Sunday, July 1 was our final full day in Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering. (Yes, I’m a bit late at posting but took a much needed rest last week!)
We got up early and checked out of Wyndham Hotel.
Then we headed to the NRG Stadium for our closing worship.
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton preached and gave a big shout out on stage to our very own Lillian and Ngbarezere! They were two of six youth who met with her in early June for a text study to discuss the scripture she preached on at closing worship. In her sermon, she touched on many things these youth discussed with her. What an awesome experience for them and for her!
Then we participated in some powerful worship.
After closing worship, our group brought more beautiful energy, song, and joy to the other groups as we headed out of the NRG Stadium. I was so proud of them for this!
We had to stop and get a group photo with Kalleb, one of our young adults (and former youth group members) who was at the ELCA Youth Gathering as a volunteer for Valparaiso University. It was so great to worship with him this morning!
While most of the other groups dispersed and began their trips home, we had an extra day to hang out as a group and explore a little bit of Houston.
So we took the train downtown to grab some lunch.
Of course we received a few more Johnny and Maku selfies in our group text along the way.
And to make things even more fun, Maku started on our group chat a Holy Roast with your’s truly: Pastor Emily (PE.) I think we all know who won…
We finally made it to our lunch destination, a small local hot spot: Cajun Stop. It. Was. Delicious!
Some of us even tried new things like: fried pickles, fried gator, popcorn shrimp, crab legs, shrimp and hamburger po’boys, and gumbo.
After lunch, we stopped at the Graffiti Building and took some pics.
Then it was time for us to head to our hotel for the night, which was close to the airport. (We had to get up at 3am to make our 6am flight!)
At the hotel, we got to cool down and spend some more time with each other in the pool.
And because it was Jenny’s birthday the next day, we celebrated with a pizza party and surprised her with an ice-cream cake.
Finally, we crammed into Pastor Michael’s room and had our final check-in’s about the trip with each other. Throughout our trip and during tonight’s check ins, our youth showed love to one another and love and grace to me in so many incredible ways. Tonight was probably one of the most holy encounters I’ve experienced in my life, and it was because of these incredibly welcoming, loving young people who shared their lives and created a safe space for one another and for me to open up and share our stories and important parts of our lives with one another. Throughout this week and during our closing check-in tonight, these youth truly embodied the hands and feet of Christ as they shared, listened, encouraged, prayed, cried, sang to, hugged, held, and said “I gotchu” to one another and to me.
In a world and a country that is so full of suffering, heartbreak, and hate, it is these young people who are giving me hope for a better world and showing people like me how to follow Jesus and how to be the welcoming and loving people he calls us to be.
These young people are the Church. They are Jesus’ body in the world. As our theme for the ELCA Youth Gathering this week says: This Changes Everything!
THEY are my hope and THEY are changing everything.
I’m so incredibly grateful for and blessed by them and for/by my young adult leaders Jordan and Ngbarezere and colleague Pastor Michael Fick for accompanying me and these youth on this life-changing trip.
God’s presence has truly been made known.
May we open our eyes to see God in and through our youth, open our hearts to receive God’s grace that they share with us, and follow their lead in offering love to the world.
This Changes Everything!