Local youth gain life-changing experiences at Houston gathering

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 (l to r) Caitlyn Gogan, Zach Gogan, Abby Maston, Sam Maston, Samantha Gogan, Matt Haley, Deb Gogan and Pastor Joe Graumann at the airport before embarking on their trip to Houston. Photo/submitted
(l to r) Caitlyn Gogan, Zach Gogan, Abby Maston, Sam Maston, Samantha Gogan, Matt Haley, Deb Gogan and Pastor Joe Graumann at the airport before embarking on their trip to Houston.
Photo/submitted

Marlborough – While many cite fun activities and good memories, the youth of Saint Stephen Lutheran Church in Marlborough added “life-changing experiences” to their summer vacation.

The 2018 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Youth Gathering in Houston earlier this summer made a big impact. Teens Caitlyn Gogan, Samantha Gogan, Zach Gogan, Matt Haley, Abby Maston and Sam Maston were accompanied by Deb Gogan and Sarah Maston of Hudson and Saint Stephen Pastor Joseph Graumann of Marlborough. With 30,000 young people and leaders assembled in one place, speakers who inspired, community service that encouraged further action, and connections made with individuals and groups, there was ample opportunity to make memories.

What surprised Sam Maston “was the sheer numbers. Thirty thousand people is very hard to visualize and imagine, and not until the first night with everyone gathered in the stadium did I know what 30,000 people looked like.”

Small numbers mattered, too, Samantha Gogan remarked.

“I was impressed by the seemingly small connections that we made in the stadium and in the gathering in general, like flashing our lights across and doing patterns during the mass gathering, high-fiving everyone, and trading bracelets,” she said.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that much joy and kindness in one space before,” Sam added.

Both Sam and Samantha agreed that speakers offered powerful stories and insights. Theologian and author Nadia Bolz-Weber “talked about how God’s grace really is for everyone,” Sam noted. The Rev. Will Starkweather told his story, of “darkness and self-harm,” and how with faith he came to realize, “there’s grace for everything, because God’s grace is never-ending.”

Samantha spent her community service day learning about human trafficking.

“It is important that people are made aware of it,” she said, adding that she wants to share her new awareness locally. “I want to bring the Red Sand Project to the church or the school. You put red sand into the cracks of sidewalks to represent the people and cases who fall through the cracks and don’t get the help they need. The project helped me to understand human trafficking and what we can do to help stop it.”

A takeaway for Sam was a realization that “God really changes everything. This was exemplified through all the stories I heard during that week, and am only beginning to truly grasp.”