This past summer, I was fortunate enough to attend the Evangelical Lutheran Church National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. If that doesn’t sound like a mouthful, the trip itself was filled with even more fun and great experiences. 38,000 Lutheran youth came from all over the nation and literally took over the city of New Orleans. To be able to walk the streets with all of these disciples of Christ is something I will forever remember.
The ELCA National Youth Gathering is held every 3 years in various cities. Previous gatherings have been in San Antonio, Atlanta, and now New Orleans. The city is chosen several years in advance and is announced to the public 3 years before the gathering date, which in this case was June 22-26, 2009. Each youth gathering has a theme, ours was Jesus, Justice, Jazz and was very appropriate considering we were in a city known for its jazz music. I belong to First Lutheran Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. We took the biggest group of participants that we have ever had in our church history, a total of 32 youth and 5 adults and that only made the trip so much better.
Each night at the gathering, all of the youth would hit the pavement and walk from their hotels to the Louisiana Superdome for a night worship. We would arrive about an hour before the worship and would find tons of groups already seated so they would have a spot in the front or doing conga lines all over the floor of the superdome. It was one huge party. Christian artists and well known speakers would take the stage and intrigue thousands of people that were all here for one purpose: to learn about Christ and how to serve him. Whenever you were walking somewhere, from the convention center to the superdome or to a hotel, if you passed another group, everyone going by would hold out their hand and high five all the people walking by. This worked out well because the sidewalks were so packed and everyone had to walk basically in single file lines. You hardly saw the same group of people twice.
At this particular gathering, they did something a little different. Every day, groups of us would board buses and go to a service site somewhere in the city that was in need of some helping hands. When it was your groups assigned day, you were to wear a bright orange Youth Gathering t-shirt that was provided by the Gathering, to show that you were going out to work and help this still rebuilding city. My church was assigned to go to AshÃ©, a cultural arts center, located right outside the heart of downtown New Orleans. The people there needed a group to help organize and get there place looking like it once did before Katrina hit their area. It was a day well spent and they told us multiple times how grateful they were that we had chosen to come to their city and help them.
This trip was something I will never forget. I heard amazing stories, saw amazing sights and even got a taste of New Orleans culture. It was not a vacation or a mission trip, it was exactly what the name says it is; a youth gathering. 38,000 Lutheran youth all coming together in the Louisiana Superdome. It didn’t matter where you were from, if your church had 37 people or 7 people. What mattered was the reason that you were there which was to learn about Christ and how to serve him.
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