More than 2,200 teens and youth leaders traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., for the 2022 WELS International Youth Rally June 28–July 1 at the University of Tennessee.
The theme for the rally was “Here and Now,” inspired by Esther 4:14. Rev. Aaron Robinson, English professor and cultural diversity coordinator at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., and Rev. Jon Bare, who recently accepted a call to be president of Asia Lutheran Seminary, presented the two keynote addresses, which highlighted “Why not us?” and “Why not now?” Additional workshops addressed the challenges young Christians face in today’s world.
Worship was a highlight of the rally, with full opening and closing services and daily devotions. “There are no words to describe the feeling you get listening to over two thousand teens sing their praises to Jesus,” says Anna Gilgenbach, who served as a rally youth leader for the teens at St. Peter, Fond du Lac, Wis., a group that included her daughter, Natalie. “I attended the WELS International Youth Rally when I was younger, and I wanted Natalie to experience this as well,” she says.
The sheer number of people at the rally taught the teens an important lesson—that they are not alone. “It’s very encouraging to see so many other people who believe in Jesus and are part of your synod all together and just celebrating the love of Christ,” says Lydia Smith, teen rally attendee.
“It was a perfect experience to learn about God and create really great memories with your friends,” says Jordan Shepler, who came with the teen group from Holy Word, Austin, Texas.
Teens also appreciated the opportunity to serve. WELS Christian Aid and Relief offered a way for teens to get involved right at the rally by putting together care packages for kids in need, first responders, and the homebound. “I’m amazed at the response from our youth. Don’t sell the next generation short of what it can do now,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship. “We need to tap into the teens’ energy and faith and give them greater permission to act upon the faith that God has given them.”
He continues, “There is real concern about the increasing disinterest in church among youth, but then all of a sudden you get this light-bulb moment where God gives you hope. How can you look at an arena filled with 14- to 17-year-olds and not be hopeful? When God says my Word will endure and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, he’s talking about teens and the faith that he already has instilled in the hearts and minds of the next generation.”
WELS Discipleship plans to take more than half a dozen of the rally’s workshops and turn them into resources youth leaders can use at the local congregational level. Sign up to receive updates.
The next WELS International Youth Rally—the 50th—will be held in 2024 at Colorado State University.