Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Empowering college youth, advancing clusters

College and university campuses are places with immense potential for sharing the Message. How can that potential most effectively be utilized, both in the context of the specific campus and the cluster in which it is located? A challenging question, around which much learning is taking place! Over the past year, a lot of insights have been gained about teaching the Faith on college and university campuses. Here is a report from the Northwest region that summarizes some of the progress made over the past year. We share it because it depicts clearly a wonderful process of transformation in several Bahá’í Campus Associations (BCAs) as they strive to focus their activities to implement the main elements of the Plan. It is also heartening to see the loving encouragement and support given to the youth by the Regional Bahá’í Council and other institutions of the Faith.

So, to begin: In Autumn of 2008, two events were organized by the Regional Bahá’í Council for the Northwestern states, bringing together youth from several colleges and universities from 3 different states in the region. The purpose of these gatherings was clear:

To broaden our common vision of the Five Year Plan, to share experiences, to prepare campus action plans aligned with local cluster efforts, and to empower youth to take their place at the forefront . . .

The main elements of the retreats were as follows:

During the retreat, participants had an opportunity to review the major elements of the Five Year Plan, study recent guidance, reflect on personal goals, consult together and develop a campus action plan. Devotions, art, music and drama were incorporated throughout the weekend.

Over and over again, we heard from the youth that they felt excited and empowered by the retreat. They gained a much better understanding of the Five Year Plan and the specific role they can play. Another common sentiment was that youth on campus are a fertile ground. They are open to new ideas, have time available and not as many barriers as they may have later in life . . .

Consultation during these gatherings enabled participants to reflect on the experiences of their past efforts. For example, it was concluded that certain types of large-scale proclamation events involved substantial resources but relatively small results.

Campus plans of action were made, in which specific activities were identified, as well as the timeline and resources. Here are some of the commitments made for two of the participating universities:

Start a children’s class in an apartment complex in the cluster.

Start an interfaith devotional with other faith groups on campus.

Continue planning monthly firesides.

Start a children’s class in the housing complex for married students.

Start a Ruhi Book 1 study circle on campus.

Start monthly devotions on campus.

The impact of these gatherings on the youth was substantial, as illustrated by some of the comments about their experiences:

I liked seeing the different institutions, each with a different role, all working together.

I liked making solid plans. Sometimes, we are just wandering through our campus existence not doing what we should. Now, our BCA has a plan.

I wish I had done this while I was in college!

I like how we were so supported by the different institutions.

We are leaving here with concrete action plans and we all know what to do.

I liked how this weekend really helped us to organize and plan—not just talk, but action.

I’m so happy to see this. It’s amazing! We all had this passion, but we just needed a catalyst to get us going. I’m so excited to see what the future holds.

Even more exciting is to see how the campus plans of action unfolded. A member of the Regional Bahá’í Council states:

We have recently learned that the Ruhi study circle, the campus interfaith devotional gathering and the Bahá’í children’s classes in married student housing—all begun as a direct result of the “campus advance” gathering last fall—are growing in strength. That’s 3 out of 4 core activities initiated by our youth!

The events also inspired about 20 young people to attend the Regional Bahá’í Conference in Portland in December. These youth then returned home to spearhead teaching efforts in their cluster, helping it to advance to the A stage in February!

Two similar events are now planned to take place in August and September 2009. Stay tuned!

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