Today’s blog is by Travis Baker, Youth Minister.

At first, Detroit looked to be a new experience for our youth. They went in search of a place they could help. They went in search of the excitement that comes with a youth trip and a new city to explore. They went hoping they could reconnect with friends from the synod as well as make new friends from across the country.

In truth, all those hopes were fulfilled. Those hopes, however, paled in comparison to the experience they shared. Our youth went with expectations, but they returned having left those expectations behind. They returned as a group of changed people. They returned having shared in and become a part of the grand story of Detroit.

At first glance, it sounds great to lay claim to the numbers. Thirty thousand Lutherans all gathered into one city for service, for fellowship and for worship. The reality, however, is a different story. There were traffic jams. There were long lines at restaurants. There was a day with little food. But above and beyond that, there was a group of teenagers gathered together for a bigger purpose, to join in a grander story. The traffic jams became a way to remain in community on the bus longer. The long lines in restaurants became a way to get to know other Lutherans and fellow Detroitians better. The day without lunch became a way to spend more time in service to the community of Detroit. Instead of eating, our youth worked on a mosaic for a neighborhood park.

The youth of Zion travelled to Detroit for an experience. They left ready to share the stories of a city that has been mislabeled by the media, mishandled by officials, and misunderstood by all. They learned the names and the stories of the café employees, the food servers at Ford Field, the cops that lined the roads and the souls surrounding us in the stands at Comerica Park. They shared their faith in the middle of a city square, even as they handed out the leftover food from lunch to local homeless people, construction workers and a group of children. The youth spoke of their relationship with God to passersby who stopped to ask them where they were from and to seek a simple blessing from the guests of their city.

Perhaps the ultimate moment for our youth came while watching the Tigers play baseball. A gentleman turned towards a group of youth and asked if their perception of Detroit has changed. He smiled at the resounding yes that poured forth from the lips of our teenagers. Then he politely asked them to share what they have experienced.

Detroit is not a city that can be accurately described the media. Detroit is a city full of hope. Detroit is a city full of people that love where they live and love the citizens that walk the streets. There is life in Detroit. There is salvation in Detroit. There is God in Detroit. And for our youth, fresh off the trip and speaking strongly of a desire to return, there is the wisdom and recognition that they each returned from Detroit as a new person. They have been moved by the cohesion of a people put through the ringer yet working to come out the other side together. Our youth have been touched by the joy that comes from living the depths of the valley while knowing the mountain is worthy of the climb. Our youth have experienced life, and have experienced it abundantly, all while walking alongside their neighbors and friends, the good people of Detroit.