Involving youth in service projects is important to their mental growth and understanding. One of the many organizations that helps with that, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), accomplishes this by having a national gathering every three years for the youth in their churches’ organization.
This year’s event was held in Detroit July 15-19, where approximately 30,000 Lutheran youth attended.
“This year’s theme for the gathering was about bridging racial harmony and unity,” said Nick Moser, an adult chaperone for Yankton’s local Trinity Lutheran Church group that attended the gathering. “Detroit has a very high impoverished population, particularly among the minorities. The city is basically bankrupt.
“The ELCA usually tries to find a big city to hold the gathering because of all the thousands of people that attend,” he said. “They also look for a place suitable for a large-scale mission project.”
Detroit proved to be a culture shock for some of the youth, but in a good way.
“I had never been in a big city like that before, so it was really cool seeing so many people in one place,” said high school sophomore Emily Oswald.
The local group, which consisted of 16 youth and five adult chaperones and
included participants from Gayville and Vermillion, discovered this to be true upon reaching Detroit and seeing some of the run-down neighborhoods.
“People basically abandoned their homes when they lost their jobs, so there’s many vacant houses that hadn’t been taken care of in years,” Moser said.
As part of their mission trip, Yankton’s group participated in cleaning up these neighborhoods by cutting down trees, trimming shrubbery and doing general manual labor to make the neighborhoods look more presentable. During this, they were able to interact directly with the people they’d come to help.
“A memorable moment for me was meeting a couple ladies who lived there,” said Oswald. “They were really nice and had really strong faith considering the conditions they were living in.”
High school senior Riley Vogt had a similar experience.
“There was one kid that lived in the area we were cleaning and he volunteered to work with us,” he said. “I found out that he didn’t have much but he still, on his day off, chose to help us clean up and make his neighborhood better.”
Every evening, the thousands of youth groups met at Ford Field, home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, to listen to speakers discuss topics such as immigration and education. They also had one off-day where they visited a convention center and spent the day doing various fun activities.
“I enjoyed seeing the kids jump into activities and not be shy meeting new people,” said Yankton group leader Dan Negard.
In addition, the trip helped change perspectives of those who attended.
“The kids really understood that there are places where racial discrimination really happens,” said Moser. “We don’t have a high minority population in Yankton, so I think they’re able to take that experience and focus on what the issues are here.”
The youth were also exposed to a level of urban poverty they were unfamiliar with, and the persevering attitudes of Detroit’s residents.
“A lot of those people are hardworking and have full-time jobs, but they need people back in those neighborhoods to raise their property values,” Moser explained.
The trip proved to be beneficial to both the youth and the people they were helping.
“I enjoyed meeting the people who lived there and talked to them about what they wanted us to do,” said Negard. “We realized that they’re just the same people that we are. We are all God’s children and in God’s eyes we’re all the same.”
Moser hopes the experience will inspire youth to continue doing service projects.
“I think upon coming back, they’ll be excited to look for service opportunities in Yankton and try to fix up the neighborhoods here by rolling up their sleeves and making an impact,” he said.
Oswald and Vogt are eager to have another experience like the one they had in Detroit.
“I really enjoyed the trip and would be more than happy to do it again,” said Vogt.
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