There are so many positive things to be shared about the 2012 ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. For me, it may have been best captured by a 19 year-old woman who chilled us to the bone as she played Jesus Loves Me on the saxophone. Strangely that simple song which most of us have known since early childhood wove a blessed community and proclamation of the Gospel together in a marvelous way.
I arrived early for the MYLE (Multicultural Youth Leadership Event) and DAYLE (Differently Abled Youth Leadership Event) events which were in themselves tremendous experiences. My wife, Kate, and daughter Anneka arrived later with most of the other 34,000 young people and adults who assembled around the theme “Citizens with the Saints”. Although she had heard about previous Gatherings from me and the kids, this was Kate’s first experience. She was overwhelmed by the power of an event which gathers so many young people around the themes of justice, discipleship and peacemaking.
There were about 650 people from our synod alone who attended the Gathering. I am very grateful for the hard work of so many who helped put this event together.
One of the things that was posted just as we were leaving, was the challenge called the 100 Wells Challenge sponsored by the ELCA World Hunger. Some of the marvelous young adults who work in world hunger had asked if I would ride the water pump bike in order to help raise awareness. They also asked if I would invite some of the other bishops in the ELCA to join me. Over twenty-five bishops plus Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson were all more than happy to take part. I even asked the people in our synod to sponsor me at the rate of $.10 per minute.
Guess what? The first two enthusiastic young people who climbed aboard the bikes broke them, so after some repairs I was able to ride for about five minutes. That means if you pledged, you owe a whopping $.50 cents to the Greater Milwaukee Synod which we will pass on to the 100 Wells Challenge.
However, there was another option offered at the exhibit. One could carry five gallon jugs of water around a track. Ten laps equaled one mile. Many participated; it was fun but a whole lot harder than riding a bike, believe me.
The average woman who goes to secure water for her family in places like Africa walks an average of 3.7 miles. Inspired by David Brauer-Rieke, bishop of the Oregon Synod, I decided to carry water for the full 3.7 miles. It was unbelievably hard but did give me an appreciation for what many women do on a daily basis.
If you choose to supplement your $.50 contribution which an extra gift of your choosing, it will be put to great use.
I was so proud of the young people. The goal at the Gathering was to raise $250,000. At last count, they had raised over $400,000. Inspired by their leadership I would invite you all to join in supporting the project.
There are some events whose impact goes beyond the immediate experience. For me, this was a chance to believe in the church all over again. Many thanks to the young people of this church and to those who made it possible for them to be there.
A grateful Bishop Jeff