Philip area youth attend Youth Gathering in San Antonio, Texas

Three years of fundraising bore fruit on July 12-17 when 39 area youth and leaders flew to San Antonio, TX, for a nationwide gathering of church young people.

Thirty-nine area people were registered for the 25,000 person sold-out event, the 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Youth Gathering.

Mike Albrecht, Becky Brech, Cynthia Finn, Mike Seager, Pastor Mark Ford and Nicole Nelson chaperoned the 27 young people from the Philip youth group, two from the Concordia Lutheran Church in Kadoka, and four from the Midland Lutheran Church.

The thousands met together in the Alamo Dome every morning and evening to listen to guest inspirational speakers.

A similar conference was held three years ago in Atlanta, GA, and the number of Philip area youth was "phenomenal." San Antonio was Albrecht's fourth such trip. "Places like Chicago have six representatives. Our group had 39. Not only are our numbers impressive, but how our small towns support their youth and the number of youth interested in these kind of activities."

While there, and per request, the local group met with a group of six youth from Chicago in order to exchange rural/urban lifestyles. The two groups met at the Tower of Amercia (similiar to Seattle's Needle). "They knew more about country people and living than many other big-city kids," said C. Finn. "Small town kids tend to know more about travel to big cities. Big city people seem to travel as much, but not to small towns."

Though the hotel and Alamo Dome were only a mile apart, Philip area youth learned to hail a taxi like big city residents.

Skye Bruchlacher spoke with some New Yorkers who had to be told that "cattle" are a bunch of cows. They wondered if cows are put in barns all winter long. "It really blew everyone's minds at how hot it was in South Dakota." Bruchlacher did note, "There were a lot of people in San Antonio. You had to stand in line for everything, and there were lines everywhere. The humidity made it almost pointless to take a shower because you went outside and sweat. I did enjoy it while I was there. Seeing how many kids from all over would go to the same place to experience the Word of God was great," said Bruchlacher.

Heather Finn had a comparison perpective since she also attended the Youth Gathering in Atlanta three years ago. She said they were really two different gatherings, with not so many concerts in Atlanta, but both were a good experience to see that many like-minded kids. Both were great learning experiences. "To worship with 25,000 other kids is amazing," said H. Finn.

The San Antonio Youth Gathering presented four live concerts per day - rap, rock, and a wide spectrum. A favorite of the majority of youth was The Katinas, a Christian band made up of five brothers who grew up on the island of Samoa and later moved to Washington state.

"Ken Medema witnessed to us Friday night," said H. Finn. "He is a blind musician who creates inspirational songs - sometimes on the spot. A highlight was when he sang a very moving song and the cell phone lights were raised in praise. (It is amazing how different times are - three years ago in Atlanta, it would have been flashlights and before that was cigarette lighters.) It was the neatest thing to witness. Even though Ken cannot see, I am sure he felt the Spirit of Christ flow through that arena."

At the Gathering, Reverend Stephen Bond zoomed onto the stage via a zip line in imitation of his "Bond" namesake. He led the Philip-area bible study each morning. The South Dakota youth (and Mike Seager) played in a nearby water fountain. Some of the local youths competed in who could get the most signatures of other attendees on their t-shirts.

As part of the Learning Communities and Interaction Center, they attended the Festival of Excellence Dance recital and the Festival of Exellence Jazz Band concert. Heather Finn was honored to be part of the Jazz Band.

San Antonio closed the streets for two square blocks for the young people to participate in the Fiesta de la Vida! Wearing their pink shirts, the individual members could find their group in the crowd. The youth met at the park to watch the fireworks.

"Every day at 4:24 p.m. everyone stopped to pray, based on Acts 4:24. It was amazing to hear the sudden quiet in the convention center as everyone stopped to pray. Again at 11:45 everyone met with their group to pray and review the lesson and scripture for the day. It was a good time to sit and reflect on the day and the people who ministered to us," said C. Finn.

A public informational meeting and thank you by the youth group will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 13, at the United Church in Philip. The youth will share their experiences.