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A Gathering to Faith

September 01, 2019 - 3 minute read

Brandon Li leads the crowd in worship while playing his guitar.

 I rarely get butterflies before singing in front of people, but standing below the platform at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with a team of singers and musicians from Concordia Irvine and elsewhere, my stomach buzzed with nerves. Then, a voice came through our in-ear monitors. “Go! You guys are up.” 

Four singers and I ran out before 22,000 people in the same cavernous room where the Minnesota Vikings play home games. I shouted something like, “What’s up National Youth Gatheringgggg! You guys ready to do this?” Nerves vanished as I reached the mic, and my soul lifted as those thousands began to worship. 

For four nights, I served in the “house band” for the triennial gathering where Lutheran youths descend on a city to serve, socialize and praise together. 

But I hadn’t even grown up in church. My parents had emigrated from Guangzhou, a city in southern China. My dad liked to sing in the car, and music became a passion of mine as well. As a teen in San Francisco, I started attending a cool youth group at a Chinese Lutheran church. The youth leader invited me to sing and play in the band, even though at first I didn’t really know what I was singing about. As I made faith in Christ my own, God used me more in worship leading, including in the main service. 

When it came time for college, my youth leader encouraged me to consider his alma mater, Concordia Irvine. He said worship leading was an actual job for some people. That was a new idea new to me. After some time at a junior college, I felt God calling me to Concordia. I didn’t want to go because I was so involved at my home church and feared that nobody would help lead worship once I was gone. More deeply, my parents were starting to attend church, and I didn’t want them to stop once I left. But I knew I needed to deepen my own faith in a community like Concordia and pursue the direction God had for me. 

Once on campus I was at SHOUT every Thursday night, attending Bible studies, and going to theology and worship classes. I was a music major with a church music emphasis, and in the director of parish music program with Christ College. Concordia was amazingly welcoming. God had called me there, and it felt so right to follow. When they started the commercial music program, I added that as a second emphasis and became their first official graduate in 2018. 

Back home, my parents stayed involved at our home church, mainly because the “aunties” and “uncles”— the other adults in the church — connected with them by social media and kept inviting them to church, Bible studies and lunch. God was proving to me that He would take care of everything I was concerned about. A year into my Concordia experience, my mom called to say she was getting baptized. A year later my dad called to say he was getting baptized. Clearly, God’s work in my family was his, not mine. 

In 2019 I traveled with other students and alumni to form the house worship band at the National Youth Gathering. I had never stood before a crowd nearly that size. As we sang, I watched people worshiping with us and knew that many had probably grown up in church, but others, like me, had come to faith in a different way. It was overwhelming to see thousands of kids with hands raised, fists pumping, and to watch God work through those of us on the teams. 

Toward the end of my time at Concordia, another Chinese Lutheran church in the Bay Area hired me to lead worship as they entered a season of exciting change and growth. I consider it my highest privilege to honor God with whatever abilities he has given to me. Even if it means occasional butterflies.

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