Ryan Dockery (with letters from Jessika Graves and Vanessa Ferretiz)
On November 13, two youth from our synod and myself journeyed to the city of Detroit for the annual Youth Leadership Summit hosted by the ELCA. I was privileged and honored to represent our synod accompanying Jessika Graves from Tree of Life in Conroe and Vanessa Ferretiz from St. James in Houston. This leadership summit provided a great opportunity for youth from all across nation to gather, grow in their faith, and discuss many different issues the ELCA is in partnership with. Rather than telling you about what I learned, I invited Jessika and Vanessa to share about their experiences and how this has impacted her life.
From Jessika Graves
This was my first summit I have gone to and afterwards I definitely plan on going again! It was so fun and I had an amazing time. I met so many cool people and made lots of new friends. The whole experience just broadened my horizons to a whole new level. I’m very thankful for getting the opportunity to be a part of something so big and just straight up awesome!
My favorite part of the whole thing would have to be when we went to Christ Episcopal Church and had really weird pizza and then all went into the worship area and sang together. It was so moving and just breath taking. The fact that a whole bunch of strangers met up in one place, all there as individuals, and yet instantly became connected as one. Yes there were a lot of times that we sang together and everything but I feel as if at that moment everyone had really connected and it hit that we were all family in the eyes of God. Even though there were plenty of great times within the trip, this one is one that will stick with me and will always be in my mind.
One thing I kind of knew about, but not really, was world hunger. I knew how it was in different parts of the world, but didn’t realize how bad it was also here in the United States and in Texas. After going to the class on it, my eyes were opened even more on the subject and made me want to help. I had no idea that the ELCA had a whole thing with world hunger in the first place and as soon as I found out, I turned to Ryan and said we have got to get into this, we have to show the church and help and use this! I definitely always wanted to help in some way but never really knew how but after this I think I have an idea on where to start.
I am taking everything I learned about world hunger back to my congregation and going to start some food drives at my church. My youth group (Fusion) has already started doing homeless bags. We get donations from some people in the congregation and go out and buy reusable bags and backpacks and fill them up with food, drinks, and necessities then write notes with quotes from the bible and just encouraging things. Then go out as a group and seek out the homeless and give it to them. We really like helping people and are always trying to find new ways to help around the area, and I can definitely use what I have learned from this trip to do just that!
I didn’t really know how this trip was going to go, I was actually kind of nervous to see what was going to happen, but as soon as we got there we were welcomed into the beautiful city of Detroit. After going on this trip I would have to say that I’m never going to look at anything the same. This trip opened my eyes so much to what all I can really do to help change the world and how to be a better person. In the past I have been one to judge quickly and find my little clique to stay with, but afterwards I realize that it is okay to be diverse and judging as soon as you see them is just stupid because you don’t really know a person until you’ve heard their story and I plan on doing that from now on. I plan to listen to people’s stories and to just be friends with everyone instead of just a couple of people. I plan to tell my story and to just try and make a difference one small step at a time.
Thank you for blessing me with such a great experience that I will remember for the rest of my life and for just being awesome!! I’m so excited to go back to Detroit and bring my church with me just so they can experience the joy that it brought me.
From Vanessa Ferretiz
When I was first presented with the opportunity to be a part of the ELCA Youth Leadership Summit, in Detroit, Michigan, I was very overwhelmed. I knew it was a wonderful opportunity, however the thought of being on a plane for the first time and being exposed to a scenario I wasn’t accustomed to frightened me. After a lot of thought I realized that it was acceptable for me to be scared, but I also realized that the only way to grow as a person and succeed in life was to step out of my comfort zone and take risks in life. Accepting the opportunity to go to this youth gathering was a chance I am extremely glad I took.
This youth summit was an experience unlike any other I had ever had. It was incredible to see all the teenagers, from all across the nation, gathered with one simple purpose: to grow as leaders and utilize our talents to help others and at the same time strengthen our faith. Prior to this I didn’t know any of the people present in that room, however as I got to know them better I began to learn a lot from them. We were all different, yet there was always a sense of respect and encouragement hovering the room. It felt good to be in a place where I could verbalize my thoughts without being judged or criticized. Through this experience I learned that one should be compassionate and not judge another person because we never completely know a person and the obstacles that they have faced in life.
One of my favorite moments from the Summit is when we went to a local Evangelical church, close to the hotel we were staying. This was a remarkable moment for me because we had the opportunity to tour the city a little and socialize with one another even more. When we got here we were happily surprised with pizza and beverages. The food was great, but the feeling of a community that surrounded us was even better. Once we were done eating we headed to the sanctuary. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. The high ceilings, detailed paintings, and endless rows of pews had me mesmerized; of course we couldn’t resist the urge to take a selfie in such a beautiful church. The moment that struck me the most was when we turned the lights off, gathered together, and sang together with Rachel Kurtz. Hear her voice, all of us joining together, and the feeling of a family made this moment unforgettable.
Throughout the week we learned a lot about advocacy. This was a term that I was familiar with, however I didn’t know it was so directly correlated with my congregation. All the different guest speakers and workshops helped me realize the true importance of advocacy. I realized that it is important to educate others and to help them become proactive. In many cases people want to help however they are not sure how. This is where advocacy comes in to play. With the tips I learned about being a good advocator I understood that I really was capable of making a difference in school, in my congregation, but most importantly, in my own life.
I am extremely thankful for being given this opportunity to attend the ELCA Youth Summit. I took the opportunity not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into, but I left the city of Detroit as a renovated person. The people I met and experiences I encountered made me realize that I am capable of making a difference in my congregation by implementing the many things I learned. This experience strengthened my faith in countless ways and inspired me to strive to be the best person I can be on a day-to-day basis. I never thought a plane ticket would take me so far in life, but it did. In only four days I grew as a leader, strengthened my faith, and met amazing people that impacted my life in a great way. Taking risks can be challenging at times but if you “have the faith as small as a mustard seed… Nothing will be impossible for you.”
As you can see both youth were deeply impacted by this trip. It was amazing to witness their growth in just a matter of four days. Both girls truly impressed me, and I am hopeful that they brought back a ton of information for their home congregation and synod. Again, I want to thank the synod for this opportunity. I am forever grateful.
– Ryan Dockery