5 things to do while you’re waiting for the 95 youth conferences

what's happened to me?!?So, you’ve heard the news. In a letter dated 8 February 2013, the Universal House of Justice announced the convocation of 95 youth conferences across the globe. And whether you live in Kinshasa or Kiribati, in Auckland or Atlanta, in Chisinau or Cochabamba, you’re hyped. The excitement is coursing through your veins like a fever, and the only prescription is for summer to come as quickly as possible.

But why wait? You can start preparing right now for your local youth conference, whether it’s in July, October or any time in between. Here are five little tips—call them humble suggestions—that can help you pass the time constructively until the time for your local youth conference rolls around.

  1. Brush up on the latest guidance. You’ve probably read the 8 February 2013 message already; why not take a half-hour out of your morning to study it a little more? You’ll get a sense of what the 95 conferences will be all about, and why exactly the Universal House of Justice is calling on you right now. If you haven’t managed to get yourself a copy of the letter yet, get in touch with the closest Spiritual Assembly or Auxiliary Board Member, and ask if they could send it over. And while you’re at it, make plans to study other important pieces of guidance, too. The 2010 Ridván message is a good one, as are the 28 December 2010 and 12 December 2011 messages.
  2. Get trained up—especially with Ruhi Book 5. Having brushed up on the latest guidance, you’ll probably see a trend emerge: the empowerment of junior youth is a big deal, and a huge part of the Plan. Without knowing much more about the content of the upcoming conferences, then, it’s a safe bet that involvement with junior youth will feature prominently. Getting trained in Book 5 of the Ruhi curriculum—Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth—will give you one up when your local conference rolls around. And beyond that, don’t forget that Ruhi Book 8—The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh—is being piloted worldwide, and may be available in your area. Studying either one of these is transformative enough on its own—imagine two in a row!
  3. Pick a path of service. The call of the Universal House of Justice is pretty clear: we are standing at a pivotal moment in history. “For the present generation,” they wrote in their 8 February letter, “the moment has come to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a life of service from which blessing will flow in abundance.” Naturally, we might wonder: Can I really do a “life of service”? What should I be doing to serve? Well as they say, every journey starts with a single step, and the first step into service is just to pick something and start doing it. Maybe you’ve studied Book 5 and found it awesome, so you might decide to dedicate yourself to empowering and inspiring junior youth. Or maybe you’ve found that you’re best at teaching younger children, or studying the Word of God with other youth or adults, or sharing prayers with others, or visiting those who are isolated or ill, and so on. Wherever it is that your talents lie, you can focus on using them to serve mankind. And if you’re not sure where your path lies, then it doesn’t hurt just to try something out to gain some experience.
  4. Get to know your neighbourhood. Go back ten or fifteen years and ask any youth where they planned to go and offer a year of service, and you’d get a list of destinations scattered across the planet. Nowadays, though, don’t be surprised if you hear friends telling you they’ll be staying right where they are. The focus for service is shifting closer and closer to home—from your own city to your neighbourhood. Whether or not you have concrete plans to serve, a great way to prepare is to just look at your neighbourhood. Are there a lot of young families, elderly couples, single mothers? Do they have young children or junior youth? What are their pastimes, their concerns, and their hopes for the future? The more you learn about your neighbours, the better you can build close, loving connections that will not only enable you to serve better, but uplift the whole community.
  5. Pray, meditate, and conquer yourself. This might just be one of the most important things you can do to prepare. When Shoghi Effendi learned that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had appointed him as the Guardian, he retreated for a long time to Switzerland in order to pray and meditate, until he conquered himself—at which point he returned to the Holy Land to become the Guardian. Prayer gives us strength to meet life’s challenges. In fact, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us that if we pray for strength, it will be given to us, “no matter how difficult the conditions”—no matter how reluctant, inadequate and powerless we may feel. And through meditation and reflection, He explains, one “receives the breath of the Holy Spirit”; meditation “frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.” The challenge laid before us by the Universal House of Justice will require us to reflect, to commit, and to steel ourselves, calling on a strength that is beyond ourselves, and relying on an abundant flow of blessings—and to accomplish this, deepening our spiritual life through prayer, meditation and reflection will be essential.

Now that the season of the Bahá’í Fast is upon us, we’re joining with Bahá’ís of all ages in every nation in abstaining from food and drink, and, above all, engaging in the more important spiritual Fast, with all the self-reflection, prayer and meditation that it entails. Soon enough, Naw-ruz will be here, ushering a new year full of promise and opportunity—the opportunity for young people across the world “to make a contribution to the fortunes of humanity, unique to their time of life.” What better time than now to start preparing ourselves—reflecting, committing, and steeling ourselves to play our part in writing the future?

announcing: 95 baha’i youth conferences!

New: 5 things to do while you’re waiting for the 95 conferences!

95 youth conferences

“What has been accomplished in the past two years will, surely, be far surpassed, not just in the concluding years of this present Plan but in the remaining years of the first century of the Formative Age.  To spur on this mighty enterprise and to summon today’s youth to fully assume the responsibilities they must discharge in this fast-contracting interval, we announce the convocation of 95 youth conferences, between July and October, planned for locations that span the globe…”

The Universal House of Justice

We thought the idea of 41 regional conferences was pretty wild and amazing. When we heard the news that the Universal House of Justice was inviting us to gather and reflect on the process of community growth with fellow collaborators from around our regions, we knew we had to stand up and take note. But we may never have suspected the magnitude of what was to follow. Introducing a series of 95—that’s right, ninety-five—youth conferences, to be held this year between July and October. Their aim will be to give young people the opportunity to learn about contributing to the betterment of their communities through the Junior Youth Empowerment Program.

The announcement had barely made its way around the globe before my friend Ilya went ahead and mapped out each one of the coming 95 conferences on Google Maps, so you can look for yourself and see which one will be held closest to your area. Check up on doberman pizza in coming days—and of course, keep your eyes on your inbox—for more on this exciting news! (Update, May 2013: The Universal House of Justice recently announced plans for another 19 youth conferences worldwide. Wow!)

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toronto regional conference: first reflections

IMG_1783“Wow—just wow.” was my first reflection upon entering the conference hall on Saturday morning at the Toronto Regional Baha’i Conference. Wordless reflection, of course, since I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor to put together a sentence. Over 4,000 people attended, according to official reports; I’d never seen that many Baha’is in one place before—and I live in Ottawa, where we’re used to getting upwards of 700 people at Naw-Rúz celebrations. With the Toronto and Guadalajara conferences, over 50,000 people have come to the conferences across the world so far. The atmosphere was joyful, exciting, electrifying, full of energy. Imagining all those people gathering together as beloved guests of the Universal House of Justice, conversing together, studying and planning their future together is one thing, but seeing it in action is another.

IMG_1620 Parts of the conference were like an immense reflection meeting; more powerful and flexible, though, as many people workshop-hopped from their own clusters to devote their attentions to neighbouring clusters in need of assistance in meeting their goals before Ridván 2009. In all, eight clusters were identified in Eastern and Central Canada as priority clusters—among them our neighbouring Outaouais cluster, which includes the city of Gatineau—that were in line to establish their first intensive programs of growth in the coming months. I was able to hop over to join the Southeast New Brunswick cluster during a break to share some good conversation with Baha’i friends from the Moncton area. It was very clearly illustrated how closely the Universal House of Justice was monitoring the progress of the Faith in our areas, and how directly our efforts during the weekend would reach them. The support and love from the Institutions of the Faith was evident at all levels.

IMG_1700One of the very inspiring parts of the workshops was seeing how the junior youth stood up and made their voices heard in consultation. Some of them who we may never have heard before raising their voice in great assemblies showed little or no trepidation in offering their ideas and making their points of view known. Their contributions made the experience dynamic and bolstered the confidence of all present. One of the participants commented, “imagine if all reflection meetings were like this conference—we would get all of our planning done in minutes!”

That’s it for now, but you can expect further posts on the regional conference here—I took pages and pages of notes on my trusty Macbook and I’m expecting to take time to synthesize them and share them here with you all. Mad love to those who are gathering in Vancouver this weekend for the second Canadian conference, and to the rest of the friends throughout the world who are engaged in this world-shaping process.

toronto conference: registration evening

my most profuse apologies for the paucity of posts this past while. fear not though, because this weekend is the fabled regional conference in Toronto. I’m sitting here in a hotel room, typing away on my trusty macbook, after getting all registered at the Doubletree Hotel just across from the Congress Centre. I’ve been looking forward to this historic event for months and hope to blog it and post updates to Twitter whenever I have free moments. I’ve already asked the Montreal Baha’i Choir if I could join in on their musical performance Saturday night (which means bang goes my lunch hour tomorrow, for practice).

I was fully expecting to be able to blog profusely during this conference, taking photos and video everywhere, but once I got here and saw the sheer ocean of people—many of whom are friends I haven’t seen in years—I realized that keeping up the task of blogging nonstop will be a very tall order. The urge to hug everyone I see is catastrophically great. All evening I literally wanted to do nothing but greet people. Everyone I see has this huge smile on their face, because they’re like me and can’t believe that they’re actually here, at this conference, as guests of the Universal House of Justice. They’re greeting their friends and grinning widely at strangers, knowing that practically everyone they pass in the hallway is there for exactly the same purpose as them. There are Baha’is here from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario (north and south), Quebec, Nunavut, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Bermuda, and even some American states too. All are here for the same purpose, at the behest of the Universal House of Justice: to share with each other, reflect on each others’ achievements, and plan ahead for the next step in the process of carrying forward an ever-advancing civilization.

For years now we’ve been receiving guidance from the Universal House of Justice in the form of letters each year to the Baha’is of the World, to different conferences and gatherings, explaining how the crying needs of a beleaguered humanity can be met through our efforts (however humble) to build better communities via the grassroots. we’ve always bumbled through and done the best we can. but now, right here at this conference, we get to have friends coming to meet us as representatives of the Universal House of Justice to confirm to us—in living flesh and blood, not just as black letters on white paper—that yes, this is how it’s supposed to work and here’s how to do it better. That’s why I’m here, all things considered. the greater the love and the closer connection we have with the Universal House of Justice, the more energy we have and the more inspired we become.

OK, bedtime now. expect tweets from me tomorrow, and watch this space for blog posts, photos and sundry.

oh wow

conf2009 been a while hasn’t it? well apart from all the usual trouble I get up to in between blog posts, I finished up some work implementing the design of the official website of the Toronto and Vancouver Baha’i regional conferences—which, coincidentally, are coming up in just a few short weeks. (There should still be time to register if you haven’t yet.) After plenty of civilized discussion (lol) with friend and fellow webservant Martin (warning: link is hopelessly out of date), we ended up putting up a simple little WordPress installation to house the whole thing, and adapted an existing theme to use an already-developed and -approved visual design; the bulk of the work happened in about 24 hours after a few frantic phone calls. Maybe not the most rewarding thing I’ve done in the last while (the recent redesign of the Conference Board of Canada’s home page takes that cake), but I can assure that the adrenaline rush of meeting the challenge and ensuing success did in fact kick it high up onto the list. not that I make a policy of working on extremely short-notice web projects, but something else has been flung my way just tonight that I expect to be working on in the next week, before I head off with family for a (well-deserved?) Christmas vacation visiting my extended family in the Maritime provinces (Moncton and area, mostly). Sounds fun huh?

oh and look at me using all these parentheses!