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From Newbie to Prepared

– Shelbe Kukowski

I’m pretty new to this whole “youth leader” thing. In fact, I ended up winning an award at the most recent Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza for working with youth the least amount of time (only three months). This newness is why it was so important for me to attend the Extravaganza in Houston—it not only served as a learning and equipping workshop weekend for me, but it also allowed me to enroll in the “How to have a Great Gathering” Intensive Care Course (ICC).

The ICC was a two-day course led by very knowledgeable teachers (who happen to sit on the planning committee for the Gathering!) that went through the history of the Gathering, what to expect, how to prepare youth for attending such a life-changing event, and hosted a panel of speakers so we could see, hear, and ask questions directly to the Gathering staff.

What’s some of the stuff we learned? How about the most common reasons youth end up in the medical tent?

  1. Hurt toes: make sure youth wear closed toed shoes.
  2. Dehydration: make sure youth are drinking water at least every hour…you too.
  3. Upset GI: if someone needs privacy to poop in a hotel room, get their roommates out the door!

I know, I know. You’re laughing, but as a newbie I needed all of that veteran advice. The ICC teachers were very serious when informing us of the “troublesome three.”

Not all of the ICC was classroom work, though! We took buses around the city and listened to local guides tell the history of Houston.

Did you know Houston is the most diverse city and fourth most populous city in the United States? Or that there is an underground pedestrian tunnel system? Or that all of us going to the Gathering will book up almost every single hotel room in the city? Neither did I.

We drove through The Galleria, stopped by NRG Park, rode the METRORail, and saw many of the beautiful art murals found throughout the city.

Overall, I entered the ICC as a Gathering newbie and left the course prepared to lead youth to Houston this summer.


Shelbe Kukowski  is a newbie youth adult leader in Seattle, WA and is super excited to attend the Gathering with youth from Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church. 


Preview: Donald Miller

My last post was on Lost and Found, one of the many musical attractions waiting for Youth Gatherers (still don’t have a technical term for this group of people) in New Orleans.  Next up: one of the speakers lined up for the event, Donald Miller.

Donald Miller is perhaps best known as the author of Blue Like Jazz, a New York Times-bestseller that’s inspired many to reexamine the way they think about religion, Christianity, and the nature of a relationship with God.  The book is made up of Miller’s “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality,” as well as his invitingly honest tales and his wry sense of humor.  The book is certainly about how Miller learned to relate to God, but his relationship is decidedly outside the bounds of “traditional” Christian perspectives.  He’s the type of person to explain his view of God in terms of metaphors about penguin sex and cartoons  starring Don Rabbit and the Sexy Carrot.

It’s very appropriate, though, that Don Miller is coming to speak at a Youth Gathering called Jesus, Justice, Jazz, because in a lot of ways, the book presents itself like jazz music.  I’m looking forward to arriving in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, and hearing from a man who reflected:

There is something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing. They hang there, the stars, like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz.

If you want to know a little more about Donald Miller or his other books, you can visit his blog or his official website.

On a slightly different note, I just finished Blue Like Jazz a few weeks ago after having several friends recommend it to me over months and months.  I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it.  What I mean is that I like the book, but I’m not sure how much I agree with it, so I’m a bit torn.  If you’ve read it (or anything else by Don Miller, or heard him speak), don’t hesitate to drop off a comment–what do you think?


Preview: Lost and Found

This is the first in a series of previews on the artists and/or speakers that will be a part of Youth Gathering ’09, and I’d like to take the time to highlight a particular favorite of many veteran Youth Gatherers.  (Gatheringers? Gatherites?  Gatherificators?  People who’ve been at Youth Gatherings.  You make up a name for them.)  I’m referring, of course, to a group named Lost and Found. 

You may be wondering, “Who on Earth are these people?  I’ve never heard of them in my life.”  I’ll be honest–unlike most of the other groups performing in New Orleans, I’d never heard of Lost and Found before I set out to write some previews for you fine blog-type folks (although I had heard one of their songs, but we’ll get to that later).  Lost and Found is a guitar/piano duo that has won many hearts with a musical style that they call speedwood.  This, of course, is “a sub-genre of Heavy Wood,” or so I’m told by their website.

They’ve got a unique sound, warm and familiar and small-coffeeshop folksy, and like all truly fun things in life, they don’t take themselves too seriously.  Lost and Found is definitely worth a listen, with tracks ranging from original material to an energetic rendition of the hymn Holy Holy Holy.  I can only describe that track as the definitive speedwood version, but you’ll have to hear it to know what I mean.

If you want an audible preview, I highly recommend taking 3 minutes and 33 seconds to enjoy Lost and Found’s “The Lutheran Song” on YouTube.  You can also find them online at

I’ll dip deeper into the list of speakers and performers for next time; until then, enjoy your daily dose of speedwood.


Jesus, Justice, Jazz & Blogging

Welcome to the ELCA’s Summer 2009 event blog!  This is your one-stop shop for all things related to Youth Gathering 2009: Jesus, Justice, Jazz.  You’ll find news on the Gathering events, info on speakers and performers, and links to everything you want to know before you go.  (Don’t forget to weigh in and hear from other attendees by commenting here, of course.)  And that’s just before the Gathering gets underway.

Things will get even more interesting around here once JJJ begins.  This very blog will be host to you and everything you do in New Orleans.  Everyone you left behind to tend the home fires can visit the blog (every day–or even more often) to keep up on all the great things you’ll be part of at the Gathering.  Look for the stories of your ServantLife contributions; collections of your feedback on all the speakers, musicians, and other entertainers; and videos of anything and everything happening down on the Bayou.

To start things off, here’s a great collection of JJJ links you might not have visited yet:

  • Keep up with everything in New Orleans by following @ELCAYouth on Twitter–updated throughout the Gathering!
  • (If you’re into Twitter, you can also keep tabs on all sorts of things related to the Gathering with the hashtag #JJJ09.)
  • Join the Gathering group on Facebook.
  • Check out the full list of speakers and performers – and come back later for some feature articles on them.
  • Be ready to get packed for the trip.
  • Print off maps and read up on background info at the ELCA’s Learn about New Orleans page.