PRINCETON, W.Va. (BP)–During the 30 hours that 150 believers fasted at Immanuel Baptist Church in Princeton, W.V., 31,250 people died of starvation around the world.
That’s why the believers were fasting.
“We fast to save their lives. We fast so they don’t have to,” participants were told as the event launched in late February.
Seven years ago, when Immanuel held its first fast for world hunger, only 13 people participated, said Josh Johnson, the congregation’s associate pastor. This year, their “f30” fast drew 150 participants from a wide variety of congregations and raised almost $8,400 for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.
Because the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund is a “dollar in, dollar out” operation, every penny of the amount raised by the young people will go to combat hunger in North America and overseas.
The church’s emphasis on a 30-hour fast for world hunger ministries actually began with a previous youth pastor who used a program promoted by a Christian parachurch ministry. Johnson, however, liked the fact that the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund doesn’t take out a percentage of donations to cover administrative overhead. Southern Baptists are able to do that because their unified budget, from contributions through the Cooperative Program, provides a permanent infrastructure for operating hunger ministries.
“When we have a ministry within our own Southern Baptist circles that sends 100 percent to the mission field, in my book that’s a lot better,” Johnson said. “So we came up with our own event and designed our own curriculum.”
The result: A church that was giving about $1,700 a year to world hunger increased its giving to more than $6,000, over the course of four years. And this year they wrote a check for $8,371.06.
That’s an average of almost $56 per participant, compared to the 50¢ Southern Baptist church members give on average to the World Hunger Fund each year.
“That’s $56 per participant in one weekend,” Johnson noted. “If all our churches committed to this project, we could stamp out hunger and change lives all over the world.”
KEYS TO SUCCESS
One key to the event’s increasing success is that the youth are challenged with creative team activities. For example, each of this year’s 27 teams was given a penny and told to trade it for something “bigger and better” — and then keep trading up. Pennies became nickels, which in turn became dimes, then quarters. When a team received a dollar, they converted it to smaller coins and kept going.
The 27 pennies multiplied into more than $2,700.
Johnson said he also looks for ways to visually illustrate the death toll claimed by hunger.
“We try every year to come up with a way to show how many people die worldwide during our 30-hour fast,” he said. “The number is 31,250, so this year we had the students draw 31,250 stick people on large sheets of paper. Then we mounted the pages on the sanctuary walls for our Sunday morning worship hour. One year we made crosses out of paint stirrers and placed them in the front lawn of the church. Another year we dipped our hands in red paint, then placed them on paper and each hand represented five people. One year we cut out paper dolls. That was one of my favorites, to see 31,250 dolls cut out, holding hands, wrapped around our sanctuary walls like six or seven times. Amazing!”
The church also uses the hunger event to prepare students for missions involvement, said Johnson, who grew up in Immanuel. Participation in overseas projects requires young people to get involved stateside first.
“Our whole church is very mission driven. One Thursday night a month, our church members go out on a mission opportunity. This past year, we gave out more than 300 volunteer on mission certificates,” Johnson said. “Missions has been the backbone of our ministry. We drive everything off of missions.”
Immanuel’s youth group will conduct 25 to 30 mission projects in the community each year, ranging from cleaning up vacant lots to helping at the animal shelter to volunteering at food and clothing ministries, Johnson added.
At the end of the event, participants broke their fast by celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Then they all ate a hearty dinner, prepared for them by other church members, and awards were handed out for the teams’ accomplishments.
“It’s real fun. Our kids get really excited about it,” Johnson said. “It’s one of the things they look forward to most every year.”
And the event also influences the direction of young people’s lives, he added.
“One young man said he felt he was being called to the ministry by experiencing the weekend. He felt like God was calling him to do the things he was doing there, whether it was through missions or ministry in a church, he felt God was calling him. We also had a student who surrendered to missions through the weekend, which he shared with the church the following Sunday,” he said. “Numerous students talk about how it opens their eyes to see what starvation is like, even after only 30 hours, they are tired and hungry and the thought of having to go days without food really hits home. It’s really interesting to see how God moves through all of it.”
The f30 event engages students from sixth grade through college but the church also has started an “f15” emphasis, a 15-hour fast that focuses on children from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Jim Brown, U.S. director for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, hopes other congregations will adopt the f30 and f15 events as their own.
“Immanuel’s f30 event was far more than just a youth event to benefit world hunger ministries,” said Brown, who spoke during the fast and then shared with the entire congregation on Sunday morning. “They involve the whole church — children through adults — and it meets a wide range of needs in both the church and community.”
A holistic effort like the f30 event not only creates awareness about the world hunger crisis and raises money to help, but it also engages Christians in mission, deepens their discipleship, helps churches grow and ministers in the name of Christ to the entire community, Brown said.
“The f30 event not only raised money for a good cause, but a period of fasting also is a great time for teaching spiritual truth,” he added. “It’s been a long time since many churches have had a world hunger event like this, but the global hunger crisis hasn’t gone away. We’d like to see congregations everywhere get involved again in stamping out hunger.”
Southern Baptist churches will observe World Hunger Sunday on Oct. 11, 2009. For information about conducting your own event to benefit the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com. Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.