In a Tablet of February 1917 addressed to the Bahá’ís of the western states of America, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá drew parallels between the landscape of California—which he had seen during his travels through the state five years earlier—and that of the Holy Land. He commented on the similarity of their shores, mountains, and fertile soil, and, referring to the long history of divine educators that had inspired the people of the Holy Land, he emphasized that “just as there are natural resemblances, heavenly resemblances must also be acquired.”
Nearly 100 years later, some 700 young people, alive to this vision, gathered for three days at a convention centre in San Diego, in the same state of California in the United States, to discuss the contribution that their generation could make to the betterment of their communities. In an opening plenary address, Continental Counsellor Navid Serrano, who together with Dr. Holly Woodard represented the Universal House of Justice at the conference, made reference to the abovementioned Tablet and underscored the historic nature of their gathering—one of three youth conferences in California in July and August, and one of nine such events taking place that same weekend in locations around the world.
“If you emanate the quality of joy, then you create a joyful atmosphere.”
A participant at the conference
Large contingents of youth attended the conference from the City Heights and Linda Vista neighbourhoods in San Diego. A 15-year-old from Linda Vista shared, “We’re all excited to be here, we’re energetic, and we have so many people from our community here so we’re all happy.” She added, “We’re all youth and we have this concept in our heads: a concept of hope and of serving through the Word of God. We tried to understand what the conferences were going to be about and we took time to prepare in advance.”
Those gathered were eager to investigate the profound questions that the study of the conference materials had raised. In consulting about the capacity to foster strong bonds of friendship, a youth from San Diego noted how he would often find himself in a group where nearly everyone was using mobile phones to send text messages, rather than interacting with the people around them. The participants discussed how understanding can be advanced so that the ways we use technology reflect a desire to elevate the quality of interactions among friends.
In breakout sessions, participants used a variety of artistic expressions to articulate the concepts being explored, including storytelling, haiku-style poetry, and songs. Day after day, the meeting rooms increasingly reflected the richness of the conversations taking place as charts, maps, plans, and artwork were pinned to the walls.
A 17-year-old spoke about the value of what he had learned in the following terms: “I feel that a lot of the discussion actually reflects on my life.” In sharing what he would take away from the conference, he added, “I have been trying to prioritize, trying to identify what would be essential for us to remember. But everything we’re learning seems so essential. I need to make sure that when we get home I refresh these concepts in my mind.”
Youth deliberate during one of the sessions
Young people used a variety of means to explore the concepts in the study materials
Singing and other arts infused both plenary and group sessions
One group studies and reflects on a section of the materials with the assistance of a facilitator
Youth from the same community gather to consult and plan
New friendships were forged between participants throughout the conference
Friends from different ages and backgrounds came together to present skits they had worked on
The atmosphere for the duration of the conference was joyful and high-spirited
Participants shared music inspired by the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith
A group presents a lively dance
Each of the groups created artistic presentations to illustrate the concepts they explored