Devotional gatherings are being established all over the country in all kinds of places. Here is a report about a particularly unique venue: a naval boot camp! For over a decade, a regular devotional meeting has been conducted at the Recruit Training Center of the Great Lakes Naval Station in the Waukegan, IL (*C) cluster. Through the dedicated efforts of several local believers, this core activity is now reaching and benefiting a receptive (and mobile) population. One of the current organizers provides a description of this initiative.
A group of us gives devotions for the recruit side of the base every Sunday from 9:15 to 10:15 and in the process also teaches the Faith. This was started by a sailor in or around 1996 (he is now living in another part of the country, I think), and the devotions have continued ever since. There are 4 of us, each from a different community in the Waukegan and Corinne True (Wilmette) clusters, who currently rotate our presence for the weekly devotions. Two of us have been doing this for years and the other 2 are more recent. We are unique among the religious leaders who lead the various religious services at the base in that we have diversity of gender and race among our representatives. The fact that 2 of us have also been in the military service themselves is also helpful. One of the cluster’s Local Spiritual Assemblies currently sponsors the devotions by purchasing the prayer books. . . .
The recruits who participate in the devotions are at the Great Lakes Naval Station for only 7 short weeks. During those 7 weeks they cannot watch TV, use email, or leave the base. Every hour of the week—except one on Sunday—is planned for them. In their orientation, they receive an overview of the various religious services available at the base, and that is where they hear about us. We do not know what is said about the Bahá’ís, although it appears to be accurate.
The people who attend the devotions range from the merely curious who are trying to avoid an hour of other duty to seekers to Bahá’ís who are new to the Navy. The number of attendees varies from week to week from 1 to 11. The recruits are able to take limited amounts of literature as it must fit in a tiny drawer. We take down the names of the attendees to pray for them in the subsequent week.
We tend to start with a welcome, ask their first names (which they have not heard for a while as only last names are used in the service) and we all offer prayers. Most keep the Gift of Prayer books that we offer. We also take down the names of the attendees to pray for them in the subsequent week.
We often ask the recruits what brings them to our devotions and find the recruits who have come a second time or more are our best teachers. We share all or most of Anna's presentation, depending on the questions that are asked and time allowed. If the attendees like what they hear, they bring friends and more questions the next time. Since everyone is on the base for only 7 weeks, it is rare for us to see someone for 3 or more times, so that has an impact on teaching. We had a few declarations between December and May, but none others since that time.
From a personal perspective—and I believe each of us would also agree—this path of service is one of the most vital and uplifting that I do. For example, last week there were 6 recruits who came to the devotional gathering, 3 returnees and 3 new. Most have enough time left in their training to come back to be with us again. For one of the attendees, this was her last week there, but she took information and expressed interest in learning more. Another was diagnosed with cancer during a health exam, so he was getting a health related discharge to go treat that. He was very interested and welcomed the healing prayers that were said for him. One gains great admiration for these young men and women, many of whom have grown up poor, but who are rising to defend justice and who are serving this country.