Phoenix Youth Conference

United States | 19-21 July 2013

Before the backdrop of a poster painted by youth from the Navajo nation, a moving Persian chant marked the opening of the youth conference in Phoenix, United States, evoking a unity of all mankind that the participants are strengthening through acts of service in their communities.

About 800 youth from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah gathered at the conference to consult about how they could contribute to the progress of their communities.

“Instead of criticizing someone you should encourage them.”

A participant at the conference

Continental Counsellors Sonlla Heern and Navid Serrano represented the Universal House of Justice at the gathering. Mr. Serrano described how the youth were carrying on a conversation about how to build a better world—a conversation that started with the revolutionizing message of the Báb, a young man of just 25 years of age. Although the participants were from many different backgrounds, he said, they all hoped to learn about the same question: how will we serve humanity?

Many at the conference were involved in junior youth programmes, designed to help young people aged 12 to 14 develop the ability to understand and describe the world around them with clarity, and engage in acts of service that contribute to the well-being of society. One youth from New Mexico commented that the friendships and conversations generated through this programme were allowing growing numbers of young people to release their capacities to serve humanity.

The youth explored the way they tend to see conflicts between different aspects of life—work, studies, family, service—where there are none, reflecting on how striving to live a life of service brings these facets into harmony. One young person from New Mexico explained: “Your education can help you develop the capacities to better serve your community.” Another youth described how small disagreements used to divide her family, but her experience participating in a group for younger youth has helped her to bring a greater degree of unity in her family.

In groups, they also discussed the operation of positive and negative forces in their environments. In one conversation, forest fires were used as an analogy for the negative trends we see in society. Though such fires are destructive, they are necessary to make room for new life and to help new seeds open and grow.

Participants reflected on the importance of selflessness in service and friendship. “If you’re selfish, it destroys your friendships,” one youth commented. Criticism found no place either: “When you criticize others you put yourself above others.” Another youth added, “Instead of criticizing someone you should encourage them.” Purity of heart and sincere joy in the progress of others were other characteristics of friendship that stood out to the youth.

When thinking how to share what they learned at the conference with friends at home, many participants planned to start groups for their younger peers. One young person was already thinking about where the group could meet and what activities they could initiate, such as basketball, games, family dinners, and environmental clean-ups.

As participants left the conference, they rejoiced in the friendships forged to support their endeavour to contribute to the life of their communities. This spirit was expressed in the words of one young person: “We are all striving for the same thing, and that makes us one.”


  • The poster painted by the Navajo participants used colour to represent different values in their way of life and had many parallels to the way of life the conference participants were seeking to understand, such as being able to celebrate the accomplishments of our neighbours without jealousy
  • The arts were used as a way to collectively express understanding, and one group chose to illustrate the advances in their understanding of a “path of service” after each session with markers and coloured pencils. Others burst into joyful song during breaks, even whistling in harmony
  • Another arts presentation combined storytelling and pointillism, using the analogy of a tree to illustrate how different aspects of life support each other, the same way a tree needs both sunlight and rain to grow
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  • The opening of the conference was marked by a moving chant of a prayer in Persian

  • Youth immersed in a reverent and uplifting atmosphere of prayer and song

  • Facilitators assembled to help form breakout groups

  • A group activity demonstrating the joy of the friendships made at the conference

  • Youth engaging in small group discussion

  • Friends joyfully studying together

  • Participants collaborating to illustrate insights through the arts

  • Guitars and ukuleles inspired cheerful song during breaks

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