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Around the world, between the months of July and October 2013, thousands of young people will take part in 114 Baha’i youth conferences. I had the honor and privilege of attending one of three conferences held in Canada. Hosted at the University of British Columbia from August 3rd – 5th, approximately 800 youth from as far north as Alaska and as far east as Alberta came together in service for the well-being of humanity; and went away moved, encouraged and inspired. But that description doesn’t do the experience justice – with an ineffable atmosphere of love and unity, I saw the conference as an experience utterly opposed to our cultural conventions.
People came in scores, and though some may have been unaware of the magnitude or purpose of it, we all felt the energy which permeated those three days. The Universal House of Justice, the elected central body of the Bahai Faith, called to action the youth of the world with a message that contained these words:
To every generation of young believers comes an opportunity to make a contribution to the fortunes of humanity, unique to their time of life. For the present generation, the moment has come to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a life of service from which blessings will flow in abundance.
During the conference we worked in groups composed of the members of our immediate local communities. Two central themes provided a core to the material we studied and the conversations which occurred as a result of them. The first — the idea of service to humanity — carries immense implications. We learned that if we as individuals put service at the center of our lives, it will do away with the false choice of having to decide between our personal goals and the responsibilities which we feel toward our fellow human beings.
Our own happiness, we learned, comes from the “purposeful action” of service. Everything, from our friendships to the people we hope to spend the rest of our lives with, should be founded on this idea of achieving happiness through service to humanity. We learned that the meaning of “true friendship” emerges when two individuals create a relationship in which mutual support and the nurturing of one another allow each person to serve to the best of their abilities. And we discussed the idea that one of the best ways to investigate the character of someone you’re interested in is to serve together, examining the dynamic you share by trying to achieve a common purpose. From our personal relationships to the social forces which shape societal culture, the ideal of service will help us build a new world.
That joyous, spontaneous expression taught us the second of the two central themes — the time for action has arrived. The period of youth, truly short and fleeting, made us all ask “If not now, when?” That question has a simple answer — the time is now. This world has provided for each and every one of us. As a matter of justice, and nothing but, each one of us must give back by serving humanity; give all we have for a world that has given us everything.