On a warm Sunday in June, over 1,100 high school youth and their counselors crossed the Mackinac Straits to Mackinac Island to spend four days at the Michigan District High School Youth Gathering. Although the pace of the gathering was swift, and many faced sleep deprivation, lives were touched by the gentle hands of our Savior. This Holy Spirit-infused experience brought teens yet another step closer to their Lord, to each other, and ready for action!
The Bible, Media, and Music
Gathering speakers brought the Word of God each day in mass gatherings, Bible studies, and sectionals. Some may think that teens are disinterested in the Bible or find it irrelevant to their lives; but not these kids! They faithfully participated in all activities, absorbing new discoveries and the impact on their faith-walk, which they later shared with others. The speakers and teachers planned their presentations around the gathering theme, “Lighthouse,” based on Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”(ESV) Sectional topics led the teens to consider: the influence of music and media on one’s heart and mind, how bringing secrets and lies out into the open and sharing in safe ways can lead to healing, using their God-given talents to fulfill their calling, becoming a generation that will change the world, and how to cultivate communities where no one is beyond hope. These topics hit right where teens live.
One 17-year old shared: “When I was heading to Mackinac Island for the Lutheran Youth Gathering, I anticipated a lot of relaxation, some friend making, and good Bible studies. Now reflecting on my trip, I experienced only a little relaxation—not a bad thing! I was too busy having fun!—AMAZING bible studies, and a lifelong impact from everyone I met on the island. I witnessed changes in the lives and hearts of my friends and even our chaperones. I cannot put into words how life-changing it was for me to hear stories from pastors and all kinds of people that have openly shared their struggles to be a miracle to other people. I can remember sitting with tears streaming down my face and feeling that God was speaking directly to me through these individuals.”
Another 15-year old remarked: “I really enjoyed the gathering. I will say it was a little eye-opening to realize that Satan uses some of the popular musical artists I listen to regularly to draw me away from Jesus. I learned who the real enemy of our souls is and prayed for those artists who have sold out. They didn’t have to. They are very talented and can stand on their own. I hope one day to be able to bring a positive Christian influence into music and media.”
Christian music was a huge part of the event. Musicians and artists led music during mass gatherings, sectionals, worship, and late night venues. They, along with the speakers, hung out with the teens, gave hugs, posed for pictures, and genuinely cared for and listened to the teens.
The Benefit of Fellowship
Seventy-two congregations brought an average of 12 teens, with groups as large as 53 and as small as two. Sometimes, youth feel very isolated in their Christian faith or aging congregations. On Mackinac, they learned they were not alone; they are a very important part of their home church and a much larger group of teens from Michigan. They were encouraged by the presence of one another to not hide their faith, but instead to live it out in the open; even in the face of persecution, to be the shining light of Jesus in this dark world.
One teen describes the fellowship he shared: “My experience on the island really allowed me to interact and socialize with other teenagers who shared very similar beliefs. It allowed me to meet new people, make friends, and discuss rather touchy subjects as a whole Christian Group.”
Go! Shine the Light!
These high school youth did not only receive, but they gave of themselves in the form of Servant Events. Sprinkled daily throughout the gathering they let their lights shine by pulling weeds, raking leaves, and cleaning up schools and horse barns. What they did in one day would have taken three weeks for those they served. A canned food drive was held before the gathering to help out the St. Ignace Area HOPE Chest Food Pantry and to supply items for care packages for immigrant island workers. These types of servant experiences often lead teens to do later mission outreach in their communities and in the world.
The days flew by, and during the closing worship service teens received yet more love and promise from their amazing God through Word and Sacrament. They watched a visual portrayal of the Gospel, listened to God’s Word, partook of communion, and praised Him in song. Soon afterward, they boarded ferries back to the mainland with hearts full to overflowing, thankful for the experience God put before them and for those back home that supported them. Changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, their faith was evidenced by the joy on their faces. Leaving the gathering signaled the opportunity to share their Lord and Savior, the Light of the World, Jesus Christ with their family, friends, communities, and the world.
One teen summed it up best when she wrote: “[Our] Mackinac experience was one [we] will never forget. The fun of a band every night, making tons of new friends, and the power of hundreds of people gathered together to worship God is simply unforgettable. THANK YOU EVERYONE for helping to make this changing experience possible!!”
Many of these youth and their leaders will find new ways to connect and care for those in their communities. They will plan and attend youth meetings and Bible studies, and create fundraisers for 2015 Michigan District Servant Events and the 2016 LCMS National Youth Gathering taking place in New Orleans, Louisiana.
They will also be met with resistance. We know that the world, their sinful flesh, and the devil will be the adversaries. Conflict often comes from unlikely sources to frustrate their advance and their tender hearts. Please listen when teens talk about their experience on the island or in life and encourage them in their faith journey. Above all please pray for the endurance and perseverance of these young souls as they are growing into their roles as future leaders of families, churches, communities, and the country. You can be assured they’ll be praying for you!