As our family made the one hour journey to the world conference in the city of Geelong, Australia, my seven year old son made quite the soul-stirring remark from the rear seat of our car, his high-pitched, raspy voice tugging at our heartstrings.
“Mum, I invited my friend to come along this weekend.”
“Oh really? What did you say?”
“I said, ‘Hey, do you want to come to the conference tomorrow?'”
“And what did he say?”
“He said, ‘What’s it about?’ And I said, ‘To make the world a better place.’ So he said he’d ask his mum.”
My son had become inspired after watching this video released by the United Kingdom about the world conferences. He even wanted to approach his school principal and invite him to the momentous occasion.
There are so many lessons we can reap from this simple yet brazen conversation between two children: courage, friendliness, boldness, love. If only we all had that same level of determination. It is most definitely a gift, and one that we tend to repress as we age and as we become more conscious of the perceptions of those around us.
It is for this reason that I believe it is vital that our global conferences cater as much for our children as they do for the rest of us: that they empower, inspire and spur our children on so that the upcoming nine years and beyond see our children harness their inherent gems and propel them forward with utmost steadfastness.
But how can this be achieved? Here are some ideas from my humble part of the world.
Setting the scene
A few weeks before the conference, our community gathered the children together for a study and pizza session where we went through a special condensed document compiled especially for children about the Universal House of Justice’s 30 December 2021 message. This document allowed the kids to form a basic understanding of the upcoming Nine Year Plan and its purpose and we found studying it together to be a worthwhile exercise in the lead up to the conference. After reading through the document, we asked the children to identify some of the negative forces that exist around them before creating an artistic representation of a world possessed by the “‘society-building power’ of the Faith”.1
A conference revolving around children
When organising the conference, we felt that it was imperative that the children’s program not be seen simply as an extension of the conference, but rather that it offer the same journey as the program for all the adults. As such (and I believe this to be the case in many instances), our children’s program followed the exact same themes as the adults’: Baha’u’llah’s vision for humanity, the distance traversed, building vibrant communities, the training institute and social transformation. The lesson plans were all based on these very concepts, and in many cases, the children created the same artistic pieces as the adults. This overlap in content also allowed for conversations between family members to naturally continue following the conference.
We also made a point of including the children in the devotions of each plenary session; they were present during the first 15 minutes of each session before breaking off into their respective age groups. It might seem quite menial, but I think it goes a long way in making the children feel included in something special.
At the very end of the conference, the children also led the entire conference in song, and you could see the joy, energy and delight on their faces–even though it was a long day for them.
A source of empowerment
After their singing performance, three of the children stayed on stage and wanted to close the conference with a prayer. No, not wanted. Yearned. It was an impromptu act of service on their part. But then another child joined. Then another. Then another.
It could’ve just been that they wanted to hold the microphone. Or that they wanted their chance in the spotlight. Either way, each of them recited the Word of God with pride, reverence and devotion.
To think that these conferences, all around the world, can empower our children to stand as these children did, in front of all these people they don’t know, and recite the Word of God with such audacity is really quite moving. And if anything, it demonstrates why I believe we need to put every ounce of energy into ensuring the children’s component is not simply an afterthought, but a pivot.
A source of joy & friendship
After our conference, we organised a community picnic to provide a glimpse into what a vibrant community looks like in reality. This wasn’t just an opportunity to celebrate, eat and be merry, but also a chance for the children to have yet another opportunity to get together and enjoy each other’s company in a space founded by the core principles of our Faith–love, unity and joy. Plus we ended the day with ice-cream. And you can’t go wrong there.
In its message to the Auxiliary Board members throughout the world in January this year, the Universal House of Justice wrote:
Your responsibilities extend even further to the promotion of the education of children and junior youth, to the upliftment of the young, and to the strengthening of a pattern of family life that will produce generation after generation of consecrated souls, faithful followers of Baha’u’llah who have chosen the betterment of the world over the advancement of personal interests. The youth who, in the final year of the Nine Year Plan, will be carrying out acts of service to ensure its ultimate success are in many cases the children who, today, need to be nurtured in their love of the Blessed Beauty and their understanding of His mission.2
My children–who are 10, 7 and 3–will, by the end of the Nine Year Plan, be the youth alluded to by the Supreme Body in the passage above. My hope is that the conference they had the bounty to attend, and the spaces and acts of service that are yet to come, will only strengthen their love for the Baha’i Faith and indeed their understanding of the role with which they have been entrusted. This next generation is our future hope, if only we continue to abide by these words:
Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children.They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity. An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behavior toward them—these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude. Love demands discipline, the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices. An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel that they belong to the community and share in its purpose.3
Before I end, I’d also like to give a huge shout out to all those who will sacrifice their time to provide programs for the children during these global conferences and as a result might miss out on the main sessions or workshops (including those stars at our conference in Geelong who so masterfully did this with our kids). What you are doing is so incredibly priceless, as the quotation above clearly states. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you!