Youth Fast Today to Change Tomorrow
By Gwen Kisker
April 16, 2009 | MEDFORD, N.J. (UMNS)
Jordan Robinson is not comfortable with the divide between the haves and have-nots of the world.
"I don't think anyone should have to starve and find a way to survive," the 11-year-old said.
Now the United Methodist Church is giving him and hundreds of other young people a way to do something about inequity.
The program, called "B1," invites youth groups to harness the power of an ancient spiritual discipline - fasting - to transform the world and their perspective of it. B1 stands for "one being, being one," suggesting that everyone has the responsibility to live with a sense of connection to others.
The program organizes a 24-hour fast from food, service to the poor, fundraising for United Methodist Advance projects, and education about systems around the world that keep people impoverished.
Wearing T-shirts reading "B1 - fast today, change tomorrow," Robinson and 80 teens and tweens from Medford (N.J.) United Methodist Church and Epworth United Methodist Church, Elizabeth, N.J., launched a widespread pilot of the campaign in February.
The group spent the first evening making lunches to pass out the next day. After missing dinner, they prepared 650 ham and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. "It's kind of like a challenge, but it's also fun service," said eighth-grader Brielle Hohne. "It's not hard to be around food when you know you're doing something good."
Body, mind and spirit
B1 targets the body, mind and spirit in one event to create empathy for the poor.
"I think the fasting is absolutely critical because they're physically feeling the effects of hunger," said Bethany Carl, the youth director at Medford.
The rest of the evening was dedicated to learning, focusing on biblical references to hunger, statistics on world hunger and ways to address the issue, according to the Rev. Dawn Corlew, Medford's assistant pastor.
The children walked through the sanctuary, looking at a wall covered with magazine pictures of material things, such as expensive cars and designer clothes. An opposite wall displayed photos of people living in poverty, along with statistics. The group leaders asked the young people to walk down the center aisle and think about how they can balance their wants with what the world needs.
After sleeping at the church, the young people headed to nearby Trenton, N.J., to give away their free lunches. The group spread out to seven different sites arranged by Turning Point United Methodist Church, including low-income high-rises and a food pantry.
Just the simple gesture of a free sack lunch moved some of the recipients. Phyllis Blassingame has been living in abandoned houses and shelters for 30 years. "When I see young people that are helping people that don't have, it's a blessing. ...They're giving and caring about us, so we're grateful for it," she said.
"I would like the kids to take away that we are really blessed ...," said the Rev. Debbe Barnett, assistant pastor at Epworth United Methodist Church. "I think for them to go out and meet people, who in some cases, are very different than they are - it's just that personal contact, looking into someone else's face. Once you see something, you seldom forget it."
Focus on poverty
That's the impact the creator of B1 hopes to have. "B1 is a way for the church to pick up where Jesus left off," explained Rachel Harvey, a mission specialist with The Advance. "And our area of focus with poverty is our call as Christians to respond and to carry on in the work that Jesus was doing."
After returning from Trenton, the young people gathered for worship to thank God and reflect.
"Making the lunches, giving them out to people - it really changed my perspective on life," group member Shaun Joyce told the congregation. "I really understand how well I have it now and how bad other people can have it. And I won't take anything for granted anymore."
The fast ended with the Lord's Supper, followed by a mad rush to the potato bar. Jordan and others left with a sense of empowerment. "I learned that everyone can make a difference in the world," she said.
The New Jersey youth groups collected about $4,500 to be split between two Advance projects - one national and one international.
In addition to this event, B1 is being piloted in Oregon, Virginia, Minnesota, Idaho and Oklahoma. It is expected to be offered to youth groups nationwide during Lent 2010.
Details are available by calling Rachel Harvey at 212.870.3792 or visiting the B1 Web site at www.fasttodaychangetomorrow.org.
*Kisker is a freelance producer in Pittsburgh.