Young people have many wonderful powers and are known for their idealism, energy and purity of heart. If misdirected or manipulated, they can cause much social distress; however, if channeled properly they can engage in contribution to the fortunes of humanity.
Youth played a vital role in Bahá’í history, where The Báb Himself declared His mission when He was but twenty-five years old. During the ministries of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, young people were valiant and indefatigable servants who proclaimed the message of the new Faith and shared its teachings with others. Following in the path that these and other extraordinary figures had opened, every generation of youth from the small villages of the world to the neighborhoods of large urban centers with millions of inhabitants are continuing to arise to serve Baha’u’llah’s vision of a spiritually and materially prosperous world. Engaging in programs of Community Building and Educational Activities enables them to see themselves as walking a path of service and are directing their talents and abilities to apply Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to the life of society.
Through service, young people contribute to the construction of a better world and can learn to foster a life where they draw on the spiritual and social forces that make them builders of a civilization which grows manifoldly.
“O Lord! Strengthen these fragile seedlings that each one may become a fruitful tree, verdant and flourishing.”
Baha’i Prayers, p. 252
THE CONVOCATION OF 114 YOUTH CONFERENCES AROUND THE WORLD
“…To every generation of young believers comes and opportunity to make a contribution to the fortunes of humanity, unique to their time of life. For the present generation, the moment has come to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a live of service from which the blessings will flow in abundance…”
- THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
What is the purpose of these conferences?
"To spur on this mighty enterprise and to summon today's youth to fully assume the responsibilities they must discharge in this fast-contracting interval."
Why specifically for youth?
Youth have always played an incredibly important role in the history of the Faith. Many of the first people who recognized Bahá’u'lláh, and even gave their lives to promote the teachings of the Faith, were in their late teens and early twenties. The universal House of Justice has provided an opportunity for youths to gather together and reflect on their role in the unfoldment of Bahá’u'lláh’s vision for humanity.
Youth Conference Materials
In 2013, under the banner of “Spirit of Service Stimulating Purposeful Action”, the youth conference began. Inspired by the vision of Bahá’u’lláh, 800 young people from 12 localities across the island came together to consult on the ways and means of community building. The gathering was remarkable for bringing together youth from ethnic groups that have been embroiled in armed conflict for the last two decades in an environment distinguished, instead, by unity.
The suffering caused by the unrest in northern Sri Lanka has meant that the youth from that region rarely, if ever, had the opportunity to travel beyond its towns and villages. So, for the group of youth who made their way some 140 kilometres from the north central region all the way to Kadugannawa, it was a significant and pivotal experience. One young person from a remote northern village expressed:
“I am excited to be here and get new experiences to go back and contribute to the development of my village that has been left behind as a result of the war.”
One mother, whose son travelled a great distance to attend, commented:
“Our children are the most precious things in our lives. It is for their betterment that we are striving. I am so glad that my son is participating in this conference.”
“Each person gets a chance to dedicate his or her life to the betterment of society. Today the time has come for the current generation of youth to step up to the challenges of the world,”
- Youth at the opening of the Conference
in Kadugannawa, Sri Lanka
As the conference participants reflected together on this unique period of their lives and both the challenges and opportunities it affords, a growing recognition of the responsibility placed on the shoulders of each generation of youth emerged. “It is my strong belief that it is the youth—my friends and me who are gathered here today—who can contribute towards the spiritual development of our village, our country, our nation,” said one young person.
Another reflected that her own understanding of the capacity of youth had advanced while studying the conference materials, saying:
“Although I am seventeen years old, I assumed I was still too young to make a change in society and lived with the fear of not being able to act on my own. As the conference proceeded, these fears disappeared and there seemed to be a wonderful feeling of freedom in my mind. I pledge to share this joy with many others and help them in eliminating that feeling of emptiness.”
The workshop groups explored the relationship between individual and collective development, recognizing that individual purpose can be best understood when working with others towards the betterment of the community.
As they studied together, the magnitude of the social forces acting on those younger than them, and the critical nature of that age, became increasingly clear. To this end, one young person said: “As youth, we are responsible for the growth and the development of those younger to us. As a result of our studies at the conference, I have found a clear path to walk as a youth.”
Participants considered ways in which growing numbers of young people could be engaged in the unfolding conversation at the heart of the community building process already underway in their villages and neighbourhoods—a conversation inspired by the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. The friends learned that a spirit of mutual support and assistance is vital to elicit the participation of a growing number of community members in this collective endeavour. One participant said:
“Through mutual support and true friendship we can transform our community.”
Throughout the weekend, arts - shared in both Sinhala and Tamil - were integrated into the program. For example, thevada-modiis, a traditional form of theatre in the Vavuniya region, which combines poetic and rhythmic story telling with the beat of traditional drumming was not only used as a means of celebrating the joy of the conference, but also as a way to express the insights gained through study. This in turn will contribute towards the enhancement of understanding within communities. One young person commented: “This is a very powerful medium of art in our region loved by almost all people, and I am sure it is going to be a powerful tool to educate the parents in our region when we return back home.”
Inspired by the study of the conference themes, one youth shared a poem that provided a glimpse of the group’s hope and resolve to arise and serve:
“Within these three days
You painted me in diverse colors
Immersed me in deep joy
Shed tears beyond silent minds due to broken wishes of a dark past
Following this gathering of youth
I do live in the beauty of the future”
Continuing to foster more young souls to assume responsibility for the well-being of their communities and to develop their capacity for meaningful service,a series of smaller gatherings were held across the country. Those gathered consulted on concepts such as the contributions youth make toward the advancement of society and the importance of creating an environment of loving fellowship, collective service and unity within their community. Participants explored the pivotal role of consultation and for a majority of the youths gathered, it was the first time they were given the space to participate in discussions about the ways their actions could make a rooted difference in society. One young participant from Negombo commented: “As a female adolescent in my village, engaging in meaningful discussion is viewed as a taboo. However, this conference has inspired me to arise and to scale the heights of my service. I have the responsibility to voice my opinion in service to my community.”
Arts were central to the learning process, as many of the participants shared music and other artistic expressions to light up the conference and to share their concrete plans of service that they have devised to transform their communities. The high-spirited energy of these waves of gatherings filled the air of the community, creating vibrancy, fellowship and hope.
Even today, these gatherings continue to illuminate neighborhoods and villages throughout the island.
SOME INSPIRATIONAL MOMENTS OF THE YOUTH CONFERENCE
What We Believe In