To our awesome WHLC family,
This year, Windsor Heights was fortunate enough to get to send a small group of youth and myself to the ELCA National Youth Gathering in Houston Texas. Our group, consisting of Becca Morris, Cole and Sonja Barrett and myself, was able to spend nearly a week in the beautiful city . . . after a 14 hour long bus ride! Our week was spent doing a variety of projects, heading to events, and exploring the city, whether it was on our own, with our synod or together with the 30,000 other Lutheran students and adult leaders partaking in the Gathering.
We arrived a day early in Houston, and as such we spent our first evening and the following afternoon exploring the area and partaking in some fun activities. As our team bonding challenge for the week, the four of us partook in a local escape room, and managed to make it out with 13 seconds to spare! Admittedly, we didn’t do so bad for first timers! The next day we, along with six others churches we shared buses with for the week, got to spend the morning at Galveston beach, swimming in the ocean, and riding the rides at the Galveston Pier!
The next three days in Houston saw the entire Gathering split up into a three-group rotation. On Thursday our rotation was Interactive learning day, where we got to partake in fun activities and also check out booths for various organizations and partners of the ELCA. This was a great opportunity to see what ministries and missions the ELCA and its partners were carrying out both stateside and worldwide, and allowed us to have some fun doing some goofy activities you would not find anywhere else! Following interactive learning our group had the chance to go and visit some of Houston’s museums in their museum district. It was a great way to get a feel for some of the culture of Houston, and get got to check out both the Health Museum and the Art Museum.
On Friday our next rotation was Synod Day, where we were able to worship and spend time with the other church groups from our synod at the Gathering. Our Bishop got the chance to speak on Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and then the entire group worshiped together with live music. We enjoyed getting to meet both familiar and new faces from around the synod. We hope and pray that moments like these would strengthen the unity of the Southeastern Iowa Synod, and raise up leaders in it for years to come!
Saturday was our last rotation, and our busiest day! We awoke early in the morning to head to our interactive learning day in Houston’s Third Ward. Working with a local Methodist church, our group, which consisted of churches from Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina, picked up trash and clean the sidewalks in a local neighborhood. We met some new faces along the way, and got a chance to hear the story of the area from the locals. Cole and I got a special opportunity to work with one of the church members, Jerome, as we drove around and picked up trash bags. Following our service, we were honored to be treated with a trip to a nearby park, steeped in civil rights history, and hear a message from the Mayor of Houston. He thanked us for our work and informed us of the impact it would help leave on the community.
Each night we closed the day by heading to NRG stadium, where we got the chance to worship with the other 30,000 plus Lutherans in Houston. We got a chance to listen to a variety of speakers and listen to different musicians perform (including Tauren Wells and Tenth Avenue North). Each night centered around a theme related to our motto for the week “This Changes Everything.” We even got the chance to partake in offering and communion, and its was always fun to do the wave through the stands at NRG.
That isn’t to say there were never snags or bumps in the road during our time in Houston, but our group handled them all remarkably well. It certainly wasn’t easy waiting to enter NRG in the hot Houston heat, and with so much traffic in the city, it wasn’t always a breeze getting to where we needed to go on time. However, our group showed remarkable maturity, peace and grace in our interactions with the locals, volunteers and other Lutherans in Houston.
Sunday morning we partook in one final large worship before we hopped on the bus and headed back to Des Moines! It was sad to say goodbye, but we closed out with a word of hope, realizing the message of the Gathering would apply long after we returned home. It was another long bus ride after that, but our group arrived back in Des Moines . . . sleepy to be sure, but safe and sound as well!
I was beyond impressed and proud of our group. Each had had prior Gathering experience, but all of them seemed to take away new things from the event this year. They showed strong curiosity and wisdom dealing with some of the tough topics/moments we encountered during the week, and were receptive to the messages we heard and their subsequent relation to our lives. I have no doubt these three young adults are well on their way to continue doing amazing things for Christ and the mission of evangelism in the world.
There were many topics and themes we touched on during the week-far too many to list here I am afraid-but the overall message for the week, I believe, impacted us all deeply. These youth are preparing to make their futures in the world. Indeed, we call them the future, but in so many ways they are more the present! To carry out what Christ calls us to do in this world in terms of justice, love, mercy and grace is not always an easy task . . . and yet these youth are tackling it head on. The truth is is that the incredible message of Jesus does change everything-and it frees us to do so much more.
The Gathering certainly had an impact on Houston and the different youth and adult leaders visiting, but more than that the message of the Gathering reverberates in our world. These youth are not only realizing but enacting the message of hope and grace through Jesus in communities all over the world, and it is not only powerful but encouraging to come together to worship and serve on such a big level!
We owe a big thanks to so many for the awesome experience we had in Houston. So many volunteers, church leaders and local employees and officials worked their tails off to provide for us during the week, and kept us safe and orderly. Many speakers taught important lessons, and musicians poured out their hearts to lead us in beautiful worship music each night. We may never know the names of every person who played a part in our experience, but to all those who did we say thank you.
We also owe a big thank you to our church community for their support of this mission experience. So many contributed to our youth fundraises, and because of that we were able to hep support the youth in making this journey, easing the financial cost on the families. More-so than that however, you all supported us with prayers prior to and during the week. It means so much to us to have your backing and support on these trips, and we always hope we will be able to reflect the ideals and characteristics of not only WHLC but Christ himself when we head out in service and fellowship such as this.
I personally owe a big thank you to the families, staff and leadership team here at WHLC for entrusting me with such a big role for the week. It was a honor, privilege and blessing to lead this remarkable group, and I will certainly miss not having them around at the next Gathering! I had been to Gatherings before but had never lead one, and this group helped make the experience incredibly meaningful to me!
Finally, I would like to thank the Lord for providing so much during the week. We were blessed with safe travels and an experience that will last for the rest of our lives. We were provided for and cared for even in hard moments in Houston, and I think we got to see that God will be active in that city long after we had left. Getting to spend that time with Him in fellowship with so many others is something I hope we never take for granted. Thank you Lord for an awesome week!
I’d like to close by saying we are excited to spread the word that the next Youth Gathering will be held in Minneapolis in July 2021. Anyone entering junior high that summer through those who are finished their senior year that summer are invited to come and experience this magnificent event. I hope that if you are of age or have a child who is of age that you would consider coming to this amazing event. It is a great chance to bond as a youth group, see God’s will in action in the world, and see that we individually are part of something so much bigger than we often realize. If you have any questions about the next Gathering in the years to come I would be happy to talk to you more about it and explain the experience ( I am sure our Youth who participated this year would be happy to do the same!)
Thank you all for your support and thanks be to God! The 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering was a big success for our youth and our church. Looking forward to 2021! This Changes Everything!
Director of Youth and Family Ministry/Congregational Life Coordinator