SIKESTON - The right heart and right attitude can make all the difference in the world.
And that's what the youths at the First Baptist Church are counting on.
Beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday around 30 youths will go for 30 hours without eating in recognition of World Vision's National 30-Hour Famine. The program allows young people to make a significant impact on the problem of world hunger.
By pledging to go without food for 30 hours, participants not only raise money to help alleviate this type of suffering, but also gain an understanding of how it feels to experience hunger.
"Thirty hours is a long time to go without food, the kids came away with a whole new respect for hunger last year," said Mike Wilson, youth minister who again with his wife, Jeanene, will join the youths in their famine. "They said things like 'I'll never complain about what my mom cooks again' and 'I'm not going to fill my plate up quite so much.'"
"I found out that after so many hours of not having anything to eat, there comes a point where it doesn't get much worse," chimed in 13-year-old Tyler Wallace who participated with his older sister, Whitney. "It was different for me having gone that long without eating, I don't like not to eat. And you couldn't sleep because you had food on your mind, but now I know what it's like to live out on the streets."
Although the National Famine dates are actually Feb. 22-23, scheduling conflicts with school and music contests made it necessary for the Sikeston youths to have their famine on Saturday and Sunday.
This year, World Vision expects over one million teens in more than 21 countries to participate in the youth movement to fight hunger and save children's lives. The organization hopes to raise more than $8.6 million to help needy children and families in the United States, Africa, Latin America and Asia.
World Vision is a 50-year-old nonprofit, Christian relief and development organization dedicated to meeting the needs of children, families and communities.
"I don't think any of them realized what 30 hours without food was like, I know Jeanene and I didn't," said Wilson.
"You know, in this day and age we just go to the cabinet or swing by McDonald's or go to Fast Gas and get something. And teen-age boys think they're starving if they don't have that second Big Mac. We gave them four ounces of juice every four hours, they weren't allowed gum, crackers or anything else except water."
In addition to the absence of food, the group lived inside the church in cardboard boxes - if they were lucky. Youths who raised the most funds received the first choice of boxes.
This year Wilson's making it a challenge by hiding boxes throughout the neighborhood. Those who find the boxes will have a home to live in. Those who don't won't, unless someone is willing to share.
"You find out who's compassionate and who's greedy," quipped Wilson. "This year it will be like survival of the fittest. I'll tell you one thing, when you're really tired and really hungry and all you have is the floor to sleep on, you kind of learn character."
For the most part it will be up to the youths to decide how they will spend the 30 hours. So far their agenda includes working on church dramas, watching videos on the famine's purpose, learning more about the 6-year-old boy from South American the group has adopted and doing projects around the church such as painting and cleaning rooms.
Participants in the 30-hour event are encouraged to come up with community service projects. Last year Wilson sent his group out in teams with shopping carts in search of canned food donations for the Sikeston Rescue Mission.
"They collected a lot of cans, but they said pushing those shopping carts on the street is hard work. I want them to see from a different perspective. We're too busy, we don't always see what we need to be seeing, and this really did enlighten them." This year's recipient will be Mission Missouri.
The youths learned different things from the famine, and many, like Wallace, came out of it with a new attitude. "I am more appreciative of my house and my bed now," the Junior High School student admitted. "I am more thankful, too. I thought I was thankful before the famine last year but after it was over, I realized I didn't really know how grateful I was."
Wilson described the event as an eye-opener not just for him personally but from watching and interacting with the youth group. "What I want the kids to learn from this is compassion, giving and I want them to learn what it's like to do without. I want them to be able to look at other kids at school through different eyes. What we're giving them is a window that they can look out of forever."
Although it might be argued that encouraging young people to go without food for that long is unhealthy, Wilson disagreed, stressing that doing without food is not the point of the famine. The purpose is showing young people that doing something as small as raising money and fasting can cause many other positive things to happen.
"Just pennies a day gives kids in other countries education, medical supplies and shelter. I see what little bitty things do in their lives and how much we have, I want our kids to be aware of how much they have and how blessed they are."