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Article: Our Pilgrimage to Houston

Our Pilgrimage to Houston by Pr. Ben Bergren

Marianne Nadell, 8 high school youth and myself are back from the National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. We gathered with Lutherans (ELCA) from around the United States and explored the theme, “This Changes Everything.” Every day we looked at a different aspect of that theme as pictured below.

We spent time with others from our very own Sierra Pacific Synod as well as with 30,000 other Lutherans every night for a mass gathering. We also served the community by cleaning up around a low income apartment complex and we discovered what it means to be Lutheran in the interactive center that was set up by various ministries, organizations and colleges affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Marianne Nadell deserves a big thank you for leading this trip! When you see her, tell her thank you! I was there to support her.

Many of you (including the Bergren family) gave to help these students go to this event at a subsidized price. Thank you. I want to share with you what some of our students said about this life changing event…

 Mary Shkouratoff

The ELCA National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas was such an amazing experience and I am so glad I was able to go. Thank you so much to everybody who donated and supported our group in different ways. At the gathering I had the opportunity to come together with over 30,000 other youth where I learned about God’s love and how it changes everything. I also heard individuals stories of how God’s love changed their lives. I was so blessed to have this experience and am great full for all the work others put in to make my experience so amazing.

Jake Podraza

The National Youth Gathering was amazing because it opened my eyes to many of the different ways God gives us his love. God is talking to you, not your ideal self, so stop trying to be something that you will never be and just be yourself. My favorite quote from the entire event would have to be “There’s Grace for that,” because it tells us that no matter who we are or what we do God still loves us and forgives us. The Gathering was an eye opening experience for me and has showed me the many ways that God and the Lutheran Church are helping others, whether it is helping clean up a city or teaching students. But my main takeaway from the Gathering is to be selfless and help others even if you don’t know the answer.

Andrew Laughlin

My favorite part of the Lutheran youth gathering in Houston was the amazing music played during the mass gatherings. Some songs delivered great messages and others were just fun to listen to. One artist that sang was Tauren Wells who wrote some songs that we performed for Common Ground which was very cool. Thank you everyone for making it possible for me to have such a great experience.

Kobe Fujimoto

Thank you so much bethel for helping send me on this amazing trip. It was so illuminating to see 30000 of my siblings in Christ. The nightly chapels were bigger than anything I’ve ever seen before. My favorite part of the trip was definitely the day of service. We went to an area that was affected by the Hurricane Harvey and picked up trash along the side of three roads. By the time we had finished we had a small mountain of trash. Thank you guys so much 😁.

Frank Podraza

The national youth gathering was amazing because everybody was there to have a good time. Every time you turned a corner you would run into somebody you’d previously met, or meet somebody new with a warm welcome. This wonderful attitude also led to increased energy in everything we did. At the end of every day there was a Mass Gathering, but it was more of a concert. Everyone was dancing and singing, no matter where you looked.

Lindsey Laughlin

The National Youth Gathering was amazing because not only did it give me an opportunity to grow in my own faith but also because I was able to grow my faith with 30,000 of my closest new friends. It was an awesome experience to meet new people and learn about their lives every day. I also enjoyed hearing about the speakers’ lives through their words and stories. I particularly loved hearing Pastor Nadia speak—her words were not only inspiring but also thought provoking. All in all it was an unforgettable trip, thank you so much to the Bethel Congregation for their support!

Sermon: David: The Unlikely Ally

We continue on in the series about King David’s early years. Today we hear that as David’s troubles worsened, the king’s son Jonathon stood by his side. We were created for friendship. Who is your closest friend?

Sermon: David: The Unlikely Rival

After defeating Goliath David became the unlikely hero. However, after his victory, someone became envious and David found he had an unlikely rival.

Video- Story: The Other Animal in the Stable

This is the story that I wrote for our children at Bethel Lutheran Church for the Christmas Eve family worship service. This is a live reading so it is a little rough! Enjoy! Merry Christmas!

Video: Make Friends

“Make Friends” is an initiative of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, an

interfaith organization with offices in Israel and the United States. In

a press release, organizers said the project’s mission is to counter

the idea that people view each others’ religions with distrust or

disdain ― and to potentially even reduce violence conducted in the

name of religion.

Sermon: The Joy of Bethel: Christ Centered Community

OK, you shouldn’t have this much fun in church, but we did! What does it mean to be in community with Jesus and each other? We answer that question AND another TV show theme song. We end with our closing song (included) that is a classic!

Article: Unconditional Love


Prisoner #16670

Unconditional love is uncommon. Sure it is easy to love those who love you. I can even see loving those who are nice to you. It is very different to love a stranger or even an enemy.

We all know the words of Jesus that relate to this very concept: If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Matthew 5:46-47

It is far easier to put your head down and mind your own business or even to work at not hating those who give us a hard time. Yet Jesus doesn’t say, “Just don’t hate people.” The call isn’t to some middle ground like the 38th parallel that separates North and South Korea and is referred to as the demilitarized zone (DMZ). No, there is call to a love that is active not just in words but in our actions too.

I can’t help but think of prisoner #16670 of Auschwitz Poland. He was arrested and imprisoned for printing anti-government pamphlets as well as hiding and protecting Polish citizens of Jewish descent.

Five months into his incarceration several inmates escaped. In retaliation, the deputy camp commander randomly chose ten men to die as an example to others who might be contemplating escape. When prisoner #5659 was selected, he cried out that he had a wife and children. In that very moment, prisoner#16670 volunteered to take this man’s place.

Prisoner #16670 was Father Maximilian Kolbe. He survived fourteen days of starvation and no water. He was promptly given a lethal injection after surviving what should have killed him.

Later Father Kolbe was canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Prisoner #5659 survived four more years in the concentration camp before he was liberated. His name was Franciszek Gajowniczek. He was reunited with his wife Helena and he lived until 1995.

Father Kolbe actively loved Franciszek by offering his life in place of his. In 1994, Gajowniczek visited the St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church of Houston, Texas where he told his translator Chaplain Thaddeus Horbowy that “so long as he … has breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe.”

The truth is most of us, if not all of us will never be in a position to make a choice like that. However, the example of selfless living, loving and dying is a reminder that loving all others is not as difficult as what prisoner #16670 did for prisoner #5659. Come to think of it, the Roman prisoner named Jesus did the same thing… but for humanity. Loving others seems easy in comparison. We all need a little perspective once in awhile, including myself.

God bless,
Pr. Ben