Reflection on ELCA National Youth Gathering in Detroit

“Judge him not until you walk the block in his flip flops.”

On Thursday evening we spent some time near 8 Mile, reading Mark 8:31-38 as we made stops along the way. Pictured, is a six foot high, three block long concrete wall starting at Alfonso Wells Memorial Playground. The wall was built in the '50s by the government to separate a black neighborhood from a white neighborhood. This way, the government could legally subsidize housing in the white neighborhood since it was clearly divided from the black neighborhood.

We walked through Midtown and Downtown, through 8 Mile and by the grave of Rosa Parks. We walked through abandoned neighborhoods and by literal concrete walls of institutional racism. In our week long pilgrimage we were given a quick look at the blocks that Detroiters walk every day. After it all, every night we spent over an hour reflecting and unpacking the blocks we walked through.

Friday night we listened to Steve Jerbi’s story. He told us how an unarmed black teenager in his congregation was shot by his old white neighbor while taking out the trash. The story of Darius’ death pushed down on our shoulders. At times, we felt like crying, “I can’t breathe.”

A few hours later we were sitting in our oval/circle/pentagon thing in room 300. You could smell its stench in the room: the question, “Where was God?” We felt like dumbfounded Martha after the death of Lazarus. Jesus got to the scene too late. He had stalled, waited days before walking to Bethany. You can hear the rage in Martha’s voice as she runs out to Jesus, flailing her arms at him: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

It was after 1am, now Sunday morning. The water level in our eyes was getting lower and lower. But God still made Godself known. It was Darius. That’s where God was. Walking the block in his flip flops.

-JD Mechelke

Our nightly reflection:
Be, Know, Do. How will we live differently? How will we think differently? And how have we encountered destinations in ourselves that had previously been foreign? When we push ourselves beyond the boundaries of M-F, 9-5, we become vulnerable. These experiences, if we let them, will broaden our view of the world, showing us how to better love our neighbors.

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