This past week was another week on the list of things that are making my summer crazy busy, but also crazy fun.
We left, with groups from two other congregations, at 2:00pm on Tuesday, July 21st and headed out for New Orleans. Upon my first consideration, driving all night sounded like a good idea. We didn't need to coordinate any place to stay, we'd just stay on the bus for the 22 hours it would take us to get to our destination.
Flash forward to sometime around 11pm on the 21st as I'm sitting there in my small bus seat, trying to find a way to recline and relax that doesn't involve my legs jammed up against the seat in front of me, or folded up to my chin. About that time I began to reconsider the validity of this decision. But, by that point, it was a bit late. So I made the best out of it.
We arrived in New Orleans at around noon the next day. We stopped at the Convention Center and I, along with the primary adult leaders of the other two congregations, got off the bus and registered our groups. The next stop was our hotels. In hindsight, I can see the value of registering our groups together so we would be assigned to the same hotel which would make the whole process of dropping off go much more smoothly. We did not take advantage of this option when we registered so, of course, we were in three different hotels. So after we returned to the bus we now had to be driven and dropped off at our respective hotels. Had I known the lay of the land a bit better, my group could have removed our bags at the Convention Center and walked to our hotel. However, I did not know the lay of the land. So we stayed on the bus. We decided, though, that since we knew my hotel was closest we'd get dropped off first. Well, 45 minutes later, after trying to drive the bus through the narrow streets of the French Quarter, getting lost, and dropping the other two groups off at their hotels, we arrived at our hotel which was a mere two block from the Convention Center.
Luckily, our week greatly improved after that. We got to do some fun sight seeing, eat at some great restaurants, meet some cool people, see some great speakers and musicians, participate in some lively worship, and partake in many of the opportunities offered by the Youth Gathering. Jay Bakker, Spencer West, Anne Mahlum, and Viola Vaughn were just a few of the speakers, and they shared messages that really resonated with me. The Flying Karamazov Brothers, Guyland Leday, Agape, and Amanda Shaw were some of the great performers that were there. The message that was shared was one of love, of hope in the midst of tragedy and disaster, and of reaching out to others and serving as Christ served. New Orleans, still recovering from the affects of Hurricane Katrina, was the perfect place for this to take place. Besides the mass gatherings which featured the above speakers and performers, the youth also went out into the community and served through various organizations and projects. The group I was with was sent to a local elementary school where we worked with the kids who were there for summer school and then painted a couple hallways in the school after the kids left. Other groups did more manual work, some gardened some helped out at houses and other areas affected by the hurricane. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said that after a storm comes a rainbow, and he said that the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans was Katrina's rainbow.
When not out in the community, the youth participated in learning centers and workshops which focused on various things such as images of Jesus in popular media, discernment and vocation, global issues and other topics. They also had the opportunity to visit the Interaction Center which had a high ropes course, self-pedaled bumper cars, and even more opportunities to serve, such as through donating blood.
It was a great week. There were various issues and concerns that come anytime you go somewhere with high school students. There was the occasional attitude and a few disagreements, but overall the kids I brought got along great, listened well (most of the time), and particpated in much of what the Gathering had to offer. There was an incident involving easy cheese and my leg in a dark bus while I was sleeping, but even that could be overlooked and laughed at... after I cleaned up the easy cheese using moist towelettes I had randomly taken from the bus restroom earlier that day... And also after the gross smell of processed cheese goo and lemon scented moist towelettes disipated. But we made it there and back safely, the kids had a good time (and I did, too), so overall it was a great experience.
Now I have to focus on going about the final details for our upcoming mission trip. We leave for this trip bright and early Sunday morning, so I will be home for five full days before heading off for another week. This time we will be in Denver, and going through an organization that is very good and will have all of our arrangements figured out for us. So really all we have to worry about it getting our group there, which is nice.
I'm guessing my access to a computer and the internet won't be that likely while I am there, but I will give all of my readers (more likely it's just my one reader) an update when I return!!