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A Home Can Change Everything

– Chris Heavner 

I love coming to the Gatherings and staying in a hotel!  My family didn’t stay in hotels that much (even now, I snatch all the tiny shampoo bottles for my kids).  This luxury would probably not be so thrilling if my stay only reminded me that I lack a permanent place to sleep.  For too many families, “home” is a couch in the home of a friend or relative.  For too many of God’s children, it is a dream to have a thermostat which controls the temperature and a bathroom with running water. 

“This Changes Everything” about the way we understand our stay in the hotels in Houston. Those of us staying in the hotels will “change everything” about the lives of three Houston families. 

Three Habitat for Humanity Houses will be constructed in the Interaction Center. Youth will swing the hammers that will frame the walls for bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms.  I love coming to the Gathering knowing that a part of me and my heart will stay in the hosting city when I am gone.  

This is the fourth Gathering at which such a project has been one of the Interaction Center offerings.  The leadership is provided by Lutheran Campus Ministry and Lutheran Disaster Response. Twelve college students for whom Lutheran Campus Ministry has become an avenue for civic and community engagement will be serving as crew leaders. In addition to the work completed in Houston, we will tell you how you can organize similar projects in the places you call home. 

I love coming to the Youth Gatherings and meeting folks from across our country and our Church.  And I love working with you to change so many things in the city which serves as our host. 


Chris Heavner is campus pastor at Clemson University in South Carolina. This will be his eighth Gathering. He also serves as the faculty advisor for Clemson’s Habitat for Humanity, with whom he as built thirty-three homes.


The Gathering as a Turning Point

– Don Romsa

As someone involved in Lutheran Campus Ministry, I was asked, “Why a Youth Gathering?”  My answer?

I’ve seen firsthand that the Gathering builds community, deepens faith, inspires service, and even transforms lives.

During my thirty years of working with college and university students in Lutheran Campus Ministry, I have listened to many of those students talk about their personal experiences at a Gathering.  These young adults have often said that the Gathering was a turning point in their life and also in their faith. It was an experience in which Jesus became real and relevant for them, and they were touched by God’s invitation to “change the world.”

I have listened as young adults shared memories and moments of their time at a Gathering – memories and moments like these:

As I sat in the large gatherings with other youth, I felt surrounded by people who had important hopes and dreams – just like me.

I was challenged to think in new ways about how my faith and life are connected.

We didn’t just talk about the need to love others – we went into surrounding neighborhoods and acted on that love.

I was deeply moved by the words and thoughts of the speakers who shared their real-life faith stories.

I was treated as if I was really part of the church – not at some future time, but NOW.

I realized the Lutheran faith community is much larger than I could ever have imagined – it extends all around the world.

I had a chance to talk about things that really matter in my life, and how those things are shaped by my faith.

I felt the presence of a gracious and loving God in my life – it was a transforming event for me.

Almost 45 years ago, I accompanied a group of youth to the 1973 Youth Gathering in Houston.  Not only was their faith deepened and their lives transformed, but mine was, too.  May the 2018 Youth Gathering in Houston be the same kind of gift to all who come!

Pastor Don Romsa is the ELCA Program Director for Campus Ministry.