weekend of July 11-15, 23,000 youths poured into Minneapolis to attend the
National Youth Gathering, a Lutheran convention held every three years. The
gathering provides people from around the country the opportunity to come
together as a community to learn, share and worship.
was also in attendance to spread the word of our faith-based mission and to
promote inclusion and complete participation in the church for people with
disabilities. Our presence included two booths in the Minneapolis Convention
Center, the main hub of the gathering. At one booth, youths could play with and
learn about the latest in assistive technologies and how they can increase
independence for people with disabilities, as well as connect with our
Religious Life team to learn more about the services we offer. Youths were also
encouraged to put a pin in a map to show where they had come from. Altogether,
2,800 youth groups pinned on the map, with all 50 states (and even some other
countries) being represented.
the other booth, kids could help pack birthday boxes—special boxes that are
filled with toys, games and decorations before being shipped to people we
support to ensure they can have the happiest of celebrations. Here, kids were
also encouraged to design their own thank-you cards to be sent to our staff to
show appreciation for the incredible and important work they do day in and day
out. With the help of these amazing volunteers, we sent out 493 cards and a
whopping 1,011 birthday boxes.
also had the opportunity to hold three breakout sessions, each of which was
co-led by a person with disabilities that Bethesda supports. Nearly 600 young
people attended these sessions in total to hear our message: that people with
disabilities can and should be included not only as indispensable members of
the church, but as leaders as well.
was clear to see from the rapt attention, enthusiastic participation and
thoughtful questions that those attending our booths and workshops were utterly
engaged in learning more about people with disabilities and their role in the
church. In one touching moment, a group of young women from Saints Peter and
Paul Lutheran Church in Houghton, Michigan, gathered all the cash they had on
them—amounting to $20—and donated it to Bethesda on the spot in an envelope
that said, “Jesus loves you.”
Our hope is that all who engaged with Bethesda at the conference, whether by packing a birthday box, attending a workshop or just stopping in at one of our booths, will take the word of our mission home with them. That they will be more aware of the incredible gifts people with disabilities have to share and ensure they make room in their hearts, churches and communities for them to be fully included. And, ultimately, that they will help us in our mission to continue to enhance the lives of people with disabilities.