Nicole Kiefer will be a sophomore this fall at Luther College.  She is a Northeastern Iowa Synod WIYLDE Alumna and Synod Lutheran Youth Network leader. In this guest post she shares her experience as a volunteer at the ELCA Youth Gathering, held July June 27-July 1 in Houston.

This fall I will begin my sophomore year at Luther College changed by my volunteer experience at the gathering.


Inspired by my experience in Detroit as a youth, I jumped at the idea of volunteering in Houston.

After applying, I found out that I got a position as a servant companion.  A servant companion accompanies congregational groups as they serve people during their service learning day. In the coming months, I kept in contact with people to prepare for the gathering.

A couple days before the gathering began, I flew down to Houston for training.

It was my first time flying.



Training was filled with a lot of information, but I felt equipped with the knowledge to be a servant companion.


During training, I met lots of volunteers, including my team. My team consisted of twenty servant companions including my servant companion captain. My team members were from all over the country with all sorts of different backgrounds. I enjoyed getting to know them as the week went on. We had meetings and attended mass gathering together.

Each night I received information about my congregations and service site project. I sent reminder texts and got up bright and early to greet congregations at their launch site. The service project was unknown to the congregations until they got on the bus. This proved to be the hardest part for me and I got really excited in these situations.

After getting on the bus, I would introduce myself and reveal what the service project was.


This was one of my favorite parts because this was where the congregations got excited. For three days I continued the same routine, going to a different service site every time.

The first day my group went to an elementary school. The participants moved furniture, disinfected walls, worked outside, fixed computers, and cleaned out a storage room. There was also children selling lemonade as part of their summer school program, so the participants got the opportunity to cool off and buy lemonade from them. The second day my group went to a park and put mulch around trees. When we arrived there was a table full of snacks and candy for all the participants. The park did not have much funding and all the mulch was donated through private funds. The last day my group went to a Methodist church. This church was given to the founders as a gift. The participants helped paint and landscape. There was about a dozen people on site to lead the group in their project. The ladies even provided ice cream treats and sweet tea during lunch.

As a servant companion it was great to see all these congregations come together and work so hard.


. Our church should be proud of all that was completed in just a short amount of time even in the heat. I appreciated all the energy and positive attitudes that the congregations had. The city of Houston and its people never ceased to amaze me on each service site. They opened their arms and treated everyone like celebrities.

I saw God through everyone I met and that changed everything.

I believe that the gathering experience allows youth to grow in their faith and confidence to be leaders back home. That changes everything about the church and world. I cannot thank the ELCA enough for allowing young adults like myself to volunteer.  This trip changed everything. I got to step out of my comfort zone, grow in my leaderships skills, and share my own faith story. It reaffirmed my love for ministry and the church.  I encourage all young adults to volunteer.

It is an amazing experience.


I look forward to volunteering in the future.

Thank You Houston!

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.




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