Why would 25,000 teenagers and their adult leaders willingly walk the streets of New Orleans in 90 degree heat with humidity that makes it feel like 101? Why would they walk over 10 miles a day and survive on little sleep for a week?

In New Orleans for the #NYG2016 this past week, I discovered the answers. Here are the top 10 reasons why we loved the New Orleans LCMS National Youth Gathering 2016.Top 10 Reasons Why We Loved the New Orleans LCMS National Youth Gathering|the Holy Mess

Check out hashtag #NYG2016 on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat to see lots of photos of the Gathering taken by people from all over the United States and even the world.In Christ Alone Logo

Every 3 years, the Lutheran Church (LCMS = Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) hosts a huge gathering for high school youth. The event is always amazing and often a life-changer for those who experience it.

Something of a rite of passage for many of us in our church body, I experienced my first Youth Gathering in Denver in 1989. (Many people who were part of this Gathering remember it as the Gathering where kids were caught in a storm at Red Rocks amphitheater, which even made national news.)

I attended my next Gathering in 1992 in New Orleans as a recent high school graduate, and in 1998 I was able to attend as a “Yellow Shirt” which is the huge team (1,500 people strong) of Gathering volunteers. At the time Kiersten was a newborn and Bekah was a toddler, so our daughters experienced their first NYG at a very young age! In 2013 Mike, Bekah, and Kiersten attended the Gathering in San Antonio.

Here is a link with previous National Youth Gathering Years and themes.

In 3 years the Gathering will be in Minneapolis, MN.Next LCMS Youth Gathering

Why We Loved the New Orleans LCMS National Youth Gathering 2016

10. Connecting with our group.

Mount Olive Youth Group 2016|The Holy Mess

Our group! Even though the Gathering is HUGE, each group comes with their home church and experiences the event together with their group. It’s such a great bonding experience. Josiah, Kiersten, and I traveled with Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Aurora, CO. We didn’t know when we signed up that Mike would be accepting a call to a new church in New York during the time we would prepare to leave. Thankfully the group was so gracious about welcoming us to come along.

NYG Masks

Miss Robin (our Children’s Ministry DCE) joined us for some shopping. Can you tell which one she is?

NYG Aquarium

At the Aquarium

New Orleans AquariumNew Orleans AquaNew Orleans Aquarium

New Orleans Aquarium

Becky led our group and did such a fantastic job — and was also a wonderful roommate!

9. New Orleans culture.

New Orleans Garden District

We enjoyed exploring the culture of New Orleans, which was so different from what we are used to, but mostly it was HOT and HUMID.

New Orleans cultureNew Orleans MagnoliaNew Orleans culture

New Orleans cemetery, garden district

Cemetery in New Orleans

New Orleans

New Orleans trolley|The Holy Mess

We took the trolley one day and got to experience New Orleans public transportation. Now we are thankful for Denver buses and the lightrail!

8. Beignets.

New Orleans Cafe DuMonde

Beignets get a category all their own. These French doughnuts are a must when traveling to New Orleans, so of course we had to sample them — more than once. Lots of people in our group really liked Cafe De Monde frozen coffee, too.

7. A good workout.

NYG walking

Fitness trackers proved we walked 10-12 miles a day each day of the Gathering, since we walked to the Convention Center, Super Dome, to meals, shopping, and any other activities downtown.

National Youth Gathering 5K

Some of us participated in the Gathering 5K. The biggest thing we noticed is that at 5:30 am in New Orleans it’s already hot and sticky. VERY hot.

6. Serving.

Rebuilding from Katrina

Our group signed up to participate in a servant event, and we were assigned to a community group called A Community Voice that is helping with continued efforts to rebuild neighborhoods in the lower 9th ward after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Even though it’s been 10 years, much work still needs to be done. We helped pass out flyers about the dangers of lead-based paint. Seeing the condition of the neighborhood was an eye-opening experience for all of us.

NYG Servant Event

New Orleans aftermath of Katrina 10 years later

This neighborhood continues to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

5. Never alone.

NYG Blue Backpacks

Being a teenager in today’s world is tough. Being a Christian sometimes isn’t easy. Sometimes Christian teens feel like they are the only one in their high school or group of friends. At the Gathering, seeing the huge groups of blue backpacks helped all of us realize WE ARE NOT ALONE.

NYG Backpacks

Becky and I carried the backpacks, water bottles, Bibles, and Gathering books back to the hotel for the group. The dedication of youth leaders!

4. Learning.

NYG Convention Center

Each day, the Convention Center was open with all types of activities as well as break out sessions with speakers on many topics. There were crafts, sports, booths for picking up swag, plus catching up with old friends and making new ones.

House of Blues

The Rocky Mountain District hosted dinner at House of Blues for all the churches in our area. We had a jazz concert and dinner.

House of Blues

3. Skit Guys.

The top fun event for most of us was watching The Skit Guys during one of the Mass Events and at a post-Event concert. Check out their YouTube channel here. These guys are so hilarous and boy do they know how to work a crowd!

This isn’t one they did at the Gathering, but this is my favorite skit of all time. It’s called GRACE. Totally worth your 4 minutes to watch this:

 

2. Mass Events

NYG Mass Events

The Mass Events each evening are the highlight of the Gathering as all of us meet in the Superdome for singing, dancing, and speakers. It’s honestly a taste of heaven as we feel the connection as brothers and sisters in Christ.

1. Worship and Communion with 25,000 other youth and adults.

Communion at NYG 2016

The final event of the Gathering is closing worship, including communion. It sounds crazy that 25,000 people would take communion and not take forever, but they have many stations set up and it actually goes very smoothly. The worship was incredible with dancers, flags, banners, preaching, and music — liturgical, hymns, and contemporary. One youth told me her favorite part of all the Gathering was singing “This is the Feast” at worship. Where else do you meet with this many teens who know that song like you do?

 

Worship at NYG

As a parent, there is really nothing better than seeing your kids praise Jesus.

Worship at NYG 2016

See lots more photos and videos here: LCMS Gathering Page

Were you at the New Orleans Youth Gathering or another NYG? What was the best part for you? Tell us about it in the comments below.Top 10 Reasons Why We Love the New Orleans LCMS National Youth Gathering|The Holy Mess