By Marlaena Dobbins, Jorge Moreno, Laura Lyons
Last month, the synod sponsored two youth and an adult to attend the ELCA Youth Leadership Summit, an annual gathering for youth leaders and adults from across this church, held this year in Nebraska. Representing our synod were two youth: Maraena Dobbins of Faith in Bellaire and Jorge Moreno of Principe de Paz in Houston, accompanied by Laura Lyons of Lutherhill.
The Lutheran Youth Summit was being held in Nebraska. This meant a long plane ride filled with packaged peanuts and self-entertainment. My chaperon was Laura Lyons, a very chill and awesome person, who works at Lutherhill (best place on earth). I was also traveling with a kid named Jorge who didn’t speak very often but was very passionate about gaming and anime. Once we arrived in Nebraska, a sensation of uncertainty overwhelmed me. Are these people going to like me? Is there a strong wifi connection? Should I have packed warmer clothes? But then I saw the smiling face of another girl, who was probably in my same predicament. In that moment, there was a sense of belonging, a smile that reminded me of so many smiles I saw back home in church that told me that I was going to be okay.
When we Initially entered the two-story cabin, there was a line of kids around my age handing out room numbers, nametags, and t-Shirts. I went to my cabin and in there sat two girls who stared at the blank walls. Nebraska I guess. I sat my luggage down and turned to them. “I’m Marlaena.” I said expectantly. The eyes of the girls lit up, responding with “Maggie” and “Chloe”. They had been in the cabin for two hours waiting for others like me to arrive. “Do you want to go for a walk?” I questioned. There was a vast landscape waiting to be admired. What Nebraska lacked in entertainment, it made up in aesthetics. On this walk I learned the girls were much like me, except that I had a weird ability to not shiver in fifty degree whether in only a t-shirt and shorts. Along our journey many other girls joined us – Claire, Emily, Abbie, Natalie, and Kaytlyn. As the day went on I found that I would receive the chance to take small journeys with a lot more people.
The orientations seemed to drag on for centuries – hours of skills to be a good listener. Cheesy quotes like “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason”. Lessons that as a young adult I had heard numerous times before. I attended a workshop with Rozella White, an assertive yet kind African American woman, who had graduated from Spelman College. As I was beginning to perfect my skills at hangman, something the speaker said had caught my attention: “God calls upon us, we do not choose God, God has already chosen us”. In this workshop I had to analyze the Bible story of Moses when he sees the burning bush. How God had called upon Moses. Throughout Moses’ journey God was with him.
As the summit began to end, I realized that God had been calling me. Since my entrance into faith and baptism – there was something God had set in store for me to achieve. I learned that no matter which part of the country you live in, your race, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation, – all Lutherans had one fundamental vision – completing God’s work through action.
Going there [Youth Leadership Summit] made my first airplane ride, which was fun in a way. I also met many great friends while I was there.
Although the schedule felt a little too overwhelming at times, I’m glad we always had something to do.
I’ve always thought that making friends was a hard thing to do but being there made me realize that it isn’t so hard to make friends like I always imagined it to be. I also met many great friends while I was there.
This might be off topic but the food there was also pretty good I would always end up being full.
When I got back home and the youth group at my church asked me how it went, I first started off by saying “it was cold”, but afterward I told them more about the summit, like how the speakers were very interesting to hear, how the schedule was cramped, and that the workshops were I interesting as well. One of the workshops, which I was surprised he had one, was held by one of the many friends I made over at the youth summit.
In November of this year, I had the privilege of traveling with two outstanding youth from the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod to the ELCA Youth Ministry Summit. This experience was unique and encouraging for all of us. As we flew from Houston to Nebraska by way of Atlanta, our conversations were filled with curious expectations. We were new to one another and also new to the ELCA Youth Network.
Marleana, Jorge, and I started the weekend off with a bang as Presiding Bishop Eaten led the gathering in motivating worship. The tone was set for the weekend as we were challenged to identify who we are in Christ as a body of young adults. The mature young people who attended this gathering were consistently engaged in meaningful conversation about what it means to be a young Christ follower in their local communities, in our national synod, and as a global church.
As I reflect on my experience I am most proud of Marleana, Jorge, and all of the young people I met who are insistent on being a voice for change and will most certainly make great leaders in our churches and communities. I am thankful for the opportunity to engage with other adults who have a passion for empowering the young people in the Lutheran Church. I look forward to watching the discussions of the Youth Ministry Summit turn into meaningful action.