A Generation Engaged, A Community Restored

by Jeni Miller

Millennials. We often hear folks lament this generation, that the 30 and under set tends to be increasingly individualistic, entitled and (gasp!) even lazy.

Not so for LCMS youth and young adults, especially those who are actively engaged in caring for their neighbor, both here and abroad. These young people come together from all across the country to work hard, give of themselves and their time, and contribute to the well-being of their church and community for the sake of Christ.

One such place where these young people converge is Camp Restore in New Orleans, a ministry of LCMS Recognized Service Organization (RSO) RAI Ministries. Camp Restore recently surpassed 25,000 volunteers as the city prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this year.

After the hurricane hit New Orleans in 2005, people from all over — including LCMS members — ventured down to help rebuild and revitalize the battered city. Seeing the great ongoing needs in New Orleans and beyond, Camp Restore was formed in the summer of 2006 on the once-flooded campus of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and School with the mission to “restore faith, home and community in the Name of Jesus.”

“Camp Restore grew out of our LCMS family of faith in Christ, and we’ve watched that faith get put into action,” said Kathy Wendling, director of Community Service and Development at Camp Restore. “Every week, I see how God puts into action that we are one in the body of Christ. It’s a living, breathing faith. It’s hard to explain, but I’m proud of how the LCMS has responded, and especially our youth, to this community in New Orleans. We are so privileged that God has used us this way.”

The main areas in which Camp Restore works are: human care, environmental, grassroots efforts and construction. Human-care projects are typically centered on service to seniors and youth; environmental work includes planting trees and marsh grass, urban farming and landscaping; grassroots efforts support the work of small missions and neighborhood projects; and construction involves gutting, painting and helping to restore and improve homes throughout the city. Groups who visit Camp Restore have the option to rank these four project areas according to interest and ability, and exact volunteer opportunities are finalized about a week in advance of the trip.

Interestingly, especially in the past few years, the majority of the 25,000-plus Camp Restore volunteers were age 30 and under, including an influx of college-age young adults and Concordia University System students who want more than just a typical spring break experience. This is no surprise since young people in the LCMS who desire to serve have no shortage of options.

“Since 1981, LCMS Youth Ministry has been providing servant opportunities for youth,” explained Jim Lohman, director of LCMS Servant Events. “Through their service at Recognized Service Organizations like Camp Restore; LCMS churches, schools and camps; and other LCMS RSOs and social-service agencies, people have reached out with Christ-like care and concern, leaving behind ‘fingerprints’ of faith.”

In late July 2015, a group of 50 LCMS young adults will head down to Camp Restore to show mercy and take on some hard work yet again.

“For the past several summers, LCMS Young Adult Ministry has offered two servant events for young adults,” Lohman said. “One of these is hosted by the Orange Nation. These are the young adult volunteers who serve the [LCMS National Youth] Gathering every three years. This event rotates to a variety of locations. They are hosting it in New Orleans this summer as a connection for young adults who will serve at the Gathering [in 2016].”

According to Brandon Heath, coordinator of the 2015 Orange Nation Servant Event, the work in New Orleans has evolved over the years to meet the needs of the community, and Camp Restore offers an authentic opportunity for youth to be involved in helping revitalize this culturally diverse city.

“In the early years just after Hurricane Katrina, it was a lot of mucking; removing the sludge of dirt, oil and other debris; and gutting houses to their frame so they could be rebuilt,” Heath said. “Now it is more focused on community building. Camp Restore continues to tell the stories of survival and loss as well as faith and hope. They have also stayed the last decade to rebuild homes, communities and lives.”

Young adults who have been involved with LCMS servant events, and specifically with Camp Restore, find that they take what they’ve experienced back with them to better serve in their home churches and communities.

Elisabeth Grimm, a 29-year-old senior accountant and San Diego resident volunteered at Camp Restore in 2011 at the first servant event hosted by Orange Nation and LCMS Young Adult Ministry. She’ll be involved in the 2015 event as well.

“I attended [the 2011] event after serving as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) at the 2010 National Youth Gathering,” Grimm said. “My task was to lead the off-site volunteer groups during [the Gathering], during which I saw the need in the community and felt drawn to help the people there.”

“There are many different ways to serve people, including with monetary donations, sweat equity and quality time,” Grimm added. “I enjoy serving in each of these ways, but I feel that serving through Camp Restore really allows me to serve via physical labor and a listening ear. I think we can serve others, and through them serve Christ, in everyday situations; it’s not necessary to go halfway across the country to a designated servant event to do so. However, I also feel that joining together with others to actively serve refreshes me, and I then feel inspired to continue serving after I return home.”

While those in the LCMS — youth and adults alike — continue to volunteer at Camp Restore and in other locations around the world, they can rest assured that, even when the work is hard, they are indeed bringing the love of Christ to their neighbor in tangible, visible ways.

“Even for youth, this work is sometimes outside of their comfort zones,” Wendling said. “Through it all, we don’t always know what God has in store for them, but we reflect on the fact that God uses us in many ways. It’s our privilege at Camp Restore to help workers be bold with their faith, be Lutherans in action. This city loves the Lutherans, and people are excited about the youth.”

Learn more:
LCMS Servant Events: servantevents.lcms.org
Camp Restore: camprestore.org

Deaconess Jeni Miller is a freelance writer and member of Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta.

Serve at the 2016 Gathering

Service opportunities during the 2016 Gathering in New Orleans are still in development, but they will likely include:

  • Assisting fixed-income residents with home cleanup and light repair
  • Serving at food pantries
  • Visiting nursing homes
  • Serving children at vacation Bible schools or day camps
  • Projects at/with LCMS congregations in New Orleans
  • Environmental reclamation
  • Replanting wetlands
  • Serving underserved public schools
  • Cleaning
  • Playground maintenance
  • Serving underserved neighborhoods
  • Upkeep at public parks
  • Providing school supplies and backpacks
  • Providing personal-care kits for local homeless shelters

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Lutherans Engage the World — Engaging the Church in the work of witness and mercy
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