Members of both Paynesvile and Nordland Lutheran churches participated in the event. The bus departed for St. Louis the evening of Tuesday, July 4, and returned home early in the morning on Monday, July 10.
After driving overnight, students spent Wednesday at tourist attractions in St. Louis. The Nordland youth spent the day at Six Flags Great America, while the Paynesville youth visited the Gateway Arch, the Dred Scott Courthouse, and ate at Hardrock Cafe.
From left, Allison Thompson, Sally Heitke, Cody Wiig, Chris Jacobson, and Sara Ringstad pose for a picture in St. Louis.
The two groups spent the majority of the next four days participating in conference activities at the TWA dome. "It was a good group," said Marcia McCarney, chaperone for the Nordland students. "They were all down there with one thing in mind–to learn and to have fun."
Paynesville Lutheran participants were: Cody Wiig, Scott Ingalsbe, Chris Jacobson, Sally Heitke, and Sara Ringstad. Barb Ingalsbe chaperoned. Nordland youth from Paynesville were: Kayla Hemingson, Lisa Hemingson, Jen Bruntlett, Nathan Martinson, Morgan Martinson, Scott Thompson, Sam Thompson, Steve Pearson, Dan Pearson, Allison Thompson, Rita Lounsbury, and Kelly Hanson. Chaperones were: Rick Thompson, Marcia McCarney, and Dave Demars.
Each day, the conference opened and closed with a mass gathering of all 20,000 students.
"I appreciated the fact that it was very well–organized, considering the logistics of having that many people together," said Barb Ingalsbe.
At the mass gathering, the students sang songs in the morning, and every night they listened to a different speaker. These ranged from college students to a linebacker for the St. Louis Rams.
"The most inspirational speaker was the archbishop, Desmond Tutu," said Allison Thompson. "The whole dome was the quietest it ever was when he spoke."
According to Thompson, Tutu talked about human rights and the role the United States has played in helping South Africans in the past.
There was also a blind man who was a fantastic musician. While the speakers, whom he had never heard before, gave their speeches, he composed songs about the content. After the speeches were over, he performed the songs for the crowd.
"He just put words in, and they'd rhyme and everything, and it sounded just like a song that had been worked on," said Thompson.
One day, a boys' and girls' drum corps performed for about 15 minutes. They incorporated dancing and costumes into their routine as well.
A different live band played at the mass gathering each night, as well as nightly dances at the hotel. "We did a lot of dancing," said Cody Wiig, "and I was always the first one on the dance floor."
During the day, students had free time in the dome to meet other conference participants and play games at a huge fun room known as "The Beat." They had an assortment of games there, including rope courses, volleyball, basketball, arts and crafts, and live music. Information booths were set up for browsing.
"They had activities from morning until night that the kids could choose to participate in," said Barb Ingalsbe. "It was very inspiring and helped most of the kids involved make progress on their faith journey."
Participants got involved with helping the underprivileged in the St. Louis area by donating books and food.
Two Paynesville students were able to get even more involved in the conference. Scott Ingalsbe sang in the mass choir. He and the rest of the choir members held three practices during the conference to prepare for their performance at the Sunday worship service.
"We just had a bunch of good singers, so we were able to do amazing things without a lot of practice," Ingalsbe said. He had to go through an application process before being selected to participate in the choir.
Allison Thompson flew down to the conference early because of her involvement with the Lutheran Youth Organization (LYO). As a national delegate, she spent four days meeting with other delegates, discussing changes to their constitution, and electing a new LYO board.
However, she felt she got the most out of the large group gatherings. "I just liked knowing there were 20,000 kids there, basically for the same reason," said Thompson. "They were there to either change themselves or make a difference in their life."
Sally Heitke agreed. "Getting to meet all the people was the best thing for all of us," she said.
A National Youth Gathering takes place every three years. The next one will be in Atlanta in 2003.
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