HUNGER STRIKE: DO THE FAST!
OCMC HUNGER STRIKE: SET THE WORLD ABLAZE!
What is Hunger Strike? Hunger Strike is a youth ministry program developed at St. Paul’s by Carolyn Kouracos to connect the ancient Christian discipline of fasting with prayer, ministry and outreach to others. In our world of excess and privilege it’s hard to believe nearly 16,000 children die every day because of hunger and more than a billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water. Most walk miles to attend church, many in bare feet. Attending school is not a certainty and sadly, too many have not heard the Good News of Jesus Christ.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! We can DO something about it. Hunger Strike is a program the mobilizes the youth of our parish, enabling them to stand up for what is right and good and help change the world. And in doing so, we found that the kids themselves were changed in the process.
HUNGER STRIKE AT ST. PAUL’S
by Carolyn Kouracos
Our young people are increasingly plugged in. They’re plugged in to cell phones, computers, iPods, television, video games and the like. They’re plugged in but run the risk of becoming disconnected from their family, community, church, and faith. We tend to think these young people are more focused on themselves, more likely to be concerned with what song they want to download next from iTunes, what their friends are chatting about on Facebook or MySpace, or whatever the latest fad is--certainly not thinking about the injustices and inequalities in our world today. Most people, I dare say, think that the least likely group to make a positive impact on this world is teenagers.
So, what would lead a group of teenagers to give up a weekend, the comforts of home, their cell phones and iPods, and go on a Hunger Strike? For sixty Southern California young people this Lent, it was their desire to feed the hungry and bring hope to children on the other side of the globe. This aspiration drew them to forgo food and other comforts to raise funds and awareness for the plight of millions of children around the world. These inspiring teens participated in Hunger Strike – an Orthodox Christian Fast for Change. During Hunger Strike, teens go without food for thirty hours to experience true hunger, identify with the poor, and learn great lessons of compassion for those that live in harsh conditions in developing countries. In addition, participants learn about their Orthodox Christian faith in a more personal and real way through activities and lessons given by lay people and priests alike.
Before the retreat weekend the teens found sponsors for the number of hours they were going to fast. On March 20th and 21st, teens from five Antiochian and Greek Orthodox parishes gathered at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, CA to do as their battle cry claims and “Strike for Change”.
The teens heard many statistics throughout the weekend but none more impactful then the 16,000 children that die every day from hunger alone. To gain perspective of that number the participants “planted” a garden of 667 forks representing the number of children that die from hunger every hour. Anyone is shocked by these figures but a teen growing up in suburban California might not quite understand the implications of hunger or clean water until faced with the raw data. The “fork field”, as many dubbed it, brought the lesson of lost lives into focus and gave a real visual display to their cause.
Once the retreat got into full swing the participants were broken down into five “villages” with two to three adults as “village chiefs”. The teens were then given passports depicting Orthodox Christian children from Tanzania. The passports showed the photograph of an Orthodox child in Tanzania and offered a description of their life including their home, school, health, and chores. These passports were a result of previous mission trips to Tanzania in which interviews and photographs were taken of the children. The passports helped our youth participants open a window into the lives of these African children and brought to life the harsh reality of living in a third world country.
The “villages” competed against one another in a spirit of fun and learning. The activities emphasized the need for clean water, adequate food, and energy in developing countries. Each activity began with a talk given by a member of the Orthodox faith about a specific topic and what the teens could do to change the world. They ran relays, made prosphoro for Liturgy the next morning, played games, and collected canned food from the neighborhood surrounding St. Paul’s to be given to Saint Innocent’s Orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico.
Hunger Strike participants also learned that Jesus Christ brings life and hope to those living in harsh conditions with little hope. Our teens saw the joy of the Africans that only Christ can give a community. And they saw the brotherhood of Orthodoxy that spans distance, time, and nationalities. After such a busy day of fasting and learning, the youth took time to reflect on what they had learned—as well as how blessed they are in this country—and wrote a prayer specifically for their Tanzanian child. Saturday’s activities culminated in a candlelight memorial service in the church for people who had died from hunger this past year. After the memorial, they broke their fast to eat kollyva and some of the Prosphoro they had made earlier in the day. This was the only food they ate during the entire thirty hours, and many said that nothing had ever tasted so good to them.
On Sunday morning, the participants attended liturgy. Instead of the sermon, the Hunger Strike participants spoke about what they had learned and what the weekend meant to them. They also demonstrated the impact of the weekend with picket signs, posters, and a well-rehearsed Swahili song. They then met parishioners outside to share their experiences and to continue to raise funds. Reviews from both adult counselors and youth participants were overwhelmingly positive. “This event was amazing!” said Jennifer Saba, a counselor from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge, CA. “It changed us. Through the experience of Hunger Strike many teens this year expressed a real desire to become missionaries, wanting to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations, to help those who suffer the effects of poverty, and to change the world they live in.
Can teenagers change the world? If this group of 60 teens is any example of the hope we should have for our world and our faith, we’re in really good hands! For example, in 2010 more than $7,000 was raised during Hunger Strike. Money raised from Hunger String has gone to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) and will help provide medical aid to children and their families in Tanzania. It has also gone toward helping the newly baptized Turkana people of Kenya. Hunger Strike is a uniquely Orthodox Christian event that opens the minds and hearts of the young people who participate in it to that love which can only be found in Christ Jesus.