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What would it feel like to intentionally do an act of service for others every day for a week? A month? Or as long as 100 days? How would it affect your life to consistently act in an altruistic way for that long?
That’s exactly what my small community of Baha’is in the Canadian province of Ontario plans to find out. To understand our motivation, I need to offer some background information about us.
As members of the Baha’i Faith, we follow the teachings of Baha’u’llah, its prophet and founder. Before Baha’u’llah passed from this world in 1892, he named his son Abdu’l-Baha as his successor. At that point, Abdu’l-Baha became the center of the Baha’i Covenant. He took on the role of the authentic interpreter of the writings and teachings of Baha’u’llah; he guided Baha’is around the world in the growth, organization, and stewardship of their then-young Faith; and his life served as the role model and the perfect example for putting the Baha principles into action.
To further understand the role of Abdu’l-Baha for the Baha’is, and indeed for the entire world, we might consider his title. In its original Arabic, “Abdu’l” means “servant” and “Baha” means “Glory,” thus referring to Baha’u’llah, whose name means “the glory of God.” Indeed Abdu’l-Baha’s entire life was characterized by service. He ministered to the poor, the sick, the elderly, the homeless and the hungry. He turned no one away, and he judged none as being unworthy. Abdu’l-Baha was always generous, tender, and loving.
When I think about Abdul-Baha and his extraordinary life, I feel inspired to be a better person, to be more responsive to the needs of others, and to make wiser decisions. Asking myself “What would Abdu’l-Baha do?” helps me through my personal challenges. I can explain this by offering the words of Abdu’l-Baha, from a talk he gave in New York in 1912: “What is inspiration? It is the influx of the human heart.”
There is so much more to say about him. I do hope you’ll learn about his life of service through articles like this one.
How does this relate to my community’s “100 days of service” idea? In November of 2020, Baha’is around the world received a letter from the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected global governing body of the Baha’i Faith, announcing plans and activities for the following few months and, central to this story, characterizing the next year as:
… a year for profound reflection on the life of Abdu’l-Baha and the strength of the Covenant of which He was the Centre, as the community prepares to commemorate the centenary of His Ascension.
Abdu’l-Baha ascended to the next world on November 27, 1921 – so this year Baha’is around the world will observe the 100-year anniversary of his passing.
In my Baha’i community, we immediately began consulting about the life of Abdu’l-Baha. For example, we listed ways to learn about him — books to read, films to watch, ideas to discuss, quotations to memorize. Gradually, though, we realized that our actions, more than anything else, would bring us closer to him. During his historic visit to North America in 1912 he often spoke in words such as this: “You are the reality and expression of your deeds and actions.”
Increasingly, we concluded, learning about and honoring Abdu’l-Baha means to aspire to be like him through our own deeds as individuals and as a group. In our daily lives we already try to be helpful, so we knew we wanted to go further and be more intentional. But perhaps most importantly, we wanted to find a way to create lasting benefits for our entire town, even as we considered our own small numbers and limited resources. Exactly how that would happen remained a goal without a plan for quite a while.
Then, one afternoon in May while on a fitness run, I let my mind wander about service ideas, community-level action, and the diversity within my Baha’i community. Several ideas came to me during that run, most notably remembering what a small group of Baha’is in British Columbia did in 2017, at the same time that Baha’is around the world were preparing for the observance of the Bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah. These individuals had decided that they would perform 200 acts of service in honor of Baha’u’llah. I wondered if that idea could be adapted to our own situation and the upcoming centenary of Abdul-Baha’s passing on 27 November of this year.
I noticed a change in my breathing as I continued my run — I felt calmer, more relaxed. I even found myself smiling, feeling like I was “in the zone,” as the saying goes. Then I suddenly had an idea: What if we were to dedicate the 100 days before the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’s passing to service?
Some acts of service might be small, some large. Some could be pre-planned, some spontaneous. Some would be solitary, some involving a family or a friendship group. To be realistic, some days would be easier than others. No one would ever judge anyone, but we could also serve each other by sharing our learning.
I brought this idea to our next community gathering and then to our Local Spiritual Assembly, the local elected leadership body of the Baha’is, of which I am a member. Wow – what enthusiasm! Immediately people had ideas about what some of the acts of service might be, how we could encourage each other, and how far we might extend the idea of service.
Our community consultations have already been enriched through our unity of vision. A statement from the Baha’i International Community succinctly describes this experience: “The consultative process itself promotes personal growth and collective solidarity.”
My idea, just the spark of an idea really, has already grown into a township-wide initiative. Just to mention a few practical outcomes: Our mayor is not only supportive but also offered to help by announcing our 100 days of service through the township’s own communication and social media channels. We have discussed with township employees a major service project to be dedicated on the Day of the Covenant, a holy day observed by Baha’is every year on 25 November in honor of Abdul-Baha. As of the time of this writing, and to be formally confirmed during a Township Council meeting in early August, we will be honored to be the initial donors for a fitness circuit to be installed along a track at the community center property. The mayor and other township officials will participate in a formal dedication on that day. Our local newspaper will interview some of our community members, in addition to publishing some articles I will write about the days of service. Of course, our motivation is not to receive applause or acclaim, but we are heartened to know that the word “Baha’i” will be increasingly recognized for commitment to service and to community. We do hope that others will join us in our journey.
We will have so much so tell you as our story and this experience unfolds, so BahaiTeachings.org has agreed to publish a series of articles about this initiative. That series begins now — before the launch of our 100 Days of Service on 19 August — in hopes that some of you may be inspired by our plans, much as I was inspired by the Baha’is in British Columbia. If you are, you will have your own way of doing it; we don’t have any magical formula to tell you about.What we do have is a love for Abdu’l-Baha and for service to others. Even if you know very little about Abdu’l-Baha, you probably see the value in selfless service as tangible evidence of the unity of all people. With stories about his life literally filling books, this one quotation from him offers a summary of his approach and advice — and a template for what we all can do every day: “Help to make them feel at home; ask if you may render them any service; try to make their lives a little happier.”