Day two of our trip to the National Youth Gathering began with breakfast at 8 am followed by a walk through New Orleans to the River Boat Natchez on the Mississippi River. After checking in for our riverboat tour, we had some time to kill so we visited St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in North America and has beautiful stained glass windows.
After visiting the square/cathedral, we returned to the riverboat for boarding. While there we met numerous other groups from different churches in the NW district including several others from Spokane. After a long hot and humid wait, we finally boarded and were seated first for lunch in the air conditioned dining room (with the AC being a wonderful blessing!). Lunch consisted of a buffet of New Orleans cuisine consisting of red beans and rice, jambalaya, fried catfish, gumbo, mashed potatoes and gravy, bread, and bread pudding. The food was very good and filled us up.
Since we were in the first dining group, we actually finished lunch before the boat even launched. We originally scheduled to eat right after the boat left, but due to the large numbers from the Gathering, they added another seating before the boat even left! Everywhere we turn there are youth and leaders here for the Gathering! It is quite an awesome sight to see.
After we had eaten, the boat headed downriver with a tour guide describing the scenery on the shore. The scenery was an interesting mix of old and new: several sites were important locations in the Civil War while others were bustling industry as New Orleans is a large port of entry into the US. Also, we learned of the devastation many hurricanes over the past decade or two have brought to New Orleans. We saw numerous ruined buildings and docks, most of which were destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Upon returning to port, we returned to Jackson Square for more sightseeing and souvenir shopping, as well as getting beignets from Cafe du Monde, which resulted in many of us becoming covered in powdered sugar. The beignets down here turned out to be much better than those we made last year for the Mardi Gras murder mystery dinner.
With sightseeing and souvenir shopping complete, we headed back to the hotel for some relaxation time followed by dinner and walking to the Superdome for the opening mass event. We arrived early before the doors opened to try to “beat the rush,” but several thousand people had already gathered so there was no way for us to beat the rush. While waiting for the doors to open, we listened to Lost and Found and Tangled Blue play live outside. Once the doors finally opened, it took us almost 30 minutes to enter given the massive quantity of people. One of the MCs said that there are 25,000 youth and leaders in attendance, all of whom had to enter the Superdome.
While entering the Superdome was hot, noisy, and stressful (and one of the low points of our day), the following mass event was one of the highlights of everyone’s day. It was amazing to see so many youth come to one place for the same purpose: to worship Christ and grow in relationship with Him. The gathering organizers did a terrific job putting the mass event together, with the theme of the evening being “What is true joy?” This theme was quite the Jesus moment as over the past year we have talked much about joy in our time together in Sunday School, and it was appropriate given the frustrations preceding the mass event.
Pastor Matt Popovits led the discussion of “What is true joy?” with a moving skit and testimony used to highlight that true joy is found in Christ alone. The skit dealt with how in life the pursuit of happiness can lead us in many different directions, but true joy stays fixed in one place: the work and promises of Jesus Christ.
While the initial remarks and skit focused on “what is true joy?” the testimony given by Shanna Decker dealt with the difficult question “where is our Joy when we suffer?” Her testimony was especially moving and made a strong impression with the youth as she talked about her struggles with an aggressive form of cancer when she was just seven years old. The cancer resulted in her needing to have a portion of her leg amputated and to undergo multiple rounds of chemo. However, in the midst of this suffering she became close friends with other cancer ward patients, including one boy who became her best friend. However, while her cancer went into remission and she recovered, his cancer eventually led to his death.
This overwhelming suffering and loss led her to “lose” her joy for a time until she came to realize that her Joy is found in Christ alone. It is this foundation in Christ that allows us to face suffering with Joy and to say with Paul: “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Please keep us in your prayers! Specific prayer requests for Sunday are:
- Continued safety throughout our time here, especially when walking to and from the Gathering events.
- Patience when dealing with large crowds.
Prayers for the large homeless/impoverished population in New Orleans, especially that they would be blessed with ample food and shelter.
- And that God would continue to work through the Gathering events to bless the youth and that they would be open to receive them.