Gathering Inspires Kenosha Teens

This group of youth is the first from Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha to attend an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Youth Gathering since the 1970s. Pictured are: background from left, Mitch Pedersen, Leah Ebener, Megan Knapp, Youth Director Stephanie Robers, and Jake Kreier. Seated in front is Shannon Whitten. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY )

Published ShowDateNew(“20090808002728”);August 8, 2009 | 12:27 a.m.

Gathering inspires Kenosha teens

Jesus Justice Jazz held in New Orleans

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Kenosha News correspondent

The most important lesson to learn, according to Jacob Kreier, is that God has a plan for everything.

Kreier was one of five Kenosha teens who along with their pastor and youth director attended Jesus Justice Jazz, the 2009 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Youth Gathering held July 22-26 in New Orleans. Sponsored every three years by the ELCA, the event drew 37,000 high school youths from around the country.

“We learned how to help our community and how to get along and get younger people involved in church,” said Jacob, 16. “The biggest surprise for me was seeing how much more needed to be done in (New Orleans’) Ninth Ward. I would like to go back to help clean up and build houses.”

Thanks to the enthusiasm of the Rev. John Bischoff, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, the Kenosha youth from this church attended the event for the first time since the 1970s, and they were given an opportunity to learn about the needs of others, to attend workshops on poverty and to pray for those affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“We spent time in the ‘interaction center’ where we toured the infamous FEMA trailers used in New Orleans, did a ropes course, experienced what it would be like in a wheelchair, spoke with representatives from ELCA colleges and outdoor ministry sites, and learned more about Habitat for Humanity,” said Bischoff. “We spent a good amount of time walking around New Orleans simply to experience the richness and diversity and culture that makes New Orleans what it is. We also shopped, listened to street musicians and ate really good food.”

According to Stephanie Robers, Grace’s youth and education council member and youth director, initial planning for the trip began two years ago when Bischoff became pastor.

“Once our youth decided they wanted to go, we had to raise almost $9,000 in nine months,” she said. “This is a huge feat because many churches do fundraising for years for the trip.”

The opportunity for Grace youth to be part of the enormous gathering was something Robers hoped would enhance and encourage their faith and the freedom to feel comfortable as young Christians.

“Churches are forever fighting with other activities in the lives of the youth, and I wanted the kids to realize that they could do sports and church and that church is fun and that it has a lot to offer,” she said. “I also wanted the kids to see how one day you can be living your life and the next, there is nothing left and your home and family are devastated and in some instances gone.”

Part of the gathering was to offer the opportunity for each group to participate in a service project, to help rebuild lives affected by the hurricanes, however, a mix-up prevented Grace youth from participating.

“We arrived to do our service projected, which was to clean a local school and get it ready for the start of the school year,” Bischoff said. “When we arrived that project had already been done. Instead we spent the day touring the Ninth Ward and visiting other service project sites.”

Despite the disappointment, Shannon Whitten was grateful to tour the area and pray for the workers. It was life changing for the 17-year-old, who admitted taking much for granted in her day-to-day activities.

“It really helped my faith to grow because I saw so much faith and joy on the faces of those who lost everything” she said. “We take a lot for granted. Everything I have is more than most of them have.These people had nothing, and it didn’t phase them.”

Calling it a humbling experience, Leah Ebener, 16, quickly realized to appreciate what she has because it could all be gone tomorrow.

“I realized how much time people waste on little things, and it was sad to see what happened,” she said. “I was surprised that it wasn’t built up more, and I would like to go back sometime soon and help rebuild the area.”

Evenings attending massive church services at the Superdome were a highlight of the trip for all who attended, Ebener said.

“The whole trip was such an incredible experience and we had so many different experiences,” she said.

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