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Food is a wonderful thing, if you have it. When you can’t get your hands on anything to eat and you’ve been hungry for hours, food is more of a tortured thought than anything else. Every time you picture a dish of food, it seems like something out of a restaurant menu, perfect, delicious, and irresistible. You know you can’t have any, but the desire stays, the burning hunger tearing up your insides.
I experienced all of these sensations over the course of 32 hours during the late autumn of my freshman year in high school. My small youth group had decided to do a 30 hour famine to raise money for funding the end of hunger world-wide. All of us who participated went around and collected pledges. Then, on a Friday afternoon, we stopped eating. The idea was to get a familiarity of the hunger that thousands of children, teens, and adults around world know constantly.
We were supposed to stop eating at 1:00 p.m. that day. Lunch at school started at 11:05 a.m. which means I was finished with my meal at about 11:30, an hour and a half earlier than most of the people joining me in the voluntary famine. I would be food-less for almost 32 hours, rather than the 30 hours that everybody else would be without food. The end time would be the same for all of us, 7:00 p.m. the following day. I would be no exception and I wouldn’t complain.
I ate a fairly big lunch and, when I was finished, I took a breath and made an announcement. “Okay, guys. I’m officially done eating.” With skeptical looks, my friends smiled and commented on the scheme. A few told me good luck, and the rest said I was crazy. They cracked a few jokes at my expense and then the day moved on.
Everything was normal until dinner time. We were busy at the school, since my parents are teachers, and we didn’t have time to go home and eat. That didn’t matter to me; I wasn’t allowed to eat anyways. For the rest of my family, dinner was expected. So, since it was close, we went to Subway.
My parents and little brother ordered their food and we went to sit down. “This probably looks pretty strange. We aren’t feeding one of our kids!” teased my mom. She was right. It was a weird feeling to watch them all eat. I was thinking about what kind of sub I would have gotten, but I wasn’t hungry. Still, there was something about being near food that I couldn’t have that made me want it. I stayed strong, though, and skipped dinner.
The next temptation came that same night, not too long after. We were at a football game where the smell of the concession stands tickled my nose. By this time, I was hungry. Making sure I steered clear of the warm, tasty food, I ignored my growling belly. I knew it would be so easy to get some food. All I had to do was slip a few dollars from the cash box of my family’s t-shirt stand. Then, I could go get something to calm the monster inside of my hollow stomach. I wouldn’t take money from my own family behind their back, though.
So, on went the ruthless cycle: hunger, ignorance, moving on, and back again. My friends were a welcome distraction from the rumbling in my tummy. They helped me forget that I had eaten no food for about nine hours. We talked and laughed and watched the game until it was over.
I helped my parents take care of the t-shirts we hadn’t sold. We packed them away for the next game and then loaded into our truck. The plan was for me to be dropped off at our church on the way home. There, I would spend the night with my youth leaders and all of the other teens who were doing the famine. There was a variety of activities planned.
I made it safely to our small church and said goodbye to my family. “Good luck! Just text me if you need anything. Remember to drink plenty of water!” my mom reminded me. She was excited for me and the new experience I would have. My dad on the other hand, was a bit worried.
“If you don’t feel good, let someone know, okay?” There was some concern in his voice.
“I’ll be fine, Dad,” I promised him. I turned toward the building and jogged up the stairs. I pulled open the glass door and was greeted warmly.
“Hey, Brie! How was the game?” asked Liz, my youth pastor.
“Fine. We won! It was a close game,” I replied.
“Awesome! Well, we just got done making t-shirts. Why don’t you come with me and you can decorate yours.” Liz led me into the sanctuary. It reeked of spray paint fumes and sawdust. The ceiling had started caving in a few months previous, so the room was in the middle of a renovation.
I took the plain white V-neck shirt from Liz and smoothed it out on top of a cardboard box that doubled as a table. As I gathered up the stencils that were scattered throughout the workspace, I listened to Liz tell me what I had missed.
“This tepee was the project from earlier. Everybody got a little card that had a child from a third world country on it. It had the child’s name and a description of the kid on it. Most of them have a disability. They had to work together and build this tepee while having their child’s disability. It was pretty funny to watch.”
I could imagine it happening. My friends, Bryan, Rachel, Robbie, and Courtney, would have been attempting to build the tent-like structure, racing around, not knowing what exactly to do. I smiled at the thought as I found a can of hot pink spray paint. I placed the stencils on my shirt, forming the words “30 HOUR FAMINE.” I sprayed a light blanket of pink over half of it, then reached for the lime green spray paint to finish it off.
When I was satisfied, I walked with Liz to the kitchen where everybody else was sitting. The other leader, Anika, handed me one of the cards Liz had mentioned. I analyzed it and smiled. My girl was perfectly healthy. That played to my advantage for the next challenge.
Our mission was simple: it was every man for himself in a timed scavenger hunt. Liz and Anika would write a list of objects on the whiteboard. Our goal was to find as many as possible before that round was over. When the word “Go!” rang through the tiny kitchen, we all bolted for the door.
It was a mad rush up and down the stairs. I combed the nursery, the youth room, the foyer, and the kitchen. We rushed back and forth between the kitchen and the rest of the church. Alliances formed between those with disabilities and there was even cheating. The points began to add up, tallies being placed next to our names, until time was called.
When it was all said and done, I didn’t win, but it was a fun game to participate in. Our next surprise was even cooler. Liz and Anika had booked a band! Granted, it wasn’t a well-known band, but it was still an awesome surprise. They were called Snow and there were 3 very nice people who made up the group. Their plan was to play for us, lead worship, and pray with us.
Snow did an amazing job! They music they sang was powerful, and it moved me. We got to hear some stories about the lives of the members. The whole experience touched my heart. They were genuinely caring people. In fact, they gave us CDs and stickers when they left. It wasn’t a huge gift, but it was generous all the same, especially for a band just starting out.
The band was our last activity of the night. We all said good night and all of the girls headed upstairs to the youth room, while the boys stayed downstairs. We curled up on couches, all looking forward to the sleep. Waking up in the morning wouldn’t be a walk in the park. I was sure that hunger would strike hard then, in its cruel, vicious way. Yet, I managed to put that out of my mind as I closed my eyes and drifted off.
A wake-up call for us came nice and early the next morning. It was around 7:00 a.m. by the time we all made it downstairs to get ready. The hunger pangs did come strongly. It had been about 20 hours since a morsel of food had passed my lips and gone into my very empty stomach. The lack of food caused me stomach pains. I knew they would fade shortly, so I ignored them, even though I wanted, almost desperately, to eat.
Instead of eating, I had some apple juice. Since our bodies were unaccustomed to the fasting, we had to drink juice to keep our blood sugar levels normal. I prefer water to juice, though, so I only had small amount of the sweet apple juice before I guzzled water. It helped lessen the hunger for a few minutes, but before long, the gnawing feeling came back, with a slight vengeance.
By the time the little monster inside my stomach settled, we were in the car, on our way to Concord. We would be serving at the Free Store. It’s a place where anybody can come in and get what they need for free. Clothes, shoes, toys, dishes, lots of things have a home on the shelves there. All of it was donated by people in the community. Our job was to put the new donations in the correct places, based on the organization of the store’s current contents.
When we arrived, the boys were put on shoveling duty. The snow needed to be cleared from paths leading to the doors. They got to work on that while we girls began sorting. We hung up shirts, organized baby clothes, and dusted everything. If people needed help carrying their new merchandise to their cars, we did that too. As we worked, we chatted about all sorts of topics and really bonded with each other and the staff. The owners were very kind to us, and I enjoyed helping for a few hours.
Because no time was taken out of our day for eating, we moved right along. There was some time left before our next service project, so we went back to the church for a while. A short snowball fight ensued once we reached the parking lot. “Are you sure you don’t want gloves?” Bryan asked me. I had been scooping up snow with my bare hands.
“No, thanks.” I didn’t want to take his gloves, so I declined. Not long after, my hands were red and raw with cold. I went inside with Rachel and everybody else followed suit. We spent some time chitchatted and, before we knew it, it was time to serve the community again.
As we hopped into her car, Liz told us the plan. “We’re going to a nursing home. We’ll play a few rounds of Bingo with the residents. This is a nursing home that doesn’t get many visitors, so this is a treat for them.”
Sure enough, when we walked through the doors of the small, cozy building, we were led to a room with the Bingo equipment set up. A large tumbler full of the numbered plastic pellets was near the table where most of the ladies sat. Next, we all introduced ourselves to the elderly women who joined us. To make things fair, we took turns being the caller, which nobody was eager to do.
It wasn’t an easy job. The hearing of the residents wasn’t top notch. Scratchy calls of “What’d she say?” and “Did you say B or G?” and other similar questions rang out. It took both patience and a loud voice. Bingo is a game not taken lightly by elders. It gets intense and competitive. Some players even accused others of cheating!
After a couple of hours, we left the cute building that held the familiar, faint aroma of older people. Our church was the destination once again. I hadn’t felt hungry since that morning, and yet all I could think about during the drive was the delicious dinner waiting for us a few hours from now. It didn’t help that we talked about food all the way.
Pizza, pasta, dessert, it all came to mind. In my mind’s eye, it all looked cooked to perfection. All of it was steamy, warm, fresh out of the oven, and delicious. It looked exactly as restaurants want you to imagine their food, displayed in such a way that it looked too good to eat. We discussed what we were craving at the moment. Answers varied from sweet things to appetizers to main dishes. I was practically drooling at the thought.
We all walked into the church’s kitchen once we got back. Then, we heard about our final activities. “You guys are going to spread out with your Bibles, a pen or pencil, and some paper. Here’s a list of some verses to look up. Once you’re done reading, write down your thoughts and feelings. Reflect on these past 28 hours,” instructed Liz.
I grabbed the white and pink Bible from my bag and headed into our gym that doubled as a sanctuary. Curling up on one of the many blue chairs, I did as I was directed. Through my thinking and reflecting, I realized something. 30 hours without food was nothing, not compared to the eating restrictions of some. I shouldn’t be bothered by this famine. Younger children around the globe involuntarily go much longer without food.
Suddenly, I no longer desired food the way I had earlier. That feeling stayed with me throughout the rest of the reflection time. As we all met back up to worship with the band Snow again, I was able to keep food out of my mind. Sure, my belly was empty, but that didn’t affect me. I didn’t need food as much as I had at the beginning.
We sang and worshipped for about half an hour. Then, we took Communion, which meant we ate a small piece of bread, as per the tradition. Time was up! We had done it! Bread had never tasted as good as it did in that moment. It wasn’t much, but, being the first thing to enter my stomach, it was wonderful.
Even better, we heard there was breakfast-for-dinner waiting in the kitchen. Still, I felt no need to rush there, like the boys did. I didn’t really feel very hungry. Of course, I wasn’t going to fast any longer. I grabbed a few warm, fluffy pancakes, some buttery scrambled eggs, and few crispy strips of bacon. Feeling suddenly ravenous, I gobbled it all down. The tasted flooded my mouth and satisfied my rumbling tummy.
Overall, the famine wasn’t hard. The football game and the second morning were the hardest moments, the only times I truly wanted to give up. My parents were very proud of me, but more importantly, I was proud of myself. I had time to serve others and experience what many people deal with constantly. Raising money to stop hunger made me feel helpful, like I was improving the world. I also learned something very valuable. Never, ever take food, or anything for that matter, for granted.