Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Crisis and Victory

In a prayer for youth, 'Abdu'l-Bahá supplicates:
O Lord! Strengthen these fragile seedlings that each one may become a fruitful tree, verdant and flourishing. Render these souls victorious through the potency of Thy celestial hosts, that they may be able to crush the forces of error and ignorance and to unfurl the standard of fellowship and guidance amidst the people; that they may, even as the reviving breaths of the spring, refresh and quicken the trees of human souls and like unto vernal showers make the meads of that region green and fertile.
Those who have studied Ruhi Book 4 know that the lives of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh provide us with an important object lesson: that the Cause of God advances through a series of crises and victories. It “moves from crisis to victory to crisis to victory, and no power on earth is capable of stopping its onward march.” The same principle holds true on a smaller scale at the level of individual core activities, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program. The following story tells of a junior youth group in crisis, and how a personal tragedy helped the group turn that crisis into victory.
Today our junior youth group experienced a breeze of confirmation. Over the past few weeks, our group has been struggling with disunity, and today, we finally began to overcome that barrier. We started with a prayer; we had never done this before, but since the junior youth had not been getting along lately, I figured it would set a good tone. Afterwards, we decided to update our group “pact” with a new set of guidelines that all of the junior youth came up with together, including some new members. We emphasized that these guidelines were important to prevent future problems that could contribute to the disunity our group was currently facing.
After revising the pact, we went to play soccer. As we were walking, Jack called me over from across the street. Jack is the stepfather of one of our former group members, Jeremy, who moved away about a month ago. His mom, Melony, had lost both of her legs to cancer four years ago, and she had sent Jeremy to live with his dad because it was time for him to have a full time male role model. Today, I learned from Jack that Melony knew she did not have long to live, and wanted Jeremy to be settled in with his father by the time she was gone. Melony lost her life to cancer just a few days ago.
I had never seen Jack so speechless. He could not express any words to me, so he sent me inside his home to talk with Connie, Melony’s best friend of 17 years. Connie sketched out the last moments of Melony’s life. She expressed Melony’s last wishes, which were to have her body cremated and her ashes given to her two sons so they could scatter them in the ocean together. At this point, I realized that Connie and Jack were not only mourning the death of Melony, but were also worried because they were $225 short in paying for her funeral expenses.
What happened next was beautiful. I got to share prayers with them. We said a prayer for the departed, and I assured them that God would take care of this problem. Then my co-animator arrived and also shared prayers with them. I asked them for permission to share this news with the rest of the group and they agreed. I joined the group on the soccer field and informed them of their neighborhood’s loss. They wanted to know if Jeremy was okay, and how they could help. I told them about the funeral expenses, and they immediately wanted to do something. This became our next service project.
After offering condolences, the group fanned out into the neighborhood in teams of two, and in a span of just an hour we collected over $150. We presented this money to Jeremy’s family, and this is when I realized how empowered the group had become today. Connie and Jack expressed their thanks in such a way that the junior youth truly felt the significance of what they had accomplished. They recognized the purpose of their group; that it is the core of the neighborhood, and that it is strong enough to put aside personal differences in times of need. They showed encouragement, love, generosity, and kindness to a family during a difficult time.
What was perhaps most empowering was that race barriers were dissolved today. Jeremy’s family is African American, while the rest of the group members are Hispanic. The junior youth have been hesitant to invite their African American neighbors to join. When we talked about reaching out to them two weeks ago, they expressed that they were not wanted in the African American community across the street, and they had no reason to go there. But today, thanks to Melony’s sacrifice, our junior youth group was given a reason to bridge these race barriers and to unify as a group to work toward one common goal. A boy, who had dropped out of the group about a month ago but was playing soccer with us, took ownership of the service project and led the group in helping Melony’s family.
We had so many touching moments. One of the youth shared a story of one of the men who donated money. The man said he was going to spend the money on beer, but because he knows Jeremy’s family is in need and because of how much he loves his own mom, he decided to donate the money instead. When this story was shared with the family, Connie was overcome with how special a sacrifice that man had made.
These breezes of confirmation solidified our group today and empowered these junior youth to experience firsthand that they can make a difference in their neighborhood and in the world.

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