The youth group at Trinity Presbyterian Church in McKinney, Texas has participated in World Vision’s ‘Thirty Hour Famine’ for many years – since 2002 or 2003. In the beginning, the group was small, fewer than a dozen teens, and they raised a modest $400 or so. Involvement has grown each year since, and in 2019, sixty-nine young people raised $34,065. This remarkable accomplishment will help ease world hunger through World Vision’s programs and will also address the needs of a home for abused young women in Peru.
Tami Voyles (Director of Christian Education, Youth, and Young Adults) and Miriam Ross (Junior High Youth Director) sat down a couple of weeks after the event, and -- with some tears of empathy and many smiles, with admissions of exhaustion but bursts of enthusiasm -- they told about the planning, the event itself, and the impact that the Thirty Hour Famine has annually on the youth of Trinity.
Fourteen Trinity youth and adults traveled during the summer to Peru on a mission trip. Coordinated by the PCUSA, Rusty Edmonson, and Sara Armstrong who visited Trinity, the youth visited a remote home where abused young women from all over Peru are cared for until authorities can ascertain that abusers are no longer a threat and the girls can be returned to their respective homes. For some girls, this never happens, and they remain safe but isolated from family, friends, and everything they knew before. At Casa del Buen Trato in Peru, visitors have to present credentials to be admitted to the gated facility. Support for these young women, of course, includes feeding them, and a farm has been established to grow what they need. Trinity youth not only visited the girls; they worked the farm under Jorge’s direction and saw firsthand what is needed to improve it. The farm, according to Jack Hofeldt, a Trinity tenth-grader, “is trying to become self-sustainable, and this money is going to help them do that.” When it was time to depart, weeping in some cases, the Trinity youth vowed to do whatever they could back in Texas to better the situation for their new friends. Those who got to know the girls in Peru shared their stories with peers at home. Youth leaders and the adult directors agreed that funds raised from this year’s efforts would be shared between World Vision and the organization in Peru. Money raised online will be sent to Peru through World Vision for poverty-related issues. All cash raised will be sent directly to Casa del Buen Trato. Finley Heilers, a Trinity tenth grader, knows that “the money we are sending to the Casa is going to help update the farm and help build a well.”
In the fall, information and a ‘Leader’s Guide’ was received from World Vision, and the organization’s representatives called Trinity directors to offer encouragement and support. At Logos gatherings on Wednesday evenings at the church, the directors presented facts and case studies to build interest, share knowledge, and build enthusiasm in the fight to end hunger. Youth and adult leaders selected games and Bible studies were selected to focus on hunger and the call to help relieve it. Thirty days before the scheduled event, the theme, ‘Repair the Broken,’ was revealed with a video that the youth leaders had created. The focus was on the violence faced by the poor and poverty-stricken people of many countries. Names of superheroes were chosen for small groups, like Hulk, Spiderman and Thor. A T-shirt was designed to display those heroes. A fundraising goal was established. In the past, the goal was increased by $1,000 each year, but this year the youth insisted they could and wanted to raise $5,000 more than the year before. Motivation and enthusiasm grew rapidly.
A day or so before the event began, names of all participants were sorted into one of the small groups, so ages/grade levels were mixed and ‘families’ were established when the kids checked in at the church at 7 PM on a Friday evening. Each team had two captains and one adult sponsor. Teens had been instructed to eat a good lunch, and they went home after school to gather whatever they needed for the next 24 hours except any food items. When they checked in, they’d already fasted for 6 or 7 hours.
Friday evening, February 22, was filled with prayer, group games, and chances for teams to gel. Adults transported the teens to Adventure Landing where both adults and youth enjoyed laser tag. Back at the church, a role-playing activity set the teens up to question adults regarding abuse of workers in a brick factory. Valerie Landis, a Trinity eleventh-grader said, “It helped to show us that no story is ever simple and we might not always win, but the best we can do is continue to fight corruption without giving into its cynicism.” Lights out came too early for the students. Devon Voyles, a tenth grader, recalled that “Friday night when I went to bed during the famine, my stomach was really growling, and I got really excited thinking about the fact that I was going to get to eat the next night. Then I realized that other people in the world would still be hungry by tomorrow night. It really put me in my place.” Teens slept anywhere and everywhere in the entire church facility except the “Loft” which is normally their space. The Loft on this night was reserved for the two directors.
Saturday morning began with morning prayers followed by a mission project of packaging freeze-dried food, supplied by Kids Against Hunger, to be shipped to Central America. This activity was a highlight of the famine for adult Valerie Curry who noted that none of the teens complained while sixty-one boxes were filled. These will supply 13,716 meals to feed 36 kids for a year. Some free time was followed by an off-property game of “Mission Impossible,” a scavenger hunt game designed by the youth leaders. Clues were positioned around town and the teams, driven by parents, sought to be the first to solve the clues and find the final destination. Teams had to devise a way to communicate with members in the other vehicle; the winners used Facetime on their mobile phones and others texted. Clues were carefully constructed to include all youth, even those who do not reside in the city of McKinney.
Back at the church, free time when consumption of water or juice was encouraged was followed by practice for the worship service which the youth planned and conducted on Sunday. At least two hours were devoted to this rehearsal, speaking with microphones to get used to the acoustics and enunciating and speaking slowly. Those giving the sermon were advised by Parish Associate Ralph Graham; they practiced separately so that all youth weren’t required to listen to the message on Saturday as well as during the two services on Sunday. Youth ushers were walked through their roles; music was rehearsed; the order of worship was refined. By the end of practice, youth were confident and comfortable with whichever role they were to play on Sunday morning.
There was another session of free time followed by another group game which allowed groups to amass points as the earlier ones did. Clean-up time was not a favorite activity, but the entire church facility was readied for Sunday morning by eliminating any sign that the Youth had been ‘camping out’ for, by this time, nearly twenty-four hours. The final fun activity of the day was a “Glow” party in the Loft where the youth leaders had decorated with lava lamps, black lights, and even confetti that glowed in the dark. The group that had earned most points in games and other activities, the individuals who had raised the most, and the team with the most spirit were all announced and celebrated. The fund-raising total was shared – the goal had been met. Then dancing expressed the youth’s enthusiasm and their pride in jobs well-done. Zoe Baker, a twelfth grader, said, “As I was dancing with everyone I thought ‘these are my people, they are pure love.’”
Communion was served and a prayer dismissal sent the participants home or to their restaurant of choice for a hearty meal. Sunday morning, all were back by 8 AM; musicians came even earlier. The fundraising total which, by Sunday morning, surpassed the goal was announced. Olivia Sirchio, a tenth-grader, said, “During our worship service on Sunday while we were singing the last song ‘Canticle of the Turning,’ I felt powerful and united as a youth group and church.” Obviously, the congregation felt this too. The services were wonderful, inspiring all in attendance as well as those who watched the live-stream video. Participants were moved by the mature, well-planned and rehearsed, and beautifully delivered service. Valerie Curry said, “I am astonished by our youth, especially with the worship service. . . . I was so moved by the message and the music that I cried during both services. It brings me comfort knowing that these young adults could be our future leaders.” Senior Pastor Patrick McCoy concluded the second service with praise for the teens and said he wished he could do cartwheels down the center aisle to display his enthusiasm and pride.
Most of us know about world hunger, that one in every nine people in the world does not have enough to eat. We hear that 31 kids somewhere in the world die of starvation every hour. But too many of us think that we cannot make a difference. What can we do? Well, listen to the Youth from Trinity who expressed the impressions that the Thirty-Hour Famine had on them. Valerie Landis, eleventh grade, said, “Raising money for Peru was very impactful because we had experiences to draw on. I learned that it is not foolish to think that we can change lives and that I really can make a difference.” Miriam Ross, one who knows them well, said, “We have amazing youth in this world and they care so much about the world that they will do whatever it takes to make it a better place.”
Twenty-three youth raised over $500 each. Of that number, twelve raised $1,000; four raised over $2,000. The top fund-raiser this year was Cassie Vestal who raised over $3,000.
When asked about future plans, both Tami and Miriam sighed since they are still recovering from this years’ famine. The youth don't plan to return to Peru for several years, but Tami hopes the teens in Logos will keep in touch with the Casa in Peru and believes they will want to continue to support and raise monies to help and support the young women there. Wherever the group decides to send their future funds, it can be assured the famine experience will continue at Trinity. For the younger participants who are just learning what the Thirty Hour Famine offers them personally, the takeaway is more basic. Claire Rodgers, a seventh-grader, learned “I like food a lot!” Ben Hofeldt, another seventh-grader, stated: “God says to love your neighbor, and that is what the famine is all about.” Older students take home a little more: “Famine is one of my favorite parts of the year,” says Bronte Roltsch, a tenth grader, “and one of the reasons is we all get so close.” It is also an opportunity to learn “so much about the world and about the place where our money is going,” according to Amanda Pfeil, a Trinity senior.
World Vision ranks the teams doing the 30 Hour Famine on their website by amount raised each year. Out of the 1,032 groups participating in the famine this February, Trinity was the number one fundraiser – truly a remarkable accomplishment.
About the Author
Linda I. Wilcox lives in McKinney, TX, and has been a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church since 2005. She has a B.S. in Education and a Master’s from the University of North Texas. She is a retired teacher at the upper secondary and community college levels where she taught composition and literature classes for a total of thirty years. Linda and her husband Bob have two grown children and two grandsons.