Ten years ago, I was 15 and attending my first Higher Things conference as a junior in high school. I was nervous and excited to be at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, the host of that particular year's conference. I had never been away from home for longer than a few days and here I was, ready to sleep in a dorm room and eat cafeteria food. I had no idea of the impact that week would have on my future.
Three years after that experience, I was 18 and standing in front of the Wartburg residence hall at Concordia University Wisconsin, unsure if the butterflies in my stomach were caused by nerves, fear, or too much Kopp’s ice cream. I was a freshman in college, ready to establish a name for myself in the real world. I was excited to make new friends, experience community bathrooms and not have to make my bed if I didn’t want to.
These two situations were similar, not only in the excitement and fear of the unknown, but in how God used each experience to deepen my faith and cause me to grow in my understanding of His Word. As Higher Things kicks off its fourth of five conferences nationwide this summer, I can’t help but reflect on the similar impact attending both Higher Things conferences and Concordia University Wisconsin has had on my life. I serve as the Entertainment Coordinator for the Higher Things youth organization. This means I’m in charge of the fun activities that students participate in at night. This week we have a wide variety of events going on such as an escape room, a virtual reality roller coaster simulator, an outdoor movie and a petting zoo. Higher Things is an organization for youth and young adults that provides assistance and resources to help cultivate their Lutheran identity. Each year, Higher Things hosts conferences for high school aged youth at campuses across the country. At these conferences, young adults are immersed in worship, liturgy, learning and fellowship with other Lutherans. This is an amazing opportunity for high schoolers to meet other Lutherans who believe the same things they do. It is a place where students learn more about the gifts given to them in the Divine Service and the Sacraments by listening to presenters speak on a wide range of topics including dating, creation, suffering, and heaven.
During that very first Higher Things conference—after realizing that just because you CAN eat five servings of ice cream at dinner doesn’t mean you SHOULD—what really amazed me was the comfort of the Gospel that was spoken in each sermon and by every presenter and plenary speaker. In a stage of life where it is easy to feel isolated and forgotten, being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded kids my age who shared my same beliefs in the Bible made me realize I was not alone. I met people from different states who are still friends of mine to this day. My experiences attending Higher Things conferences as a high schooler made me realize that in college, I wanted to be among people who shared those same Biblical values. This led me to attend Concordia Wisconsin to receive my elementary education degree in 2015. Now, as a 3rd and 4th grade teacher, the same Gospel message I learned and took comfort in during my time attending Higher Things conferences and CUW, is the same message I teach the students in my own classroom.
I loved my time at Concordia, especially the friendships that were formed and the knowledge I gained. Concordia equipped me to “dare to be Lutheran” by providing many opportunities for my faith to grow. Not only did this happen in theology classes such as New Testament and Lutheran Confessions, but also as a result of being surrounded by a community of fellow believers. My professors were knowledgeable about the Scriptures, and had a desire to help me learn and grow in my faith. They often began class with prayer and would share Bible passages with me during difficult times. I fell in love with LSB 941, “We Praise You and Acknowledge You” when hearing it sung with my classmates and friends during CUW’s daily chapel services. Our hearts are united together in Christ’s death and resurrection for us. That is the Concordia difference: Being surrounded by roommates, friends, teachers and coaches who live boldly in the redemptive grace given to us through Christ’s death on the cross, and who are reminded of His unending love for us. Our lives are shaped by the Law as we see ourselves as sinners, in desperate need of a Savior. But, our sinful souls are soothed by the Gospel as the Scriptures remind us that our sins are washed clean by Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is the message that is heard daily at every Higher Things conference and during all of my days as a student at CUW. Those words of life and salvation are ones I still rely on today.
So while these days I have to make my own food instead of walking down to the caf for a burger, the promises of God found in Romans 8:38-39 remain the same for us in every stage of life. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In a stage of life where it is easy to feel isolated and forgotten, being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded kids my age who shared my same beliefs in the Bible made me realize I was not alone. —Alayna Brandt ('15)
—Alayna Brandt (’15) serves as the High Things Conference Entertainment Manager for this year’s conference in Wisconsin. She graduated from Concordia with her degree in elementary education.
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