Luther Memorial Church and First Lutheran Church of Avoca (North Branch) sent groups of youth and adults to join a total of 30,681 Lutherans at the National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas June 26-July 2.
The ELCA Youth Gathering is held once every three years and includes those who have just completed 8th-12th grades.  17 youth and five adults from Luther Memorial, four youth and two adults from North Branch, and groups from three other area churches joined together on one charter bus to make the journey to Houston.
Throughout the week, they held mass gatherings with speakers and worship music by popular Christian bands like 10th Avenue North.  Nick Cordray, Interim Youth Minister at Luther Memorial, said that he really liked seeing some of the quieter kids join in as the week progressed.  
He recalled one who said, “These mass gatherings aren’t really my thing,” and ended up joining in and having a great time dancing to the music along with the others.
The 2018 Youth Gathering theme was “This Changes Everything” with daily themes like Grace, Hope, Love, and Jesus.
In addition to their mass gatherings each day, the students and adults participated in a day of Service Projects all over the Houston area.  The groups completed a variety of service activities including cleaning parks and other places that still had debris from the flooding.  (The Youth Gathering location was set six years ago- long before all of the flooding in Houston.)  
Additionally, some organized books for schools, worked at food pantries, reshaped a causeway clearing trees and debris, and assisted with a variety of other things that served the Houston community.
On the third day, the 800 attendees from Nebraska were together for Synod Day.  
Nick Cordray said, “They get a broader understanding of what it is to be a Christian and a Lutheran Christian.
“Our church is much much bigger than our county.  There are others just like them.”
Luther Memorial Pastor Sarah Cordray said, “The kids going from our own church to getting to be with 30,000 Lutheran Christians is pretty powerful!”
Throughout the week, they had fun activities mixed with reflection time and opportunities for learning.  The youth did a multitude of things including high ropes course, bumper boats, virtual reality, blow up games, a relay climbing wall, carpool karaoke, and many others.  At one point they even had a gathering with a deejay.  A store was available all week for them to purchase Lutheran “swag.”
The week concluded with a big worship service including a sermon, singing, and communion.  Plans are already underway for the 2021 Youth Gathering in Minneapolis.