“Your love drew me to you,” were the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in reference to his travel to California in the fall of 1912. On Friday, 18 October, He arrived in Los Angeles, and the next day gave His first public address in that city. He spoke of the relationship between spiritual and material civilization, saying, “If divine civilization, which is all-encompassing, is established, then material civilization will also attain perfection.”
On the beautiful campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, from 31 August to 2 September, more than 630 young people, inspired by the vision of progress described by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá some 100 years ago, gathered to explore themes related to the betterment of their communities. Recognizing the force of materialism so pronounced in their society, they were hopeful to find ways to dedicate their time and energy towards a community-building process, at the heart of which is a profound conversation about the application of Bahá’u’lláh’s Teachings for individual and collective life.
Those gathered explored the importance of assisting the rising generations to develop their capacities necessary for a life of service. A participant observed, “These concepts reinforce the truth that it is through service that we grow and are happy. Happiness doesn’t mean accumulating things, happiness means serving others.”
“It is so empowering to be around others who have a common noble goal.”
A participant at the conference
Conference materials highlighted how true friendship sustains the common strivings of a community. One participant stated, “Sometimes you want something different than what society values, and so being here with others who have the same vision gives me the confidence to live a life of service.” Another young girl, the only one from her neighbourhood in attendance, commented, “I have realized that true friendship includes spiritual discussions as well as conversations about life in general. With everyone here I can speak about spiritual questions— It is so empowering to be around others who have a common noble goal.”
The evening plenaries featured skits, dance, spoken word poetry, and musical pieces that included piano and violin. One skit focused on how social media can sometimes distract us from face to face interactions and participants creatively acted out a scene in which a group of friends realize this and begin helping each other with tasks at hand. The spirit of excitement and fellowship permeated the atmosphere as participants joyfully studied and talked together.
Throughout the weekend, the youth reflected on the ways study and discussion helped to shape purpose and advance understanding. Two youth commented, “The themes we studied were focused on the betterment of the world” and “the emphasis on community and the unity of vision helped instill in me a real sense of purpose.” It was in this light that a growing understanding of the reciprocal relationship between contributing to the transformation of society and individual growth within the arena of service emerged. One young person shared that her sense of purpose and the idea that humanity walks a path of service together brought her a sense of joy and confirmation, as she recognized that she had cherished a desire to serve throughout her adolescent years but had not had the opportunity to participate until recently. “It is this vision that I wish to take to my friends and family in my community,” she said.
As the final day of the conference came to a close, the participants, so full of joy and hope for the path of service in front of them, made their way home. “We all came for a common purpose and are striving for unity,” one youth said. “We will keep this bond of friendship after the conference and it will continue to grow stronger.”
The youth studied the message dated 1 July 2013 from the Universal House of Justice
One of the workshop sessions discussed the role of youth in assisting those younger than themselves
Participants between the ages of 15 and 30 shared ideas, reflected on their own experiences, and made plans to continue their efforts to serve their communities
The youth made maps of their neighbourhoods to consult about the opportunities and resources in their communities
Participants devised activities to articulate some of the concepts explored in the conference materials
The study of the materials was enhanced by creative expression through the arts
The conference was filled with both purposeful study and joyful fellowship
Some group discussions were held outside underneath shady trees
Over 600 youth came together in Los Angeles for the conference
Singing and music infused both plenary and group sessions