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It Only Takes a Spark
By Gertrude M. Slabach
Every three seconds a child dies. In developing countries, one in five children dies before reaching his fifth birthday.
Today alone, 29,000 children will die from starvation or health-related illnesses. Imagine.
On the other side of the world from those developing countries, youth groups and organizations can help feed hungry children. While our local area youth do not routinely travel to other countries to help world hunger, thereís something they can (and did) do right here in Halifax County. Faith Mennonite Church was the site of a third annual World Vision Thirty-Hour Famine event beginning at 12:30 PM on Friday, April 18 and ending at 6:30 PM on Saturday, April 19, 2008.
Youth members and friends, representing eleven churches and totaling over thirty participating youth, were each required to raise a minimum of $30.00 in order to participate. For some participants, this was their first experience. Others returned again this year, knowing what to expect. Yet, knowing what to expect doesnít diminish the hunger pangs an adolescent experiences when he or she goes without eating for thirty hours!
Upon arrival, participants made a notebook for journaling personal feelings throughout the weekend. Interspersed throughout the Survivor games, they were given time to journal and reflect on devotionals shared by Jim Moore, youth sponsor, and Larry Martin, pastor.
For Survivor, the youth are divided into "tribes", and each tribe works as a team throughout the weekend, competing with the other tribes in planned games and activities. "Handicaps" are meted to individuals, and each person is required to wear his or her handicap for all games and planned activities.
"It helped us see what life is really like for some people," Rebekah shared.
"The games made you get more of a feeling of how those kids suffer from disabilities, etc." Mindy added.
A heavy backpack symbolizes the weight of hunger; a splinted arm or leg signifies a broken extremity; tape across oneís nose depicts asthma.
"Everyone liked it when I had to have tape across my mouth," Elizabeth remembers, sharing what it must be like to be mute. "It was so hard not to be able to talk!"
"The games really helped," first time participant Travis shared. "They were very fun and it is important to have fun when you are doing something hard."
A tradition that was born three years ago and continues each year is a Friday night trek through the woods.
"When we do this, on Friday night we always take a walk through the woods that is lit by tiki lanterns to Larry and Renieís house," third year participant Liz shared. "There we watch a video from World Vision that helps us see some of the children that have been helped in the past. It helps make it real."
Hands down, all participants agree that the most touching part of their weekend is the event that follows their trek back from the pastorís home.
"We wait to do this until it is dark," Chris explains. "That way it has the most impact. It is really sobering to think about how many children die each day because of hunger,"
The youth and their sponsors sit on the floor of the sanctuary, each with a tray of tea lights that illuminate the room. There is silence as someone taps in three-second intervals.
"At first," Chris shares soberly, "there is a lot of light because all the candles are lit."
Tap. Tap. Tap. A candle is blown out, signifying the fact that every three seconds, a child dies from hunger. Tap. Tap. Tap. Another candle is blown out. The drama continues until every candle has been snuffed out. Total darkness reigns. There is somber silence as they sit together in darkness. This is the reason for the 30-hour famine: to help keep candles burning.
All it takes, as the song writer has said, is just one tiny spark to keep a fire glowing. By fasting for thirty hours and finding sponsors to support them financially, these kids are hoping to light a candle and keep that fire glowing.
The most touching part of the weekend, Travis shared, was "when I realized the hardships of the children. I was crushed inside and felt bad for them."
"The mood changes because it is sad; but it also makes me want to do something to help stop world hunger," Chris shared.
For weeks, empty appliance boxes have been saved by Electric Service Company in South Boston to provide homeless housing for the weekend. Participants create their own shelters from the boxes, sometimes taping them together so there is room for more than one person. Again, the activity helps them understand in a small way what it must be like to be homeless.
"The pastor stayed in one of the boxes," Austin shared. "That was cool."
By morning, stomachs were growling. The youth were divided into three groups. They visited three different homes in the Turbeville and the Hyco Road communities, helping with yard work, cleaning up debris and raking leaves. One group, who described their 85-year old recipient as a "do it yourself lady," cut wood and scraps into small enough pieces to fit into the wood stove that she always uses to cook and heat her home.
"The outreach projects helped me realize how those people have to go to work even if they are hungry and starving," Mindy commented.
"It was a fun way to be the hands and feet of Jesus," Rebekah shared.
Back at the church, activities and games continued. As the afternoon progressed, the kids became hungrier. And, as their hunger grew, their mood spiraled.
"We got to where we hated each other," Rebekah, a second year participant remembered. "We donít really hate each other, but we were so hungry that we were grouchy."
"Yeah. Weíre more competitive in the games because weíre grouchy from being hungry," Mindy added.
"Itís interesting to watch the kids each year," Ruth, a sponsor, shared. "You know by Saturday afternoon itís going to happen. But itís interesting to watch, because they get testy with each other, are more competitive and say things they wouldnít normally say - all because theyíre hungry."
Playing games, journaling, interacting, watching a video, blowing out candles in three-second intervals, and service projects. Soon the thirty hours will come to an end.
"The worst part of the weekend," Austin shares, "was when it ended. Not that I enjoyed starving myself, but it was so much fun interacting with others for a good cause."
Can thirty-plus kids make a difference when there are millions of children starving on the other side of the world? These kids think they can.
"Our money goes to an organization that fights world hunger," Sarah Beth explains.
"I definitely feel it will help, even if we only save a few thousand lives for one day. We still have tomorrow to help others," Austin says.
"The 30-hour famine is really awesome. You truly understand what it means to be hungry. You have fun and you make a difference. No matter what people say about how this wonít help," Liz says, " it will! You can save lives. Itís your life. Make it count."
To date, this yearís event in Halifax County has raised over $3,000 to help World Vision fight hunger. Of special note, this year the U.S. Government will match each dollar that is given to World Vision for hunger.
World Vision has promised that for each dollar raised, one child will eat for one day. Just imagine: every three seconds, another child has been saved.
Imagine fasting for thirty hours so a child can live. Imagine living on the other side of the world and having food to eat because someone cared enough to go without food so your candle can continue to burn. Imagine.
[For more information, log onto www.30hourfamine.org]
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