In the Prairies, friends dedicate a period of service to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Posted: 2022/05/09

In the summer of 2021, the Bahá’í Councils of Alberta and that of Saskatchewan and Manitoba collaborated in sending out a call to friends in the region to offer a period of full-time service to the Cause. With the desire to please ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the centenary year of His passing, approximately 50 friends responded to the call: some offering a summer of full-time service, others offering nine consecutive days of service each cycle of the One Year Plan, and still others offering a full year until Ridván 2022. A space was created for this group to meet on a weekly basis from Monday to Thursday for a few hours to study, reflect and to share stories about the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. About a dozen of the friends in the group have been participating in this weekly space since July.

Photo 4 Cropped 300x182Children gather together at one of the two summer children’s camps in the Blue Quill neighbourhood in Edmonton, Alberta.

When Alice Chachana decided to commit to a year of service while working full-time, a friend asked, “How are you going to manage that?” Alice responded, “I don’t know, somehow. Something will work out.” As Alice had predicted, something did work out, but it was not in the way she expected. A week before her service period began, she was let go from her job.

She spent the next two months attending interviews for various job openings without success. After her last interview, she told her Prairie service group that she felt distressed at the circumstances.

“I felt betrayed,” said Alice, “but the next morning it hit me; this is not how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would behave. ‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘Bahá’u’lláh has this service as a priority.’” After this reflection, Alice began to see her situation as a confirmation for her focus to be centred on her year of service.

Her year became dedicated to serving full-time in Blue Quill, a focus neighbourhood in Edmonton into which she had recently moved, and her service as the cluster’s children’s class coordinator.

Photo 3 Cropped And Slightly Edited 211x300

Children play a game during a summer children’s camp in the Blue Quill neighbourhood in Edmonton, Alberta.

Last summer, she organized two camps for children in the neighbourhood – one being a weekend camp with 18 participants and the other a four-day camp with 11 participants. Two youth from the neighbourhood helped Alice run the camp activities; one of the youth continues to help her teach the weekly children’s class. Alice hopes to accompany this youth and others in the cluster through studying Ruhi Book 3: Teaching Children’s Classes so that he can start his own children’s class.

Marilee and David Rhody of Grand Prairie, Alta., are both retired. Their primary motivation for dedicating themselves to full-time service this past year in Alberta’s Peace cluster was their love for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and their lack of work obligations helped ease the barriers to their decision. During their period of service, they helped strengthen the devotional gatherings in their cluster, and travelled to other communities to assist them with their core activities.

The couple have continued to stay connected to the local organizations and various educational, cultural and support groups that have been a part of their daily lives since before the start of their full-time service period. Because of this, they maintain the relationships they established in the community, while making effort to initiate new ones. They view their service this past year as a coherent aspect of their day-to-day lives, but with added intensity, planning and effort.

To establish new relationships within their own community, the couple spent time walking around their neighbourhood, meeting their neighbours, and inviting those interested to have tea, with the hope of building friendships and having meaningful conversations.

Besides the work in their own neighbourhood, the couple also spent time travelling to adjoining clusters such as the Lesser Slave Lake cluster, in which Bahá’í communities are small and sometimes isolated, and offering institute courses to friends there. For example, in one instance, the couple visited a friend in Fort St. John, B.C., then made their way to Dawson Creek, B.C., to offer an in-person study of Ruhi Book 2: Arising to Serve. Around the same time, they also travelled to help the friends in Fairview, Alta. complete an in-person study of Ruhi Book 2.

Over the last year, the Rhodys have also been studying Ruhi Book 5: Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth and are enjoying learning from their study. Their hope is to see how their study of this book can help the young people in their community.

Photo 1 Cropped Again Again 300x191A Ruhi Book 2 study circle in the Peace Cluster met weekly at a park during the months of July and August 2021 (From left to right are: Donna Lof, Beverly Rolling, Eric Lof, Marilee Rhody and David Rhody).

Another retired individual from the Peace cluster, Beverly Rolling, was already serving as an animator in her community when her year of full-time service began. In her hamlet in northern Alberta called Whitelaw, there are two junior youth groups and one children’s class. Beverly facilitates these three core activities alongside her granddaughter and a few friends.

While these activities are the focus of her service in Whitelaw, Beverly also hoped to make some advancements with her service at the local seniors’ centre, where she has a leadership role. One opportunity presented itself this past year for the two initiatives to connect.

The junior youth groups and children’s class had been meeting at a farmhouse, but they needed to find a larger space to allow more participants to join the activities. At the same time, the seniors’ group wanted to connect with the broader community and increase the number of people using its space. These two needs were connected because of Beverly’s role, and because some other members of the seniors’ group have a connection with the participants of the children’s class and junior youth group. Beginning in September, the community-building activities began to take place at the seniors’ centre.

“This represents a big shift in the senior group’s direction, from using their facility specifically for seniors’ activities and rentals to opening their doors for the purpose of community-building,” explains Beverly.

Photo 11 Cropped 300x189A junior youth group animated by Beverly Rolling and her granddaughter, Casey.

One thing Beverly and other friends in the Prairies service group learned this year was to plan for their service in a systematic manner. This included becoming familiar with the inhabitants of the communities in which they serve and meeting the needs of the different populations in these communities through the institute process.

Planning systematically looked different for the three women offering nine days of consecutive service each three-month cycle of the One Year Plan in the Hillsdale Whitmore Park neighbourhood in Regina, Sask. Regarding the plans for their service, Marion, one of the women, explained, “We went into it with the knowledge that we wouldn’t push ourselves. There was no way that we were going to do a nine to five schedule or go into the night. We would work around our appointments and other commitments. After consulting about these things, we were able to set up a schedule.”

All retired or semi-retired, the three friends – Joanne, Marion and Bahirih – signed up separately for the year of service program but formed a team once they learned they had committed to the same period. The call from the Bahá’í Council had asked them to “follow in the footsteps of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,” and this, along with the flexible nature of the program with regards to scheduling, attracted the three friends to register.

They chose Hillsdale Whitmore Park as the area of focus for their service because one of them, Joanne, already lived and served as an animator in that neighbourhood. They decided to use the first nine-day period to search for youth in the neighbourhood who would be interested to serve as animators alongside Joanne.

The team met a few days prior to the start of their first nine-day period, which began in August, to plan their study and action schedule. They determined to have some form of action and study every day; their study on Mondays to Thursdays would be together with the rest of the Prairie’s service group.

As a result of this effort, for the first time in several years, Hillsdale Whitmore Park received door-to-door outreach. Marion’s daughter made the team a flier to take with them. On the flier she included a QR code, which linked to the Vancouver cluster’s website for the junior youth spiritual empowerment program. “We only gave the flier to people who were interested, we didn’t just put them in peoples’ mailboxes,” explains Joanne.

On the first day, the team scouted the neighbourhood to gauge the receptivity of neighbours to the core activities. The second day they began outreaching and found nine neighbours who were interested in having conversations with the team. The excitement around the receptivity from the neighbours prompted the team to speak with Helen Mirkovich-Kohm, a member of the Regional Council who is accompanying the Prairie service program, about next steps the following day.

On the third day, prior to their consultation with Helen, the team faced its first crisis while doing outreach: none of them felt any motivation for service that day. They became filled with doubts about whether they were taking the right steps and whether there were other things they could be doing that would benefit the neighbourhood more. The team decided to stop their half-hearted outreach efforts for the day and retire to Joanne’s home to consult with Helen.

Helen and an Auxiliary Board member who joined the call encouraged the efforts of the team. They told the team that sometimes energy levels fall during periods of intense service. They also confirmed that the team was on the right path with taking the necessary steps to achieve their goals for the neighbourhood. “They said, ‘so just go and get to know these people; get to know the neighbourhood and make friends and ask the contacts you’ve made to help with the ongoing junior youth group,’” explains Marion. “And we thought, ‘well, that’s easy, we can do that.’ So, hearing that encouraged us,” she continued.

The team began studying the 2013 youth conference materials to prepare for furthering conversations with those neighbours expressing interest in animating. They put together a document with helpful passages they could study with others. On the morning of the ninth day, they carried out a study of the document with an interested youth at a park, and they also decided to study it with a mother interested in helping with the junior youth group.

Reflecting on the first nine-day period, Marion said:

We learned that it’s important to pace ourselves, and to read our reality. We would read our reality every day in terms of our age, in terms of the temperature outside, in terms of our other daily commitments. We wanted to be flexible with our expectations and kind and patient in the process. It was essential to have the support of the Auxiliary Board members and Helen in terms of encouragement and guidance.

The team hopes to continue building friendships with their new contacts and to invite others to help with junior youth groups and seasonal camps to build experience with serving the community.

Varying circumstances led each of these friends to offer periods of full-time service to the Cause this year, but Marilee Rhody expressed the sentiment shared by all, that “The most important reason all of us are doing this is love of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. We wanted to get closer to Him and offer what we can, inspired by His constant service.”