Fasting for Serve

My name is John Eigege. I am a church planter from Nigeria working in Houston, Texas. Over the past three years, God has taken my family on a wild ride as we plant a church that connects Houston’s Midtown and Third Ward neighborhoods. These two neighborhoods, separated only by a highway, are polar opposites economically, socially and ethnically. Our church plant, Square Inch Houston, seeks to reconcile, renew, and restore all things through the gospel of Jesus Christ.


God has definitely connected my heart with the collective heart of Youth Unlimited. The Serve experience is one that seeks to help youth join Christ in the renewal of all things. During Serve, this intense, catalytic, week long mission experience, youth gather in worship, grow in community and go out to join in Christ’s mission of restoration in our world.


Every year, my heart says a resounding yes to the privilege of being the speaker at the Houston Serve site. However, this year was a wee-bit challenging. Houston Serve 2014 fell smack-dab in the middle of the 2014 FIFA World Cup! Remember, I am from Nigeria. Any kind of football (or soccer, as it is called here) is a pretty big deal for me. Since it happens only once every four years, the World Cup is the Holy Grail of sports competitions for me.


In ways of poetic justice that only God is capable of, our theme for this year revolved around Isaiah 58. Isaiah 58 is God’s trumpet call to his people to give up “lip-service”, and replace it with true worship and fast. In true worship and fast, we give up something good in order to gain something great! After my initial pity party, it became very evident that The World Cup would have to take the back seat this year. I would have to give up something good for something great.


When we give up something good for the greatness of God’s Kingdom, amazing things happen. At Serve, I saw youth from various churches pouring themselves out on behalf of the poor and oppressed. I saw high school students seeking righteousness through right relationships and justice through right actions. I saw host churches becoming catalysts for spiritual and physical revitalization in neighborhoods and the lives of individuals and families.


I saw young Christians, broken by guilt, shame, fear and inadequacy at the beginning of the week lay those burdens down at the foot of the cross. I saw the Holy Spirit work in them through worship, relationships and acts of service throughout Serve. By week’s end, I saw these same youth receive a new identity in Christ as powerful sons and daughters of King Jesus. They literally became repairers of broken walls,and restorers of street dwellings.


Our acts of service daily ended in worship, and our worship daily lead to acts of service. God used Serve as a catalyst to help us love him with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves. Through it all, God used Serve to fulfill his desire; to transform us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, into the image and likeness of his son, Jesus.


Right after Serve, my family and I made our scheduled move from Midtown into Houston’s Third Ward. We seek to be agents of transformation in our community. We seek to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We seek reconciliation, renewal and restoration of all facets of life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. For us, the Serve experience is an invaluable spark that keeps moving our vision and mission of restoration forward the remaining fifty-one weeks of the year. We are carrying the momentum of Serve with us as we learn to forever find our sense of purpose, our identity, and rest in Jesus Christ as his agents of transformation in this world.


“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, too him be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”

Tiredness – Young Adults as a Solution

My goal, as a pastor to my congregation, is not to reinvent the wheel, but rather to inspire and equip new leadership, to facilitate conversations between young and old, and to help them see Christ’s presence here in my congregation and city.


As I had conversations, I began to hear a theme of “tiredness” more and more frequently from our Old Guard. For many years, they’ve been shouldering the tasks and workloads of many different church functions – among them, hosting Serve. Their passion is still just as vibrant as it was years ago, but their energy is not.

At the same time of these conversations, I had my ear bent to the voices of our young people, a dormant demographic in many churches. As I heard the stories of highlights from their upbringing in the church, it became clear to me that Serve is one of the ministries that shaped their faith and commitment to Christ’s church.

These two threads of conversation have, I think, for many years been running parallel to each other. Most recently, the two threads collided at our classis meeting. One of the members from previous Host Teams here in Thunder Bay expressed a desire to see us host Serve once more and wondered what I thought about it.

I responded with, “Let’s ask the Young Adults, because I’m already striving to build them up as leaders in the church and they have already expressed interest in hosting Serve in the future.”

Upon asking the Young Adult’s, they responded with, “Yes! We’re happy to do the work!” and then there was an explosion of ideas.

The Old Guard expressed that they would love to support this new Host Team.

As Thunder Bay prepares to host Serve 2014 this next month, we do so seeing Christ bringing these two threads of people together to help equip a new generation of leaders in His church. Praise be to God!

Fast Without the Furious

A pastor I’ve known for a long time challenged me to fast periodically. I used to grit my teeth and commit to grind out the duration of the fast, believing it was good for expanding my heart’s passion for the Lord and compassion for others. I joked about reversing the Daniel Fast and only eating meats and sweets. Of all the spiritual disciplines, fasting is the one I’ve struggled with the most.

In the book, Fast Living, I finally caught a glimpse of fasting that touched my heart and moved me to a more genuine act of worship. The author points out that there are moments in the human experience that no one would consider eating, such as a bride taking the arm of her father to walk down the isle. At that moment stopping for a meatball sub would never cross her mind. Similarly, no one approaching the scene of a tragic accident reaches for a snack. No one enters an appointment to hear a serious diagnosis with a to-go bag.

There are moments in life, points of impact, when human appetites fade due to something more significant. Life priorities shuffle. We realize the most important things in life are unseen, untouchable by hands and only touched in the deepest places of our hearts.

This is a good introduction to fasting.  As we get a glimpse of this world the way God sees it, our human appetites for the things of this world fade and laying them aside for a season is just reasonable or even welcome. With a true view from God’s perspective one could ask: “How can I consume so much when others have so little? How can I enjoy such comforts and excess when God’s heart is broken for people in need of basic life resources? Can’t I use more of what he has given me to help them?”

We are convicted that for a season we could:

  • Eat less and less often so that, through God’s leading, we can pray more and more fervently for those around the world in need.
  • Shower quicker and pray more as an act of solidarity with those who have little water.
  • Abstain from an entertainment in order to spend more time with the Lord and others following him so we can pray, listen and then act.

Listening to the Lord and becoming educated on his view of the world is essential then for True Fasting.

This is why Youth Unlimited has collaborated with both LIVE 58 and World Renew for the 2014 Serve theme material. Together, we just sent 2,500 copies of Fast Living to church pastors across Canada and the U.S.

LIVE 58 has become an amplifier for Isaiah 58, making the message of God’s heart for a hurting world simple to access. Their website and resources are creative, fun and meant for friends and groups to do together. Check them out at

World Renew has many real life stories not just of need, but of courage and hope and followers of Christ around the world who pull together the assets of a community and make a difference through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Check them out at

This year, we want to help your students sense the heart of the Lord for this hurting world. We want to see the appetites of this world fade in the light of God’s longing for his people to help others. The Serve experience will call students to fast for a week from ordinary comforts and conveniences and inspire them to engage in praying, fasting, giving and being an advocate in their church for the rest of the year.

To Serve Again

A true Californian boy with blonde hair and blue eyes gleefully posed for the camera in a shirt that reads “Canada”, the rest of his features covered by a classic moustache disguise – this is the way most people at Serve know John Brouwer.

A playful character who is always willing to dance along to a Justin Bieber song, John’s heart is as big as the bright smile that lights up his face whenever he interacts with his friends.

His friends are the other special-needs campers attending Youth Unlimited’s Special Needs Serve, a weeklong overnight camp for teens and young adults with special needs. Some campers, like John, have Down syndrome, while others have learning impediments or more severe intellectual disabilities that can make life a challenge.

Begun in 2008, and hosted at Calvin Christian Reformed Church, Serve is run entirely by volunteers.

Currently, Serve welcomes 15 to 20 participants each year, providing them with a week of teaching and lessons about God, as well as one-on-one support from mentors, fun activities, volunteerism, friendship and good food.

Serve is never the same. There are always new mentors and participants. It is always changing, but the thing that stays the same is the friendships that are made, and it amazes me how quickly they are made,” said Joanna Janssen, a Direct Support Worker for Christian Horizons, who has been involved with Serve since its creation.

To retain participant interest and create unique memories, every day at Serve is different. Part of the day is devoted to teaching, while the other part is devoted to fun and friendship.

Small groups is a time for participants to learn and go deeper into the lesson and word of God, while in the evening, the speaker draws them together as a whole camp to impart a message.

Highlights of the week always include leisurely activities like bowling, motorcycle rides, Ray’s reptiles or mini put, and the volunteer work sites – such as Jericho Road, the Ottawa Mission or The Ottawa Food bank – where participants serve others.

To finish the week, there is fancy dinner where participants and mentors dress up, get pampered, dance, and perform together in a talent show that brings everyone to their feet.

Ron Hosmar, Commissioned Pastor of Youth and Congregational Life at Calvin, was inspired to create Serve by discovering a similar project in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Approaching a congregational member who had a sister with Down syndrome, Hosmar asked if she would be interested in trying the same type of project. After Hosmar, and a small group of interested volunteers, visited Grand Rapids, the Serve project was given a chance.

Over the past six years, Serve has continuously evolved, welcoming and saying farewell to various participants, mentors, speakers, volunteers, work sites and activities.

Not only do participants return again and again to enjoy the week, but every year familiar faces are seen among the mentors, with volunteering often running in the family.

“My sister was a mentor the year before my first year of being a mentor and she really enjoyed it,” said 17-year-old Ben Brinkman. “It seemed like a good experience, and I loved it, so I have continued to be a mentor.”

Serve’s commitment, camaraderie and love is apparent in the instant bonds created between mentor and participant and the old friendships that are quickly renewed.

Taurie March, an exuberant fan of the TV show Glee and much-loved participant, had these words for future campers, “I would tell them that you make new friends and it’s such a blast.”

“Our Mentors want to come back each year because they grow and come to love our participants so much,” Hosmar said.

“Everyone on the trip is remarkably present. People are able to truly see each other,” added Mark DeVos, Serve’s 2013 speaker. “This kind of attentive love has an untold impact on the youth and other servants during the trip.”

While the participants are the ones there to learn and volunteer, the mentors and camp staff can’t help but leave with valuable takeaways. As Brinkman said, “[Serve] has impacted me through [the participants] joy and unique point of view on things, giving me new perspectives, as well as the great experience and unforgettable memories.”

“Every person has unique value. I learn this from the participants,” said DeVos. “In many ways they are able to accept and love one another better than I am […] I respect them for their fearless ability to live out their uniqueness.”

“When they accomplish something for the first time the joy they show is contagious,” Janssen said, “They teach you something new every day, and they have a love for life that not everyone has.”

The benefits of Serve can be seen throughout the lives of everyone involved, whether volunteer, mentor, planning team, participant or the parents that are given a week’s respite from the sometimes demanding care of a child with special needs.

“Our participants learn to be more independent,” Hosmar said. “Their families appreciate a safe place for their children to be cared for and loved on for a week. They can then take some time to rest knowing their son or daughter is safe. “

Serve’s volunteer planning team is in full swing with preparations for 2014’s camp. It will be held at Calvin CRC in Ottawa from July 5 – 10. Though the site is full, if you know of anyone who might be interested as a mentor [aged 14 and up] or participant [aged 14 – 26] for next year, have them contact Pastor Ron. You can also review the past Serve happenings by looking up Pastor Ron’s blog and clicking on the July entries for any given past year. “Hopefully,” Hosmar said, “Serve continues to grow and be part of the fabric of our church and the lives of those families who we are blessing through this ministry.”

Parents of participants agree.

“I wanted to have John be in a project where he was fully included, not just an add-on,” said Grace Brouwer, John’s mother. “John knows he is serving Jesus, and others. He gains new relationships, even though from afar, and I can relax because I know he is in good hands.”

Divine Normal: Kingdom Living by Mere Mortals

We recognize that it can be hard for high school students to feel as though they are truly living for Christ and for the Kingdom. On youth mission trips students often hear the invitation to go into all the world with the gospel. Youth leaders and speakers clearly present Christ’s words to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. But that can make it sound like missional living requires world travel and gospel preaching on a diet of bugs. That might be either scary or exciting, but it’s not an accurate picture of Kingdom impact for everyone.


Students can get even more confused after returning home, because changing the world often gets put on hold altogether. Thoughts of world restoration can be drowned out by the need to get good grades, a good job, enough money and a successful life. But is it really one or the other? Can a student in the midst of homework, sports, tests and friends really help change the world with the gospel? Or for some of us, are our lives just too normal to have divine Kingdom impact? We may wonder if we’re missing a higher calling or if there’s a way that everyday life can become more radically Christian.


Inspired by God’s exhortations to his people in Isaiah 58, the theme for 2014 will address issues of justice that “ordinary” people can do something about right away. “Normal” will be redefined in light of heavenly, and not earthly, standards, so that students will see just how radical everyday Christian life and love can be.


The fundamental truth is that God exists, and he is engaged in creation and culture. Students will be encouraged to celebrate their gospel call to be co-workers with Christ by bringing about restoration in the world. They will be challenged to add practical justice initiatives to their existing routine of spiritual disciplines. By the end of the week, students and leaders will be encouraged to engage their congregations back home with a Kingdom-impacting project that will take place in the fall or winter in order to keep the momentum from their summer trip moving towards a lifestyle of missions.


This year, Serve student mission trips is excited to partner with Live58 and World Renew to bring real stories of community impact and resources for continued service after the Serve week. If you want to get a head start on this theme, read the book Fast Living by Dr. Scott Todd. All Serve Speakers and Worship Leaders will be encouraged to read this before Serve, and both the Host and Sending Churches will be encouraged to watch the movie, LIVE 58.