It is almost that time. National Youth Gathering time!! By the time you all read this article, we will only be a week and a half away from piling together in a 12-passenger van and heading out to Detroit for a week of service, fellowship, prayer, and hopefully at least a little bit of fun. The entire congregation has been such a blessing to our youth group as they are preparing for this trip, supporting them in their fundraisers, inquiring about their needs, praying for them – and I realized that some of you might be wondering just what exactly our youth are going to be getting up to when they’re in Detroit. So, I figured there was no time like the present to fill you in.
Your first question might be, why Detroit? Why would the ELCA choose to send 30,000 youth to the middle of the Midwest and unleash them upon the city? The goal of the youth gathering is to bring our youth to a place that is in real need of help, somewhere that the youth can feel and see that they are making a tangible difference. When it came time to decide on the 2015 location, Detroit seemed like a no-brainer for the ELCA. The reality is, things haven’t been going Detroit’s way for a long time, but after the economic downturn of 2008, things went from bad to worse. Weighted down by corrupt government officials, suburban flight, and myriad economic struggles, Detroit has started to crumble under the weight of holding its own. A city, that at one time was one of the largest, most successful in the country, has been hit hard, and has become unrecognizable to some of the people that love it dearly. But that does not mean that it is a city without hope. Due to a large influx of young adults and entrepreneurs moving into the city, there is a real sense of revival amongst the city’s citizens. Change is happening. Hope is returning to the streets. For the first time, in a very long time, there is a sense that maybe, Detroit could rise up from the ashes. Enter 30,000 Lutherans ready to make a difference.
Over the course of five days, our youth will be provided with real opportunities to serve and support their brothers and sisters in Detroit. They will spend time learning about the city, learning about what happened to it and some of the contributing factors. They will get to tour the city and see where new growth and development is happening. And most importantly, they will get an entire day out in the city working at one of 500 work locations around the greater Detroit area. Our youth will be able to go out and get their hands dirty, working hard to make a difference in the short time they are there. Work opportunities will range from helping to build new, raised, urban gardens (a huge area of growth for the city, where young farmers are moving in and turning abandoned lots back into farm land), to helping demolish buildings (yes, they might be handing our youth sledgehammers), to working in one of the many shelters, food banks, or local service organizations reaching out to the people in need in the city. There is not a single area of the city that will not be touched in some way by the Gathering, and I have heard from people I know in the city that they cannot wait for us to get there. Our youth will also get an opportunity to spend time with our local bishop and the rest of the youth from our synod, in an entire day dedicated to fellowship, worship, and Bible study specifically designed for the Lower Susquehanna Synod. Our youth will worship in myriad ways, from contemporary to traditional to a mixture, all within the confines of Ford Field, home to the Detroit Lions. They will sing and pray and praise with their brothers and sisters in Christ, and I hope and pray that they will be changed by the experience. They will get to experience local culture and the vibrancy of a city trying to come back from the brink. They will see the Detroit Institute of Art and the Eastern Market. They will get to talk with local food truck owners who are graciously providing locally sourced food for the Gathering all week. They will get to see the city at its best and most excited when they are downtown at Ford Field, while next door 40,000 Detroiters root for the Tigers on Friday and Saturday night. They will see the difference they can make in the world, by going out and sharing the word of God and doing the work of the gospel.
My hope is that this will be an experience that our youth will talk about for years to come. I hope that they will be changed by the city, just as the city will be changed by them. Pray for them as they take this journey. It will be difficult, it will be HOT, it will be tiring – but it will be fun, rewarding, and God-filled. Thank you all for your support, and we cannot wait to share stories from our trip with you when we get back from helping Detroit “Rise Up.”
Peace it Together,