My experience with this trip began September 2008. Zion Lutheran Church’s Sunday school resumed. Everyone in my youth group was registered and talking about it. I
had hip surgery in March and we couldn’t predict if I would be able to go. It was a long recuperation, and I hadn’t gone back to school until May. I was eager to be active again, now that I didn’t have pain; I discussed it with my parents, who agreed to let me participate.
Each youth group would be doing service work to help New Orleans rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. Somehow my mom and I got confused about the day of departure. A surprise came when we got an early morning call saying they were waiting for us at the church! We rushed to get everything, I was picked up in the church van, without even having the chance to say goodbye to my younger brother. I had mixed feelings during the drive to the airport, as I had planned many things to do before I left. But everyone was excited, and my ambivalence was swallowed by the group’s enthusiasm.
We didn’t reach New Orleans until late afternoon. We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel. This was my first long trip away from my family. However, there was no time to miss them as there were 37,000 KIDS at this Gathering! The first thing we learned, since four girls stayed in one room, was respect for one another’s preferences and Personal Space!
Every day we walked to the Convention Center and Superdome in New Orleans. Some Center activities were Thrivent Build, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding houses of the needy, rock wall climbing for endurance and a mini-labyrinth set up for meditation.
The Superdome at night was amazing. A huge purple cross reminded everyone that the Spirit calls us to help one another. The guest speakers were inspirational! A person who had the lower half of his body amputated spoke of counting his blessings while learning to live with his handicap. Another was the ME to WE Organization, a group of teachers who are doing small things to make changes (i.e., seeing where brand-name clothes are from, that companies don’t use sweatshops and comply with child labor laws). There were many stories; people who waited days on top of buildings for help with food and shelter during the hurricane, and tales of the determination of residents coming back to rebuild their homes.
Our group’s services were helping rebuild and paint houses and schools that were hit the hardest by Hurricane Katrina. We travelled through the Ninth Ward, the part of New Orleans that was decimated by the hurricane. I never imagined what the people who lived there went through. Almost all of the area is still unchanged, six years later. We saw skeletons of houses that had been spray painted to help searchers locate persons and animals, alive or dead; there were reflections of the dramatic situations people faced.
As we made our way home again to our loving families, we learned that the lives we lead are not shared by all… we need to reach out to our communities, near or far, to lend a hand, help one another, especially in emergencies. When we act upon this Spirit, we are a blessing to others. I’ll never forget my trip to the ELCA Youth Gathering of 2009. I hope to remain in touch with the friends I made, and to travel to New Orleans once again.
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