All Things Considered

Greetings from Big Sky Country - Montana. The second youth conference of my current US tour, Higher Things, begins with an opening worship service this afternoon at 2 pm, but the OIM display table is ready so I'm just hanging out until then. 

If this is the second youth conference, that implies there was a first. Last week, I was one of ~200 Gathering Ambassadors (former CLBs) at the LCMS Youth Gathering. Every three years, the Gathering brings together thousands of like minded Lutherans of all ages, really, when you include volunteers and adult leaders. And can we talk about volunteers for a second? The Gathering is 97% volunteer-run. Think about that. This year's planners had no idea what to expect attendance-wise with COVID - certainly not the18,000+ high schoolers that descended on Houston, TX to meditate on the 2022 theme, "In All Things," drawn from Colossians 1. 

Part of serving as an Ambassador means arriving early for general and role-specific training. If you're wondering how my travels were after the train wreck that was my trip to St. Louis in June...smooth as could be and on time. Praise the Lord! As representatives of the Gathering who'd be identifiable by our blue T-shirts and yellow "flair," we had to be well versed in anything participants or adult leaders might possibly ask us questions about, from food options to shuttling. Keynotes rounded out our days and left us with some points to ponder, and one of the Bible study leaders blessed us with a foretaste of what participants would experience over three days of studying God's Word together. 

I didn't know going in that Ambassadors were assigned to small groups, but the random assortment of other Ambassadors I was grouped with became fast friends. We were seated toward the back of the training room. 

L to R: My roommate Stephanie, me, and Cali, a member of my small group. 

Lisa, also from my small group, and I before dinner together on our first night. 

We made it to The Rustic right before a massive downpour.

Back row: Kathy, Nichole (one of our fearless leaders), Lisa, Daniel, Samantha, and Katie. Front row: Kate, Cali, me, and Terry (our other fearless leader). 

One morning we toured the convention center to get the lay of the land and chanced across Backpack Stuffing. It's quite the sight. 

General training ended with an all-volunteer lunch combining Ambassadors and YAVs (Young Adult Volunteers, aged 19-25), a group that included my sister...

...and colleagues Ashley (Puerto Rico) and Courtney (LCMS Short-term Mission)!

That entire group PLUS all of the planners, exhibitors, and other behind-the-scenes servants celebrated a Divine Service together the night before the Gathering began, led by the pastors and musicians from a local congregation. 

And we're off: Mass event #1, live from Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.

My volunteer role was working in the Gathering Store, which grew on me the more I thought about it. I loved working conventions for CPH, and above all, it'd be easy for the gazillions of people I knew who'd also be there to find me. 

Each of us settled naturally into one of the many roles needed to make things run efficiently. I was typically the 2nd person at one of the registers, listing off items and sizes, if applicable, to a counterpart who'd find and select them in the point-of-sale machine. 

The store crew of Ambassadors and YAVs, with our manager Laurie (2nd from right). 

The store was open from 10 am - 4 pm daily, and then again from 5:30-7:30 for private events. We'd rotate taking lunches and bathroom breaks during that time. One day out by the food trucks, I noticed a series of poles on the sidewalk bearing the names of each country in the Americas...along Avenida de las Américas!

Sunday's Mass event was my favorite. Emcee Rev. Zach Zehnder gave a memorable message entitled "Middle Words are not Final Words," and later, a potter threw a pot on a wheel while the house band played in the background. 

Monday morning saw new product arrive in the store: sweatpants. 

Highlights of that night's Mass Event were FLAME, a Christian rapper with a degree from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis...

...and For King and Country, one of the most sought-after Christian music acts right now. 

I'm sooooo glad I stayed until after 11 pm to see the end. As has become their trademark, they played "Little Drummer Boy" even though it was July!

We made quick work of boxing up all remaining product after Tuesday's private event; it was shipped back to St. Louis and will be sold in the Gathering online store at 50% off until it's gone. 

The Gathering ended with Divine Service Wednesday morning. 

There are no words for the awesomeness of this. 

I'd run into groups of 2 or 3 from my home congregation but was thankful for the chance to sit with all 32 of them during the service. My pastor, Rev. Tanner Wade, got called upon to help administer Communion at the last minute. 

I crashed lunch and the beginning of devotions, too! Pastor Wade gave my sister & I each a few minutes to talk with the group about opportunities to remain involved in the Gathering even once they've aged out of senior high youth by volunteering. 

I had a blast, truly. My cup was so filled by seeing colleagues, supporters, and friends every which way I turned - so much so that I've decided to post separately about that aspect of my Gathering experience. Although I was there on vacation, I was "on" whenever I had the chance to encourage a young person toward a future in international missions. Finally, I left with a renewed awareness and assurance of Jesus' presence in and reign over all things. How long do you think it's going to take for "all things" to stop jumping out at me every time it comes up in my daily Bible reading, the liturgy, etc.? 

Wednesday afternoon, my deaconess friend - and former missionary - who now lives in Houston picked me up and hosted a small LAC missionary reunion dinner party. I enjoyed a quiet, restful night and next day at her place before an early Friday morning flight to Denver, CO, to spend the weekend visiting a supporting congregation. To be continued...

Until next time, blessings!