Youths learn important lessons on church trip to Germany

This summer, the youth group from St. John’s Lutheran Church visited Germany, France and Switzerland on what youth director Catherine Ritch dubbed, “The St. John’s Reformation Tour.”

Every year, she takes the church youth group a mission trip, and this summer they were due to participate in the triennial national youth gathering of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. But, as Ritch considered the cost of taking her kids to Detroit for three or four days, she realized that for a little bit more money she could take them to Germany – the land of their spiritual roots – for 12 days. With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation coming in two years, Ritch thought, these kids need to go there.

St. John’s is steeped in history, and many of its members can trace their ancestry back to Germany. Ritch said her goal was not for the youth to “go and see all the cool stuff,” but to try to understand what life was like for their German ancestors, why they came to America, what they believed, and how their faith was born.

Their education began before they left the country. Ritch gave them foreign-language CDs so they could learn the basics of German; when they complained about the inconveniences of modern air travel, she reminded them what their ancestors had to endure to get to America. The whining, she said, stopped quickly and, “They rose to the occasion.”

“I can’t imagine being on a ship for months,” said Lawson Honeycutt, 17, who went on the St. John’s tour. “That speaks volumes to (his ancestors) devotion to religion.”

Lawson, who can trace his family’s ancestry in this area for generations, said he was thrilled to be a part of the tour. Learning about the Reformation, he said, and seeing where it all happened made him appreciate what his faith is all about.

“You can read about it but you don’t understand the immensity until you see it. I didn’t realize how important Luther was, or how dangerous what he did was,” Honeycutt said. “He risked his life for what he believed in.”

“Shocking,” said Lauren Lentz, 13, about seeing the places where Luther lived and worked. “You imagine what it would look like, but it was totally different.”

Her sister, Jessica, 15, added that even stepping on a wood floor and hearing it creak was a constant reminder of the people who had been in those places centuries ago.

Seeing the buildings where their ancestors worshiped, the streets they walked, and how they lived helps you connect, Lawson Honeycutt said.

Ritch said her goal was to give her youth group a new perspective on their ancestors, and she succeeded. “I watched these young people grow in understanding of where we came from. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!”

Marcia Morris is a freelance writer: