What happened in Houston will NOT stay in Houston! “This Changes Everything” was the theme of the youth gathering in Houston last week. Wow! The experience is hard to put into words. Maybe these 5 comments from our youth will help it come alive for you.
1. It will change you. It was an amazing experience–an experience everyone should have.
We heard and learned and experienced how Jesus changes everything for us. God’s call, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s hope, changes the way we see ourselves and each other. One speaker said: “My hope is that you see and love yourself as much as God does.” That is a word of grace that we all need to hear.
2. You don’t realize how many people are there until you are waiting in lines.
Yes, we waited and waited…for bathrooms, for food, for the light rail transit, for buses to take us to our next stop, for the gates to open, for the sea of people to move. 31,000 people gathered each night in the arena and when you do anything with 31,000 people there is waiting involved. But we turned into great “waiters”. While we waited we met and visited with Lutheran from across the country! We were surprised to learn that Minnesotans have a “fun accent”.
3. It took a lot of bravery for the speakers to share their personal stories. Their bravery was inspiring.
The evening speakers may have had the biggest impact on us. Many were youth or young adults who had faced huge challenges–mental and physical illness, eating disorders, injustice… They told their stories of how God showed up in and through their journey. Some of the topics were controversial and not often discussed at church. Our youth appreciated the openness and the fact that God welcomes each of us, just the way we are. One of our students reflected, “Everyone is going through something and God can help you get through it.”
4. It was one of the hardest and best weeks of our life, but it’s totally worth it. It was awesome!
The days were physically grueling. We left the hotel around 7 am most mornings and returned around 11 pm each night. In between we walked 8-10 miles, stood in lines, waited outside in the heat, and were jostled by the 31,000 people going into and out of the places we were going. One of our group’s favorite places was the quiet room at the nrg center. Our youth rested and even took naps in the middle of the day to get reenergized. Then you should have seen them go again at the evening event! We had youth on the main stage floor 4 of the nights, singing, dancing, and praising God with joyful hearts.
5. It was a very exciting and impactful experience.
Imagine sharing communion with 31,000 other Christians. Just imagine! White umbrellas dotted each level of the arena showing the stations where Jesus’ body and blood was shared. We were blessed with the words, “Child of God, be brave. You are saved by grace through faith.”
Imagine swimming in a giant Texas shaped lazy river pool on the 6th floor of your hotel, hanging out with your friends from home and your new friends from other places. Imagine leaving snacks for the gentlemen you see sleeping on the street each night. Imagine framing a house for families who lost their home in the hurricane. Imagine a wave of hope created by cell phones to remind us all that hope changes everything. Imagine the energy and passion of 30,000 singing “Jesus Loves Me” with cell phones lit. Imagine growing closer to God and getting a wider perspective on the Lutheran church and the world. Thanks to all of you for making this experience possible. A special thanks to Franny and the youth who shared this adventure. We are all truly changed.