Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Making Saints from Citizens

     To be perfectly honest, I cannot remember at all what I expected of the Youth Gathering before I went to New Orleans. I know I expected service, I expected God, and I expected New Orleans. I didn’t expect the people, the message, the fun, or any part of the experience. Now my story isn’t about the whole week, it isn’t about what we did each day, it isn’t about the individuals I met, the people I got to know, or even the fantastic speeches and stories I heard. My story is about the little things, the things that we did every day, which truly blew my mind. My story may seem really simple, really basic, and not too special, but I know that this is a story I won’t ever forget.

     Being a teenager means a lot of things, but the biggest part of a teenager is rebelling against anyone and anything. If you were to pick out 100 teens and tell them to go do anything that was out of their way, at least 20 of them would complain unending, 20 more would argue until they felt that it was in their best interest to just get it over with, and another 10 would just flat out refuse (and I think those numbers are modest). But something truly amazing happened inside that Superdome packed with 33,000 teenagers. I want to believe that this happened every night, but I only got to witness it on Thursday night. So far I think everyone has said that they had the best experience when we were on the floor in the Superdome, but my favorite day was Thursday when we sat in topmost balcony overlooking the entire stadium. Because up on that balcony I could see everyone, so when 33,000 teens were told “Please bow your heads as we pray” I was shocked to see that everyone did that. Everyone! Throughout the whole night people had been walking around on the floor, dancing, and talking, but when we were told to bow our heads, people stopped in the middle of a conga line to obey. I’ve seen hands wave, I’ve seen bodies wave, I’ve seen the entire ocean wave, but none of those waves even compare to the wave of heads that washed across our group of rowdy, rebellious teenagers.

     By Thursday night, my next experience had already begun to take its course. During the week, there was a “house band” made up of about 20 miscellaneous musicians. Please don’t misunderstand, those musicians were very good, but when you have to play to the same crowd for several hours over 4 days you eventually run out of music to play. So by Saturday night we were all sitting on the floor, in nearly the same seats, listening to the exact same music we heard on Wednesday night. But even then, there was one song that we heard every single day. This song was called “Get Down” and by the end of Wednesday night I would have been totally content to never hear it again. It’s an ok song, but the chorus is literally the same line 4 times and any good concert performer will repeat the chorus about 10 times. But on Saturday night, when we were sitting in those same seats listening to that same song, something truly life-changing happened: I listened. Suddenly, this song didn’t seem so pointless; it truly rang to my core.

In your weakness He is stronger
In your darkness He shines through
When you're crying He's your comfort
When you're all alone He's carrying you

I get down and He lifts me up
I get down and He lifts me up
I get down and He lifts me up
I get down

So in these two moments, my eyes were opened. I saw God and I saw my fellow citizens, my fellow saints. I saw His power, I saw Our power. Never did “His work, our hands” ever really mean so much. In going to New Orleans I not only found the light in God, but I found a light inside everyone, in my friends, in my acquaintances, and in myself. That was how God lifted me up when I got down… to New Orleans!

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