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

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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!

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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!

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

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And we cooled down with a little gelado.

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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!

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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

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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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.”