Houston, We Have a Gathering!

Jul 22, 2018

by Rev. Rick Admiraal, pastor of New Life Prison Community, Newton, Iowa

A massive youth gathering took place in Houston, Texas from June 27 to July 1.  Even though we're not as young as we used to be and we're not Lutheran, nevertheless my wife Rose & I still attended the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) youth gathering.  It was incredible!  Held once every 3 years, the youth gathering attracted over 30,000 teenagers from all over the United States.  We even met participants from Hungary and Mexico.  What an awesome event!  The overall theme this year was "This changes everything!"  In addition, each day had a theme.

The first day's theme was "God's CALL changes everything."  The second day's theme was "God's LOVE changes everything."  The third day's theme was "God's GRACE changes everything."  The fourth day's theme was "God's HOPE changes everything."  And on the final day, Sunday, we were reminded that "JESUS changes everything."  That theme was hammered home on the final worship service that Sunday morning when the presiding bishop read from the Gospels and stated emphatically "Jesus HAS CHANGED everything."  She's right, of course.  His work is already finished and that makes all the difference in our lives as we fix our eyes on the prize.

Why were we there?   We were there to represent Prison Congregations of America (PCA).  PCA was one of three recipients for the Sunday offering.  How much did we receive?  It remains to be seen.  But the gathering was held in a massive football stadium.  And if each person gave a buck then that would be $30,000.  Thank God for his provision as he continues to sustain PCA throughout the years by the kind contributions of generous people who are unwilling to forget the men and women in our correctional facilities.  Rose and I were also there to represent PCA in interactive learning.  Held at the NRG Center located on the South side of Houston, many different organizations were represented.  In our 30'x30' area, we had a table of information about PCA.  We were also giving out hundreds of bookmarks with an explanation of PCA on it.  But we also had a PVC jail cell with a cardboard cutout of Jesus inside. 

It was interesting to see how the young people interacted with this.  Some would come by and ask, "Why is Jesus in jail?"  I'd tell them that I did the crime but HE's doing the time.  Or we'd tell them that Jesus is in prison because he has a heart of compassion for those who are hurting.  Wherever there are homeless or hungry or prisoners, there is Jesus among them.  Or we'd tell them about Jesus' radical solidarity with the incarcerated.  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”  (Matthew 25:40, NIV)  Some of the young people were bothered by Jesus locked up behind bars.  One of them even pulled the cardboard cutout of Jesus out of the jail and set him free.  This stands in agreement with one of my Facebook Friends who wrote this hashtag comment on my page - #FreeJesus.  Many people snapped photos with Jesus and posted on Instagram - #JesusandMeinPrison.  Take a look for yourself.

We had many interactions with the youth but also with adults.  Stopping by our PCA booth was Rev. Gerry Rickel, the current pastor of the very first PCA congregation in Maryland.  Also stopping by was Rev. Emily Cardin, the former pastor of New Beginnings, a PCA congregation in Denver.  A man who worked at the NRG Center stopped by our booth and started a conversation with me.  Before you know it, he was opening up to me about his challenging past.  However, he is a believer.  Tattooed on his arm is Jeremiah 29:11, his favorite verse (and also Rose's favorite verse).  We talked about that verse for a while then prayed for each other.  I prayed for him and he prayed for me.  God is good.  We met others in the city who were blessed by the young people.

The transit train workers had many positive interactions with the young people.  And on Saturday night, Rose & I went to a downtown restaurant.  Our waitress commented that a youth group was there the night before.  They were such good kids and such a positive influence that she herself was determined to start going to church again and take her children along.  The light of our Lord and Savior was certainly shining on the city of Houston through the lives of his faithful and youthful followers.  I could go on telling many other stories but I'll stop for now.  God has indeed changed everything through His Son Jesus Christ!  Thanks be to God.

Rick Admiraal is the pastor of New Life Prison Community, a prison congregation in Newton, Iowa. Strengthened by its volunteers, New Life ministers to men in prison.  Rick & his wife Rose have one son and one daughter: John is in his first year as a graduate student of physical therapy at Central Michigan University while Annaliese will be a junior at Pella Christian High School.  Pastor Rick is one of the newest board members for Prison Congregations of America.

Category: Witness

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