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2018 ELCA Youth Gathering

John de Montmollin - My participation in an event like the ELCA gathering was an experience I'll never forget. Meeting so many people from different states makes it feel like we are connected. The community service we participated in not only benefited the fami­lies, but my fellow youth and myself as well. As a 14-year-old, it is easy to be involved in my immediate surroundings and needs, but this experience taught me to look beyond my needs and help others. I really appreciate that our church gave me the opportunity to go to Houston and be a part of this memorable conference.

Sarai Draves - In Houston we saw God in so many different ways. At mass gatherings, during our service project, and we saw God through people. This trip grew my faith with God knowing that he was always there. God showed us through many different people that even though things get rough, we can always get through it with the help of God and others. Houston was an amazing trip for all of us and it really did change everything!

Wyatt Draves - While I was in Houston, there were many instances where I saw God. I encountered God while listening to Pastor Nadia's speech. 1 saw God in the old man who borrowed us his lawnmower and weed killer along with some gas. I felt God when hear­ing more than thirty thousand people singing some of my favorite gospel songs in unison. I also encountered God in the friendliness of a man that I had the pleasure of sitting next to on the metro. In conclusion, I felt, saw, and encountered God's light all around me in Houston and definitely grew in faith. I also made some friendships along the way.

Colin Hamburg - This past week I was blessed to have been able to attend the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. There were lots of moments that touched my heart in many ways. For example, as a part of our service project, we were asked to clean up a park. While we were working in the heat, a neighbor to the park saw that we were working hard. When he saw us he didn't  hesitate to help and gave us a lawnmower and weed whacker to borrow. He stayed and talked to us for an hour about how God helped him and the town of Houston through Hurricane Harvey. Then after we finished with the park, I saw the girl that was leading the park cleaning activity. She said that the guy came to her with a tear in his eye and said, "there's kids already playing in the park ". We later realized that park was the only park in 20 miles.

Brooke Jurgensmier - Being surrounded by more than 30,000 high schoolers, all there for the same reason as yourself, is a life changing experience for anybody. The ELCA Youth Gathering had a huge impact on my faith, as I was able to see God in every single person I met. My favorite day was our service day, which gave us the opportunity to clean up a park for children in that area. We were able to work as God's hands with people from across the country and make a change in Houston. I think one of the most impactful parts of the trip for me was the nightly mass gathering. There is nothing more overwhelming and faith-filled than singing and praising Jesus along with 30,000 other high schoolers. The energy in the stadium was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. Listening to speak­ers share their own personal God experiences helped me understand more about my faith and relationship with God. This trip was an amazing experience and definitely helped me grow in my faith and create new friendships.

Katie Jurgensmier - A moment that I saw God was when we were just walking around the city. This is because everywhere you looked you could see a big group wearing the same shirts and you knew they were here for the same reason you were. Knowing that there was 31,000 people to help a big community really just amazed me. My favorite part of this trip was meeting people from all around the country. I loved knowing that people drove or flew so far just to help people.

Arianna Korb - Going to Houston last week opened my eyes to all of the kids who believe in what I believe in! I am so happy that I took the opportunity and it was an experience I will never forget. I think that my favorite part of the whole gathering was all of the speak­ers who shared their stories, which were all completely different from each other. I found that a lot of them had different struggles through their life, but in some way God helped them through it and hearing that helped me be able to let God take the reigns on my life a little bit more. One statement that really stood out to me was "There's grace for that". This statement made me feel that through trou­bled times there's always a way that God can help me through it. I never had a clear idea about what grace was before this trip but that's changed now. I also learned so much about all of my new friends in our group that I didn't really know before the trip! I can not wait to be able to go to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2021!

Anna Mauthe - The ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston will forever be something I remember. I saw God in every smile I shared, eve­ry lyric that I sang, and every flashlight that I witnessed in the crowd of 30,000 people. This trip gave me the opportunity to not only meet so many new people from all over the country, but also the opportunity to become so close with people from our own congregation. I loved every moment of the trip, it made me feel alive, loved, strong, unstoppable. 1 was impacted greatly by what all of the different speakers had to say each night, by the work we did on our service day, and by the chills that I got every single time I heard the sound of 30,000 people singing. They couldn't have picked a better theme, "this changes everything" was spot on and most definitely held true throughout the entire trip. This trip did change everything, but 1 also realized by the end, that WE changed everything, and that was the best part.

Lucas Roltgcn - My trip to Houston was truly amazing and life changing, I met so many new friends and people along the way. On the first day we flew into Houston and I already saw people from different churches at the mall and around Houston. Every day I saw God in someone and on the first day I saw him in all of the 31,000 people who were all worshiping God. The second day was incredible, it was our service day and we were assigned to clean up a park that hasn't been touched in a year or so because of the hurricane. It was right next to a school and the owner was very happy that we were going to help. As we were cleaning the park a man who lived right next to the park offered us some help by lending us a weed wacker and a lawnmower. I saw God in that man. The next day he went up to the lady who owned the park crying with tears of joy, because kids were playing on the park. On the third day it was a day to meet new peo­ple in the arena with many games. Kyler, Hyatt and f played basketball and met many people from all around (he country. We even met people from Alaska! But that night I saw God in Pastor Nadia she was a speaker and was very motivating and emotional. On the fourth day it was a gathering for a service with a about 600 people from our Wisconson synod. I met a kid who had been stabbed and was very lucky to still be alive. I also met a lady whose husband was a victim of cancer but survived and was very thankful. I saw God in an older lady we met at the bus stop and I prayed for her and hope she is doing well today. On the last day we had a massive church service with all 31,000 people. Houston was a life changing experience for me and I hope it was for everyone who went.

Emily Rozell - I was told six sentences would be sufficient to reflect on my time in Houston. However, a mere six sentences is not nearly enough to express all the things I learned, all the things I felt, and all the things that will stay with me forever. All those speakers, every single last one of them impacted my perspective on the world. I realized that Christianity wasn't dying. I realized there were 31,000 other youth just like me spreading the love of God. Even the homeless people I saw on the streets impacted me greatly. Making me real­ize how blessed I am even when I may not feel blessed. On service day a man lent us his tools to clean up the park, I saw God in him and he taught me a great lesson. There may have been plenty of people in the neighborhood who could have helped but only he did. That doesn't matter though because all we needed was him. No matter how much bad is around, the good will always outweigh it, the bright will always outshine the dark. I went to Houston to get closer with God and I most certainly succeeded in that but, I also became closer with my peers, the world, and even myself.