By Louis Tillman

Growing up in the city of Atlanta, GA I thought I’ve seen everything that the city of New Orleans has to offer. Recently I went to work at the National Youth Gathering in New Orleans on behalf of ELCA World Hunger for our 100 Wells Challenge. The ELCA youth had the opportunity to support the clean water challenge by donating to the “100 Wells Challenge” in conjunction with the Gathering. Just $2500 could build a well that can bring clean water to as many as 500 families at a time. The 100 Wells Challenge unites the hopes of Lutheran youth across the country to raise $250,000 and support water projects where they are needed most.

            The majority of my time working in Practice Peacemaking was dedicated to collecting donations for the 100 Wells Challenge. This was absolutely my favorite memory of the entire gathering. I have never witnessed so many excited youth in such large numbers in one given area. Being surrounded by eager youth that were proud and ecstatic due to the fact that they raised hundreds or thousands of dollars to help us in achieving our goal of $250,000 was simply phenomenal. It’s moving to see the youth’s expressions as they put their hard earned funds into the donation bins with smiles that literally stretched ear to ear!

Plenty of congregations came to the 100 Wells space with funds from their congregation; while other individuals came to the gathering clueless and then stumbled into our spaces wanted to know more about the 100 Wells Challenge. I felt that God was using my spiritual gifts by being a vessel to these individuals in helping them to decide whether or not they would like to donate to this cause. I would like to say with confidence that roughly 95% of the individuals that I spoke to ended up donating to our cause by the end of our short conversation. There was one experience that I really enjoyed where I had an individual cut a check for $2,000 which was a little bit short of sponsoring one well. Being on the ELCA World Hunger team helped me realize that I am really helping to make a difference in the world.

Successively, one of the most touching stories of my entire experience was the one where my hometown congregation, Christ the Lord Lutheran Church from Lawrenceville, GA; brought a group of 35 youth and 10 adults to the 100 Wells Challenge space of the interaction center. At first, they wanted to see me and see how I was doing, but after speaking with them about the challenge all of the youth performed a random act of kindness. They readily and willingly decided to sacrifice their lunches for that day and personally donated $20 each to the 100 Wells Challenge! This was extremely touching and made me even more proud to be a member of this congregation.

I was so excited about my congregation’s youth doing this, that it raised a few questions:

What if we all sacrificed the money that we normally spend on one meal and donated it to a great world hunger or poverty cause once a week?

Would we ultimately be one step closer to ending world hunger and poverty? Would this be a key ingredient in helping to feed millions of people living in poverty?

Could this be a great outlet into having more and more people firsthand experience something on a minimal level of what people in poverty go through on a daily basis?

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the sights and aspects of the Practice Peacemaking section at the National Youth Gathering. The ELCA World Hunger team did an outstanding job with engaging and educating all of the participants at the gathering. I would also like to on the fact that we not only met our fundraising goal for the 100 Wells Challenge of raising $250,000 but we exceeded it by raising over $406,000. These funds will be used for various water projects all over the world in the next few years. Thus, I leave you all with this: If you ever decided to skip a meal in the near future, think about how many people that you could potentially help and feed by donating that money to a good cause like the youth from Christ the Lord Lutheran Church in Georgia did. Would you sacrifice a meal to save a life?

Louis Tillman is an ELCA World Hunger Intern