Have you ever been on one of those trips where you started to make a trip for what to bring months in advance? Well that was exactly the kind of trip that I was on this summer. Through fundraisers and church support, our youth group was able to go to the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans. This was not just any mission trip to New Orleans. Instead, it was a gathering of almost 38,000 youth from all over the country. The goal was to provide service and help enliven the city.
It lasted for one week, with most groups getting there by charter bus. Every afternoon, the convention center was open to the youth for fun activities like sand volleyball, a zip-line, basketball courts, inflatables, and an activities fair. Every night, there was a heart-pounding worship in the superdome. All three tiers were filled every night as well as the floor seating. There were different musicians and speakers not only from the Louisiana area, but from around the world. One woman started a running club in Philadelphia for a homeless shelter. Another woman had started a school in Africa for girls, unintentionally, with only ten or so in the beginning, but then multiplied so now she has a goal of educating 10,000 African girls.
When activities were not scheduled with the gathering event, there was time to visit the city and take in the culture. Our group stayed in the French Quarter at Hotel Monteleone which is a Historic Hotel of America. It was a beautiful room with a view overlooking Royal street and a rooftop pool. The restaurants were very diverse and our group ate at many different places. One night we had Cuban food. The next we went to a place called the checkered parrot which served burgers and salads, and then in the morning we were able to taste authentic beignets at Cafe du Monde. It was a very popular place, and certainly busy, but they were so fast that we finished within a half hour. Walking down the street was its own experience in itself. We saw bands playing, artists painting, and street performers as well as plenty of Mardi gras decorations.
However, the point of the trip was not to sight see, but instead to volunteer and help the community. There were so many youth that huge projects could be done in a matter of hours, such as painting house, rebuilding structures, and other beautifying projects. There were also projects that did not have physical effects, but not any less important. Our group worked with literacy in a community called Westwego. We worked directly with the kids, as well as sorting books for the upcoming school year. The work that was done was so immense that this comparison was made by Bishop Hanson: What the youth did in one week was what one person would have done working four hours a day, for 365 days a year, for about ninety-eight years.
Although the bus rde was long, and the mornings were early, it was definitely the best trip I have been on. It was a powerful experience to be able to do the service for New Orleans, and experience the culture at the same time. The city and people were very warm and welcoming, and it was very gratifying.
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