Salaam. Peace be with you.
The theme for day 3 at the ELCA Youth Gathering was: Rise up and Build Bridges. We talked about how bridges help bring those who have been disconnected (because of differences, inequality, ignorance, or fear of the “unknown”) together.
This was also our day to Rise up and Proclaim Justice, and we were assigned to painting and cleaning a congregation in the city.
The Heitz-Squad found this to be a very powerful day. During our reflection time after the project, many of our youth said it was really neat to get to know our hosts at the church and learn from them. Our youth thought the church was doing great work in the neighborhood, but they were also very sad to hear the church didn’t have much money to continue running a food pantry or do other outreach projects they wanted to do for the numbers of homeless in the community. As we drove through Detroit, our youth were also shocked and sad to see so many abandoned houses and even some boarded up homes that were clearly being occupied. As one youth, Boyosa, said: “It made me really appreciate what I do have and helped me realize I don’t need all the things that I sometimes wish I had. I feel like I need to give back to others more… because I can. And that is why I worked so hard while we were at the church. I wanted to give back.”
After our final project, we went to the Renaissance Center for some free time (and of course more dancing) and then we headed to New Parthenon in Greektown, where we enjoyed a wonderful Greek meal, which included flaming cheese!
The mass gathering had incredible speakers, including Rev. Rani Abdulmasih, who talked about how “God – through the Gospel – has given us the ability to act” and Sarah Funkhouser, who talked about her time as a volunteer working with Palestinian children in the West Bank. Rev. Steve Jerbi, the final speaker, addressed racial injustice and said: “we claim Jesus because he is the one who can eradicate racism and bring us to the place where we can join in that work… Jesus’ holy love is not just sitting back and allowing others to do something.”
A Motown group (which included two of the Temptations) brought the house down. It was fun to see 30,000 Lutheran teens getting down to Motown in the Ford Field in downtown Detroit!
Throughout the night, the Heitz-Squad stood and cheered, whooped and danced.
They were brought to tears about the injustice they heard and brought to inspiration to rise up with others to address it. I am so very proud of each and every one of them as they continue to process and discuss what they hear and how this is going to lead them to take action when we get back to Chicago!
The final song was incredibly powerful: Ford Field was filled with the sounds of youth singing together and lights twinkling from their phones that they were waving in the air:
“Love can build a bridge. Between your heart and mine. Love can build a bridge. Don’t you think it’s time? Don’t you think it’s time?” This brought me to tears, as I sat there next to the youth I care so deeply about in the midst of 30,000 youth from around the country and world. It was there where I experienced resurrection: while this world is full of so much hate, this generation of youth coming together to rise up and condemn systemic evils of hunger, racism, and inequality, and proclaim justice gives me hope that we will one to break down those walls of injustice.
Praise be to God!
Here is a reflection from Steve, a ninth grader from Immanuel Lutheran Church:
“Today was a great day. It was a day of service and justice work and of building bridges. Building bridges is where we help one another and bear another’s burdens and help build bridges between people to stop racism, sexism, and all sorts of other things. Today we did lots of service work throughout the neighborhoods of Detroit. We did lots of work with a Baptist church in Detroit with not lots of money and only 25 members. We helped paint the outside and inside walls and we helped clear out debree (which there was a lot of) to help make the church better and cleaner.
We learned that there are some great people in Detroit who really need our partnership to help make Detroit a better community. After the service work and justice day we had our mass gathering. This was probably the best one we had yet. The speakers were terrific especially this one pastor at the end who told a story about one of his youth being shot and killed. It was very emotional and it almost made me cry. At the final song everyone was very energetic and motivated and it was the best song of the gathering. Overall today was a great day of building bridges, service work, and rising up.”
And here is an update from Boyosa, a senior from Unity Lutheran Church:
“The ECT youth gathering never ceases to amaze me. Sadly, I had arrived two days late and I was told that I had missed the fun days and the rest was not going to be as exciting, but I beg to differ. Today was really a terrific day and a night to remember. I have met so many wonderful people. Each individual had a different background and a different story to tell. Though different we may be, I have never felt so much love in my entire life. I am having a fantastic time and I really can’t wait to see what these next couple of days have in store for me.”