This story about the efforts of the Bahá’ís at Maryville College (in the Knoxville, TN (A) cluster) will definitely inspire you. If you ever wondered what a very small but very committed group of youth can do, just read on! They found a receptive population (international students), have oriented their approach to the wider campus community by explicitly inviting them to participate in community service (i.e., some work with us to start core activities), and are well on their way to officially registering their first Bahá’í Campus Association. Strong support from the cluster core team and a nearby Local Spiritual Assembly have just added to the momentum. Now they have a full set of core activities in which seekers are actively participating or even running.
Each year in August, Maryville College has a “Church and College Picnic” to welcome incoming freshman. The friends organized to have a Bahá’í booth as one of the booths at this picnic, staffed by the Bahá’í students (currently there are 4 on campus) and core team members, as well as a 15-year old who had just participated in the Project Badi summer teaching effort. . . .
A month prior to the event, the core team consulted with the Bahá’ís on campus about what items to have at the booth. One of the youth had this brilliant idea: Instead of having a sign-up sheet for people to sign up for information about the Bahá’í Faith, we instead had a community service sign-up sheet that said: “If you are interested in doing community service projects, please write your contact information here and the Bahá’í club on campus will be in touch with you.” The response was the greatest we had in years!
We also had numerous chances to directly share the Message at the booth—at some point, 3 of us were sharing Anna’s conversation simultaneously!
2 freshman who visited the booth had already researched the Faith and wrote a report about it in their high school (a pleasant surprise!). Most of the upperclassmen that we talked to were already familiar with the Faith, which is an indication that the 4 Bahá’ís on campus are actively teaching their friends. These upperclassmen had a lot of respect for the Faith and the Maryville College youths.
So we learned that involvement in community service projects is an idea that many young people on campus wholeheartedly embrace. The participation of younger youths who had just finished being in Project Badi added to the spirit as they are on fire with enthusiasm.
Now, while there are active Bahá’ís at Maryville College, there has never actually been a Bahá’í Campus Association there. So the 4 youths, assisted by the cluster institute coordinator and other community members consulted about how to register the club at the college. We identified a possible advisor for the club, who was the head of the college’s Center for Strong Communities. He asked us what the Bahá’í club would do, and we answered, “Service projects such as devotional gatherings, junior youth groups, neighborhood children’s classes and study circles.” He was impressed at the grassroots approach of the Faith and agreed to be the club’s advisor. He also informed the Bahá’ís of a second event that they could host a Bahá’í booth, an event for the campus religious clubs. At this booth, we again had a sign-up sheet for community service projects.
At the next Nineteen Day Feast, the children’s class coordinator stressed that we should try to start neighborhood children’s classes and junior youth groups right away before the cold weather comes.
The beginning of the semester is a very important time to start core activities, as well as for the Bahá’ís to reach out to students, as freshmen are still identifying which clubs they want to be involved with. As soon as all the Bahá’ís on campus knew their schedules, they immediately figured out what days they could come together to teach a neighborhood children’s class or organize a junior youth group.
The cluster institute coordinator supported the youth behind the scenes in all of these activities, including help them obtain materials for the booth. The core team does not direct the college youth, but lovingly encourages them and supports them in their efforts.
So, after getting a list of names of interested people from both booth (and by word of mouth), the Maryville College youths communicated with all these seekers through mass emails. They presented Book 1 (and the rest of the Ruhi sequence) as a way to train college students for service, as well as to learn about spirituality. Regular weekly times were set up for a Book 1 study circle, a junior youth group, and a children’s class. The study circle has 11 seekers. There’s also a monthly devotional gathering scheduled.
6 seekers were interested in helping out with the neighborhood children’s classes and are helping out with this class, which is 10 minutes away from campus. The Bahá’ís on campus help out by providing transportation for these students, most of whom are international students. These seekers have been very important human resources for all the efforts. 2 of these students have also taken Book 5 and are now animating a junior youth group, accompanied by the Bahá’ís on campus.
The monthly devotional meeting continues, hosted by those students that have completed Book 1.
The core team members meet with the Maryville College youth on a monthly basis to consult and encourage them. As Maryville does not have a Local Spiritual Assembly, the core team supports the college youth wholeheartedly. The Auxiliary Board member is very supportive, the area teaching committee helped cover the cost of the Ruhi Books and booth materials, and a neighboring Local Spiritual Assembly has stepped in to be the club’s official sponsor.