Changing the world

Stories
01/01/2011

Changing the world
Since the 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering,
Greg Von Wald has traveled to economically
depressed areas to continue volunteer work.


Greg Von Wald decided that he would try to change the world after attending the 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering. And with the support of more than 35,000 of his peers there Greg became inspired, enough to believe that reducing global warming and ending extreme poverty could be possible.

When Greg returned home his ambition, however, faded. Changing the world, after all, can seem a bit overwhelming.

But something about the Gathering stuck with Greg. It was a quote he heard there, along with doing service work and wrestling with questions of faith that has now changed the trajectory of his young life. Greg decided that for the change he wishes to see in the world, he needs to be that change.

"Gandhi's famous quote, 'be the change you wish to see in the world,' is a call to action," says Greg, who, since the gathering, has traveled to economically depressed areas to continue volunteer work. Most of these volunteer projects are organized by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Gaithersburg, Md., where Greg is a member.

Now in college, Greg is majoring in integrated science and technology "to develop and refine new methods of renewable energy. Everyone knows that global warming is a problem."

His volunteer work has also made Greg realize that "being the change I wish to see should not end with each service trip" or event, he says. "Rather, it should be a living idea that grows with me and is in my mind every single day."

Greg was invited to speak at the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering, which returned to New Orleans. And in front of 35,000 teenagers and adults, Greg talked about how the 2009 Gathering had moved him, what he's learned and experienced since, hoping to have inspired others to also change the world.

The ELCA has a 25-year history of commitment to adolescent faith formation, according to Heidi Hagstrom, director of the Gatherings, which are the largest events organized by ELCA churchwide ministries.

"This generation in particular is a product of the ELCA's deepening understanding of and commitment to the connection between service learning and faith formation," says Heidi, who has always understood the Gatherings "to be a tool that congregations can choose to use as they fulfill the promises made when baptizing children and that they, along with parents, will rear those children in the faith."

"I want young people to return to their congregations as leaders," says Heidi, "demonstrating what they've learned and possibly igniting the whole congregations' imagination (for mission)."

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