With 30,000 young people and leaders assembled in one place, speakers who inspired, community service that encouraged further action, and connections made with individuals and groups, the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston made a big impact on the teens from SSLC and their leaders. Those who attended were Caitlyn Gogan, Samantha Gogan, Zach Gogan, Matt Haley, Abby Maston, Sam Maston, Deb Gogan, Pastor Joe and Sarah Maston.
What surprised Sam Maston “was the sheer numbers. Thirty thousand people is very hard to visualize and imagine, and not until the first night with everyone gathered in the stadium did I know what 30,000 people looked like.”
In the stadium, the small numbers mattered, too, and Samantha Gogan remarked on that.
“I was impressed by the seemingly small connections that we made in the stadium and in the gathering in general, like flashing our lights across and doing patterns during the mass gathering, high fiving everyone you see, and trading bracelets.” Sam added, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that much joy and kindness in one space before.”
Both Sam and Samantha agreed that the speakers offered powerful stories and insights. Theologian and author Nadia Bolz-Weber “talked about how God’s grace really is for everyone,” Sam related. The Rev. Will Starkweather told his story, one of “darkness and self harm,” and how with faith he came to realize, “there’s grace for everything, because God’s grace is never ending.”
Samantha spent her community service day learning about human trafficking. “It is important that people are made aware of it.” She wants to share her new awareness with the people of Saint Stephen and the larger community. “I want to participate in the Red Sand Project at the church or at the school. You put red sand into the cracks of side walks to represent the people and cases who fall through the cracks and don’t get the help they need . You write inspiring messages to the hotline for human trafficking. The project helped me to understand human trafficking and what we can do to help stop it.”
A takeaway for Sam was a realization that “God really changes everything. This was exemplified through all the stories I heard during that week, and am only beginning to truly grasp.” Recognizing that” the rest of the world isn’t always as nice those gathered in Houston, united through Christ. It’s our job to bring God’s love and grace to one another. If not us, then who?”
Every three years, 30,000 high school youth and their adult leaders from across the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gather for a week of faith formation known as the ELCA Youth Gathering. Along with music, worship, and Bible study, they take part in small group interactive learning in a 700,000 square foot learning center, huge gatherings in a stadium, a Synod day where they connect with others from their geographical area, and a community service day, with participants serving at almost 100 venues throughout the Houston area over the course of the gathering.