For me, a vacation or trip is a time to explore and learn new things. It’s a time to build memories. One of my most amazing and life-changing adventures occurred when I traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana with my Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) youth group this past summer.
The youth group and I left on Monday evening and drove through the night arriving at noon the following day in Memphis, Tennessee. The time we spent traveling on the bus it rained, causing our bus to spring a few leaks. On Tuesday, we spent time at a family fun park, enjoying the arcade games, bumper boats, and go-karts. After our fun, we continued our journey to Horn Lake, Tennessee where we spent the night. We encountered a police officer in a parking lot that evening, who was very thankful for our presence and for what we were about to accomplish in New Orleans.
The next morning we left Horn Lake and traveled to New Orleans. On our way, we drove on a 25 mile bridge above the water. We later arrived in New Orleans and were amazed by what we encountered. As the bus entered the city, we drove past the Superdome—I was shocked by its size— and we continued our way to our hotel at the opposite end of the city. We learned quickly that it was going to be a long walk back and forth from our hotel to the Superdome. The walk was a little over a mile one way, but it seemed longer than that because of all the stoplights and crosswalks. At night, it was even longer, because everyone was walking in one enormous mass down the sidewalk and partially onto the street.
Other than fun, the youth gathering was also a time to help others. Three days were designated as service days. For our group’s service project, we were assigned to clean the St. Bernard Parish cemetery—located about 10 miles outside of New Orleans. Our job at the cemetery consisted of pulling weeds, picking up garbage, painting fences and concrete tombs. My friend, Lindsey and I also had some fun while we were working by chasing geckos and escaping the potential stings of several wasps on that hot, humid day. It also felt great to hear all the people visiting the cemetery saying how grateful they were that we were there cleaning up. One thing I didn’t enjoy was the two times I was bit by fire ants.
One of my most memorable moments of the trip came from the time we spent in the Superdome. Every night we were entertained with more than half-a-dozen different speakers and performers. On the first night, I learned that everything I perceived about New Orleans was about to change. The speakers were amazing and spoke about several different topics, such as world hunger, children as soldiers, and overcoming obstacles. Besides the speakers, there were also many performers—from fiddlers to jugglers and accordion players to large bands—who all had unique ways of captivating the attention of 38,000 youths and chaperons. It was amazing to see so many people in one place all at one time, united for one single cause.
From the trip, I discovered more about the people of New Orleans and was amazed at the number of people that came to the ELCA Youth Gathering for a purpose in life. What I will remember the most, is the pride I felt from being part of a youth gathering who did their part to help change the world.
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