I live in the San Francisco Bay area in Northern California, so I attended the Oakland Baha’i Youth Conference, one among 114 Baha’i youth conferences happening all over the world this summer and fall. These conferences exist to inspire this generation of youth — every individual between the ages of 15 and 30 — to walk a path of service to humanity.
When I arrived, the diversity of the youth amazed me. The conference had youth participants from different religious, cultural, and educational backgrounds coming together with one unifying purpose — to build a new, more spiritual society.
Elijah, a 22 year-old from Berkeley who is not a Baha’i, told the crowd of 600 youth as he stood on the stage. “I have a stressful and hectic home life – so when a friend invited me to the Baha’i youth conference and told me I’d get to stay in a hotel for three days, I thought, ‘Hey, sweet deal!’ By the second day I started realizing the impact of this conference, and today, on the last day, I’m inspired to go out and be part of the efforts that change society…. I want to change myself too.”
All of us reflected on the inspiration of the Baha’i Writings during the conference, and this beautiful and inspiring quote from Abdu’l-Baha inspired me:
…all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. – Paris Talks, p. 176.
Focused on service, the conference had a twofold purpose — individual development and societal progress. In sessions we divided up into our local community groups and discussed how we could give each other mutual support and true friendship. We talked about the negative and positive forces of our society on youth and junior youth, and the importance of persevering through crisis and victory.
We also focused on the concept of “false choices”; on understanding how the different parts of our lives interconnect (i.e. work, family, health, service, and recreation), and that each impacts the other. We incorporated the arts into every activity to help solidify our understandings, and the music, poetry, role-playing, and drawing created a bright and lively environment that kept everyone engaged.
During our group reflections, one friend shared that the path of service to humanity is one with our true purpose, and that’s why it bears fruit; other paths might seem fun and enjoyable, but they are simply empty. The most significant part of the conference for me was witnessing the testimonies of youth who had the courage to walk up on stage, stand in front of 600 faces, and share how the weekend had impacted them, how they believe it is possible to transform our society, and how beautiful and REAL it all felt.
Without a doubt, we have each been motivated and inspired during these precious three days to go back out into our communities and walk a path of service to humanity. We left the conference with one firm thought at hand: dedicating our life towards building a new society is not a choice, it’s a responsibility.