ambition in life is to do something of lasting significance for Jesus Christ."
Revolutionary love and justice is not solely in the hands of our generation, but reaches far across boundaries of age, demographic, and background. Darrel is a powerful reminder of that truth.
When we returned to the church we went over our rules for the event, and then began our activities. These activities ranged form writing letters to specific missionary families all over the world, to making banners using paint and hand prints to represent the 29,000 children that die from starvation or malnutrition every hour. One station even made small crosses that represented the 1,208 children who die every hour, and staked them outside our church along the road with a sign that read: "This is how many children die each hour from hunger -Please pray for these children". What a potent reminder that was to our church body as they arrived for church the next day.
The event also included a lot of sleep deprived lunacy, board game obsession, late-night impromptu song jams, paper airplane throwdowns, and skipping contests. It's unreal what no sleep and no food can do to a teenage (or adult) mind.
We awoke (the few that actually slept at least) the next morning and encouraged the students to read and write as a part of their own sort of quiet time. I cannot tell you how much of a blessing it is to simply look around a room of students you deeply know and love, and see them reading, praying, or even journaling about this journey they are on. I will never grow tried of seeing people quietly and passionately longing to know God and themselves more deeply.
I then had the privilege of leading our group in a short time of musical worship. It has been a long time since I've been able to lead any group in this way, and again God surprised me by how blessed I was even as I played and we all sang. For some reason these words rang truer than they had in some time:
All of You is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough
You’re my sacrifice
Of greatest price
And still more awesome than I know
You’re the coming King
You are everything
And still more awesome than I know
To join such an inspiring group in the simple act of praise in a bare room with a guitar and our voices, I was reminded of what I imagined the humble beginnings of the early church may have looked like. And I was refreshed. As I heard their voices, some loud and confident, others timid and unsure, I felt God's arms encompassing each and every one of them in an embrace that whisper "You are mine, and I am yours. I love you more than you could possibly understand."
Ashley then led the group in communion, followed by a time of debriefing and sharing. There is something so beautiful about breaking a fast with the celebration of the elements that is always so profound for me. To not simply participate in a ritual that I've grown accustomed to, but to long for that bread and cup with the fervor of a grumbling stomach and a tired mind. To so desperately fling ourselves at the mercy of what the cross means, and to do so in the context of community is a brilliant mystery I don't think I'll ever truly understand.
I think what impacted me most intensely, was being able to sit and listen the the students and adults as they each shared their hearts and the things they experienced this weekend. Story after story was filled with so much passion and conviction, not the kind that weighs you down and leaves you feeling guilty for being an evil American, but the kind thatinspires and rejuvenates those around them longing to say the same things but not knowing how. I almost imagine that it's the similar to the kind of awe-struck wonder you experience when you first loop upon your newborn child or encounter the beauty of a completely isolate nook of creation. You begin to see with new eyes.
Some people cried, others made jokes to keep from crying, and others simply offered their encouraging glances to their brothers and sisters experiencing Christ's vision for humanity in a new way.The things I heard weren't necessarily ground-breaking observations or deeply profound statements, but the candor of what was being said moved me in a way that stirs me myself. I don't think I will ever grow tired of watching people "get it", whether it's for the first or thousandth time, I am so humbled and honored to be able to share those moments with the people I love. To be a part of the light bulb moment in a person's life will change you, and I think it's supposed to be that way. I remember once after teaching in the adult services, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes, grabbed my arm and said "Never in my life had I heard the things about grace that you taught today. This changes everything." And it is precisely those moments that God graciously allows us to participate in, that makes all the struggle, heartache, and exasperation far worth the while.
We then broke our fast, not with a big feast or a caravan to IHOP, but with a small cup of white rice. This served as a gentle reminder to each of us that even though our event had ended and our lives "resumed as they were", there were still countless people living with those pains, the reality of starvation every day, who don't have the option to swing by Denny's once the event is done. Again, what a powerful reminder of the opportunity we have to truly enter in to the difficulties of a broken world around us with the commitment for standing with them for the long haul.
God, teach me longevity, grant me endurance, and may my heart overflow with the love that goes beyond circumstance and sits on the floors of suffering. May we never grow tired of experiencing you in new ways, and may we have the courage to inspire and encourage others in the same pilgrimage.
Again, simply some facts to consider:
- Global Hunger & Poverty
- Each day, over 25,000 children under the age of 5 die from preventable diseases such as malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and acute respiratory infections. Malnutrition is associated with over half of those deaths.
- More than 1 billion people in the world don't get enough to eat. That's one of every seven people on the planet.
- 143 million children under age 5 in the developing world are underweight because of poor nutrition. That's about one in three children in developing countries.
- In the last 50 years, 400 million people worldwide have died from hunger and poor sanitation. That's three times the number of people killed in all wars fought in the entire 20th century.
- Moderately underweight children are more than four times more likely to die from infectious disease than are well-nourished children. And under-nutrition contributes to 53 percent of deaths among children under 5 globally.
- Countries in which a large portion of the population battles hunger daily are usually poor and often lack the social safety nets we enjoy, such as soup kitchens, food stamps, and job training programs. When a family that lives in a poor country cannot grow enough food or earn enough money to buy food, there is nowhere to turn for help.
- Of the 6.6 billion people in today's world, 2.1 billion live on less than $2 per day.
- Domestic Hunger & Poverty
- 35.5 million people - including 12.6 million children - live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. This represents more than one in ten households in the United States (10.9 percent).
- 4.0 percent of U.S. households experience hunger. Some people in these households frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day. 11.1 million people, including 430 thousand children, live in these homes.
- 6.9 percent of U.S. households are at risk of hunger. Members of these households have lower quality diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need. 24.4 million people - including 12.2 million children - live in these homes.
- Preschool and school-aged children who experience severe hunger have higher levels of chronic illness, anxiety and depression, and behavior problems than children with no hunger, according to a recent study.