During the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering a few weeks ago in Detroit, we met hundreds of passionate, energetic, and engaged youth. To mark International Youth Day we want to share some of the stories with you. Amanda Chasey, LIRS Project Associate for Outreach and Lutheran Volunteer Corps member, writes about the experience:
Over 30,000 Lutheran high-school students converged in Detroit last month for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering. While there, students spent three days immersed in service, learning, prayer, and reflection during programs designed to “Proclaim Community”, “Proclaim Story”, and “Proclaim Justice”.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service was blessed to be part of Proclaim Community; three days of interactive learning in the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit. This massive convention center housed organizations that focused on different social justice issues impacting our neighbors in the U.S. as well as our global community. From hunger and homelessness, to human trafficking and water scarcity, there was no shortage of engaging learning opportunities for this inspired and passionate group of high schoolers.
Let me share a story from the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering, where we met Ali. He is a rising high-school sophomore who volunteered with LIRS at the Gathering along with an amazing team from our local partner Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (LSSM). Ali is from Kuwait and was resettled along with his mother by LSSM only 10 months ago. He is already an honors student dreaming of becoming a doctor in the United States Army after he graduates from college.
Watching Ali interact with the others his age, it was clear that he is a teen just like them. He has dreams about continuing his education and contributing to this nation like they do; he just wasn’t born here. There are so many other young people like Ali who have found a home here and want to do all they can to give back. It’s a blessing to welcome them and accompany them along that journey, especially when we get to meet them in person.
Our booth focused on the journey from Central America to the U.S. that many young people were forced to endure last summer, and still today, as a result of the increasing violence in this region. We then invited those visiting our space to write messages of hope and encouragement to their peers from Central America who are waiting in shelter care until a foster family can be found to take them in.
From the poster-sized images that detailed the treacherous journey that so many young people navigate on their own, to the hundreds of heartfelt messages of hope and compassion written by these motivated high schoolers, it was a tremendously moving few days. It was amazing to witness young people’s eyes opened to the experiences that many their own age had to endure in order to have a chance at a life that all of us born here have been given.
Even as violence continues to escalate around the world, the hundreds of compassionate and prayerful letters written by the incredible group of young people I witnessed in Detroit filled me with hope. There is no doubt in my mind that the America they will build will continue to proclaim the welcome set in bronze at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”