Sermon from Denise Steene, Katie Steene, and Katie Medina
Sharing stories is one way we can build bridges, break chains, bear burdens, and bring hope. Our story of Detroit started with Lutheran Hands—the organization that coordinated the 2-day mission trip we participated in before the Gathering, where we helped in a Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden located in a section of Detroit that needed revitalization and access to fresh food. We can share many stories about our gardening experiences—picking lettuce, pulling weeds, using chainsaws to clear brush, and going out into the neighborhood to help Ms. Doris and a few others around the garden by clearing their yards of overgrowth and debris.
It was Jesse—one of the founders of Lutheran Hands who taught us to look for God Moments. At every large group gathering, we were encouraged to stand up and share a moment when we especially felt God’s Presence or experienced a sense of doing God’s Will during the day.
Jesse shared part of his own story—a story that he said was filled with “a lot of baggage.” Jesse told of growing up in a not-so-great situation, of being the guy who bullied other kids–especially the band geeks, of spending his time bumming around by a neighborhood church and getting yelled at by the Pastor for skate boarding where he wasn’t supposed to be. And then he shared how his buddy Mike—the other founder of Lutheran Hands—invited him to come to a youth group activity at his church, to just chill out with other kids and belong. Eventually, Jesse started going to church, where Mike’s mom happened to be the Pastor. Jesse was able to start unloading some of his baggage, asking for forgiveness and finding new purpose. Pretty soon the boys were going on mission trips and doing other cool youth group stuff and Jesse found a place where he was welcome and could be a part of something meaningful and important.
When Jesse and Mike returned from helping to clean up after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, they knew they had to do something more with their lives—and out of that vision and dream Lutheran Hands was created. How cool that two friends from church youth group now lead an organization dedicated to helping and serving those in need and providing opportunities for youth to serve as God’s hands in the world.
In Detroit, we were called to Rise Up—to be part of something bigger than ourselves where God could work through us to make a difference. And we did. I want to share one of my God Moments. It happened on our last day in Detroit when we encountered a woman on the street near Ford Field. She was wearing a black baseball cap that said “I Love Jesus!” That’s what caught our attention. Katie just casually commented to the woman that she liked the hat. We had gotten into the habit of talking to random strangers. The woman said “thank you, she liked the hat too!” Then she saw the bright orange t-shirt that I was wearing—one of the ubiquitous orange t-shirts that had blanketed Detroit over the past 3 days. One of the t-shirts that had made the news as 30,000 ELCA youth and adults tutored children, served food, boarded up dangerous houses, cleaned neighborhoods, tended gardens, and so much more. The woman said—“Are you guys with THAT group!?” The orange shirt people. And we said, “yes.” She went on to share her joy at the hope we had brought to the people of Detroit and her sincere thanks for what we had accomplished for God’s purpose.
Detroit didn’t think we’d come
Detroit didn’t think we’d be 30,000 strong
Detroit didn’t think we’d make a positive difference
But God had other plans.
While we were in Detroit we had a lot of amazing and indescribable experiences. One of them was what can only be described as a God moment. Katie Medina, my mom (Denise Steene), and I were walking out of the CoBo Center, the large Convention Center the gathering was using, to go and get something to eat for dinner.
Two other young women were leaving at the same time as we were and one, we would later learn her name was Annie, commented on the bandana that Katie had tied to her backpack. “Hey!” she said, “I have that same bandana! We’re twins!”
This small exchange grew into her asking if we wanted to have dinner together since we were both such small groups. As we were walking toward the Greek place we’d decided to eat at, my mom got a phone call that said she needed to go to the CoBo center. Since we hadn’t ordered yet the three of us were going to go to CoBo when Annie, the adult leader, offered to just have Katie and I eat with her and Kirsten, the only youth from their church. My mom said that yes that would be ok. Annie assured her that she would get us to worship on time and that she could pay for dinner if we needed.
So my mom went to CoBo and Katie, Kirsten, Annie, and I had an incredible dinner. We had Saganaki or flaming cheese, which was so good. (If you haven’t tried it you should.) After we ate we went to Ford Field and danced our hearts out. It is one of my favorite memories from the gathering.
If Pastor Jen hadn’t given us the bandanas we never would have met Kirsten and Annie which would have meant we would have missed the beginning of worship. I am so grateful to Annie for taking us in for those few hours. Thank You!