Last week was quite possible one of the best weeks of my life so far.
I was in Houston, Texas with my youth group and 30,000 other teens from all over America for the National Lutheran Youth Gathering! For 5 days, we did service around the Houston community, got together with kids from our state, danced until our feet hurt, heard from amazing speakers, met people from all different states, learned how to better the world, and so. much. MORE. I was definitely not too excited for this trip, but in the end, the experience was totally worth it!
In this Week in my Life post, I’m sharing what I did each day of the gathering, and the lessons I learned from the speakers each night. Here we go!
We arrived in Houston around 2:00 pm after our 11:55 am flight! It was hotter than expected, but a lot less humidity than where I live 🙂 Once our group landed, we explored our hotel and its rooftop pool, then headed uptown for dinner at the Galleria. It wasn’t until we got to the NRG Stadium for the first nightly gathering that I realized just how many people 30,000 was!! There were thousands of groups all rocking matching t-shirts, and it looked so cool, but the lines were crazy. I met people from all over, including Alaska! We were able to get seats on the first level, and it was loads of fun being able to dance around to the DJ before the show began.
There were 4 speakers every night, but my fav on Day 1 was Bryan Stephenson, who is a part of the Equal Justice Initiative. In his speech, he talked about how part of building hope for the future is to recognize the US history with genocide of Native Americans, slavery, Civil Rights, etc. And realizing those were/are being overcome, so present struggles can be too. Also, one of the most memorable quotes that I remember from Stephenson was, “I leaned on him, and he leaned back,” in reference to a distraught child he was helping in juvenile detention. This quote very much impacted me because it reminded me that sometimes all people need is to know that someone cares for them and wants to help them through their pain.
Overall, the first day was a great pre-cursor as to what the rest of the week held!
Day 2 was our Interactive Learning Day, where we got to walk around a GIANT convention center with hundreds of interactive stations. I got to learn, do, and lounge around, all to broaden my view of the world. First, I went through a refugee/migrant simulator where we went through a simulation and were educated on what it was like to be a migrant coming to America from Central America. It was very eye-opening to see the process of migrating to America, especially after learning that most migrants don’t know what is required of them at the border crossing. At the end, we got to sign a letter for Congress advocating for immigration reform. I also got to meet up with some of my camp friends from Virginia! (shoutout to Lani, ChoCho, Megan, and Jackie!!)
The other stations I went to were: a gallery where young Palestinians detailed their stories of capture and what daily life was like, visited a booth that showed how to find light and hope in the #MeToo movement, wrote to my senator about enacting HIV/AIDS programs, and hung out in a ball pit where I made new friends from Arizona! The interactive learning was one of my favorite parts about the whole Gathering; it really taught me a lot of ways I could take action and helped me find new causes to learn about.
That night’s gathering was just as hype as the night before! Aaron Fuller, a naval chaplain, was one of the speakers that really resonated with me. In reference to helping a friend, he spoke a powerful message: “You don’t have to solve their problem, just be there to walk alongside them.” This quote is applicable in so many ways, whether it applies to a friendship, a relationship, or a world issue. A lot of times all people need to know is that you are there to support them and have their back through whatever struggle they are going through. I already know his speech is going to have such an impact on my life!
Day 3 was synod day, where we got together with all the Lutherans from our state and had a fun day getting to know each other. Nothing too excited or crazy happened, so I’m gonna skip straight to the nightly gathering!
That night we got to the NRG Stadium 3 and a half hours EARLY in order to get floor seats. We sprinted up 4 flights of ramps and pushed through hundreds of people, and in the end, we made it on the floor! Since we got there so early, a few of us danced on the floor to the DJ in a hot, sweaty mess of other teens, but hey, it was loads of fun and 100% worth it. Of course, the speakers were just as great as any other night, but the main points I gathered from them were mostly from the speaker, Nadia Bolz-Weber. She spoke about how “your current reality isn’t your ultimate reality,” and “your ideal self isn’t you, you are.” These words reminded me of my once i do this, i’ll be happy blog post and re-instilled my belief that you can and will overcome any struggles thrown your way. YOU GOT IT!
Along with more dancing and kazoo-playing (my kazoo went everywhere with me starting Day 3), Day 3 ended with a bang!
On Day 4, we had to wake up at 5:20 am for a 6:30 am Metro ride! It was service day, and I was tired, but ready to help the Houston community in any way possible. Our group ended up being assigned to helping out at a local high school that had been affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. I ended up heading to a park across the street with a couple girls from my group and a bunch of Minnesotans to clean up trash! Afterwards, we played some fun group games until lunch.
After lunch, we stopped by the NRG Arena, where there was games, bouncy castles, live music, and a big dance party. I danced until my feet hurt then chilled with one of my friends for awhile.
That afternoon, our group ended up getting some free time to do whatever we liked. Some went to the mall, some stayed at the hotel to rest, and my dad and I decided to explore downtown Houston. We ended up finding the cutest murals on McKinney Street (of course, I snapped some photos), visited a Phoenecian grocery store, and stopped my Sam Houston park for a little while.
For Day 4’s nightly gathering, our group ended up on the very top level, but I wasn’t too mad about it. After all, we got an incredible overview of the entire stadium filled with teens wearing t-shirts of all colors, it looked like a Skittles pack had exploded! The speakers that night were Carson McChullar (a recovering 18 y.o. drug addict), Joe Davis (an incredible poet), Rebekah Bruesehoff (a young transgender girl), and Marie Rose Belding (a girl who started her own business at the age of 14). Joe Davis and Marie Rose Belding spoke straight to my heart with tales of accepting everyone for who they are and finding hope in the most difficult of situations. WOW! The speakers of Day 4 were phenomenal!
The last day of the gathering began and ended with a church service in the morning. It was cool to hear all 30,000 people singing! The last speaker of the gathering was Savannah Sullivan, who told the story of when she was asked the question, “What would you die for?” and how she turned that question around to say, “What would I live for?” I love the thought of finding a passion and mission you are willing to live to the fullest for, it’s so warming and amazing.
Also, we found out where the next youth gathering is going to be: MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA in 2021!! I am so hype and excited for it because the majority of Lutherans are from Minnesota, and I can’t wait to take my sister along with me when I go!
Since that was the last gathering and my group wasn’t flying back home until the next day, my dad and I went back to Sam Houston park, but this time I got in the fountains. Houston is hot, man! That night, we got to visit my old pastor and spend time with his family (his little girl, Sophia, is the CUTEST!) over dinner. It made me so happy to see them again, and was a great way to end an eventful ELCA Youth Gathering!
We flew home the next day, and I got to briefly catch up with my camp girl, Cho Cho, at the airport!
Wellll, there ya have it: a Houston, Texas Week in my Life! Overall, this experience was so enlightening and absolutely incredible. I wish you all could’ve shared it with me (partially because then I would’ve been able to meet y’all haha)! I hope you enjoyed this post and got to see a little peek into my life this summer. Leave a comment below letting me know something exciting you’ve done this summer, and feel free to drop any question sor blog post ideas you may have as well. Thanks so much for reading!