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Detroit — Tens of thousands of fresh-faced, clean-cut teenagers are roaming downtown streets and attending nightly concerts at Ford Field this week.

But these aren't Beliebers, fans of pop star Justin Bieber. They're believers, followers of an even higher power.

They're members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who are here for the group's Youth Gathering, which began Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

During the event, which is held once every three years, 30,000 Lutheran teens from across the country and overseas gather for worship, fellowship and to perform community service.

"It's fun," said Libby Harris, 16, of Jackson, Tennessee. "I meet a lot of new friends."

This is the first gathering to be held in Detroit. The events began in the late 1980s.

Detroit was a natural choice, said organizers.

Community service is a big part of the event and Detroit, with its longstanding troubles, needs some tender loving care, said organizers.

"We share in another's experience of suffering," said Heidi Hagstrom, program director of the event. "It means understanding life in terms of giving rather than taking."

The youths will team with community groups on a plethora of projects, many involving beautification, she said.

And it's not just Detroit getting a hand, but Inkster, Wayne and Highland Park as well.

The youths will be clearing lots, boarding up buildings, feeding the hungry and working on community gardens.

"It will feel good to help others," said Melanie Patterson, 15, of Westerville, Ohio. "God works through us."

The community projects show God at work and allow the teens to see themselves as agents of change, said organizers.

The work may encourage the teens to continue doing such good works when they return to their own hometowns.

But it's not just hard work and drudgery.

Each night, the teens will unite at Ford Field for music and inspirational messages from religious leaders.

Far from Bieber, this will be religious music.

This is the second such gathering for Harris. She said she was looking forward to seeing the friends she made at the last one.

"It shows the world is bigger than my town," she said.

fdonnelly@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell

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