A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to take a group of youth and adults to Detroit for the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering. Below are some reflections that were recently shared with our congregation. I know that we will continue to process and connect the things we have learned and experienced with wherever we find ourselves in the future. This isn’t just a flash in the pan type of experience; rather, this is a faith grounding and perspective shaping experience that will remain with us for the rest of our lives. I am so honored to have shared it with our group.
Bear Burdens by Kelsey, college freshman
From the very second I made a decision about going to Detroit for the ELCA 2015 youth gathering, I had been asked one constant question over and over again. Why? Why are you going to Detroit? Now at that time I was asking myself the same thing, why was I traveling across the United States to a city with such a bad reputation? From what I had heard people didn’t travel to Detroit, they moved away from it. I was honestly a little scared, I didn’t know what to expect. The scary stories from the news told me that Detroit was violent and dirty. But then I heard these amazing things about the people and culture from Casey and Pastor and I didn’t know what to think. I decided I was going to come into this trip with an open mind, I would let Detroit speak for itself. And I am so glad I did. I was shown a city with passion and hope. A community that loved their lived and was proud of it. I discovered that the ELCA didn’t go to Michigan to “save Detroit” or “fix it,” we went to Detroit to assist what they have already been working on for years. We came to Detroit to help bear their burdens and maybe even work on burdens of our own.
Now what does it mean to bear burdens? Burdens can be physical, mental or emotional. It could be as small as a difficult paper to write, to as large as a life altering disability, burdens are burdens and we all have them and they all affect us differently. But some burdens may weigh more than others, and a lot of us have the privilege to focus on or chose our own lighter burdens while others topple under the pressure of burdens that were placed on them.
A common burden that is forced upon the people of Detroit is there deteriorating neighborhoods surrounding them. Back in the 1950’s Detroit had a population of 1.86 million this population has decreased to around 700,000 since then. The city once held accommodations for millions of people, but now these once full neighborhood are littered with abandoned and degrading houses, a burden that plagues not only the people living near them but the city as a whole. For our service day we joined a group called the 100 and helped clean up the hope district. We did landscaping, boarded up old houses and even pulled out an old abandoned car. The neighborhood we worked in had around five or six collapsing homes on one street. And, while the neighbors next door attempted to keep up their own homes you could see that these houses were an issue. These abandoned homes are not only an eyesore but also a safety hazard, especially to the families with children who love to play in the streets. Broken boards and rusty nails litter the area, and mold and mildew fill the abandoned areas. This is a large burden on the people of Detroit that cannot be carried alone. By helping them just for a day their burdens were lightened even just a little bit. It’s hard to take on others burdens especially if your own burdens seem unbearable. But with 30,000 people assisting I found that you don’t have to take the whole burden upon yourself.
BUILD BRIDGES by Rachel, college freshman
Jesus Is…GOOD NEWS!
We heard this a lot on our “Proclaim Story Day” in which we learned more about our part in God’s story, and where we reflected on the Gospel of Mark. The theme for Friday was “Build Bridges”. At the beginning of the day, we were reminded that building bridges is about fixing disconnections. We were asked how we have already become more connected to Jesus, and others there in Detroit. The previous day, we learned about bearing other people’s burdens, and how a burden shared is a burden lightened. We served in the neighborhoods of Detroit, helping create better environments for people already living in poverty. We built a bridge connecting us with the people living in these conditions, which led us to understanding their burdens, and working on making changes together. Key word: “Together”. During our “Proclaim Story Day” one of the leaders reminded us that the name of the gathering was not just “Rise Up”. It was “Rise Up Together”. Like the story of Jesus healing the paralytic man, four friends came together to get this man to Jesus. Together, they dug a hole through the roof. Like these friends, working together, we take steps in closing the gaps between race, gender, and anything else that may paralyze our love towards our neighbors.
Also on this day, at the mass gathering at Ford Field, Pastor Steve Jerbi told us of a bridge that we can build together. Some of these words are his directly, because there’s no better way to say it. His words were very powerful, and I recommend you all look him up on the ELCA’s youtube page to watch him and hear the whole story because it will hit you in the heart, and make you want to build a bridge for the better. Steve Jerbi told us of a family in his church that went through a terrible tragedy. A thirteen year old child, Darius, was killed by their neighbor, an old white man whose heart was hardened by racism. Their neighbor did not appreciate an African American family moving in next to him, and was convinced that they were stealing from him. One day, Darius took out the trash while his mom stood watching from the porch. This man went inside of his house, grabbed his gun, went outside, and shot Darius.
Darius should’ve been at this gathering. Instead, his life was cut far too short.
His mother Patricia, in her time of grief, continued to have compassion and faith. She said she didn’t hate the man who killed her child. She didn’t want hate to have that power. This compassion that Patricia has to this day, is a bridge toward humanity. A bridge of love that Jesus wants us all to build. But we can’t claim her bridge. We can build more bridges like hers. Bridges to connect us, despite those things that keep us separated. And we do this in the name of Jesus. We claim the name of Jesus. Jesus shows us how to love, gives us hope in our time of despair, and changes us for the better. He wants us to connect, and close the gaps separating us from each other.
Kelsey and I witnessed this connection when we were in line for pizza at the Ford Field. We started talking to these people about how different the places we come from are. For example, they call shopping carts “buggy’s”. At one point, the guy we were talking to said “at least we’re all Lutheran”. We are all the same in God’s eyes, and through Jesus, we can build bridges, establish justice, and create a world of love and peace that God intended. Jesus has shown us the way, and now we must ask ourselves what we can do to be an instrument of peace, and build bridges of love.
Break Chains by Elizabeth, high school freshman
What exactly are chains?
Looking up chains in the dictionary, the first answer you would find is that they are something that bonds or restrains. Now, what are types of chains do you first imagine? The heavy duty steel ones used for hauling something heavy?
As cool as those chains sound, they (usually) are not involved in everyday life. The ones that are, though, are the chains of fear, insecurity, regret, or mental illness. Though they are invisible, they can be so much heavier than the huge clanking ones at Home Depot.
On Saturday night, Rozella White was talking about her chains of mental illness. “I’m not saying that my illnesses have gone away; I carry them with me every day,” she said. Sitting up, I began to think about how many people do not recognize that our chains are persistent. In fact, many began to doubt God when tougher situations, or “new” chains, come into our life. They are hard, but we need to recognize that it is during those times we should look to God.
While the last of Sunday’s service was playing out, I was trying not to fall asleep as a poet came up and started talking. But one phrase got through my fogged and tired brain: “Our scars make a roadmap that leads to our resurrection. The whole entire day, I COULD NOT stop thinking about it.
With our scars and chains, we can create something better from them. By looking beyond ourselves, we can help other people with the same fears, anxieties, and mental illnesses. By looking beyond our own social standing, we can support the racial minorities, oppressed women, and those in the lgbt community. By helping other cities in need, we can be experienced when problems arise in Morgan hill. Our chains will always be stubborn, but it time to act in the community of God and break our own and one another’s.
Rise Up in the Power of God
By Pastor Anita Warner
Travel helps you to see with new eyes, new sight. Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of (people) (men) and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Our travel to Detroit did that and more. It was not simply a journey for fun, it was an intentional spiritual gathering, soaked in the prayers of those who had prepared for years, of this congregation and thousands of others who had sent us, and of Southeast Michigan residents and leaders preparing to receive us as guests.
We all went to Detroit with some pre-conceptions. Some were from what others had said about Detroit, some were from our seven months of getting ready sessions. When we arrived, and during our days there, days of serving, seeing, listening, tasting, praising God, learning about that place, learning about the whole work of the church, we all left with new conceptions to either lay alongside our old ones, or that changed our minds, that transformed us.
The author of Ephesians prays for the people to have “Power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…”
Power to comprehend – We Rise Up in God’s power;
With all the saints – we can only rise up when we rise up together
the breadth and length and height and depth –
we heard powerful stories, stories and testimonies that expanded our minds and hearts:
– from Pastor Steve Jerbi, on how personal race-based violence became for him and his congregation and community
– from Rozella White, on mental illness and wholeness in Christ
– from Mikka McCracken, on adoption, the identity of the human family, and justice related to hunger and the will to care for neighbors
– from Pastor Rani Abdulmasih, on how we are all one in Christ (as you also heard from Vicar Niveen in last week’s sermon)
– from neighbors on LaSalle Street, where we served
While in Detroit, we met a variety of neighbors. On Proclaim Justice days, the three center days of the Gathering, 10,000 people at a time served in various ways around the city. Many served with the dozens of neighborhood block associations who invited them to serve alongside residents in improving their neighborhoods.
Our group served with Focus: Hope, and organization now committed to making a tangible difference in living and outcomes in its own neighborhood. Others have described the neighborhood on LaSalle Street where we served. In part of a day, we got an idea of the challenge of living around abandoned homes that are an eyesore and even dangerous, while you try to keep up your own home and yard, sidewalks and streets and other things that are neglected due to the city’s bankruptcy. Focus: Hope gave us seed packets for Black Eyed Susans to plant. This flower is the signature of where Focus: Hope is working, a flower that is colorful, beautiful, and also kind of tough and able to thrive in tough environments. The photo shows where Kaitlyn R. and I planted those seeds, around the light post at the head of their street.
We travel and receive new sight. When we travel and return, we may then see our own surroundings with our new eyes.
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton gave us a charge: to bear burdens, build bridges, break chains and bring hope now in your own community.
God is now calling each of you who were in Detroit to be a leader here. As we said in the welcome, we need you to do these things here. As our Synod’s Bishop Mark Holmerud said, doing these same things back home may shake things up. You have his blessing! You heard him say so! And so does this congregation as we say goodbye to our beloved youth, children and family minister, Casey, and hear God’s call in our own future to bear burdens, build bridges, break chains and bring hope in our own community. May God give us new sight and a holy imagination for ministry here, of bearing burdens, building bridges, breaking chains and bringing hope.
We will bring hope when we are together in Christ – not apart, doing our own things, but worshiping, praying, learning, serving and playing together, in such a way that God’s love flows out to our neighbors and invites them into this life as well. That is how God brings hope to us and our neighbors.
Do I hear an Amen?!