This is the theme verse from the 2011 Junior High Youth Gathering (JHYG). Each year junior high students gather from across the surrounding state area (Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and UP Michigan) drive to Concordia University St. Paul, to take part in a weekend event of rejuvenation, spiritual connection and fun. This year 250+ students and their adult leaders made the trek.
I feel that too often the age of junior high/middle school is the most forgotten age. There are mission trips, national youth gatherings, and outings for high school youth but what about the junior high youth? I am pleased that Concordia offers such an event.
This year Brian Weyers and myself were the co-chair leaders for the gathering. I really learned about what goes into the planning process. The planning over half a year ago back in October. We got together as a committee to prayerfully consider the theme and verse. We then had to coordinate chair leaders for each area; music, drama, speaker, hospitality, counselors, recreation etc. I am so blessed to have such wonderful leadership. The students here at Concordia are truly extraordinary. It made Brian and my job a whole lot easier with such great leadership.
As with any event there is alway rough patches. The week before the gathering feels like an intense race, everything is fast paced, leading up to the opening moment. Converting the gymnasium into a place of worship, finding all the necessary electronic elements including spotlights, soundboard, and musical instruments. Coordinating with the sports practices to work with and around their schedule to use their practice space...Let's just say I have a whole new respect for those in leadership roles when it comes to planning big events.
The day of the gathering arrived and I could not have been more proud that my home congregation was the first registrants to arrive! Soon more students began to fill the gym and then 6:00pm rolled around and it was time to open in worship.
Once the gathering started I was surprised to find how things sort of ran themselves. All the planning that everyone had done paid off and things went smoothly. If you have never been in a gymnasium filled with 250+ junior high students singing at the top of their lungs songs to the Risen Savior you are missing out. Brian and I stood at the top of the bleachers to just take it all in and I have to say the Holy Spirit was truly present as I got goosebumps over my arms from that moment.
The week leading up to the gathering I felt worn down and busy all the time. Upon an evening phone call with my fiancée Adam he told me a word of advice "Don't become so busy with the logistics that you miss a ministry opportunity and point of connection". Once at the gathering I realized what he was saying.
The first evening students and adults have an opportunity to participate in a carnival. We bring in inflatables, games, movie, food etc. for a chance for the students to just have fun. I wandered around with a camera in hand to take candid photos to be used in the powerpoint. As I was walking I noticed two girls in particular sitting alongside the wall with their feet pulled up to their chest. Being tired I decided to sit alongside them. In talking with her I found out that this was the first gathering that either one of them had been to and that neither of them wanted to go, as it was something that their parents "made them do". I asked the one girl how she liked it so far to which she replied "it is unlike anything I have ever been too". Not sure how to interpret this statement I further asked if she enjoyed it. She replied with a smile "yes, but I only wish I could have came the past two years". By this statement I was taken back. It is like this so often with life. There are so many opportunities but we often miss them for one reason or another. Sometimes it takes the gentle encouragement of a parent, lead of a friend, or guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Exhausted and relieved the gathering is over and it is a moment that is bittersweet. The planning and preparation seemed to last forever, and it was here and gone before anyone really realized what had happened. I cannot express my thanks for the wonderful volunteers who helped to make the gathering a success, and I cannot wait to take this experience with me into internship.