By Megan Mertz
On July 1, some 25,000 youth, young adults, volunteers, exhibitors and special guests will gather in San Antonio for the 2013 National LCMS Youth Gathering. The theme of this year’s event is “Live Love(d),” based on 1 John 4:9.
According to Youth Gathering staff, those who plan to attend come from 49 states and all 35 districts of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Attendees from 11 other countries also have registered, representing far-flung locations such as Botswana, Nigeria, Finland, Germany, India, Pakistan, Taiwan and Slovakia.
Among the international participants who plan to attend the Gathering are Zuzana Jencova and Ivana Badiarová from Slovakia. The two high-school students will spend the summer in the United States volunteering at Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Colleyville, Texas, through a project started by A.J. Davis, who currently serves as a GEO (Globally Engaged in Outreach) missionary in Slovakia. Jencova and Badiarová were chosen for this opportunity by Davis, Crown of Life and the Lutheran high school they attend in Košice, Slovakia.
“I hope and pray that these girls will experience something that they will probably never experience in their country,” Davis told Reporter via email.
Davis added that he hopes “the Gathering will give them the confidence they need to be leaders in their hometown, so that they can proclaim the Gospel to others.”
While at the Gathering, Jencova and Badiarová will have the chance to meet American teens like the ones coming from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Joplin, Mo. The church is sending 17 youth and five adult leaders to San Antonio in July.
Immanuel raised the $25,000 the youth group needed to attend the Gathering through what Director of Christian Education Jason Glaskey calls “unconventional fundraising efforts.”
“After the Joplin tornado in 2011, a lot of the funds and energies of the people in our town needed to be funneled to those who were still rebuilding their lives,” Glaskey said. The May 22 tornado damaged more than 8,000 buildings in the town, including the homes of 35 families from the congregation.
To raise funding for the Youth Gathering, the Immanuel group solicited donations from across the Synod. For every $10 donation, an Immanuel youth would spend an hour volunteering in the ongoing tornado-recovery efforts.
Donations poured in from congregations, Lutheran organizations and even other youth groups, according to Glaskey. The youth group met their goal, and each youth spent about 100 hours working in the community: cleaning up debris, painting houses, serving meals to volunteer teams and helping residents move into new homes built by Habitat for Humanity, among other activities.
“We’re thankful that God has provided for us,” Glaskey said. “I think every young person needs to have the opportunity to attend a Gathering and see that they are not alone. There are Lutherans everywhere who are just like them.”
Immanuel’s youth group will join the 1,569 registered groups that are expected to gather together for the first time at the Gathering’s “Mass Event” at the Alamodome on July 1.
“It is always encouraging to gather together the body of Christ for days of service, learning and community,” said the Rev. Mark Kiessling, Youth Gathering program director. “We hope and pray that LCMS youth and adult leaders come away from the event strengthened in their faith in Christ and with a deep appreciation for the family of faith in which they belong, both at home and abroad.”
Final registration information for the 2013 National LCMS Youth Gathering will be mailed in early June. Contact the Youth Gathering office at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about letters not received by June 17.
To read a related story, “Youth Gathering offers ways to ‘stay connected,’ ” click here.
Megan Mertz is a staff writer for LCMS Communications.