“We are in a time of darkness and need to act as a light,” a young woman shared with peers who were reflecting on the role of the younger generation in contributing to social and spiritual progress while gathered at the youth conference in Atlanta, Georgia, from 9 to 11 August.
Assembled at the Marquis Hotel on a humid summer day in the southeastern United States, over 650 young people of diverse backgrounds from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia listened intently to the 1 July 2013 message of the Universal House of Justice, hearts joyfully attracted to a vision of walking a path of service with others in the development of their communities.
A sense of being entrusted with a sacred mission enveloped the participants as Continental Counsellor Borna Noureddin, one of the representatives of the Universal House of Justice at the conference, encouraged them to examine their circumstances and think about how they could devote a period of their lives to providing spiritual education to the rising generations. A song from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá shared by one group brought a sense of urgency: “Soon will our handful of days, our vanishing life, be gone … Now is the time to serve. Now is the time to be on fire.”
“I believe that now is the time for us to live a life of selfless service. If you serve humanity, you serve God, and it will make us better people and better members of the community.”
A participant at the conference
“I believe that now is the time for us to live a life of selfless service,” said one youth. “If you serve humanity, you serve God, and it will make us better people and better members of the community.”
One group discussed the power of aligning oneself with spiritual forces that impel progress with an example from science. “In physics, if you align energy correctly, you can achieve forward momentum,” one young man from Florida said. Another group illustrated their understanding of the human soul’s attraction to beauty and perfection by performing skits of experiences they often encounter at school, such as someone being made fun of and feeling hurt, and demonstrating how this situation could become distinguished instead by love and encouragement if the same people made an effort to behave in a way that reflects the innate nobility of all human beings.
The importance of true friendship to create the conditions for individual and collective transformation made an impression on those gathered. “When you create strong bonds of friendship other people want to be a part of that,” one young woman said. The youth observed that at the conference they had not only connected with one another but they had also built strong friendships that would continue even after they returned home. Study of the materials helped the youth to see that working side by side in service to others leads to forming true bonds of mutual support.
The participants explored how young people sometimes develop ways of thinking that place complementary aspects of life in opposition to one another, for example, service to others and family life. They came to understand that these different dimensions of a whole are harmonized when directed to the same higher purpose. Participants saw that members of a family need to support each other in efforts to serve—for example, parents encouraging their children to be of service to others—which at the same time strengthens their unity.
Young people enthusiastically joined their voices in song many times throughout the conference. Spirits were uplifted by energetic artistic performances including beat boxing, a vocal art that mimics the sounds and rhythms of drum beats; a Creole call-and-response song about truthfulness; a bluegrass style song by Alabama youth; and a rendition of the gospel piece “Amazing Grace”.
Participants made detailed plans of practical steps they could take to share the insights they gained from the conference with friends, peers, and younger youth whom they could engage in meaningful conversation and invite to join them in programmes designed to raise their capacity for service to their communities, anticipating when, where, and how this would take place.
One young man was moved to compose a poem expressing his gratitude at the realization that he, like every other member of the human race, belongs to a widening circle of intimate friends with the capacity to participate in creating a better world: “I see the family I have always wanted,” he wrote. “Little did I know I was always a part of it.”
Participants reflected on concepts such as true friendship
Youth shared insights with others from their communities
Artistic activities inspired by study of the materials helped to consolidate understanding and stimulate ideas
Workshop groups shared insights gained from their sessions
Youth welcomed younger friends who came along with some of their fellow participants
The youth frequently joined their voices in joyful song
Youth performed musical presentations they had prepared together
An energetic dance presented by one group of youth
Participants presenting some of the ideas arising from their study and consultations