The Next Meal

Last weekend, I took part in the 30-Hour Famine with the Youth Outlet at First Congregational Church of Webster Groves.

The 30-Hour Famine is an event organized by WorldVision, a Christian humanitarian organization that fights poverty and hunger around the world. At our church, they needed a male chaperone, and I volunteered. (A couple* of years ago, I was a kid in the youth programs at the church, and I figured this would be a way of giving a little back. [*”Couple” is defined very, very broadly, in this case.])

The idea of the Famine is to raise awareness among youth about the global food crisis, and to raise donations to help fight hunger.

IMG_1924Our “famine” started at the end of lunch on Friday afternoon. We gathered in the Sample Chapel—formerly the youth chapel when I was a kid—shortly after 5 that evening, and that would be our home base for the next 25 hours. We watched some excellent videos about the food crisis (here are a few to give you an idea), and did a few Famine-related activities, but before long the kids were off, playing games that had them running throughout the whole church. They kept that up until close to midnight or so.

IMG_1942On Saturday morning, the first activity was to paint a wall in one of the Sunday School rooms of the church, which went surprisingly well. The wall was painted “chalkboard black.” On this and all of the activities, the kids had a lot of energy, but when they were given directions on what to do, they did it well and without a single complaint.

IMG_1943Back up to the Sample Chapel for some more activities. We tried our hand at origami. The theme of this year’s famine was “Feed Your 5,000,” a reference to Christ’s miracle of feeding 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. So we made origami fish. (My theory on origami: there’s something in the Y-IMG_1957chromosome that inhibits a male’s ability to do it. All of the females were hugely productive, cranking out dozens of fish. The few males who even tried it soon gave up, including yours truly. I’ve seen more artful wads of paper in the trash can than the couple of fish I attempted.)

More famine activities, more running-around games, and then it was, finally, time to start cleaning up.

The strange thing about the whole experience for me was that I didn’t really get hungry, at least not until the last couple of hours. I was sapped of energy, and even normally simple activities like Suduko—or origami—were more difficult than they should be, undoubtedly due to the lack of nutrition. But we had the luxury of drinking juice and clean water. We could chew bubble gum. We had eaten normally up until the beginning of the Famine. And we knew exactly where and when we’d have our next meal. The people WorldVision strives to help don’t have those luxuries. For them, if they’re lucky, the next meal consists of a paste of ground-up maize mixed with dirty water. And as world food costs have doubled in the last few years, even that is harder to come by.

IMG_1967For us, the next meal would come at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Katrina, the leader of the Youth Outlet, had put on a black bean stew in the morning that cooked all day. At 5 or so, the rest of us went to the church kitchen to prepare the rest of the meal; fruit salad, green salad and cornbread. Again, the industriousness of the kids was impressive. And although the natural temptation, when you’re cooking food and you’re hungry, is to sample from what you’re preparing, we all refrained.

In the last few minutes before 6, Katrina had each of the kids write a “meal ticket,” a one-page reflection on the Famine and how it made them feel. Once again, the kids were impressive, and they wrote some good, thoughtful essays.

At 6 p.m., we broke our fast with Communion, served by Pastor Dave. Over the years, I’ve seen Communion given in a number of churches, and nobody does it like Pastor Dave; “The bread of Heaven, the cup of salvation,” is how he terms the ritual meal. He made some very brief comments to help frame the experience for us, and we prayed, and it was time to eat. Our Famine was over.

The experience, though, will live with me for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with the kids—there were five boys and three girls who were did the entire famine, and a total of four adults. But I am also reminded of how lucky we have it here, to always know where that next meal is coming from, while people in many parts of the world live that famine their whole lives—without the juice, clean water or chewing gum. For us, 30 hours of hunger was manageable, but for them, hunger defines their whole existence.

You can still donate! According to WorldVision, one dollar will feed a child for one day. You can visit the fundraising page by clicking here. Thanks!

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