|They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. And I think that’s pretty true. So if you haven’t had a chance to watch the Virginia Synod’s video full of amazing moments at the National Youth Gathering or checked out the many photos posted on the church’s Facebook group, then please do! The photos you will see in the video and posted on Facebook tell the story of our congregation’s journey to and in Detroit. Now we normally think about illustrations in books being secondary to the words written on the pages, but our hope is that the words typed in the article below featuring the voices of Christ Lutheran youth will be like illustrations from a wonderful story book that point to and exemplify the National Youth Gathering’s theme, “Rise Up.” So go check out the video and the photos, then come back and read this article to hear what our youth have to share.After looking at the photos it is probably easy to see why our youth were so eager to go to the National Youth Gathering. But before the train ride, the flight, and the excitement of being with 30,000+ youth from around the country, our youth had to “rise up” and commit to being active in regular youth group activities, Sunday school, worship, and fundraising activities. So why did 16 youth and 4 adult leaders agree to spend an entire year preparing for the event? Mathieu Ouellet, a rising 10th grader, committed to the trip because he wanted “to visit a new place and learn more about [his] faith.” When Caitlynn Dick, who will begin high school in the fall, was asked about her decision to attend, she shared, “I decided to go to the national youth gathering because of many reasons. I wanted to explore and learn more about Detroit. I also wanted to help the community, meet new people, and have fun with my friends. In the end I was happy we went because I got to not only help make Detroit prettier, but as one whole the gathering gave the city hope.Being in the city and discovering that Detroit’s citizens are both our neighbors and our sisters and brothers in Christ was a huge takeaway for many of our youth. One of the main ways we got to know our Detroit neighbors was through the large worship every night at Ford Field, where local poets, musicians, and community leaders shared their gifts and challenges with us. When asked about her favorite worship experience while at the Gathering, Sara Newton, who will also begin high school in the fall, responded, “My favorite worship experience during the trip would have to be the opening and closing worships at Ford Field because it was so amazing being able to take Holy Communion with 30,000+ other youth. The opening worship was very exciting to see Agape and all the singers, preachers, and all the speakers they had for us.
Perhaps the most influential experience while in Detroit was our “Proclaim Justice Day” where we had the opportunity to get our hands dirty working in a local neighborhood’s community garden. We got to know a neighborhood resident named Eugene who was a former Detroit police officer who had lived in his home for 27 years. Eugene was the driving force behind keeping the neighborhood connected and with the help of a Detroit non-profit worked to establish the community garden on his block. During our time with non-profit volunteers and Eugene, our group discovered just what it means to be connected with our neighbors in Christ. Reflecting on our time in Detroit and at the garden, Caitlynn Dick says, “I learned that the people in Detroit were very nice and when we worked on the garden I learned that our youth group was very willing to help. Last, but not least I learned that God is with every single person in the city of Detroit. No matter how hopeless the city may seem, the people of the city stick together. They are all going through the same things, the same struggles. The city of Detroit is one of the strongest city’s I’ve ever heard of.” We learned something important about what it means to “rise up” and be servants in the community. For Mathieu Ouellet who walked away with blistered hands after giving 110% at the garden, he discovered a passion for service as he pulled weeds and hauled away wheel barrows full of debris. “I learned that my neighbors are all willing to help one another out, that I work harder for other people than I do for my parents, and that with God anything is possible.” So to all parents and Mathieu’s parents in particular, if Mathieu works half as hard as he did at the garden on your front yard, then you will surely have the best looking lot on the block
After working hard at the garden and a night of music and worship, we retired to the hotel for a good, but short night’s sleep. On Sunday morning as many of you were making your way to Christ Lutheran, we headed back to Ford Field for closing worship on where in an event akin to a miracle 30,000+ youth and adults were fed at the Lord’s Table in what was both a most holy and highly organized sacramental experience. We exited Ford Field for the final time on our journey empowered and charged by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s message to continue to “rise up” in our communities in the name of the One who has risen up for the entire world. After worship we made our way over to Commerica Park to watch the Baltimore Orioles play the Detroit Tigers. After the game we headed back to the hotel for a pool party. On the last night in the city, sprawled out in the hallway of the hotel, participants were asked, “What surprised you the most about your time in Detroit?” Here’s what Thomas Garrett, rising junior, had to say, “What surprised me the most on this trip was that Detroit isn’t what people say it is. It is a vibrant city with lots of exciting places and people to meet. I was pleasantly surprised by all the fun and experiences I had there. It was amazing. Adding to Thomas’ remarks, Avery Coleman, rising sophomore, spoke of the people of the city of Detroit, “I was surprised by the people of Detroit. They were very interested in where we were from and what we were doing. I had thought they would be annoyed by 30, 000+ people coming in for a week, walking, and taking up their streets. I was especially surprised when Wendy’s employee, Shayna Lane, began talking to us even though she was in the middle of her work. She even prayed with us.” The next morning we would “rise up” a bit later than previous days and go back into downtown Detroit for lunch at Hockey Town Café followed by a tour of Fox Theater and Historic Holy Trinity Lutheran Church before catching a flight home
So there’s our journey to Detroit in just over 1000 words. We hope our reflections and our photos invite you into our experience, and we thank you for the gifts and prayers of support. One more thing! For parents of younger youth and for youth who are reading this article, we have a big announcement to make: we’re going to Houston for the 2018 National Youth Gathering and we want you to go with us! Thomas Garrett wants you to know that “What we did in Detroit made a difference. The work and time we spent there was worth it. The people that live there were so kind and grateful for what we were doing. Then to see what we accomplished from our service project was astounding.” So let’s “rise up” together and get ready for God’ work to be done with our hands in Houston!