“While our neighbourhood advances, our own character develops”

Posted: 2019/06/05

The youth in the Rundle neigbourhood in Calgary, Alta., celebrate the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh in October 2017. Photo: Provided by the Bahá’í Council of Alberta.

Shamim Khalili, a youth who offered several periods of service in the Rundle neighbourhood in Calgary, Alta., shares how his experiences affected both his life decisions and relationship to the Faith. This interview has been edited and condensed.

What influenced your decision to give a year of service? 

A bunch of things! Having given a summer of service in 2015 and in 2017, and having participated in several teaching campaigns, I gained a vision of how working in Rundle was connected to the aims of the Plan, and also because of the friendships and connections I had developed during that time.

Youth in these intensive spaces know that these friendships transcend other aspects of your life, as you are reading the Writings every day, studying and serving together. The intensity of the effort really advances friendships in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise experience. It’s so, so special. It doesn’t matter at what point in life you are, or what generation you are, the bonds of friendship and the quality of them is the same.

How were your parents involved in your decision, or in support of your service?

During the summer of 2017, I spent some 10-12 hours every day in Rundle, with one-and-a-half-hour bus rides both ways. Towards the end of summer my family was to spend a few weeks travelling to visit some relatives. The day before we were to leave, close to midnight, I got a call and found out that another youth wanted to do a year of service, and was asked if I wanted to do one as well. It was easy to say yes. I was encouraged to talk to my parents so, while we were travelling, I discussed it with each of them. They understood and were supportive. They knew it would provide a different experience than most youth who just focus on school have and that it would be an opportunity for intense spiritual reflection and education.

What have you learned that you might not have otherwise?

In addition to developing deep bonds of friendship, I learned a lot about the Faith – the Revelation is so vast. There were opportunities to engage in the institute process, study the Writings and guidance from the House of Justice and learn more about the Dawn-Breakers and other early believers.

My character was refined through service. There were joyous times, but also crises. These developed my courage, discipline and patience in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without the intensive nature of this service. My relationship to the Faith also advanced. I was able to view the aims of my life – my profession, marriage and family life – in terms of service and learn about how to move forward coherently.

What skills or knowledge have you developed that you can apply to your future service, future work/career, or life in general?

I have become much more articulate in expressing myself, which comes from having so many conversations with people. You do that a lot when you serve intensively. I’ve also gained skills and qualities necessary in consultation, which you develop in working with a team. We met daily and made decisions together. I can apply these skills in school projects, or with family and in the future with other aspects of my life.

What has been the best experience you’ve had from giving a period of service?

Two stand out to me. One was attending a seminar at the learning site in Vancouver along with other youth from Edmonton and Calgary and meeting all those friends who are so loving and welcoming. We worked with them for 18 days. It was very hard but so joyful. Being connected to so many teams making the same effort was a fantastic experience.

Another highlight was the summer of 2018, after my year of service. For most of the year the Rundle team wasn’t big, but we were acting all the time. In the summer, the team expanded so much, and we spent entire days together, cooking together and really trying to learn in a focused manner how to start children classes, build relationships with parents and with junior youth every day. It was so special. That experience helped develop relationships I wouldn’t otherwise have with the people in the neighbourhood.

There was a campaign to reach out to youth and to build relationships with children and their families. There were kids who lived in the complex where the campaign was taking place so we would play with the children every morning for a few hours. It was a moving experience and a very natural thing to do, and because of that it was also natural to be able to go to their home, meet their parents and later begin a children’s class.

What would you say to other youth who are considering giving a period of service?

I would say we’ve spent most of our lives progressing through our material education – which is needed and wonderful – and we’ve also spent a lot of time on entertainment and other distracting things. But offering a summer or year of service gives an opportunity to take a break from that and be in an environment where we can spend time with people and really develop true friendships, while having a noble objective that we are all working towards. While our neighbourhood advances, our own character develops as well.

This last year, we learned about how to have campaigns while sustaining the quality of the core activities. We are now learning about how to achieve coherence between the junior youth program, reaching out to youth and developing relationships with parents.