Abigail Offhaus reads her prayer during worship at the 2018 ELCA Youth Summit. (Photo: Kristin Opalinski)

Everyone belongs in God’s family – A reflection from the 2018 ELCA Youth Leadership Summit

By Abigail Offhaus February 6, 2019

In November, I attended the 2018 Leadership Summit at Carol Joy Holling Camp in Ashland, Neb., with support from ELCA Disability Ministries. Here are some of my highlights from the event.

On the first day, we were introduced to ELCA Advocacy, which is located in Washington, D.C.  I learned you need to advocate for yourself and others who need it. To advocate is to serve as a champion of a person, people or a cause, especially when those you are championing can’t speak up very well for themselves. The word “advocate” comes from two Latin words that mean “to speak” or “call to.” In other words, to advocate means to speak about or call attention to a situation where justice is needed.

Next I heard Aubrey Thonvold from Reconciling Works speak on welcoming all, especially LQBTQIA+ people. I really resonated when Aubrey said “welcome all” means “welcome everyone,” no matter their gender identification. Whether you identify as a he, she or they, we accept you because you are part of God’s family. As Chris Tomlin sings in “Good, Good Father”: “You’re a good, good Father, that’s who you are. That’s who you are, that’s who you are. I am loved by you. That’s who I am, who I am.” When we sang that song, everyone had their arms around each other. It felt like I was finally welcomed, and I wanted to welcome others, including those in the LGBTQIA+ community.

I also learned about racial justice. During our workshop, we played Race-Stratified Monopoly. When we passed go, everyone received different amounts of starting money and paydays based on what race and gender we were assigned. I was an Asian male, so I had a higher income than a white male, for instance. However, along with other people of color, I was unable to purchase any properties I landed on. I just kept going around the board paying rent to a bunch of white people. I never made any money because I couldn’t collect rental income. This game was an effective way to learn about inequality and racism.

Some fun things we did: We played a game called “Exploding kittens” and threw Frisbees outside. We even played Frisbee inside! Another time we played “Truth or Dare.” Even though this game can be very personal, it turned out to be a good way to get to know people better.

Two especially powerful moments during the summit deepened my faith. The first was candle time, where you could walk around Camp Joy Holling and do different silent activities. My favorite was when you got to talk to an empty chair (God) and reflect on your life. I spent some of this time talking with God about my experience at the summit. The second was whenever we gathered for worship. The worship services were a great way to connect with someone if you didn’t know them already. On Sunday, the youth-led worship in a variety of roles. I wrote and read one of the prayers.

Before this experience, I wasn’t listening to Christian music all of the time, just every now and then. But because of all the opportunities that we had to sing and how we connected to the music during the summit, I’ve grown much more enthusiastic about Christian worship music. When I got home, one of the friends I made at the summit helped me find the Spotify playlist from our event. I listen to it almost all the time.

As a person with disabilities, sometimes I don’t always know where I fit in. I really appreciated how I was welcomed and included in conversations and activities at the summit. It reinforced the summit’s theme, as well as that of the 2018 The tAble: You Belonggathering. In fact, being invited to the 2018 ELCA Youth Summit reinforced in me that everyone belongs in God’s family, not just people with disabilities.

Abigail Grace

Abigail Offhaus
Abigail Offhaus is a senior at South Side High School and a member of St. John Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Ind. She loves to meet people, sing and read.