Do you ever sit and look around at the streets as you take a drive on Sunday morning? I do. What I think is boy-oh-boy there sure aren't a lot of cars out here, isn't anyone wanting to go to church? I begin to realize in these times God just doesn't seem to rate very important, he's second fiddle to the drive to attain materialism, extra sleep, a little league game, an extra dollar with a weekend job...then I stand in the middle of New Orleans and start to change my mind.
The streets here are more than littered with teenage Lutherans they are congested. The few who are in this city that aren't part of the Youth Gathering are amazed. I too am amazed. Not just at how many matching T-shirts can be produced for spectacle but that these young people, and although in a world of billions these 37,000 teenagers represent the hope that God is alive, that his message of hope isn't dying. And, that you can have a ton of fun showing the world.
I have heard the most incredible speakers. Viola Vaughn is one of them-- incredible, passionate woman of heart. When you listen, hear Becca Stevens you'll want to shop her products. Liz McCartney, a CNN Hero of the Year in 2008 makes you realize there is people of true heart and hand in this sometimes sad world-- in which we are all a part of. Nothing, no nothing tops last nights speakers--Spencer West and Michel Chikwanie; a child soldier who had the courage to flee his captures... to over come, to march on, to not be pulled down or back. Amazing stories.
While I sit here, as I am sure everyone is, awakening to the idea that our struggles and woes are sometimes, somewhat minuscule. Realizing hope and love can answer when you trust-- you will prevail.
Just when I was letting that notion settle in deep into my soul...Skillet! Who knew Jesus came with a side of heavy metal. But gee whiz am I glad I know they exist because I have a proper replacement for "Heavy Metal Maddi's" Slipknot. Music of all kinds is being played, from hip-hop to contemporary... and the crowd sings and dances. Not in an ideal rival fashion but in a regular teenage rock concert fashion-- 37,000 plus fill the Super Dome all up on feet rocking out. Fun.
The big reason we have all come is to serve the people of New Orleans was yesterday, we spent the day at Airline Park Elementary school working with kids who's struggles start at home and spill over into the classroom. My little guy nearly six-years old going into the first grade could not, can not count to ten, does not know his alphabet; which means he is far behind the norm. He could however dance like Michael Jackson. How do I know this? The little guy cute as a bug couldn't manage to stay put in a seat for more than two minutes...and that might be stretching it. Then we helped distribute textbooks, others scrubbed desks; all readying the school for a new and upcoming year of learning. It was at our Final 15, what we call the moments we gather together to reflect on the day in a spiritual nature...one of our boys said "I wonder how the guys who spent the day not with kids but instead hauling text books and scrubbing desks, did they get anything out of the day, did they find a "thanks" in the service?" To which I told the story of how I moved a classroom last year at work for a teacher who to this day is rather thankless for my hard work...I reminded [my] kids that those who worked on behalf of the kids and not with the kids did just that, worked on there behalf. It wasn't as much about helping the teacher but making the school readied for the kids, readied for a year of learning. The school we served although not one of the terribly devastated hurricane hit areas and known for being on target with state levels for learning has adopted a population no stranger to poverty and illiteracy. The teacher we worked with told us last school year was a year to hug and love, clothe and feed these new little peoples to the school...now that they have earned there trust they will focus on educating. The question was asked by our service hostess "did you see God in your service?" To which I say yes, in the face of each child longing for hope and a future. (this photo was taken with my camera by one of the students, which explains the off center)
When I think about service I reflect on the sea of orange T-shirts more than sprinkling the streets of NOLA...the visual mark that tens of thousands of people came to restore this beautiful city. What an awesome sight! We are told the work we did in three days would have taken the City of New Orleans three years. That of all the volunteers the city has seen "The Lutherans" have shined brightest-- based on the sheer number of volunteers. What a good feeling!
I cannot on this page dare to touch on all the stories of the New Orleans people we spoke with. I cannot begin to use enough adjective to describe the volume of orange T-shirts presented on the streets which we all wore on those service days. It was an incredible site of love and hope. That is exactly what each person we spoke with said...they may have lost everything but they carried on, they believe in "hope".