From a Small Town to a Massive Youth Gathering7 min read

The National Youth Gathering (NYG) was held in Houston, TX this summer. 20,000 high schoolers, volunteers, and group leaders descended upon the Lone Star State for the celebration. Jeff Heisner, the Michigan District, LCMS Video Journalist and Digital Media Director interviewed Kim Montague, a parent and chaperone for a small church group that went to the NYG from Christ Lutheran Church in White Cloud, Mich. 

Jeff Heisner: What was your experience like in Houston for the National Youth Gathering?

Kim Montague: For my group, I was kind of prepared because when I was in youth group as a teenager, we used to go to some large gatherings. That was on a much smaller scale, you know, in Chicago. And then River, my oldest son, had been to a couple of gatherings [NYGs], so he talked a lot about his experiences. He is almost 20 years old and talks about how they were both life changing. He absolutely loved the national gatherings. Our kids were really excited; they had heard tons of stories and they were just ready to go. It was overall just as amazing as River said it would be. We took a bus and the ride down there and back was much, much harder than we expected because the air didn’t work correctly. And it was 109 degrees. So, the whole way there, I was a little bit worried that all they would do is focus on that bus ride once they got there, but they forgot about it and enjoyed the whole week.

Jeff Heisner: What were some of their takeaways—the things that they really enjoyed from the National Youth Gathering?

Kim Montague: They really enjoyed the mass events at night, the music, the speakers. That was their favorite part. We come from a really small town, maybe 1,500 people, and our congregation is small. And so, to go to something this massive and to see other Lutherans and other teenagers that all have this love for Jesus, it was eye opening for them. So that was what I was excited about on the way because that’s what my son had talked about. I remember him coming home and saying, “I cannot believe there are this many Lutherans out there in the United States or even in the world.” So that was a big thing for me, for these kids. Their takeaway was wow, there are large, large groups of Christian teens like me. Because they don’t see that in school, and they don’t see that in their in their community at all. Not like that. So that was, I think, their biggest takeaway.

Jeff Heisner: When you look at some of the topics that were there at the youth gathering, there were some really interesting ones. They touched on just about everything and many of the problems that teens face and included many of the pressures they deal with. What was your reaction to some of those things and then getting a chance to hear some of those talks? How did you feel about it and how did your kids feel about it?

Kim Montague: Some of the topics I expected. I don’t know that they expected to hear. But they’re things that they’re faced with every day. So, they just don’t talk about them all the time, you know? So, I think they enjoyed those Bible studies and the speakers that talked about those tough topics. I really enjoyed the astronaut that I saw. He was one of my favorites. But for the kids, for instance, one of the speakers was an atheist that I think is a professor at Concordia now. And he became a Christian late in life, and his story was really cool. And the kids got a lot more out of that than for me. So that was proof that they can they openly talk about those things with the kids and the kids can handle it. At night, when we would go back to our hotel, they talked a lot about how they talked about this or that. So that was great.

Jeff Heisner: I was impressed that the topics were relevant and then the speakers were real. And I’m sure that’s exactly what you’re getting at by saying, the kids wanted to talk about that, got more out of that than maybe they did out of a fluffier topic. Right?

Kim Montague: Exactly. And then one of the speakers was talking about something and I remember expecting a different response from the speaker. More of a you know, “No, don’t deal with that type of person.” But the response was really all about kindness and love. It was good for me as a teacher also.

Jeff Heisner: I know your group faced its share of adversity, like the bus ride without air conditioning.

Kim Montague: We expected it to be warm, but it quickly warmed up—within the first 20 minutes. So, we got to a certain point, and we stopped at a Walmart, I think. We ran inside and I grabbed spray bottles and the bus driver went in and got huge box fans, just any way to get the air moving, which kind of heated it up more because it brought the hot air from the back. But it was probably very relieving to the poor kids that were in the very back. (It was way warmer in the back of the bus than towards the front.) I was watching my weather app and I was like, okay, it’s going to be about 70 degrees at midnight when we finally go to sleep. We were using cooling towels, spraying our faces. The girl in front of me had a tower fan, and she was sitting in her seat with the fan, holding it on her face. And she at one point lifted it up over her seat to blow the air back to us. And I took a video and it’s just amazing because I thought, oh, this is wonderful how all of these people on that bus, they were thinking about everyone else around them.

Jeff Heisner: I’m sure you have a number of great stories from the trip. Can you share one or two that make you laugh?

Kim Montague: We saw this comedian in one session. I was sitting there laughing so hard, I was crying. It was so funny. And then I would look at our kids, and they just sat straight faced. Meanwhile I’m thinking this is so funny. And then my niece that was with us, she said, ”Those were just a bunch of dad jokes.” I was like, wait a minute, they were way better than dad jokes. I think he (the comedian) would be great to have come to your congregation. He was really funny. I thought the astronaut was great and showed some amazing pictures. I teach science and I love showing space pictures. So that was cool to see a Christian astronaut and hear his take on Christianity and his view from above the earth. I think I liked that more than most of the sessions that I went to, just because I could relate to so much of it. And the kids thought that the pictures and his experience were cool, they all enjoyed that too.

Jeff Heisner: What would you tell other kids who are thinking about possibly doing going to a future NYG?

Kim Montague: It’s absolutely worth going, especially as a teenager. It’s something that everyone should experience. I would just tell them that it’s life changing. It’s worth it. It’s something they’ll never forget. And it’s something that will help them to grow their faith. And I believe, you know, when they’re 40, 50 years old, they will look back and they will remember these youth gatherings for sure.

Join us in New Orleans for the next LCMS National Youth Gathering in the summer of 2025! Can’t wait that long? The Michigan District, LCMS is hosting its Senior High Gathering at Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island, June 25-28, 2023. For more information, go to Registration opens November 1.

Photos courtesy of Kim Montague

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About the Author

Jeffrey Heisner is the video journalist and digital media director for the Michigan District, LCMS.

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Michael Kausch - August 22, 2022

I was the PAL for this particular youth group along with Kim. It is so wonderful for our tiny congregations (there were two of the them in our small group) to get some attention on the larger district and national stage.
These gatherings have a huge impact on our communities, because one kid can make a significant difference in his or her church, school, city or community on account there is just less ground to cover.
What youth end up doing with the the tools acquired at the Gathering, when they are back in these rural areas, is what is exciting to me.
Love your blog and keep up the good work.

Jodi Johnstone - August 23, 2022

I was on that bus! Lol. The kids and adults were amazing, caring and so tolerant. We joked that they were so hot that they didn’t have the energy to even fuss about it.
Mike and Kim, you were wonderful role models. The National Youth Gathering is worth it and our kids loved it, despite the bus ride. Blessings to you.