Category Archives: Youth Ministry

Guest Post at Bold Cafe: “Faith Reflections: Beloved and Wonderfully Made”

Standard

flower-pink-love-rose

 

Today I am guest blogging over at Bold Cafe: “Faith Reflections: Beloved and Wonderfully Made.”

It is really hard to be a preteen or teenager today. I unfortunately know this because as a pastor who works with youth, I have seen this firsthand. I’m not saying that it wasn’t difficult to be that age. I received my fair share of unrealistic and unhealthy messages about society’s definition of beauty and who was worthy and who was not. All I had to do was watch a few VH1 videos, stop at the magazine rack at a convenience store, or listen to my middle school classmates who bullied me during lunch to know that I did not fit into society’s most-valued list.

However, it is much more difficult today to shut out the negative messages about who is deemed worthy in the eyes of society and one’s peers.

 

To read the rest, click here.

“Welcome One Such Child. #WelcomeRefugees. A Call to Radical Hospitality” – Sermon on Mark 9:30-37

Standard

Welcome-Refugees

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” – Mark 9:30-37


Her name is Diana. She is four years old. And she has traveled with her mother and father, who are Christians from Damascus, Syria, for 15 days, mostly by foot to get to Germany. Every night, they sleep on the streets – in the cold and sometimes in the pouring rain. They have made it to Hungary, but the Hungarian police want the families to board a bus and be taken to a detention camp, where refugee families are crammed together behind fences and sometimes even inside cages. One Hungarian detention camp has been known for its police officers to throw food to the families in the cage. One reporter described this scene: it is “like feeding animals in a pen.” Some of the families decide they will try to run away so they can avoid the detention camps and continue their journey toward Germany. But Diana’s mother, Rowa, knows they would likely be chased by police officers and in their condition, they wouldn’t make it very far. Since Diana has become ill and has come down with a terrible fever, her parents decide that while they have come so far and are so close to safety and freedom, they have no other choice than to get on the bus with their daughter, and be placed in a camp. And so now four-year-old Diana, who has not been welcomed in her own home country of Syria, who is not welcomed to make Hungary a place to call home, is now not allowed to move on to a country that would welcome her as one of there own.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

This is what Jesus said to his disciples in today’s Gospel passage in response to one of their many misunderstandings.

At the beginning of our passage, as the disciples are journeying through Galilee on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection for the second time. But the disciples still don’t understand. And now, after they enter the house in Capernaum, Jesus reveals that the disciples have completely misunderstood Jesus’ values and what it means to follow him as one of his disciples.

“What were you arguing about along the way?” Jesus asks them. But the disciples remain silent, because they had been arguing about who among them was the “greatest.”

Now, I can’t completely blame these disciples. You see, as is the case today, in First Century Palestine, to be deemed the greatest was based on social status: the most successful, the most wealthy, the most popular, the best educated, the most privileged. To be the greatest meant – and still often means today – to have power over others. In such a system both in First Century Palestine and 21st Century North America, it can be quite difficult for any of us not to constantly seek to be the one first in line. And when those we deem as the “others” or as the “strangers” among us enter our territories (and our homelands) and seem to threaten our comfortable lifestyles and our paths to climb the social latter, we are often tempted to demonize them and to turn them away. To deny that they – too – are made in the image of God. To refuse to recognize the face of God in them.

Yet, Jesus has a different way to greatness in mind.

And so he sits down on the floor of the home, calls the twelve to gather around him, and responds: “Who is the greatest of all? Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

For Jesus, the way to greatness is not to BE first, but to put others first. To live as servants, providing love and grace to those around us. To put the well-being and basic needs of others in front of our own wants, our sense of security, and our temptation to get ahead.

For the disciples living in First Century Palestine, this was completely radical. And it is probably pretty radical for many today, as well.

But just as the disciples begin to wrap their minds around this counter-cultural way to greatness Jesus is describing, Jesus does something even more radical.

He picks up a child, places her in the middle of the disciples, embraces her, and says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.”

Now to many of us, this may not sound too off-the-wall. We live in a culture that – for the most part -values children. And we know quite well that throughout his ministry, Jesus loved and embraced and surrounded himself with children. However, in First Century Palestine, children were only valued in their future, when they became adults… if they became adults – for many children never survived past their young years. In their childhood, they were considered more of a burden than an asset to the rest of the family. They were another mouth to feed and body to cloth. They were the silent ones, the least of these, those who were the outcasts of society.

So here we see that Jesus’ way to greatness is extremely radical. His path to greatness in this Kingdom of God he often speaks of is nothing like the path to greatness in the oppressive Roman Empire of his day. Jesus’ path is not about climbing the social latter and befriending and caring for only those who have something to offer us.

Rather, Jesus’ path to greatness is servanthood. It is putting our selves last so that others who’ve been last can be brought into the frontline. It is picking up and embracing those whom the world deems as the last and the least, the others, the strangers, those on the margins of society and bringing them to the center with our loving embrace. It is welcoming one such child, and thus in doing so, welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him.

It is radical hospitality.

*****

When I first read this text early this week in preparation for this sermon, I immediately thought of our current refugee crisis, which has become the worst refugee crisis since World War II. This recent mass flight (or as some are calling it: this “refugee exodus”) to Europe has especially overwhelmed my thoughts, emotions, and prayers this past month.

It’s been beautiful to see that many around the world are offering radical hospitality to our brothers and sisters who are desperately seeking refuge. I’ve been brought to tears watching thousands of grateful refugees get welcomed by cheering Germans holding signs saying “Welcome to Germany” and while reading posts and stories from people who are urging their home countries to receive and resettle more refugees by making the hashtag #WelcomeRefugees go viral.

And yet, the stories of these families making the dangerous and exhausting trek to and through Europe and the images and videos of children sleeping in the streets, walking for days on end, and crying and pleading with officers who will not let them continue their journey toward safety: these stories and images have touched my core.

And when I saw an image that went viral of the lifeless body of three year old Aylan Kurdi who was swept up on the shores of Turkey during his journey from Syria by boat, I was brought to my knees and wept.

And to know that there are so many more stories of families we don’t hear about and faces of children we don’t see who are displaced and stuck in Syria as well as in other countries around the world – and even at our own border – because of war, violence, and poverty… This overwhelms me with grief.

Because these stories and the faces of these children are the stories and the faces of our children. They are the stories and the faces of our children and youth who are involved in Edgewater-based programs like Refugee One and Centro Romero and who play soccer and music at Edgewater’s International Refugee Day at Foster Beach every June. These are the stories and the faces of the children and youth in our communities: they are our neighbors. They live in our buildings, go to our schools, shop in our grocery stories, eat at our restaurants. And they are the stories and faces of the children and youth who enter our doors here at Immanuel Lutheran Church for worship, VBS, IYO, and ECT youth group.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

As we hear these words of Jesus from Mark, we might also hear his words from Matthew echoing in our ears:

“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Jesus, our Comforter, our Lord and Savior, who was once himself a refugee, calls us to this radical hospitality of welcoming and embracing the child, the stranger, the one who’s been outcast.

*****

If you are at all like me, you might be a bit overwhelmed with this huge crisis and wonder how on earth you are to welcome those seeking refuge across the world.

While we may not be able to single-handedly fix what is happening in Europe, in Syria, and across the world, there are many ways we can respond to the international refugee crisis and provide welcome to those in need around us. (And every act is important.) For example, we can donate to organizations like the Lutheran Disaster Response, which directly helps those seeking refuge in Europe and in Syria, and we can voice our support for welcoming more refugees in our city and our country.

We can also extend our welcome here in our own community, a community that is home to so many of our refugee and immigrant brothers and sisters. We – at Immanuel Lutheran Church – already open our doors to children and youth in our community through the multiple programs and ministries we offer, and we are in the process of trying to offer more hospitality to the children, youth, and families in Edgewater – as we currently are working on opening the Immanuel Ministry Center.

And so each one of us has an opportunity to provide radical hospitality to children and youth in Edgewater right here by voicing our support and praying for our ministries and programs, donating our gifts or money to help these ministries, becoming a tutor or a leader at IYO or ECT youth group, or cooking dinner for one of these youth programs.

We can donate to or volunteer with Care for Real, Edgewater’s food and clothing pantry, which serves many new refugees in our community or we can help a new refugee family resettle in our community and help them learn English or write resumes through Refugee One, which is also based in Edgewater. We can take a few minutes to get to know the children and youth who attend Immanuel worship on Sunday mornings or one of our programs throughout the week. And in all things, we can keep the children and youth in our community, in our country, and throughout the world in our prayers and in our hearts.

Because, what Jesus said to his twelve disciples in the house in Capernaum 2000 years ago, he says to us as well:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

May we welcome the children. May we #welcomerefugees. May we welcome the strangers and those who have been outcast. May we choose to be a people of faith who follow Jesus in this call to offering radical hospitality to our brothers, sisters, and children in need of welcome.

“Speak the Truth” – Sermon on Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Standard

140824-michael-brown-4p_e151133bf82ab2e33cf09a4fe0ebb405

One year ago today, unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown was shot at least 6 times and killed by an officer in Ferguson, MO. And throughout the year, we have become more aware that this is not a new or an isolated incident. Thousands of people from around the country (including many seminary professors and pastors from the Chicago area) are gathering in Ferguson this weekend and around the U.S. in prayer meetings, actions, vigils, and conversations about confronting and dismantling systemic racism. So I’d like to take this time right now to join with them in a moment of silence, lifting up Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Ruben Garcia Villalpando, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, the nine who were killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church, and all of our brothers and sisters who are victims of racial violence and injustice.

Let’s take a few moments of silence right now.

(Moment of Silence)

God, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.


large

“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 4:25-5:2


“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Most likely, many of us here have stated or thought this popular phrase a time or two in response to an insult or a put-down. And yet, no matter how confident we may have sounded and no matter how much we may have wished this phrase to be true, we likely walked away overwhelmed with pain from those cutting words.

As many of us have unfortunately had to learn at some time or another – words are powerful and can cut deep, creating wounds that are difficult to heal. Words can stick with a person much longer than a broken bone. They can affect one’s self-esteem. They can cause fear and prejudice and influence and inspire people to participate in actions of dehumanizing and “other”-ing an individual or group.

Words can and do divide us…

This is true in our personal relationships, in our relationships with others in the greater society, and in our relationships with others in the Church.

And as we look at our passage in Ephesians today, we can tell it was the case for the church in Ephesus, as well.

While we don’t know the specific arguments among the Christians in the Ephesian church, we do know that there had been tension throughout the early years of the Church between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians because of their differences. Because of differences between their theological beliefs and faith practices. Their diets and clothing attire. Their native languages, world-views, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Outside of the Church, these differences were what kept Jews and Gentiles from marrying each another, eating together, or even associating with one another in public. And as Jewish and Gentile Christians began to worship together within the Church, it was quite difficult for them to give up their deeply ingrained prejudices against each other and fully embrace one another.

So it’s no wonder that these tensions and quarrels at some point – as we see early in the letter to the Ephesians – had gotten quite hostile. Evil words. Belittling. Dehumanizing. Excluding. Blaming the “other” while denying one’s own wrongs and privileges.

And while it’s easy for us to look at this letter and point our fingers at those first century Gentile and Jewish Christians for not being “imitators of God” – as Paul calls them to be – I think too often we can relate to those early Christians.

Because isn’t it easy for us to fear the differences of our brother’s and sister’s faith practices and beliefs, native languages or countries of origin, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and world-views?

Don’t we often expect our brothers and sisters to conform to our way of doing things and when they don’t, don’t we tend to use our words to blame, to “other,” to exclude?

And when we hear the cries of our brothers and sisters that challenge our way: that our expectations, our heritage, our traditions might actually be exclusive and even oppressive, we too often immediately and angrily shut them down and ignore them. We let the sun go down on our anger and use evil words to justify our way, because placing blame on our brothers and sisters is so much easier than admitting our own wrongs against them. Because belitting and “other”ing our brothers and sisters is much less troubling than admitting our own participation in and benefits from systems, institutions, and traditions that uplift those who look, talk, and think like us, while causing harm on those who don’t.

*****

But the thing is, this is not the way God intended the Church to be. Throughout the first three chapters of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains that though the Gentiles were at one time “far off… they are no longer strangers and aliens, but are citizens with the saints and also members of the [same] household of God.”

“For in his flesh,” Paul continues, “Christ has made both [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus… reconciling both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”

It is for this reason that Paul pleads with the Ephesian Christians at the beginning of chapter 4, just before our reading for today: “As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you,” he says, “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called… making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of ALL, who is above all and through all and IN all.”

“So then,” Paul continues in our passage for today. “Let us put away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of ONE ANOTHER.”

Let us speak the truth to our neighbors…

*****

A few weeks ago, a PEW research study revealed that out of 29 religious groups, the ELCA is one of the two least diverse religious groups in the U.S. People in the ELCA are starting to talk and ask: Why is this the case? What does this mean and say about us as an institution and as a faith community?

Last Thursday night, presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCA member William B. Horne II hosted a webcast discussion called “confronting racism” – both as a way to start addressing these questions about our denomination, as well as a way to connect these findings with the racialized structures in our country and the multiple tragedies caused by racism that have been filling our news feeds this past year. If you haven’t had an opportunity to watch this webcast, I recommend that you check it out. You can access it on the ELCA website. While this webcast is not the answer to these hard questions, it is the beginning of a crucial ongoing discussion we – as members of the body of Christ – need to be having.

During the discussion, Bishop Eaton reminded us that the white shooter at Mother Emanuel AME Church who so hatefully took the lives of nine of our black brothers and sisters was a member of the ELCA. Two of the victims were graduates of one of our ELCA seminaries. She explains: “Here we have one of our own alleged to have shot these people, two of whom had adopted us as their own. So one of the visions I would have for our church is to no longer put racism, or the racial tensions, or the racial disparities somewhere out there. Because, [racism] is in us. We have to come to grips with this.”

*****

Let us all speak the truth to our neighbors, Paul urges us.

Yes, we must speak the truth to our neighbors… But we must also speak the truth to ourselves. We must admit, confess, denounce, and repent of the racism that does – in fact – prevail throughout our systems, our traditions, our institutions and congregations, and even within ourselves. And we need to do it over and over again.

This is difficult. This is difficult to come to grips with – let alone to confront and challenge. Our tendency as humans is to deny that some of us have – indeed – been born into and granted privilege over others. Our temptation when we hear this is to respond with anger and defensiveness. We tend to make room for the devil, let sin guide and direct our anger, and allow evil to come out of our mouths in order to place blame on the “other.”

And yet, as Bishop Eaton said on Thursday night: “the fact is: there is not equity in America and we have to be willing to take a hard look at that and come to the painful and disappointing realization that when we say at liberty and justice for all: that is not necessarily the truth for everyone. And [we] can’t get paralyzed by defensiveness or guilt. [Rather, we must] say that that is what we have inherited. That is who we are. So [the question becomes] how do we move beyond that?”

*****

Let us put away falsehood, Paul says. And let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors… For we are ALL members of the same household, the same body of Christ. We are ALL members of one another. And when even one of our own is treated unjustly, our baptismal calling is to join and work together to call out, to dismantle, and to break down the walls of injustice – the walls of racism – that divide us and dehumanize, hurt, and kill members of our body.

“Be angry,” Paul urges us.

Yes, there are times when we need to be angry… But when our brothers and sisters cry out and speak truth to us, let us not allow sin to take over and misdirect that anger toward them because we feel defensive and overcome with guilt. Rather, let us be angry at the privilege we have been born into and have inherited. Let us be angry at the unjust systems and institutions that we often – even unknowingly – participate in and benefit from – that uplift only some while deeming others as less than.

Let us be angry at the racialized systems that have brought fear upon our brothers and sisters of color when they wear a hoodie, ride their bikes at night, drive their car, or go to church.

We must let our anger lead us to move beyond. We must allow our anger to help us acknowledge our own privilege and the narrow lens through which we see the world, give us courage to speak this truth to our neighbors, and help us to stop holding onto our privilege over others… Instead, working diligently with our own hands so as to share what we do have with those who don’t.

We must let no evil talk come out of our mouths or out of the mouths of those around us. When racist comments, jokes, and stereotypes are spoken, we must immediately shut them down. When we hear someone make generalizations about others, we must tell them to stop. When we – ourselves – begin to complain that we are sick and tired of hearing about racism in our country, we must remind ourselves that it is a privilege to be able to pick and choose when we get to talk about racism and when we do not. Because our brothers and sisters of color don’t get this same choice.

May we use our speech to build one another up so that our words may give grace to those who hear them.

May we be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another – as Christ has forgiven us – when we do fall short – because there will be times when we do.

May we be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

*****

As you know, three weeks ago, I took 10 of our Edgewater Congregations Together youth to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. There is something so powerful about gathering with 30,000 Lutheran teenagers from all across the world, from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, walks of life, and with different world views and some with different native languages, who embraced one another’s differences as they rose up together to worship God, to proclaim God’s story in their lives and learn how God is in the stories of others, to confess and denounce all forms of racial and economic injustice, and to commit to proclaiming justice and peace to the world throughout their lives.

And I will tell you, those 30,000 inspiring youth gave me a glimpse of what it could look like for us – as the Church – to be imitators of God, living in love, embracing that we are members of one another, and speaking the truth. I saw a glimpse of this as we communed together around Jesus’ table and as we raised our voices in the dark, singing with our hands waving the flashlights on our cell phones 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?” 

Being imitators of God and living love, as Christ loved us, is not easy.

And yet, in those times when we feel defensive, discouraged, and ready to give up on this work, may we remember the witness of our ELCA youth who have shown us it is – indeed – possible… and powerful. May we – too – strive to lead lives worthy of our baptismal calling to build up and proclaim justice for ALL our brothers and sisters – for ALL members of the body of Christ.

And may we choose to be imitators of God, as beloved children, living in love, as Christ loved us.

Because love can build a bridge.

So don’t you think it’s time?

ELCA Youth Gathering 2015: Media Coverage and Heitz-Squad Posts

Standard

IMG_9884

Want to read up on the ELCA Youth Gathering 2015 in Detroit?  Below are links to all of the ECT (Edgewater Congregations Together) Daily Blog Posts during the trip, a link to the ELCA Youth Gathering youtube channel with videos of speakers, worship, etc. from the Youth Gathering, and some media coverage of the Youth Gathering.

ECT blog posts from the ELCA Youth Gathering 2015:

Travel Day: Meet the Heitz-Squad

Day 1: Intro to Detroit and the Youth Gathering

Day 2: Proclaim Community

Day 3: Proclaim Justice

Day 4: Proclaim Story

Final Day

Here is the youtube channel for the ELCA Youth Gathering with highlights from the event (speakers, music, etc):
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD2BE6D47D7169CB5

News Coverage on the ELCA Youth Gathering:

Wondering about the hundreds of buses in and around Downtown Detroit Starting Today: Crain’s Detroit

Why Downtown Detroit ‘Looks like a skittles factory exploded’: Deadline Detroit

How Our Reader’s Quip Became a Lutheran Event Hashtag: Deadline Detroit

Detroiters Embrace Visiting Lutheran Teens for ‘Your Good Work for Our Area’: Deadline Detroit

30,000 Lutheran volunteers spread positivity through Downtown Detroit: The Michigan Chronicle

Focus: HOPE leads massive effort to clean blight from Detroit neighborhoods, volunteers needed: WXYZ News

Lutheran Teens Help With Large Diaper Drive: Detroit News

30,000 Lutherans Blanket Detroit to Volunteer, Worship: USA Today

American Christianity Has Been Hijacked: Huffington Post

5 Things We Learn About Lutherans From their Youth Event: Deadline Detroit

Guest post at Presbyterian Outlook: “It’s Time to Talk with Youth in the Church about Racism”

Standard

10428521_809217882483016_9088634380988016889_n

Today I am guest blogging over at Presbyterian Outlook: “It’s Time to Talk with Youth in the Church About Racism”

“Last October, I returned home to Chicago after marching with hundreds of other clergy and community members in Ferguson, Missouri, and sat down with my youth (who are mostly youth of color) to discuss what was going on in Ferguson and around the country.

Toward the end of the discussion, I asked if any of them had experienced racial profiling or knew someone who had. Whether it was a story about how a family member gets pulled over in his car even when he isn’t speeding, how a neighbor was stopped and frisked while she walked to the soccer field, or how a mom begs her son not to wear a hoodie on his head when he leaves the house – almost every youth of color in the group had something to say.

While it was difficult to listen as they shared their experiences and fears, these stories are not new to me. As a youth pastor in Chicago, I’ve heard many like them throughout the past several years…”

To read the rest, click here.

Final Day at the ELCA Youth Gathering: Heitz-Squad Style

Standard

unnamed-3

Today was our final day at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. We had breakfast and then checked out of our hotel before we headed to the Ford Field for our closing worship.  And we FINALLY got the chance to sit on the floor for a mass gathering!

unnamed-4 unnamed-2 unnamed-9

 

During worship we sat with our friends from Luther Memorial Church (which is in Lincoln Square in Chicago).  We participated in a powerful worship service led by an amazing gospel choir and the presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.  The theme for today was Rise Up to Bring Hope.  Ending the service with communion with 30,000 teenagers from all across the world and from many different backgrounds and walks of life who are inspired to rise up to proclaim good news to the world definitely brings me hope!

unnamed-8

 

After the service, we got to try Detroit’s famous Coney dog at Coney Island…

unnamed-6

unnamed-5

And we cooled down with a little gelado.

unnamed-7

Then we headed back to the hotel and took a nap before we got on our Amtrak train.  The trip home was much more quiet than the trip to Detroit on Tuesday!

unnamed-11

The ECT youth had an incredible time in Detroit this week!  They were pleasantly surprised to find out that Detroit was not the city they had heard about in the news and had expected it to be.  Rather, they had encountered God there and found the city to be full of wonderful people, so many great things to do and see, and so much hope.

This week, the Heitz-Squad had the opportunity to get out of the city and neighborhoods they are familiar with and experience a new city, new culture, and new food. They met new friends from around the country and (some even across the world) and saw old ones from the synod.  They developed very close relationships with one another, worshiped in new meaningful ways, and learned about systemic injustice that is still oppressing so many people around our country and across the world.  They went out of their way to care for one another, they had deep and thoughtful conversations about important issues of injustice, they rose up together to lead hundreds of their peers in proclaiming Jesus’ good news, and they talked about how they wanted to continue rising up to proclaim justice when they return to Chicago.

On our Proclaim Story Day yesterday, we were asked to think about and write down the people who have helped us encounter God.  I very honestly wrote down each of these youth.  They are such a blessing to me, to one another, to our congregations and neighborhoods, and to the world!

Here is a reflection by Val from Ebenezer Lutheran Church:

My experience in Detroit was very unique and interesting. Seeing about 35,000 Lutherans together made this trip unforgettable. I have never been to Detroit before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect while we were driving there. Another thing that was unforgettable was some of the neighborhoods. Abandoned houses, abandoned buildings, and abandoned lots. It was very interesting learning the history as to why these areas and buildings were the way they were. I didn’t see what I thought I would see: the “bad” side of Detroit. I saw the new, hopeful and good side of Detroit. I hope and plan to visit again sometime.

Here is an update from Ngbarazere from Unity Lutheran Church:

This trip gave me a synopsis of the providence radiating everywhere. I realized that ignorance to your surroundings contribute to power imbalances which ultimately leads to poverty, violence; sin. But even within the chaotic catastrophes, I realized that God helps motivate and guide those who recognizes unfortunate events only as obstacles to overcome. Detroit resonates a virtue of hope. It reeks of the smell of vitality, and contagiously affects all in it’s perimeter. If I’m ever searching for a deep sense of hope, I will flip through the recollection of memories experienced in Detroit.

Here is an update from John from Immanuel Lutheran Church:

Detroit: it was one of the best weeks in my life. I met loads of people and heard and saw some of the most inspiring things in my life. The speeches brought people to tears and the music brought people to their feet.  Hearing the stories of the speakers and the people we were helping out encouraged me to want to help out loads more in Chicago when I get home. Also, just being able to have fun with my friends and play around in the COBO center was great.  It was all an amazing experience, and I could not imagine being the same person in the future without this event being in my life. I can’t wait for Houston in 2018!

And here is a reflection from Maku from Unity Lutheran Church:

Detroit was an amazing experience and I can proudly say it was one of the most amazing experiences in my young life. We got to meet cool people, eat great food, see new sites, and meet in mass gatherings on the nightly basis. And I believe Detroit has given our group and the whole ELCA a deep bond with one another. I believe people were motivated to do God’s work as well back in their hometown. And most importantly, we’ve learned that in order to exceed in God’s work, we have to bear burdens, build bridges, break chains, and bring hope. The ELCA has been amazing and without it I think I would be a completely empty person without the feeling of God’s love.

Day 4 of the ELCA Youth Gathering: Proclaiming Story – Heitz-Squad Style

Standard

The theme for day 4 of the ELCA Youth Gathering was Rise Up to Break the Chains that keep us from being reconciled with God and reconciled with our neighbors.  This day was also our Proclaim Story day, where we gathered with the rest of the Metro-Chicago synod to explore how God is in our story and how God is in the stories of others.

Before our Proclaim Story event, the Heitz-Squad began the day with our “first 15” discussion and prayer time and had a little free time in the Cobo Center.  At 10:30am, we met up with Luther Memorial Church from Lincoln Square neighborhood in Chicago and made posters and prepared for a rally.  After posters were made and parts of the rally were assigned and practiced, we headed to Hart Plaza to gather others in our synod for the rally.

At 11:30am, ECT (Edgewater Congregations Together) youth Boyosa and Ngbarazere began gathering the group by playing their djembe drums.

At 11:45am, Ngbarazere (ECT youth) and Noah (Luther Memorial youth) started the rally by leading the group in singing Wade in the Waters.

Then Ngbarazere and Noah continued:

“We come together this afternoon as followers of Jesus and as members of the human race to find, with one another the strength to join our God in bringing reconciliation, peace, and justice in this world.  We come here this afternoon as a response to our call from the prophet Micah to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.  We come here this afternoon because Jesus – our God – who came into this world in the flesh as a brown-skinned refugee, came proclaiming good news to the poor, bringing release to the captives, giving sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free, and he calls ALL of his followers to do so, as well.

Today, the Klu Klux Klan is participating in a rally in South Carolina, protesting the removal of the Confederate flag – a symbol of hate and inequality.  However, while the KKK is brining about a message of hate this afternoon, we are here raising our voices with thousands of others around our country who are participating in counter-rallies today, bringing about a message of love.

And not only are we gathering together today for this rally to counter the hateful message of the KKK, but we are also rallying together because the KKK rally is connected to a greater problem in our country.

From the multiple incidences of racialized police brutality in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, McKinney, Texas, Detroit…. to the high numbers of people of color being imprisoned throughout our country for small offenses, to the horrific shooting of nine of our black brothers and sisters during a prayer meeting at mother Emanuel AME Church because of the color of their skin, to the intentional burning down of at least four black churches since the shooting: we are reminded that the sin of racism still prevails throughout the systems of our country.

On June 23, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of almost 30,000 people just a few steps from here at the Cobo Center.  There, he proclaimed: “I have a dream: that one day all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old: Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

So today, we come together as the body of Christ to confess of this sin of systemic racism and to confess of our own participation in and benefits from it.  We come here to denounce this evil sin and to repent of it, asking God to help us turn away from it.  We come here mourning the loss of the nine beloved children of God whose lives were taken away from them during a prayer meeting and we come here mourning with ALL of our brothers and sisters of color who live in fear today because racism still exists.

We are rallying together today because what hate burns down, love builds up.  And no matter the message we hear from others around our country, we are here to boldly proclaim that black lives DO matter to God and they DO matter to us.”

They read scripture and led us in confession and prayer, and then we sang “We Shall Overcome,” ending with the verse “We’ll walk hand in hand” as we held hands.

Then everyone processed to the Masonic Temple following the cross. There were at least 200-300 people.  During this 45 minute march, Ngbarazere and Noah led the group in chants and Kalleb (ECT youth) led the group in singing freedom songs.

This was such a powerful action.  People we passed by during our march honked at us, nodded at us, or cheered, and some people even sang along with us.  After the action, a few youth who participated in the march thanked our group for providing them with an opportunity to participate in this march.  They even expressed interest in organizing with our youth around issues of injustice in Chicago.

I am so darn proud of these youth for rising up and leading hundreds of their peers in this action of proclaiming justice!  I am so blessed to experience God incarnate through their witness!  They are such an inspiration to me.

During Proclaim Story Day at Masonic Temple, we heard people’s stories and explored and shared our’s with one another.

Then we treated ourselves to a great meal at Rub BBQ Pub.

 After our meal, we went on a walking tour of downtown Detroit led by Kingdom Detroit.

 And then we headed back to Ford Field for our evening mass gathering.  There, we heard inspiring stories about breaking the chains of depression from Rozella White – the ELCA program director for Young Adult ministry, of breaking the chains of homelessness from Veronika Scott – the founder of the Empowerment Plan in Detroit, and of breaking the chains of child poverty from Civil Rights Activist Marian Wright Edelman.


 

Here is an update from Maku, an eighth grader from Unity Lutheran Church:

Our theme of the day is to break chains.
As we entered Saturday of the ELCA youth gathering, we had more of a slow paced day. We did a lot of speaking with God and with one another, and we had loads of great food. Starting in the morning, we left our hotel around 7:55 and gathered in the Cobo center to eat a casual breakfast, such as muffins, orange juice, and breakfast sandwiches.  We then broke off and had a little bit of free time followed by a counter rally to proclaim racial justice and equality. And the rally was great!  There was music, speeches, and loads of marching. We then finished our rally and met with our Chicago synod to gather and do faithful interactive activities. We left the synod around 3:00 PM. Then we went to a restaurant that was famous for their signature slim shady burger. As we finished the meal we headed to the Hart plaza and went on a walking tour of Detroit. We then went to the mass gathering where we worshiped and I witnessed very powerful speakers, mind blowing performances and got to see Skillet perform live!!

So God’s lesson to break chains has been a powerful message because it allows us to go and understand one another and in a sense it reminds me of breaking restrictions from temptations and sins and allow us to be close to each other.

And here is a reflection from Katie, a freshman from Ebenezer Lutheran:

Today we experienced Jesus in our midst through protest. We marched across Detroit; signs, cross and bullhorn in hand, we proclaimed God’s love for every man, woman and child, regardless of the color of their skin or the content of their character. It was a very hot day and some of us marched having forgotten to bring water or not having eaten enough. However, we were paid back for our hard work and dedication after arriving to a well air conditioned mosque and experiencing God through worship. And, for those of us who were hungry, we were rewarded with a nice lunch at a barbecue restaurant where we connected with our friends from Luther Memorial. God rewarded us for proclaiming his love and faith today and I consider that to be the highlight of my day.

Day 3 at the ELCA Youth Gathering: Proclaim Justice – Heitz-Squad Style

Standard

IMG_9884

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.

IMG_9868 IMG_9921 last IMG_9936

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!

IMG_9943 IMG_9949

FullSizeRender

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!

IMG_9980

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.”

Day 2 of the ELCA Youth Gathering: Proclaim Community Heitz-Squad Style

Standard

IMG_9779

Day 2 of the ELCA Youth Gathering was a wonderfully informative day. We began with our “first 15,” which included a Bible study and discussion, exploring the theme for the day: “Rise up and Bear Burdens.”  The rest of the afternoon, we proclaimed community in the interactive center at Cobo.

There, we visited the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service center, where we learned what life is currently like for the 65,000 children and youth from Central America who have sought refuge in the U.S. and wrote post-cards to them.

IMG_9760

We learned what it is like to be a refugee from South Sudan at the Lutheran Disaster Response center.

IMG_9769

When visiting the Peace not Walls center, we met our new friend, David, a Palestinian high school senior from the West Bank, who talked to us about the plight of Palestinians and shared with us personal stories.

IMG_9819

IMG_9818

And we learned a little about race in the U.S. and made commitments to work for racial justice.

IMG_9789

Along the way, we ran into a few people…

ELCA Metro-Chicago Synod Bishop Wayne Miller

IMG_9815

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

IMG_9793-1 IMG_9796

Ngbarezere and Kalleb were even interviewed by someone from The Lutheran magazine!

IMG_9800
We had some fun, too.

IMG_9828

IMG_9773

IMG_9777

We went back to the Renaissance Center this evening to do more dancing. Then we headed to Ford Field for our mass gathering, where we rocked out to some awesome music and were inspired by spoken word.  We heard from Luther Seminary professor, Eric Barreto, who talked about how God created and loves our differences and how diversity is the place where God acts most powerfully.  And we heard from Alexia Salvatierra, who talked about the unjust American immigration system and shared powerful stories about the child/youth refugees from Central America. We also had a fun surprise: where Maku and John were featured on the big screen at the mass gathering!

FullSizeRender

Here is a reflection from Kalleb, a senior from Immanuel Lutheran Church:

“Day 2 was amazing. We learned about burdens and how burdens should be shared and not kept in. We came to realize that if burdens are shared with others, they will be lightened.
I enjoyed the dance today, where Val and I danced in front of many of the youths. It was great meeting so many people from different parts of the country and world.  At ford field, it was amazing listening to spoken word, music, and inspirational speeches. I look forward to tomorrow and I’m loving Detroit. #RISE UP”
And here is a reflection from John, a ninth grader from Immanuel Lutheran Church:
“Today was the day we learned about bearing burdens. We were told burdens are basically like carrying a heavy weight on your back but instead it’s carried in your heart.  And we heard a few stories on how those burdens came into people’s lives: like when four citizens destroyed the roof above them to get the paralyzed man to Jesus or when some guys were trying to immigrate to America. But then one got very ill, which made him more of a burden for the other people. He was thirsty, he was tired, and he just could not keep up, so they left him. He was slowly dying: his dehydration was killing him until he found a small puddle. He decided to drink from it, and it turned out the water was filled with bacteria.  And he got more sick, and he just laid there to die.  Until a group of four people picked him up and carried him to a highway where an emergency car got him.  But then the immigration people got those four who helped the man, and they were deported.   But before they left, a reporter asked: “why would you risk this and turn yourselves in like that?” They said: “cause we are Christian, and Christians carry each other.”
That all ties together with what we did today: finding out what to bring if we were brought to a refugee camp and when we found out about all the kids from Central America and about people who died from the acts of violence toward people because of race.
We also heard some great music at the mass gathering, met new people, and played fun games at the cobo center. Over all, it was fun.”

Day 1 at the ELCA Youth Gathering – Heitz-Squad Style

Standard

  
  
Day 1 at the Youth Gathering was an introduction to the city of Detroit and our week at the Youth Gathering.

We started the morning with a lesson and discussion about Detroit and its current struggles, which are symptoms of a long history of deep rooted systemic racism. We discussed how we are called to be theologians of the cross and name the reality of the evils of racism and inequality. 

I was so impressed with and proud of my youth for being incredibly thoughtful and engaged in the conversation, angry at the injustice they learned about, and passionate about having the courage when we return home to rise up together and denounce the evil sins of systemic racism and inequality in Chicago and work for justice.  

  

 The rest of the day we explored Detroit. 

               

We hung out. 

      

We did some dancing…

 And more dancing…  

And even more dancing…  

And we attended our first evening mass gathering.  

  
          

Here’s what Ngbarezere, a junior from Unity Lutheran Church, had to say:

It’s only been one day in Detroit and I am highly impressed with today’s adventure. I woke up to the delight of the prepared breakfast awaiting me and my companions. I am embarrassed to say, however, that I was glaring at the food as Emily was greeting and instructing us. 

After thirty minutes (it really felt like five minutes), we gathered on the shuttle and departed downtown. The view I witnessed was exhilarating! Canada was approximately a mile across from Detroit, the spectacular view from both sides illuminated our nervousness as soon as we stepped off of the shuttle. 

People were friendly, residents were excited, and workers were especially cheerful as the ELCA visitors swarmed their city. We visited the Cobo center, the renaissance center, and curiously peeked at the gateway to freedom slave statue. All these views were amazing and rich with memories. 

At 7:30 PM we entered the Ford Field along with 30,000 other participants from across the entire country! It was uplifting to see such a large group gather together. We sang songs, heard speakers, and learned dances throughout the entire performance. 

Afterwards we arrived back at the hotel to finish our day with pizza and a warm conversation on today’s experience. Thank you for making this all possible for us, I really enjoyed today! 

And here is a reflection from Sam, a junior from Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Today, following the first day at the youth gathering, I am simply amazed at the community and outreach of the ELCA network. There are people here from seemingly everywhere- something I was expecting, but something that’s still very impressive and, I guess, real. And they’re friendly too! The fact that just so many others are here, brings with it a real sense of purpose and capability. Because of the sheer vastness of the crowd here, I feel weirdly powerful – I feel the holy spirit. 

Regardless of what exactly is on the itenerary for each day, I’ve come to understand that we as individuals, youth groups, congregations, and churches are here together with Detroit and its people, that we are here with God to strive for social justice in all places. 

And I’m excited about that. This trip is an educational experience of an environment that is suffering, that is in need of resurrection. A place where the spirit is already present, a place where we are “waiting to catch up with the doings of Jesus,” as the keynote speaker said earlier this evening. And its great to be a part of this upbringing.