It was Monday, August 7th, 1989 and I was sixteen years old. I had just finished my sophomore year at Orange Lutheran High School and was attending the National Youth Gathering in Denver, Colorado. That Monday evening was an event that I had looked forward to. It was a big concert and spiritual event at the outdoor Red Rocks Amphitheater located about 25 miles outside Denver. Because Red Rocks was not big enough to hold all the Gathering participants, we were divided into two groups. I was part of the second group so we would be dropped off, the buses would take the first group back and then come and get us. As the bus I was on pulled into the parking lot at Red Rocks, I noticed the clouds building over the mountains. Having grown up in the area, I knew we were in for rain. You could smell it coming. As we got to our seats, the rain started. And it came down in buckets. Hail started falling on us and people were running all over the place looking for shelter under trees and whatever they could find. Speakers and amplifiers were blowing on stage from the water pooling around them. The rain was over quickly, but the damage was done. We all headed for the parking lot to wait for the buses to come and pick us up. Three hours later the buses finally started returning. There had been an accident on the freeway because of the rain so the freeway was actually closed. The buses had to find another way to get to us. My group was one of the last groups onto the last bus. We returned to our hotel, cold, still wet and in a state of shock.
For me, that Red Rocks experience will be forever etched in my mind. Watching speakers blow was crazy, but seeing the groups out in the parking lot trying to keep warm was what made that night special. There were some groups doing exercises. Some kids were running around the parking lot to stay warm. People were sharing dry clothes and jackets with other groups. Several groups just started hugging everybody to generate body heat. That feeling of camaraderie is what made that night so memorable.
This summer, July 1th, through the 5th, 29 people from Community will head to the National Youth Gathering in San Antonio, Texas. That group will consist of 17 high school youth, 4 adult leaders, 4 young adult volunteers, 2 program leaders, 1 speaker and a baby. This will be the twelfth National Youth Gathering, they have been happening every three years since 1980. This will be the third time the Gathering has been in San Antonio with the other two being in 1983 and 1995. This Gathering will have roughly 25,000 youth from all across the nation and world.
The theme for this Gathering is LIVELOVE[D] and will allow the participants to dive into the book of 1 John. During the morning and afternoon times, the youth will have a variety of workshops and concerts to attend. They will have a chance to walk through exhibits with hands-on experiences as well as compete in recreational games. In the evening, all youth and adults will gather in the Alamodome for a Mass Event which is filled with Bible study, music, drama and speakers.
Each Gathering has special moments. Moments that shape your spiritual life. It might be a special Bible study that grips you. Maybe a song from a concert really touches you or words from one of the speakers motivates you. It might even be just a quiet moment in a hotel room as the group processes all the things that they did that day. This Gathering will have those moments. The 29 youth and adults who go, will come back different because of how the Holy Spirit moves through the Gathering. They will experience the power of God and how He has a plan for them. Hopefully their experiences will not consist of standing in a dark parking lot, wet and freezing but God can use anything to help shape a person’s life.