Why are we going back to New Orleans? I can’t tell you how many timespeople have asked me that question. The first few times I answered, Ihave to admit I did it with a bit of an attitude, a kind of hand-on-one-hip “why wouldn’t we?” response. And every time – yes, every time – if the person asking had been to New Orleans for the2009 ELCA Youth Gathering they had their own long list of reasons why weshould go back. They just wanted to hear my reasons. That’s easy.
- Because it’s the right thing to do.
God calls us to accompany God’s people. Just as we are the desire of God’s love, so too, by the grace of God, we love our neighbors. And who doesn’t respond when a neighbor is in need? Some New Orleanians have found their bearings since Katrina, but mostly those are white people who have access to resources and power. New Orleans still has a disproportionately high level of people of color living in poverty, people whose voices remain unheard, children who deserve a good education, and parents and grandparents who need sustainable employment. Until all people have adequate housing and are food secure, God’s people can’t rest.
- This is a golden moment in time.
I believe we have been given an opportunity to capitalize on a moment in time to teach young people an enduring lesson of faith, the difference between charity and justice. When we were there in 2009, New Orleans needed us to focus on immediate needs so we provided direct service. In 2012, our focus will be on the root causes of the problems to help create the world Jesus promised. Will groups still participate in service projects? Yes, but there will be an intentional added component of reflection on the systemic issues that trap people in poverty, or that threaten the environment or that ignite violence in youth.
- Because we were invited.
New Orleans is known for its hospitality and its food. In 2009 we were invited to the dining room table and were served up a huge New Orleans welcome. In 2012, we are being invited back, and this time we’re welcome into the kitchen where the family gathers. People still talk about those orange t-shirts that invaded the city in July, 2009. ELCA youth are equated with love and kindness in New Orleans. They have embraced us like members of their extended family. What family member wouldn’t accept an invitation to dinner?
Jesus is our peace. In his life and death on the cross, Jesus broke down the dividing walls so that we are no longer strangers and outsiders, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. The foundation of God’s house was built of apostles and prophets, and Jesus, the cornerstone, holds it all together. (Ephesians 2:14-20 – Gathering Paraphrase)