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?

part of a whole

Many of you have probably read, listened to, or heard of a recent talk by former member of the Universal House of Justice Mr. Ali Nakhjavani, in which he emphatically expressed how important it is for Bahá’í communities to maintain teaching activities alongside core activities such as study circles, children’s classes, junior youth groups and devotional meetings. You may also have read a (previously unpublished?) letter on this same topic, written by the Universal House of Justice on October 31, 2002, that’s also been circulating. I read through these myself recently, and they brought me to reflect on the evolution in my own understanding of the institute process, and in my own actions. I shared some of these reflections on Reddit recently, and thought I’d repost them here.

Several years back there was definitely an increase in focus on the institute process in our local community as we studied the messages of the Universal House of Justice which described training institutes and their centrality to the process of community growth. At the time, I was just coming out of university, and it was really the first time I had ever been strongly involved in Bahá’í community activities, despite having grown up in a Bahá’í family. Being involved in study circles was pretty transformative for me—studying Ruhi Book 1 was the first time I ever really thought about the life of the soul—and I was inspired thereafter to do some homefront pioneering, which involved getting further trained up to Ruhi Book 7. At the time, training institutes were new and I think we were still thinking of it in terms of yet another deepening program, and we often skipped the practical service aspects of the Ruhi curriculum which help collaborators arise to serve. I feel like, as a result, I didn’t really “get” the interconnectedness of it all, and just thought something like, “OK, these study circles are the key to transformation, so I have to put all my efforts into study circles”. Occasionally, that meant that I declined invitations to participate in other initiatives, such as music nights, social get-togethers, and so on, that would have been great teaching opportunities, because I was too busy with my study circle stuff. I know I must have disappointed a lot of well-intentioned and inspired friends because of that, but thank God many of them went ahead anyway and carried forward those initiatives, which are a feature of our local community life now.

I certainly did have an “either this one or that one, but not both” mentality when it came to community activities. Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles I had to overcome was my fear of failure and my lack of confidence in my ability to teach—indeed, to create and maintain relationships with people in general. Somehow I was too comfortable with acting as a tutor within the safe, limited environment of an inward-looking community, and not comfortable at all creating genuine, profound relationships with others. I struggled with this for a while, especially as we spoke more and more about how the Bahá’í community had to open outwards, moving from the mindset of a congregation to that of a sort of commonwealth of mankind, blurring the lines between “Bahá’í” and “otherwise”. I think it was this internal struggle—and my continued willingness to adopt a posture of learning and participate in programs of growth in whatever ways I could despite my fear—that helped me see how many of these pieces fit together. The idea of coherence was particularly useful to me, in that I began to see how, for example, a study circle, devotional meeting, children’s class, and junior youth group could develop in sync and feed off each other, and be fed by things that we don’t call “core activities” but are no less crucial: firesides, home visits, and even just hanging out with friends and elevating conversation. In time, the sense of dichotomy disappeared, and now I find myself involved as much in establishing friendships with people in non-“core” ways as I do in teaching children’s classes or walking with friends through Ruhi Book 1.

I should also mention that one of the things that helped me gain confidence was being part of a team, in this case with Quynh. After we were married a few years ago, we found that we could support one another in our service, and do things together that we never dreamed that we could do alone. We are still learning about what seems “right” for us, what our strengths and weaknesses are, and where we can spend our energy most effectively. As a team, we balance and complement each other. If I can’t do something, then she picks up the slack; if neither of us can do it, we just focus our efforts on what we can do. And, most importantly, we are united, and we support each other no matter what. As long as we have that unity, we know that we will be confirmed.

ruhi refresher courses in ottawa

if you’re looking for a way to get ready for the Ottawa Baha’i Community’s new cycle of growth and maximize the effectiveness of your teaching efforts during the intensive teaching phase, get plugged in to this week’s Ruhi refresher courses, Tuesday to Friday at 7:30 PM!

  • Tuesday: Buzz by the Browns’, by Bayshore (1 Kitimat)
  • Wednesday: Hook up with the Hashemis, in Kanata (20 Allenby)
  • Thursday: Be there at the Benoit-James’s, in Vanier (304 Ducharme)
  • Friday: Mingle with Marty and family, in Orleans (2047 Rolling Brook)

Come on out to any of the evenings above, regardless of how many or which Ruhi books you’ve taken (even none!). We’ll be revisiting Book 2 where we learned how to nurture individuals along the spiritual path through home visits, and in Book 6 where we became familiar with the different approaches and methods of teaching, such as Anna’s presentation of the Faith to her friend Emilia.

And if this post doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to you—drop me a line!

ruhi rainbow

naw-rúz muse (back again)

happy naw-rúz, all. every year at around this time, I generally take the time to muse a bit about the path that my life has taken. I like to think that a new chapter of my life began on Naw-rúz day, 2002, when I left Ottawa to begin two years of service in the Centre-du-Québec area. I’ve been thinking a lot about that service lately. Last Friday, I was invited to attend a gathering for tutors of the courses of the Ruhi Institute. The Institute Board of Ontario (or Canada, maybe?) had asked all study circle tutors and participants to go through the practice component of the first unit of Ruhi Book One—studying prayers with people around them. We gathered to share about how this practice was going, what progress we (and the participants) had made, and so on. We touched on many related topics—home visits, reaching out to people around us and doing real, one-on-one teaching. It was pretty good—inspiring and practical. I like how the Bahá’í community is becoming more and more focused and practical. The more we focus on carrying out the Five-year Plan and its goals, the better.

Anyway, I thought about my first few months in Québec, when I had just arrived from Ottawa with my rusty French and my prayer book. It was so easy to reach out to people! I was pioneering, so I knew I didn’t quite fit in and that was all right—in fact, I played off of that in order to teach. Quickeners of Mankind was constant bedside reading. It was exciting to see the divine confirmations being showered from all sides, sustained by love for Bahá’u’lláh and the Bahá’í Faith. There were lots of adventures and amazing experiences. Then, as time went on, tests came. Financial tests, emotional tests, mental tests, physical tests, spiritual tests… you name it. I had prayed for tests, and got them by the bucketful. I started to feel depressed, weighed down by the difficulties I was going through. The slower I moved, the fewer were the confirmations, and the less I seemed to be able to “quicken” those around me, until I got so depressed that it all just stopped, and the only thing left to do was to cry out for help.

It’s a few years later, and things are better. Much better, actually. There are still downs, like the one I had earlier this winter. But they’re not crippling; they don’t shut me down to the point where I can’t bounce back and start to live life again. It’s clear that some sort of recovery has taken place, allowing me to see the effects of transformation in my life… So I guess what I’ve been thinking lately is: how much longer before I really get my groove back? I mean, that uplifting, exhilirating pioneer type of vibe that comes from putting all of your trust in God, from taking one step and letting Him carry you the next ten. And you know, that’s not a question anyone else can answer for me, nor can anyone decide. It’s up to me to keep doing the work that will take me that many steps closer to Bahá’u’lláh, and enable me to serve the Cause to the utmost of my capacity.

So I guess I’ve answered my own question. When will I be able to reach out to the people around me in friendliness and fellowship, and share with them the most precious gift I have to give*? Whenever I want. As some people have pointed out to me, I already do, but don’t always realize it.

O My servants! My holy, My divinely ordained Revelation may be likened unto an ocean in whose depths are concealed innumerable pearls of great price, of surpassing luster. It is the duty of every seeker to bestir himself and strive to attain the shores of this ocean, so that he may, in proportion to the eagerness of his search and the efforts he hath exerted, partake of such benefits as have been pre-ordained in God’s irrevocable and hidden Tablets. […] This most great, this fathomless and surging Ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life-vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.

Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.326

With that, I’m off to bed. May this new year bring each one of you peace, certitude, hope, and confirmation. Even if I don’t always respond to each and every email these days, rest assured that the little notes and e-cards that pour in with greetings and naw-rúz wishes are very much appreciated.

* See Ruhi Book 6, Unit 1, Section 6.

children’s classes blog

hey. I’ve started up a little experimental blog called baha’i children’s class ideas. reason is: I co-teach a neighbourhood children’s class, having had little prior experience in the field except Ruhi Book 3. I need a place to write down lesson plan ideas so that I can plan them out in advance, try them out, and then go back and reflect on how the ideas worked when put into practice. check it out, leave comments and ideas, whatever. it’s a very informal project (that will probably get updated far less often than this blog), but it’s worth a try.

february rambling

rideauthings have been alright lately. I haven’t been as diligent with my prayers and daily readings as I’d like. maybe I can take care of that before going to bed. speaking of daily readings, check out the Baha’i Quotes Syndication Service — it’s an individual initiative that allows you to have Baha’i quotes pop up in an RSS reader. And for the RSS-disabled among us, it’s a nice blog full of Baha’i quotes illustrated with wonderful photos.

Last night, I acted as a tutor for a study circle covering Book 6 of the Ruhi curriculum. Sahba (our area institute coordinator) called the night before asking me to act as a substitute, and — surprise! — it turned out my evening was open. It was a small group, but it was still a blast. We studied several sections of the first unit, entitled “The Spiritual Nature of Teaching”. It was just the best thing ever to be plunged back into that book again. The whole book is about teaching the Bahá’í Faith — sharing the message of Bahá’u’lláh with the world of humanity. I could go on and on about it, but I’ll leave that for later on. Suffice to say that it was a happy surprise to be given the chance to be there, facilitating the study circle and learning from the other participants. Combined with the Book 3 circle I subbed for last week, I’d say I’m comfortably rediscovering the role of ‘study circle tutor’, and what a bounty it can be. Hopefully I can once again find a nice and special place for it in my life.

Oh, and for fans of Homestar Runner: Check this out. (The song, not the picture.)