Coming into the ELCA Youth Gathering trip I really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that every night there is a dance and you get to meet so many people, and you probably won’t see the same people twice in one week. Other than that though I really didn’t know what I had signed myself up for.
Monday and Tuesday we spent touring the city, seeing what Bourbon Street and New Orleans was really like. Then on Wednesday we had to register for the event. While the adults registered us, us youth really got to bond in the Convention center. They had different sports set up along with obstacle courses that everyone really got into. One of my favorite moments in the Convention center was how happy we all were to just hang out with each other. There was no real big push to go meet other people right away and break off from the group.
After the Convention center we went to the Super Dome to get ready for the night event. Ray really wanted us to try to get on the floor for the first night, and somehow we did. It was a battle though since we were only 21 of over 33,000 Lutherans who wanted to get on the floor that night. Once we had got our seats we all went to the center of the floor where the biggest dance party I’ve ever seen was happening, along with about 3 different conga lines that eventually crossed paths and combined. It was so amazing to feel all the energy of 33,000 people who were all just excited as I was. After all the dancing we sat down to hear the speakers of the night who were just fantastic. There were songs and shorter presentations in between so we were never bored. My God moment happened that night. From the moment I got my seat in the Super Dome to the moment we were done with all the speakers and music that night I had the chills. But they weren’t the chills that you get when you’re cold and you need a blanket. These were the chills that you get when you feel God’s presence all around you and you can’t escape it. During one of the songs that night, when I looked around the Dome all I saw was the glow of cell phone lights in a black arena with over 33,000 voices singing. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen and I don’t think anything will ever top that moment for me.
Thursday we were at the Convention center again but first we had a worship service in the morning. The service was cool because it had good music and it really kept my attention. After the service we explored with our assigned groups for the morning and in the afternoon we broke off into our own groups to explore more freely. We went to the Dome again that night and sat up top instead of on the floor. Being that far up was a good experience too, because while we couldn’t dance or anything we could see everyone else dancing and experiencing what we had experienced the night before. It was cool to see what God gets to see every day. That night there was a presentation about bullying. Different scenarios were told about different bullying situations and it really stuck out in my mind. The presentation was so powerful that by the end of it I was crying and I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be one of those people that just let bullying happen anymore. I want to be a change in the world and I don’t want to sit by and watch bullying happen, and I don’t want to let people bully me anymore. I am really glad we got to be there to hear the presentation because it is another moment I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Friday was our service project day and we ended up the wrong directions, which caused us to arrive at the wrong project. However, we ended up staying and helping with a different project. At the end of the day we found out that we would not have been able to do our original project due to flooding. After hearing that I believe 110% that God does everything for a reason, and even if we don’t realize it right away He will let us know when the time is right.
That night we didn’t go to the Super Dome and instead watched the live video feed from out hotel. I’m glad we got to experience the video feed also because it gave me a different perspective of what goes on in the Super Dome during the gatherings.
Saturday was our discipleship day and we spent the morning with our synod. We had a worship service in the beginning and then we broke into small groups using different things to break us up like age, eye color, and then bracelet color. We were in our small groups for the rest of the morning. I didn’t have anyone else from UDLC in my small group and I was actually really happy about that. I feel like sometimes when I’m with people from my church I am not as open to talking with others or sharing my opinion, or I feel like I am fighting for the chance to share what I feel against others. Being in my own small group gave me the chance to really talk to other people and to really listen to what was being said by the leaders and my peers. I liked being away from the group for a few hours because it gave me a chance to reconnect with why I was there and what I should really be focusing on. At night we went to the Super Dome again and we were on the floor again as well. We got to dance and join the conga lines and see friends we had made during the week. We listened to the speakers and then stayed for a Switchfoot concert. That was cool too because the band really got us all to participate and just have fun.
Sunday morning we had worship at the Dome and it was probably the best worship service by far. Everyone really got into it and all these people participated in it to make it one of the coolest services ever. After worship we went to the hotel and then took a shuttle to the airport and after 13 hrs of traveling we finally arrived back at UDLC. When I left UDLC Monday morning I was expecting parties every night, meeting people and never seeing them again, and being sick of the youth at the end of the trip. Returning home very early the next Monday morning I realized that while there was a party every night they were not what I had hoped for. But I realized that that was alright, and I was kind of glad we didn’t have amazing parties. I came home with new friendships with people in our synod and who I hope to see again in the near future, and who I had the pleasure of seeing all week long.
Now that I am home I am so much closer with everyone that went on the trip and I feel like nothing can break our friendships now. I also came home with things I didn’t know I was missing. I came back with the strongest belief that God has everything happen for a reason. I came back with a new sense of belonging and a sense of pride in being a Lutheran. And I came back with a stronger faith then when I had left, and I am so glad that God had me realize that I was missing the point of being a Lutheran. Now I will proudly tell people I am a Lutheran and all that that means. God knew that I needed to reconnect with my faith and for me that was what this trip really gave me.