Youth conferences attract young people with a keen sense of purpose

Posted: 2014/08/14
 Participants at the Waterloo youth conference make plans to contribute to community building in their area.   Photo: Martha Root

Participants at the Waterloo youth conference make plans to contribute to community building in their area.
Photo: Martha Root and Lua Eghanian

Eight of the 10 youth conferences called by the National Spiritual Assembly to take place across Canada this summer have been held in Halifax, N.S., Saskatoon, Sask., Victoria, B.C., Calgary, Alta., Montreal, Que., Waterloo, Ont., Kelowna and Vancouver, B.C. A youth conference in Ottawa, Ont. will take place this weekend, and a conference in Toronto will take place 22 to 24 August. We will be posting a number of pictures that we have received from the youth conferences soon. Here is an article which shares some of the insights from the participants at the Montreal youth conference as well as from the Bahá’í Council of Quebec.

Young people at the recent Montreal, Que. youth conference were concerned about the state of the world, inspired by a keen sense of justice and felt a sense of urgency to invite more people to join them in service to their communities, according to one participant.

Another conference participant observed that there are wars happening in many countries and that governments are disintegrating, but that he and his friends “are trying to make the next generation better by having children’s classes and youth classes and youth conferences” and that these efforts contribute to the processes of integration in the world.

Approximately 170 youth participated in the conference, held at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, a private school in the Côtes-des-Neiges area of Montreal. Last year, the Montreal community also hosted a youth conference, which was among the 114 conferences called for by the Universal House of Justice.

Kelowna conference - volunteers

Volunteers at the Kelowna conference.

One of the reasons the National Spiritual Assembly called for these youth conferences was to invite more youth to join this “powerful movement” before the end of the Five Year Plan, “to accompany this wave of new friends and collaborators “to join the inner circle of the Kingdom” and give their gifts of service to humanity, to be His “bearers of spiritual gifts to man.” More than 50 percent of the youth who attended the conference this year had not attended last summer’s youth conference. This shows that the conference built on the efforts last year, and attracted a new group of youth.

The Bahá’í Council of Quebec noted 40 percent of youth who attended the conference this year were alive to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision for humanity, but not registered as Bahá’ís. The Council shared that whether the youth had grown up in a Bahá’í family or “learned of the Faith in the days (or hours!) [before] the conference, all participants took part with joy and enthusiasm in the ‘inclusive and ever-expanding conversation’ [1] nurtured by the conference.” The Council also praised the depth of thinking and eloquence of the youth, and the boldness of the plans made at the conference.

Some of the youth who attended the conference last year invited their friends and family members to participate this year. Two youth were initially reticent to invite their friends, but were pleasantly surprised by their reactions. “After all, it is natural to want to serve one’s community,” they concluded. Another youth whose friends attended the conference felt it was important to find out what his friends thought about religion, conferences and the Bahá’í Faith and to remove the inhibitions they had about attending an unfamiliar event.

Many of the youth learned about the conference after deciding to animate junior youth groups or teach children’s classes. Some of the youth who attended were junior youth during last year’s conference who heard about the conference from their older friends and enthusiastically attended this year. One youth learned about the conference and the community-building process after a high school ethics teacher invited youth involved in Bahá’í activities to speak to her class.

A group of youth sing together at the Montreal conference in late July.

A group of youth sing together at the Montreal conference in late July.

A participant from Gatineau, Que. decided to come to the conference after being attracted to the beauty of a Bahá’í friend’s character. “It was obvious . . . that he was a bit different . . . he wouldn’t drink . . . he would have game nights at his house . . . a good environment [for people] to have a good time without destructive forces.” He also noted that his friend would always walk around looking happy. One day, he asked his friend why he acted this way and learned that he was a Bahá’í. When he asked him more about the Faith, his friend told him about the Faith’s work in building community and that a large focus was on educating youth. He then went to a meeting to learn about the youth conference and decided to attend. He said he was “shocked by how deep” the junior youth materials are and said that it is incredible that these young people are being exposed to this type of thinking at such a young age. He will be attending Concordia University next year and plans to contribute to the spiritual empowerment of youth in Montreal.

A 25-year-old youth invited his 17-year-old nephews who were visiting from London, England to attend the conference after observing that they were “very perceptive and were looking into deeper questions.” Last year, he had online conversations over Skype with his relatives, sent them links to the film Frontiers of Learning, and to the videos made about the 114 youth conferences earlier this year. After viewing the videos, his nephews were eager to explore what they could do to contribute to their communities and decided to attend the conference. They will be attending the London School of Economics next year and found it interesting to meet other youth at the conference who are also thinking about what a future economic system could look like, and are considering the possibility of starting their own businesses. The U.K. youth decided that they would start a group at their university who could meet together and discuss the ideas presented in the conference materials.

Youth at the Montreal conference form a tableau.

Youth at the Montreal conference form a tableau.

One idea that was discussed at the conference was the role of this generation of youth in society. A 16- year-old noted that the members of his generation should not be thinking only about “getting money and getting stuck with worldly things,” but that they needed to advance themselves so that they could advance their communities. He noted that his generation needs to be on a spiritual path, and to have a vision of how to contribute to “positive change.” He observed that many of his generation are affected by negative forces and that they have a desire to create change, but do not know how to do it. He also observed that youth can rely on positive forces such as attraction to beauty and thirst for knowledge, and look to the Word of God to create this change.

Another concept that was discussed at the Montreal conference was the value of service to one’s community and the importance of forming friendships based on service. Many of the youth described how service to their communities strengthened their friendships. One teenage girl observed, “I invited a friend to the conference and it helped us to strengthen our friendship. At school we were always together . . . and now I think our friendship is much deeper. Last night, I felt bad, and she really helped and supported me, but I had never seen that part of her.”

The youth also talked about how they could elevate their conversations in a variety of spaces, including social media. An 18-year-old youth noted that sometimes conversations on social media could be superficial, and said that it was necessary to create “real connections through a culture of service.” A 15-year-old youth who attended the conference has a Facebook page where she posts inspiring quotes, and decided at the conference to hold “quote nights” once or twice a month, during which a group of friends would read and discuss quotes together.

A 16-year-old youth plans to invite her friends to a movie night, discuss the film afterwards and then invite them to assist with animating junior youth groups. A 15-year-old youth said that she would try to have more profound conversations with the people she sees every day, rather than only talking to the people she knows well and feels comfortable with. Others decided to make an effort to share some of the ideas from the conference with their friends at school, so that they could become better friends, and then invite them to assist with animating children’s classes and junior youth groups.

Waterloo-small

Youth at the Waterloo conference. Photo: Martha Root and Lua Eghanian

The Bahá’í Council of Quebec noted that the “rich experience” of the three-day conference “is but a punctuation mark in the development of a youth movement that is rapidly gaining momentum.” They wrote that the movement is part of a much larger process in which people of all ages have an active and essential role to play. For that reason, they called on communities across Quebec to arrange gatherings in which the youth could share what they had learned at the conferences, and to discuss how they could support the plans made by the youth. The Council noted that the conferences were part of powerful, transformative process “that will generate, over time, a global civilization reflecting the unity of mankind.” [2]

Here are links to pictures, stories and reflections from the youth conferences that have taken place so far in Canada:

Pictures and accounts from Halifax, Saskatoon and Victoria

Video from Saskatoon 

Reflections from Victoria conference

Reports from Calgary conference

[1] Message of the Universal House of Justice to the participants of the 114 youth conferences, 1 July 2013, par. 8.
[2] Ibid, par. 7.