By Cindy Novak
Lindsay Williams continues her countdown until she and 50 others from Peace Lutheran Church embark on a 14-hour bus ride to New Orleans for the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering — “citizens with the saints” — July 18-22.
“I’m very excited about going again,” Lindsay says of the Gathering, her second since attending three years ago as a freshman in high school.
She and other youth from the ELCA congregation in Beavercreek, Ohio, heard inspiring speakers, participated in lively worship, volunteered in a variety of servant events, and made new friends from all walks of life at the 2009 Gathering.
“It was such a huge gathering with lots of kids my age,” Lindsay recalls. “We got together and praised God. All of the speakers were amazing. The music was great. It was such a cool experience. I got to meet tons of people who shared the same beliefs as me.”
Today, as a high school senior, Lindsay looks forward to experiencing similar events and activities but with a more grown-up perspective.
“As a freshman, I was just a kid,” she says. “But as a senior, I’ve had more world experiences. When I go to New Orleans this time, I will probably see everything differently.”
In fact, Lindsay and the 35,000 other youth might even see “a larger sense of God’s gigantic activity around the world” simply by hearing stories, says Bryan Jaster, director of youth ministries at Peace.
And hearing stories can get youth thinking about vocation, Bryan adds. “Who they are and how they fit into all of the ways God calls people in the world.”
For example, during the last Gathering, Lindsay heard stories of hardship while serving with other youth at a camp for at-risk girls. She heard about the physical, emotional and sexual abuse they endured and of the hope they had because of the care they received.
She also heard stories of how residents, once devastated by Hurricane Katrina, have rebuilt their homes — and lives — thanks to the thousands of compassionate volunteers who have tirelessly given of their time.
One of Lindsay’s favorite memories from 2009 includes how youth “took over the streets,” she says. “There were thousands of us on the sidewalks. We brought hope to the people there. They saw how we were following God’s will and doing it all for him.”
“I went somewhere I’ve never been before to try to make an impact on others’ lives,” Lindsay adds. “The Gathering provided a way for me to stretch and learn more about my faith. It was a real eye-opener.”
During a recent trip to New Orleans, Bryan spoke to people in restaurants, hotels and on the streets. “A lot of people told me, ‘We are excited that you are coming back,’” he recalls. “One woman said, ‘I am so glad you are bringing Jesus here in July.’ I was completely surprised.”
Cindy Novak is a member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill. She lives in Lisle, Ill., with her husband, David, and her children, Sam and Emily.