Homefront pioneering: “our next teaching act”

Posted: 2019/03/07

In the midst of winter, junior youth in Cornwall, Ont. study diligently at their local library. Photo: Sonja Appadoo.

The call to raise the number of clusters with intensive programs of growth, first shared in 2015, continues to resonate throughout the world to this day. Here we follow one family that immediately responded to the goals set by the Universal House of Justice and set out to pioneer to a cluster looking to grow.

Our desire to homefront pioneer was first sparked when we studied the 29 Dec. 2015 message from the Universal House of Justice with a group of friends in London, Ont., soon after it was released.

Helping to raise “the number of clusters where a programme of growth has become intensive to 5,000 by Riḍván 2021” appealed to us as a “truly formidable”[1] objective and we knew wanted to contribute to it as a family. This Plan also presented a rather unique opportunity to serve from a historical perspective: it not only is the “last in a series of consecutive Five Year Plans,” as the Universal House of Justice mentions in the Riḍván 2016 message, but its outcome “has the potential to be profoundly significant, even epoch making.”

Through the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, we learned that “Efforts to stimulate activity in a cluster…are greatly enhanced if one or more individuals settle there as homefront pioneers, concentrating their attention on part of a village or even a single street where there is heightened receptivity.”[2] This settled it. Homefront pioneering would be our next teaching act. It became very clear from the outset that the “herculean labour”[3] required of us, at least initially, was coming to understand all the implications of settling in a new town, relocating our business and finding a high school for our teenaged son.

We knew our lives would be unsettled, and we had no illusions about the “concerted effort”[4] that would be required in terms of helping to advance a cluster to the second milestone. We felt that – after residing in clusters which had attained and sustained an intensive programme of growth – our experience, the things we have learned and the capacities we developed could be useful in a cluster that had yet to reach the second milestone. But where would we go?

We received the Bahá’í Council of Ontario’s call for homefront pioneers in the province a few months later and learned of a cluster near Ottawa called Cornwall. We knew nothing about this place except that it was a goal cluster. We found it confirming that moving there would also bring us closer to Montreal, where our older son and his family reside. We immediately contacted the Council’s secretary and informed her of our intention to homefront pioneer in Cornwall.

The encouraging response from the Council and their guidance to consult with the Auxiliary Board member set everything in motion. We were quickly engaged in a consultative process with the Auxiliary Board member, and we set out to meet him and a devoted Bahá’í couple in Cornwall – themselves pioneers in a previous Plan – for a consultation to initiate steps for our settlement as homefront pioneers.

With the institutions setting the direction, it was now a question of how quickly we could move to our pioneering post. Here again the guidance of the Universal House of Justice proved priceless: “By concentrating on the advance that must be made in a cluster in an initial period—for instance, in the six cycles occurring before the first of the bicentennial anniversaries—the friends will do much to bring their goal for the full five years within reach.”[5]

Some of the junior youth in Cornwall, Ont. took part in a two-day junior youth camp to learn about the junior youth program. From there they started a regular group that continues to this day. Photo: Sonja Appadoo

Il est devenu tout à fait clair pour nous que le déménagement devrait avoir lieu aux cours des six cycles précédant la célébration du premier bicentenaire, et que le plus tôt serait le mieux. Notre fils

It became abundantly clear to us that the move should happen within the six cycles leading to the first bicentenary celebration, and the sooner the better. Our teenaged son, who had been given the choice to continue his education in London or to come to Cornwall, pleasantly surprised us when he said he had decided he would join us as a homefront pioneer, leaving his many friends behind. This was welcome news and confirmation as the cluster needed youth of his age to animate a junior youth program. We decided he would complete Grade 11 in London and join us in June 2017.

With the help of a friend from Ottawa who offered to host us, we spent much of the summer of 2016 visiting one neighbourhood, scouting others and having conversations with parents and youth about starting a junior youth spiritual empowerment program. Activities started in earnest when we settled in our new home in November of that year. We started hosting dawn prayers every Sunday, study circles and meetings to plan Bahá’í Holy days and other events. By this time a nucleus of friends studying, acting, reflecting and consulting together was already emerging in the cluster. Regular visits to friends in Russell, Ont., an hour’s drive from Cornwall, tutoring Ruhi Book 10: Building Vibrant Communities and attending devotional gatherings ensured that the teaching effort involved the friends in the furthermost parts of the cluster.

Efforts to reach out to families with children and junior youth who multiplied, and during home visits we talked with them about the junior youth program. With the help of two young animators from Ottawa, the reservoir cluster, we organised a junior youth camp in summer of 2017 at our home. Several families happily sent their junior youth, laying a strong foundation for starting a regular group. More confirmation was on the way when we received the go-ahead from the public library to use one of its rooms for the junior youth program every Saturday morning, free of charge. The first junior youth group started in August 2017, and the participants are, to this day, mostly those who attended that first junior youth camp.

The search for a junior youth animator was another goal that we set right from the beginning. A friendly conversation with a young man while shopping led to a strong friendship being developed with him and his girlfriend, herself a young teacher. She was interested in the program and, during a gathering at our home, she volunteered to animate the junior youth program at the library. She has since completed Ruhi Book 1: Reflections on the Life of the Spirit and is about to complete Ruhi Book 5: Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth. This new animator takes her role very seriously, shown through her careful preparation each week and her desire to always consult prior to and debrief after the sessions. She and her friend are both regular attendees at our monthly devotional gathering, and they actively participate in our Holy Day celebrations.

We’re now almost halfway through this Plan, and since deciding to dedicate ourselves its goals our nucleus of friends has expanded to 15 believers and friends of the Faith. We have a well-structured cycle of growth with reflection meetings and an expansion phase; the cluster has 17 core activities including three junior youth groups, one of which is held every Friday at our place and involves participants in our street and neighbourhood, with a fourth on the way. As pioneers, we see our role as continuing to walk the path of service alongside the friends, identifying “nascent capacity that must be nurtured ….and initiators of a fledgling effort who must be accompanied…”[6]

— Sonja Appadoo


[1] From the Universal House of Justice to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 29 December 2015

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] From the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Riḍván 2016

[6] From the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Riḍván 2014