Westminster Baptist Church is offering its youths 30 hours of hunger and discomfort and a full day of work on community service projects, starting today.
About 25 teens and pre-teens have signed up for the church's fourth 30-Hour Famine, an event sponsored by World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organization. The youths will fast, pray, spend the night in a cold basement and work all day tomorrow on various service projects.
After lunch today, the group will not eat again until a light supper is served at the church tomorrow evening.
"It is 30 hours of doing without," said the Rev. Vernon Hallis, youth pastor and organizer of the fast. "This is an activity to make kids aware what it's like to not have. They will sleep on the basement floor and work all day while they are hungry."
The day is one of sacrifice, prayer and hard work, he said.
The youths will do odd jobs tomorrow for Shepherd's Staff, an ecumenical ministry to the needy, and for a church member who is dealing with the effects of a house fire.
"I really loved working with those kids last year," said Kathy Brown, director of Shepherd's Staff. "They were so eager. I just gave them a laundry list of chores, and they did it all."
In fact, Brown managed to keep one of the student volunteers. Scott Harper has been working on the charity's computer system since last year.
"He translates everything I need into the computer," Brown said.
Margaret Bush, 13, of Eldersburg will be doing her second fast this year. While scrubbing the kitchen and cleaning appliances last year at Shepherd's Staff, Margaret spotted a chocolate cake in the refrigerator.
"That is one of the hardest parts, when there is food out and you are not able to eat it," she said.
Other than that brief temptation, Margaret said she had no complaints - nor did she hear any from the other youths who fasted with her.
"It is not that hard," she said. "You are only hungry for the last few hours. It is a really cool, good thing to do, and it's spiritually uplifting."
Margaret persuaded her older brother, Chris, to join the fast this year.
"I don't think it will be hard," said Chris, 15. "It will give me an idea of what it's like to be hungry all the time."
According to World Vision, more than 29,000 children worldwide die every day from hunger and hunger-related diseases. In 2002, the organization provided material, emotional, social and spiritual support to 85 million people in 96 countries.
Elizabeth Bush said her children would take this weekend to focus on the needs of others and on the message of spirituality.
"Children in our society have no concept of how privileged we are in America," Elizabeth Bush said. "This is a worthwhile project that gives them some idea of how other people live. Youth have a lot of activities geared just to them. This one is about whole-heartedly serving others."
The congregation provides the children with ample supplies of juice, bottled water, mints and gum. Many of those fasting have lined up sponsors who will donate money and canned goods to World Vision projects.
The children will begin the fast this afternoon, when many of them would be having an after-school snack. A lively Christian music program "pumps them up" at the church tonight, said Hallis, who fasts with the group, which includes his 17-year-old daughter, Jessica. Instead of Friday night movies, the group will spend time with Scripture and in prayer.
"We try to make the night passed in the church basement resemble what it would be like in a homeless shelter," he said. "It is not very comfortable, and we don't want it to be."
Tomorrow will start early with a full day of chores. The congregation will break the fast with the youths at an evening service.
"This is not a lock-in filled with entertainment," Hallis said. "It is a chance to do without essentials and grow closer to God."
Margaret plans to participate in the fast again.
"You are glad to go home and you are tired, hungry and closer to God," she said.