In the midst of a typically hot Texan summer, with temperatures at their peak, some 500 youth from Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas gathered in a hotel in Dallas, filling its conference rooms with the warmth of the Southern spirit. They came together to consult on their contributions towards creating strong communities in which the spiritual and material well-being of all are nurtured.
Continental Counsellors Daniel Scott and Ganesh Ramsahai represented the Universal House of Justice at this gathering. On the opening morning of the conference, after Mr. Ramsahai read the 1 July message of the Universal House of Justice to the gathering, Mr. Scott expressed his great sense of gratitude to be at the conference, noting the confidence the Universal House of Justice has in the youth to arise and dedicate their time and talents to the application of the principles and Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh so as to contribute to the emergence of a better world. He reflected that a theme of many of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talks in North America was a necessary harmony between the material and spiritual, noting that we are conscious that human beings are not only physical and social; they are fundamentally spiritual beings with an innate yearning to search for meaning and truth. Mr. Scott stated that achieving a better world requires us to strengthen our spiritual nature and develop the capacities given to us by an all-loving Creator, so we can use our talents towards serving the well-being of the community.
“We are all working towards building a new civilization. Within this common vision all of us have different strengths and talents; some people will focus on the education of children, others on junior youth. But if we are all working together every individual has a part to play in using their talents to fulfill the community's efforts to advance.”
A participant at the conference
Youth explored many profound subjects. They looked at the role of youth in society and the wonderful characteristics that are theirs at this age, described by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as “springtime” in human life. In workshop groups, they also discussed the characteristics of younger youth and the unique features of the stage of life of those between the ages of 12 and 15. The participants identified a keen sense of justice, a desire to seek answers to profound questions about the world around them, a growing consciousness of their own talents and abilities, and an earnest desire to serve their community and contribute to change as some of the salient features of this age group. Inspired by both the potential of younger youth as well as the realization of the intensity of the social forces acting on them, the participants renewed their resolve to contribute to the spiritual empowerment of those within this age range.
The participants thoughtfully considered the dynamics of a community that is striving to apply the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh towards change and what the role of young people might be in creating such a community. One friend shared, “We are all working towards building a new civilization. Within this common vision all of us have different strengths and talents; some people will focus on the education of children, others on junior youth. But if we are all working together every individual has a part to play in using their talents to support the community's efforts to advance.”
Creating such vibrant communities characterized by love and unity, the participants realized, requires them to strengthen their capacity to consult in a way that welcomes different views in efforts to reach a common understanding, which leads to unified action. They recognized that serving as animators of groups for those younger than themselves helps them to develop the attitudes and skills needed to become effective contributors to processes of consultation. While discussing the nature of such selfless service, one youth reflected, “Our work is built on generations before us and setting the stage for generations after us. I think it is important to contextualize our service. We are the next step in a continuous process.”
The youth also discussed the effects of the forces that are shaping their view of the world and their actions. In particular, they reflected on the impact technology, such as the Internet, has on them and society. The participants identified that the Internet can broaden their perspective, help them expand the circle of their acquaintances, and become a useful instrument when used in moderation. At the same time, the youth emphasized the tremendous value of building real friendships based on face-to-face conversations, grounded on a shared dedication to bettering one’s community.
Insightful discussions were interspersed with lunch and dinner breaks filled with joyful laughter and spontaneous music. This creative spirit was also evident during the arts evening. One group wrote and shared a song that featured passages in English, Spanish, Arabic and Bassa, reflective of the diversity of the conference participants. Another group of friends led the crowd to sing a quotation from the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, while another did the same with a soulful, gospel-inspired song. Another exciting feature of the arts evening was a Marshallese dance presentation.
The last hours of the conference were spent planning what the youth’s next steps in contributing to the betterment of their communities would be. Many offered to help others achieve their goals, although they had only met during the last three days. That these relationships began in a state whose name originates from the word tejas, which means “friends” in the Native American Caddo language, seemed fitting.
The conference was an opportunity for the participants to reflect together about the contribution they can make to the spiritual and social development of their communities
Participants used a variety of activities to more deeply understand the concepts in the study material
A spirit of joy and focus imbued the atmosphere
Youth studied, consulted, and planned together
Singing and other arts infused both plenary and group sessions
A spirit of unity was demonstrated throughout the weekend
New friendships were forged between participants throughout the conference
Youth were encouraged to share the insights from their workshops in the plenary gatherings
A group photo of the participants