Dates: July 8-14, 2022
People: Mark, Sarah, Luke, Jonah, Seth, Kathleen C, Addie C, Grace D, Gabe B, Caleb G, Dawson Y
7-8 (Travel Day)
7-9 (Houston Space Center, NYG Day 1)
7-10 (NYG Day 2)
7-11 (NYG Day 3)
7-12 (NYG Day 4)
7-13 (NYG Day 5)
7-14 (Travel Day)
FRIDAY JULY 8
Our first day sort of starts at 1pm. For the 2019 gathering we left so early that we had the boys spend the night at our house. This year with an afternoon departure we weren't having them overnight but we did decide to let them gather at church early. For 3 hours or so before departing they played volleyball in the gym. I stayed home to get things done and watch Anya and Ben with my parents before leaving. My dad dropped me off at Grace around 4pm.
It was 4:30pm when we departed Grace and Sarah had lined up several parents as well as Bryan W our congregation president to get us to the airport. We got here fine and checked in and made it through security fine. As usual we bumped into one other group also heading down. We think they were from Immanuel, Macomb.
Our flight left Detroit at 7:05p on time and we made it to Nashville at 7:40p. We had a lot of time in Nashville and explored the food options a bit. I ended up grabbing a bite from the Pyramids Cafe getting a gyro sandwich.
Flight left Nashville at 10:45pm on time and we landed in Houston at 12:45am. I spent both flights sitting with Seth and Dawson. In Houston we got our bags and Sarah found the NYG shuttle liaision to directed us down some hallways to find our big shuttle bus. Sarah has signed us up for this service ahead of time and it went smoothly. We shared the bus with a couple others and made our way out to our hotel the Marriott West Loop Galleria. It must have been 2am when we arrived and got to our rooms.
In our room was myself, Seth and Dawson. We had a guys room of Luke, Jonah, Caleb, Gabe. The ladies room had Kathleen, Addie, Sarah, Grace, and Annie (for the first and last nights).
SATURDAY JULY 9
Despite our late arrival we were able to get up and moving well this morning. Thankfully this was an easy start morning. Our first step was simply being ready by 10am for our private bus pickup at 1030am. We were sharing a bus with several other groups who all wanted to head out to the Space Center. The coordinator even worked things out for some groups to be picked up at the remote Galleria hotels and be shuttled downtown to the convention center to take care of registration, and that’s what we did.
Our 1030am pickup took us downtown and dropped off at the Marriott Marquis just next to the convention center. Sarah and I went in to take care of registration while Kathleen took the group into the large city park nearby. Registration was smooth and we picked up the usual backpacks and t-shirts as well. We also picked up wristbands that would be used for our early entry nights to Minute Maid Park on Monday and Tuesday.
After registration we met the group out in the park and really got our first taste of the 100 degree Houston heat. We got everyone’s gathering wristbands on and shared backpacks and then moved on to lunch. We knew there weren’t too many food options suitable for our group but we heard from our bus coordinator of a nearby grocery called Phoenicia which had all sorts of options. We gave this a go and it would turn out to be a home run for us several times over. They had a deli in there that would do up hot sandwiches and pizzas. There was also a little café attached but we never did try the sit down there. I had a chicken schwarma wrap at the deli with potatoes and tomatoes as well as a garlic sauce that was quite nice. We sat outside at some tables and chairs to eat. The kids immediately picked up connecting with other groups.
At 1pm we were back at the Marriot Marquis to hop our bus for the Space Center. Around this time I had been texting with cousin Ellen W. about connecting at the Space Center since she worked out there. She was on site and I told her we’d be arriving around 2pm so we worked it out to connect for a few minutes. With our bus coordinator she had also coordinated for the groups their group-sale tickets for the Space Center. I noticed ours were timed entry tickets for Saturday morning. Thankfully this wouldn’t matter. Our group gained entry into the HSC and immediately we found Ellen. She was unable to stay with us long but we chatted for 15 mins and she told us some good info and advice about things.
The main building at the HSC is like a museum with a number of sections chronically space flight. We spent about an hour touring this and then hopped on the Blue Tour which we had scheduled. We wanted to do the tour that would see the Apollo 11 Mission Control but this tour was all booked and full already. The Blue Tour though would go into the LBJ Space Center and tour a building with modules for the ISS. Ellen definitely recommended it.
The tour was on an open air tram very reminiscent of the old trams we would ride at Brookfield Zoo. So we got our fill of the hot air. It left the HSC building and moved through the boundaries into the LBJ Space Center and they toured us on the streets of the campus explaining what all the different buildings were for. Being a Saturday it looked like an eerily abandoned city with empty streets and parking lots and almost nobody in sight.
The tour of the ISS Module Building was interesting. It was a simple walk through on a hallway at catwalk level looking into a work room with mock-ups of a number of the sections of the ISS.
The tour drove us by the active mission control building an in here we were texting with Ellen again on her work in there. It was interesting to see how it was a building with no windows so as to be impervious to the Houston hurricane season. Mission control has been operating 24/7 with the ISS for over 20 years now.
After the Blue Tour we went to the decommissioned 747 which has a mock-up of a space shuttle atop. We climbed the stairs several levels to go into the shuttle to see mockups of various sections. The walk-through of the 747 was interesting as they had a number of museum-like exhibits in there talking about the design of the 747 carrier system to move shuttles back to Florida after landing in other areas of the country.
We had a few more minutes inside the HSC to tour some exhibits. I took in all the Apollo program exhibits. We waited outside a bit for our bus to arrive at 5:30pm for return to Houston downtown. We debated a few restaurant ideas for supper but finally settled on returning to the convention center. Hall E had a number of food booths to help with supper and I found the Chick-fil-A one. It was a limited menu with no fries but I enjoyed a spicy chicken (for $9 of course).
At 7pm the doors opened and we headed over to Minute Maid Park for the first night’s mass event. The walk over was full of crowded sidewalks and took some time to get there. This would easily be the worst night of sidewalks heading over. Upon entering the stadium the halls there too were almost gridlocked. It was about as bad as I’ve seen it before. Our seats were in section 110 row 12. It was up the 3rd base side a bit. Decently close to the field but we were at such an angle we could only see the band stage and not the main stage. We followed most of the evening on the main ballpark screen out above center field.
The emcees for the gathering were Rev. Zach Zehnder (Assoc. Pastor at King of Kings Omaha) and Noemi Guerra a deaconess serving LHM in the Houston area. They both did a pretty nice job overall through the gathering.
One of the key speakers at this night's mass event was Texas District president Rev. Michael Newman. Main theme was about Your Story Unfolding within God's story of all things.
For the mass event we sat in section 110, row 2 on the 3rd base side.
SUNDAY JULY 10
Sunday has a fairly easy start. We didn't specifically have to be anywhere til our noon Bible Study. But we also didn't want to waste the morning. The gathering shuttles started leaving our hotel at 9am and so we hopped on downstairs about 845am to get on the first shuttle. When the exhibit hall at the convention center opened at 10am we did a walk through there. We toured the various booths for the Concordias and our group also spent good time doing the "scavenger hunt" through the District booths.
At noon we went across the street to the Marriott Marquis for Bible Study. Our leaders were Rev. Chad Janetzke and Deac. Sylvia Witt. They did a pretty good job all week engaging everyone. Must be tough leading Bible study in a ballroom with 4000 people in it. Things were pretty crowded getting out of there and down the escalators back to the convention hall.
For lunch we hit the Phoenicia again. I tried the BBQ Chicken Pizza this time and it was pretty good. For an afternoon session I took Luke at 3pm to a session entitled "How to Survive and Thrive as a Lutheran Christian in the Military" with Chaplain Craig Muehler. He is the LCMS chaplain liaison between the US Military and LCMS chaplains. It was a good talk. He also worked with David when he was doing colloquy into the LCMS so I went up before hand and introduced myself to him.
At 4pm the group was back at the Marquis ballroom for "Zak Mirz Illusionist". He did a number of interesting tricks and talked a bit at the end about being a Christian. He was entertaining.
We had our Michigan District event in Hall A at 5:30pm. We were joined by two other districts, I think it was Oklahoma and the Southeastern District. We had four food options which we had picked a couple months ahead of time. I tried the Tex Mex fajitas with chips + salsa. The lines were long when we arrived so we went and did some games while we waited. We hung out in there til close to 730p when it was time to walk over to the mass event.
With the assigned seating for the mass events this year it seemed very confusing at first and we had our worries. They were talking about needing an MLB account and using the MLB ballpark app but it turned out that wasn't necessary. I believe that was only a tool to be used to find your seats. We were fortunate nobody ever sat in our assigned seats and they were always in decent locations. The planners also did a nice job of moving everybody each night so nobody would be stuck in bad seats.
Tonight's mass event featured a great talk from emcee Zach Zehnder. He had a great theme of "Middle Words and Final Words". There was a focus on not letting middle words get you down when we know Jesus' "final words". And we know the end of the story. It was a great focus on the resurrection, the heavenly banquet and the new creation.
MONDAY JULY 11
Another morning of hitting the 9am shuttle to get downtown, and then waiting around the convention center until 10am when things would open up. Today we took the majority of the group to the 1030am session with Bill Yonker entitled "Called to be a Masterpiece But Sometimes I Look Like a Disaster-Piece". This is the talk where he told the story of the newlywed couple with the gentleman getting locked out of his hotel room naked. It was mostly a typical Yonker talk with good stories and then his empassioned finish talking out our value in Christ.
After this the rest of the group started to head to Bible Study planning on lunch after, I was hungry now so I decided on a quick walk over to the Houston Center mall to test the Chick-fil-A in the food court. This worked great especially when I did app order to skip the line and get food fairly quickly. I ate my food walking back to the Marriott Marquis for day 2 of Bible Study with Chad and Sylvia. Today they talked about God Reigns.
We spent a bulk of the afternoon today in the rec center with the group having a great time playing Bible Study. We ended up in there til it closed at 6pm. For supper tonight we had early entry passes into Minute Maid Park where we could eat the park concessions. So we headed in and found our seats. We were up high in Section 423, rows 1 and 2. It was noticeably warmer in the upper decks. We hit the chicken tender concession stand for chicken and fries and drink.
The mass event tonight was another good one with a theme of "Changing the Story". They did an example of a drama group doing Romeo + Juliet but then the actors argued over different variations of the story. they talked about how we can't improve on God's story, how we like to edit the Word, how we add our opinions to the Word and make improvements to God's story. Who are we to think we can write a better story of all things. Who are we to think we can control how the story will go. Sin, thinking we know better than God.
After the mass event was the only night of Mass Event Plus with For King and Country in concert. While I wasn't personally in the mood for the concert as we were hot and tired, they really did put on a good concert.
TUESDAY JULY 12
Last morning today of hitting the 9am shuttle to the convention center. Today we had a shakeup in plans upon arrival. Due to different sessions the group wanted to attend some of us hit Bible Study at 10am while the rest went to our normal one at 12pm. I took several guys to the 10am in the Grand Assembly room with Gabe Kasper and Blythe Barreto leading it. They did a fine job.
After Bible Study I took Jonah down to the exhibit hall to hit the districts area. Jonah had won a $50 gift card from a drawing and we had to pick it up from Scott Guenther, the district event coordinator. Turns out he used to teach at Detroit Luther East and knew Uncle Ken when he was at Luther North.
We did one more lunch at Phoenica today I did the cheese pizza with some fruit on the side. In the afternoon I took Luke at 2pm to another Bill Yonker talk just for guys, this one entitled "Forged in the Fire: Having a Faith of Iron and a Heart of Gold: Finding Strength for our Relationships". This one also had a naked story in it talking about a young couple on their way to ski and pulled the car over in a whiteout. The young lady had to hit the bathroom and so did so behind the car but leaned her naked back end against the car and got stuck. The main topic of his session about the importance of relationships was pretty good.
At 3pm we did some more volleyball for an hour. At 4pm I went to the session with astronaut Jeffrey Williams titled "The Work of His Hands" It was interesting to see pics and stories he shared and to talk about creation and being a Christian in the middle of NASA and science.
For supper we had another early entry to Minute Maid Park and I did another Chick-fil-A sandwich. $9 for it. We were sitting in section 313 rows 1 and 2 today. Aside from it being fairly warm up there again, we had decent views of the stages.
Tonight's talks were again very good. They included talking about the Mountain Top Experience of the gathering. A camero video and personal appearance by Carl. A skit introducing the orange cone guy. A skit about HASA - Heaven's Angelic Supervision Assembly. Picture Inside Out watching over a baptism. Thomas Clark did a mural painting. Noemi Guerra gave a nice talk about being broken but yet still warriors, sinners and saints and talked about kintsugi and the idea of taking broken pottery yet lacing it with gold and making it beautiful and valuable.
WEDNESDAY JULY 13
Our room was up and going by 730am this morning. We had been told the shuttles from the Galleria hotels were starting at 7am but this seemed way too early to be heading to downtown. We decided to target 8am to be downstairs. We were actually closer to 810am but much to our delight we went outside and a bus was ready and waiting. We boarded. They waited for a few minutes and one other group came out and they left with us to head to downtown.
At Minute Maid Park they dropped us off by the left field entrance. We joined the line which was substantial already. At 9am they opened the doors and things moved in pretty quickly. For the closing worship today they were not doing assigned seating and so today was more like gatherings from previous years where it is a free-for-all. I decided it would work better for me to take Luke and the two of us move ahead to get seats as a group of 11 would just move slow. We headed towards the lower bowl and targeted seats somewhere behind homeplate. At first we were more on the 3rd base side but found the speaker towers on the infield would block the big screen so we moved. We ended up more towards the first base side and found a perfect row of 11 for us to grab. The rest of the group joined us after while.
About 930 or so the house band came out and started leading songs. This went til about 956 when Dr. Richard Fischer of CUC led the NYG wind symphony in an opening piece. Worship was a nice traditional service with the wind symphony and choir participating in a number of hymns and leading them. President Harrison preached and led in with a nice example of doubting Thomas becoming the great evangelist martyr to India. And talked of the martyrs and their witness to the resurrection. This led into a basic law/gospel sermon tying in to the In All Things theme.
Communion went smoothly and was nice as always to commune with such a large gathering. The house band helped assist on a couple of communion hymns to let the wind symphony commune. They sang in a more subdued style for these hymns. Worship went til about 1145. They then did the typical gathering into and the In All Things songs. The emcees talked a few moments and announced New Orleans as the 2025 host and we ended with a blessing. It all wrapped up by noon or so. As the service neared its end Annie Schafer found us and then grabbed Sarah to help her go get her luggage from outside. Many groups were storing luggage just outside the stadium to allow them to leave from there.
When things ended our group started our way out to the shuttle stops with Sarah and Annie meeting us there. The boarding was quite quick and smooth today. It appeared fewer people were heading out to the Galleria and many probably had already checked out. Our shuttle got us back to the Marriot around 1pm. Our driver had a little driver figuring out how to park around the hotel and we ended up going around 2 blocks before she figured it out.
At the hotel we decided to head to the Galleria for lunch and afternoon entertainment. We took 15 minutes in our rooms and then headed downstairs to start the walk. It was just under a mile walk. It was about 98 degrees out and so it was quite hot. It was a bit rough on Sarah who has a bum knee and was under the weather.
At the Galleria we went to the lower level food court and split up for food. I ate at Wok-a-holic which was basic a Panda Express. Their ingredients were very tasty. After lunch we checked out the LEGO store upstairs and I saw the $800 massive AT-AT for the first time in person. Also saw the LEGO Optimus Prime for the first time. Both very impressive.
All the kids eventually went ice skating and I know this was Seth's first time. They seemed to all enjoy it. It was $15/person plus $5 for skates. They seemed to skate for at least an hour. After skating we seemed to spend another hour just exploring the mall and found it to be quite large. I had Dawson and Seth walking with me. Along the way we got stopped by a man at one of the booths who asked if we were with the church group. Yes. He drew us in talking about dead sea salts. Next thing we knew he had put salt in each of our hands and we were rubbing it around with him telling us of its exfoliating properties. We washed that out. Then he gave us some lotion for our hands and then he had me sit putting some lotion on my face. He really poured the sales on hard putting several jars in my hand asking which was my favorite and offering me deals. I finally told him no, there was zero interest for me and we thanked him. I headed straight for the bathrooms to wash that greasy lotion off me. Ick.
We left the mall around 6pm. Sarah found out she could get an Uber for just $8 and so decided on that taking Grace and Jonah with her. The rest walked. As we crossed the main road we bumped into a nice traffic officer and on the other side there was a man in a wheelchair. He asked if we could help him cross the road. It seemed an easy request and I couldn't say no so I said I would help him. It got very complicated from there. He was a talked and at times confusing. He seemed smart and yet a bit disconnected. He would edge his wheelchair near the road almost into traffic and I would gently urge him to move back. It was a very wide road crossing by the Galleria and would take some time for him to inch his wheelchair across. When I finally got him started thankfully the traffic officer saw my plight and he came to the middle to help. When this man realized it was a police officer helping he got upset and partly so at me. He said he trusted me but not the officer. He clearly had some baggage to him with officers and skin colors and such. The officer and I got him across where he wanted to be. Then another homeless woman walked over and offered him water. He got kinda upset with her. He had this deal that he had been out there 2+ hours and no one helped him til now. All in all he got very mad at everyone and the officer and I eventually had to bail on him and walk away. I talked to the officer a bit as we re-crossed the road away from the Galleria. He was real nice.
Our group walked back to the hotel finally with me updating Kathleen on everything that had happened. They were sorta watching from afar waiting for me as it all transpired. Back at the hotel Sarah and Kathleen worked out ordering pizza. While we waited for that we did family time in the ladies room.
After pizza and family time we took the group downstairs swimming for about an hour and a half til the pool closed at 10pm. Another youth group came down halfway through and they all bonded and worked together.
THURSDAY JULY 14
Our final day with a very early start. Up at 3:45am we had a pickup with a shuttle bus contracted by the gathering at 4:30am. The bus arrived around 4:20am and we were ready to go. There was one other youth group on the bus. As we left the hotel we were taking the northerly route towards downtown. Then I noticed we made another turn north which would have us going to ICH (Bush Intercontinental airport). Sarah asked the other group if they were using this airport and indeed they were. We then asked the driver and the driver commented she was only going to ICH today. Seems to have been a slight misunderstanding between the Gathering and the shuttle company. Sarah had even verified our reservation the night before.
Thankfully, after dropping the other group at ICH our driver didn't put up a fuss about driving us all the way down to Houston Hobby even at 30 minutes away. It was ultimately good to be picked up 3 hours early as it was 5:52am when we finally got to the airport, about 1:45 before flight time.
We made it through check-in and security without trouble and headed for our gate. Our flight left on time and I think I slept the first 45 minutes of the flight. We made it into St. Louis a few minutes early.
In STL we walked around E concourse a bunch checking out the food ideas. I was so tired of junk food I simply couldn't decide on anything that sounded good. Ironically I settled on some chocolate almonds at the candy store as something to hold me over til we returned to Monroe.
While boarding we were part of a neat story. Mom with 2 girls couldn't find any seats together. So flight attendant asked one single man if he could move to get the two girls together. We then saw the mom move up the plane to find a seat and the younger girl was upset, so Sarah gave up her seat across the aisle for the mom. Then another single gentleman, window seat, gave up his seat for the mom and we got all 3 together.
Flight for Detroit pushed back about 15 minutes late as they were behind in loading up the baggage. We made up most of that time only coming in 5 minutes late. The same drivers who had dropped us off on day 1 came and took us home. We made it back to Grace around 3pm wrapping up a wonderful NYG Houston trip.