There are some generalizations that are often spoken about people, places, cities, areas of the country, even entire generations. Think about the state that we live in as an example. You mention Wisconsin to someone and they will ask you about cheese, snow, and the Packers. This was said to us often as our group of 12 met others at the ELCA National Youth Gathering in Detroit. Just as we had generalizations about people that we met and where they were from like California.
One interesting thing occurred along these lines early in our time in Detroit. We might have been there a day when one of our kids got a text message asking, “Have you been shot at yet?” Now, my guess is the text was meant to be a joke, but it underscores the assumption about Detroit: it is unsafe and full of criminals. But I bet if you ask every one of our kids that were there for our six days and they will tell you a different story. Was there run down places? Of course. We saw many abandoned buildings and places that had seen better days. But they will also tell you how surprised they were that Detroit was so beautiful. Parks in downtown. Sculpture. Cool buildings. A walk that has been made beautiful by graffiti art. Amazing pizza in a not so great looking area.
Detroit has problems, many that they acknowledge, but they are also trying to “Rise Up” and they embraced our presence in their city. They smiled at us, greeted us warmly, danced and sang with us. They videotaped us as we walked down the street from Ford Field, full of multi-colored shirts. Check out www.deadlinedetroit.com or www.detroitnews.com to see the stories that people wrote about our time in the city. There is hope in Detroit, no matter what anyone else says, and I’m proud to say that we got to be part of that hope and make a difference, however small, in the lives of the people.
Another generalization that I hear is the current generation of young people don’t care about anything. They don’t work hard, they only care about texting and tweeting and watching things on Netflix. But if you stood in Ford Field on any night of the Gathering, you would have your mind changed. If you watched them work in neighborhoods in heat and humidity, for hours at a time, you would feel differently. If you walked down the street with them as they sang and high-fived and hugged, you would feel differently. They have hope. They want to change the world. They just need a reason too. They need others to believe in them and to not only encourage them, but accept them for who they are. To embrace them. This group raised over $400,000 to help bring water resources to people in Africa, an amount matched to take it over $800,000. They collected and brought with them over 1 million diapers to start a diaper bank in Detroit. They made hats for the needy, learned about a myriad of social causes, and learned about things like human trafficking and disabilities. They weeded and painted and hauled and sang and worshipped and thanked and praised. They radiated the joy of Christ.
There are some who say that National Youth Gatherings aren’t worth the time and energy and money anymore. That they are useless and frivolous. I disagree. They bring hope, not only to a city, but to the kids and frankly, to adults like me. I wish every parent that wouldn’t send a kid to Detroit because of racism and fear was in Ford Field and in the streets with us. I wish every person who said, “Detroit, really?” and wondered if people were going to get shot, were with us to experience what we experienced during six days in July. I think their minds and hearts would have been changed. I think they would have seen Jesus, and hope, and maybe the dawning of something new.
After all, if you want to change the world, you have to experience it. You have to risk. You have to put yourself out there. You have to be willing to trust in the God who has created, saved, and sustains you. You can’t sit on the sidelines and judge and point a figure and shower blame to those that are different than you. You have to act. You have to rise up. 30,000 people rose up in Detroit and the city rose up with them. For that I say, “Thanks be to God!”