Preparing Youth to Change the World
by Andy Acton
I will come with stories of Your great acts, my Lord, the Eternal.
I will remind them of Your justice, only Yours.
You have taught me since I was young, O God,
and I still proclaim the wonderful things You have done.
Now as I grow old and my hair turns gray, I ask that You not abandon me, O God.
Allow me to share with the generation to come about Your power;
Let me speak about Your strength and wonders to all those yet to be born.
On a late Saturday afternoon last fall, several high school youth at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian in Duluth, Georgia, gathered for a mini-retreat at the church to explore the problems of poverty and hunger. The youth watched videos about the topic, made casseroles for a non-profit which provides transitional housing to low-income families, and attempted to cook their own meal of rice and beans in a tin can outside with a makeshift fire.
The dinner exercise proved difficult because the rain from earlier in the day had dampened the fire materials of sticks, leaves and pinecones. So after laboring for an hour, we moved dinner inside where we cooked the cans atop the kitchen stove. This was also a long process but a more productive one, even though the beans and rice had a distinctly burnt flavor. The youth happily ate and not because it was 10 pm and they hadn’t eaten since lunch. They valued the work they put into the meal and appreciated the fact that many who are impoverished and have meager resources, eat their fair share of overcooked rice and beans.
Early the next morning, we went to a grocery store close to the church to conduct an experiment. After organizing the youth into “families of 3-4,” I handed each group $5 and explained to them that they were a family living in poverty who had to use the allocated money to purchase their food for the week.
This task, which challenged their intelligence and creativity, might have been harder than cooking beans and rice in a tin can. Immediately, they had to pay close attention to food servings and nutrition information on the labels as well as the prices. They had to abandon obviously healthy choices like fresh fruits and vegetables from the produce section because three bananas cost more than half of their budget. After 30 minutes, they paid for their items and then each group shared what $5 can buy: bread, peanut butter, crackers, and pasta—things that are substantial in quantity but lack in quality, i.e. steady meals of carbs a healthy diet does not make.
One youth, Courtney, later described the experience:
“Many people would consider $5 to just be another amount of money, another bill. However, given only $5 to shop for a family consisting of about 4 people is a difficult challenge. This experience forced me to really open my eyes and take in the world around me, for I am used to always coming home to food on the table but this was different. Five dollars may seem like a lot of money to buy food with but in reality it is not. My group was barely able to buy any food and we had to consider things like portion size and price per portion. Over all, this experience taught me that in a world of bigger and better, sometimes all you get is the basics—and sometimes that it all you will ever get.”
I’ve become a strong believer that food justice issues will only be fully solved when young people are exposed to what’s happening around them—not because it’s a crisis they have to deal with in the future, but because they have the power and capability of tackling problem now. They have extraordinary energy, creativity, wisdom and resolve to make a profound and long-lasting impact on the way the world devours its food resources and denies others the means to access clean, uncontaminated food.
When youth are given an opportunity to learn about hunger, poverty, food deserts, etc., their eyes open up wide, their minds expand and their hearts burst with a desire to change the status quo and help those who truly hunger for something better.
It’s a marvelous sight to witness youth embrace God’s call of them to be better stewards of the earth after they’ve cooked their own beans and rice or done a shopping exercise or worked in a community garden or visited a local organic farm.
Youth see the beauty of God’s work in creation when most adults have turned away out of apathy and spite. Youth proclaim the wonderful things God has done and is doing while many grown-ups complain that the planet is a messy plate that can’t be scraped clean.
My hope in this season of Lent—a time of deep discernment, prayer, repentance and self denial—that we seek ways to nourish our young people about food justice so that they may help us abundantly feed the world with God’s wonders.
Andy Acton is the associate pastor for Youth and Mission & Outreach at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Georgia. An ordained minister in the PC(USA) since 2005, Andy lives with his wife Elizabeth and their two young children Katie and Davis. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter and he regularly blogs at http://georgiapreach.wordpress.com
Lenten Calendar for MARCH 19
Read Genesis 1:29-31. Buy / eat 5 foods this week that help you celebrate God’s gift of food.
We need your stories!
We’re already looking ahead to the 40 Days for Food Justice Project for 2016 and we’re looking for more stories, experiences, prayers and resources about food justice and food injustice.
If you would like to contribute – or would like to recommend a contributor – please send us an email and let us know.
In addition to being the founder and editor-in-chief of the “40 Days for Food Justice Project”, the Rev. MargaretAnne Overstreet is a mom, a Presbyterian pastor, and a certified Health Coach. She does ministry with and among the good people of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Belleville, Illinois, where she gets her hands dirty in the community garden and, every Sunday, preaches with bare feet. She treasures family time, relishes every opportunity to teach and write about food justice, and loves to play outside with her dogs. Find out more about her at www.AnInBetweenPlace.com