Around 37,000 Lutheran youth from all over the United States, including 36 kids and five adults from Paynesville Lutheran and Nordland Lutheran, stopped more than traffic July 23 through 27 in New Orleans. The group even watched themselves on the evening news, as they found out 37,000 kids wearing wooden crosses around their necks is unusual, even in New Orleans.
The police had been informed beforehand of the youth gathering, but had not realized the extent, as they attempted to direct traffic between honking motorists and curious onlookers. An assistant to the mayor of New Orleans even took time to address the visitors, welcoming them, and commenting that their's was the largest religious gathering in the city since the Pope stopped by in the early 1980s.
Several of the Paynesville area youth commented that while site-seeing around the city, people there were mostly friendly and hospitable with only a few exceptions. For instance, a few of them were the brunt of a couple hecklers who were wondering why they were site-seeing on Bourbon Street, but for the most part, the general feeling of those they met was welcoming.
The young people showed the citizens of New Orleans site-seeing wasn't the only reason they were there. Hundreds of kids volunteered to go into poorer neighborhoods and help clean up. Some of the kids from Nordland even helped Habitat for Humanity build a house. There were so many young people from the gathering that signed up to help, they couldn't use all of them.
During the services in the superdome, the young people were inspired by various speakers. Twenty-seven Lutheran young people were baptized there, having prepared at their home churches.
One of the Paynesville girls commented that it was incredible being in the superdome with so many others of the same religion. The teenagers were also inspired when all 37,000 took communion. David Tiede Hottinger, youth pastor at Paynesville Lutheran, commented that, amazingly, it only took 15 minutes because of the many communion stations set up around the building.
Many of the church youth groups brought trinkets, such as key chains and even wild flower seeds from their hometowns, to exchange with kids they would meet from other states. The young people from Nordland made "prayer rocks."
When a few of the youth gave one of their decorated rocks to a lady working at the front desk of their hotel, she graciously thanked them, set it on the desk, looked at it more closely, and then asked what she was supposed to do with it. They explained that it was a reminder that their group would remember her in their prayers, and that she could pray for them, too.
The Nordland youth weren't the only ones spreading their items of good will around the city. When a few of them hailed a taxi, the driver asked them what they had for him. He began showing the items he had been given by other groups, including a key chain from Ohio. His dashboard was covered with various souvenirs.
While traveling to and from New Orleans, the Paynesville youth made stops in Mississippi as well, taking in the sites along the gulf coast.
Katherine Tiede Hottinger, youth pastor at Nordland, said the group was encouraged while traveling because they knew their family and friends were praying for them back home.
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