“A few [weeks] ago we were dispersed; we did not know each other. Now we are together; we belong to each other.” This is part of a longer quote from a book by Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community, that describes for me one of the beauties of the ELCA Youth Gathering.

The dispersed will come together in Detroit this summer. They’ll leave knowing that God brought them together for a purpose, and God sends them back out with a message for the world: Jesus is good news! Youth will be sent home with a mission to rise up together as followers of Jesus Christ who build bridges, bear burdens, break chains and bring hope.

Many young people have limited experience with what it means to be part of the Lutheran Christian witness in the world. Many youth learn about being Lutheran from their family, baptismal sponsors and/or other caring adults in their congregation. Many don’t experience other Lutherans outside of their family or congregation. Many don’t know they are part of a larger, geographic grouping of Lutheran congregations called synods, let alone the churchwide organization or the global Lutheran communion. With such a small circle of influence, most young people think the way they worship in their congregation or the values their congregation espouses is the way all Lutherans practice or express their faith. The beauty of Christ’s church is that there is room for all under the tent of mercy made real through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

When we are together in Detroit, youth will talk about how God has brought us together. Each participant will learn where he or she was before coming to this particular Lutheran community … and then will be conscious of now being together. A few weeks ago they were dispersed and did not know each other. Now they are together; they belong to each other. Vanier said, “We realize what an incredible gift God has given us, to bring us together from different lands of pain and loneliness, and to become one people. We become more conscious that we are responsible for each other.”

And I would add that we become more conscious that we are responsible for our neighbors. That consciousness broadens a young person’s perspective, one of the many beauties of the Youth Gathering.

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).