NYG in MSP. No, I’m not writing about the New York Giants coming to play the Vikings in Minneapolis. NYG stands for “National Youth Gathering.” Last month, seven of our high schoolers traveled to Minneapolis for the 2019 LCMS National Youth Gathering with the theme “Real Present God.”
I know many of you have attended a youth gathering before either as a high schooler or as an adult volunteer, but for those who have not, the National Youth Gathering is a conference held every three years drawing high school youth from LCMS churches all around the country and even some Lutheran youth from around the world. This year, there were about 22,000 attendees!
This was my first time to attend a gathering. While I knew I could expect large crowds, the extent to which downtown Minneapolis was invaded by Lutheran high-schoolers still mesmerized me. Nearly everywhere we went, we saw groups of students wearing the purple backpacks provisioned by the gathering. While the convention center could at times be difficult to move through, it encouraged me to see so many youth coming together to learn and serve.
We began each day with Bible Study in a relatively small setting. There were only about 1,000 other people in the room with us! For three days we dug into Psalm 46 (the psalm that inspired Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress”) and gazed upon the God of Jacob, Jesus Christ who is our fortress and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.
Following Bible study, we attended two or three “sessions” each day. Each session was geared towards answering questions about topics that are critical to young people. Each of our students was free to pick topics they were most interested in. Our group attended sessions on learning to trust God in suffering, the high cost of free love, protecting our minds from toxic religion, a man’s journey out of homosexuality, how to reach out to those struggling with gender identity, pornography, leadership, baptism and communion, and even a session on God’s gift of laughter through stand-up comedy.
During the breaks in sessions, we visited the exhibit hall, a large room with all kind of activities. There were booths to learn more about important ministries around the LCMS such as the various LCMS Districts, the Concordia universities, Lutheran camps from around the country, LCMS campus ministry, the comfort dogs, Lutherans for Life, and many others. But there were also a variety of on-site service projects to participate in, such as writing birthday cards to people with disabilities and boxing up meals for the poor. And of course, there were a wide variety of games and fun activities as well. While we didn’t spend a lot of time in the exhibit hall, it was helpful for our students to learn more about the ways the LCMS is serving to reach out with the Gospel all around the world. The capstone was an opportunity to meet LCMS President Matthew Harrison.
After our sessions were over, we prepared to attend a “mass event” each evening at the US Bank Stadium. All 22,000 gathering attendees were brought together each evening to learn from keynote speakers about our Real Present God and to praise Him together. After the mass event, there were opportunities to stay for a concert or skit.
Finally, on Monday morning we gathered for closing worship. President Harrison gave the sermon, expounding on our sin that leaves us beggars before God with empty sacks. But Jesus fills our sacks with his grace and mercy and forgiveness, and we are filled once again. It was truly phenomenal to sing and worship with so many other LCMS Lutherans. The pinnacle of the experience for me was helping to serve communion with over 130 other pastors all around the stadium.
There were plenty of other fun things we did as well, including spend time at the Mall of America, solve clues as a team to unlock ourselves from an escape room, and cruise around Minneapolis on electric scooters. The true joy, however, was in being drawn together by our Real Present God. Our faith was strengthened to know that He is there with his mercy in Jesus for us in times of suffering, and He has defeated every evil through the cross, and promises that in Jesus we ultimately will have the victory of the resurrection and life forever. Thank you to everyone who helped to make this trip happen for our high school students through your financial support, encouragement, and prayers.