This week I've have the pleasure of hanging out with six youth from our church at the Massanetta Middle School Conference at Massanetta Springs in Harrisonburg, VA. While I don't have any "official" youth responsibilities at the church, I made a decision a few years back to take our middle schoolers to this annual conference myself every year. I love it because it gives me a chance to spend some good quality time with our young people and get to know them better than I ever could for a few hours on a Sunday morning. This year it happened to be an all-girls group, and their female advisor and I are having an absolute blast. I mean, look at them - don't they just look fun?
So we're doing all the usual youth conference stuff - energizers, music, keynotes, small group, workshops; all on very little sleep. The girls & I went canoeing yesterday and had a great dry time. At our nightly devotions we're doing what we call "Highs and Hopes" - your "high" for the day and your "hope" for tomorrow. Believe me when I say that it has not been difficult getting them to talk (again, from the picture, does it look like it'd be hard for them??)
Last night, though, our group - and the 314 other youth and adults at the conference - got to experience a unique and revolutionary event that I hope will set a precedence for this conference and others in the future. See, if there's any area where I feel the typical youth conference falls short, it's that there's often an exclusive focus on the self and inward spiritual experiences - how "I" experience God. Which is great; don't get me wrong - those things need to be tended to. But we're doing our young people a disservice if we leave them with the impression that that's all there is to being a person of faith. I've always figured that Jesus wanted us to do something with our faith rather than just celebrate it (or maybe the "doing" is the celebration? Hmm....) There's a kingdom of God that we've been called to help initiate, and it's not going to materialize on its own.
So I was thrilled when I heard that Massanetta had partnered with Stop Hunger Now for what's called a "Packaging Event." You can visit the website at the link to learn more, but in short it's an assembly-line setup that helps to create these packaged meals of rice, dried vegetables, seasonings and other supplements. They're easy to pack and ship around the world and have the nutritional value to really make a difference in the lives of those suffering extreme poverty. The plan, then, was to get all 322 youth and adults working hard for twenty solid minutes to make 10,000 meals. That's 10,000, with four zeroes.
The Nook - essentially a very large screened-in porch on the Massanetta campus - was the location for the Packaging Event. It was set up with tables and the needed supplies by the time we got there. Everyone filed in to their places with specific orders, and then the madness began. You really do need to check out the video below; it's amazing to watch. Pay special attention to the gong at the end - every time our group created a thousand bags they would bang the gong. The end of the video has the tenth gong and the ensuing celebration of us reaching our 10,000 goal. Check it out:
Later that night at devotions, everyone in our group felt the packaging event was one of their "highs" for the day. And I can see why. When the needs in our world are so overwhelmingly great, it's hard for anyone to feel like there's a snowball's chance in you-know-where of making any kind of meaningful difference - especially if you happen to be twelve or thirteen years old. But last night these kids helped nourish the bodies of 10,000 starving children, youth and adults, somewhere in this world. That's not going to solve the problem, of course, but it's a step in the right direction. And that's certainly better than doing nothing at all.
I'm going to give some serious thought to working with Stop Hunger Now back home, perhaps encouraging a joint effort between some of our Main Street churches. Maybe we'll even attempt a packaging event at the fall CROP Hunger Walk. This has so much potential. And as they do so often, especially in the church I serve, the youth once again are leading the way.