You’re a Texas couple who have arisen to serve the Bahá’í Faith as pioneers abroad. You’ve settled in a mid-size city in southwestern Ethiopia where only a handful of Bahá’ís live.
How much difference do you think you can make, really?
Going by the experience of Douglas and Bahereh Smith, you can make a pretty good start if you’re prepared to put some effort into neighborhood activities serving young people.
Soon after moving to Jimma from Corpus Christi in fall 2011, the Smiths report, they discovered lively interest in a children’s class and a junior youth group. They and the three other local Bahá’ís were soon accompanying each other in this activity and all “developed a love for this service.”
The classes have attracted up to 30 young people weekly from October into May. Parents say it “has already improved children’s behavior at home,” the Smiths recently told the Office of International Pioneering.
Starting a children’s class seemed a natural activity from the start in this “beautiful agricultural region of rolling hills, filled with farms, greenery, and magnificent birds,” the Smiths’ letter states.
Among the first visitors at their home was a young teen girl selling fresh milk and cheese. “While we were pleased to know we could have this service,” their letter says, “it did not seem right for a girl of 13 to be knocking at a stranger’s door in the dark of the evening.”
The girl was pleased with their concern. As their conversation continued, she became very interested when the Smiths explained some concepts behind the junior youth spiritual empowerment program, with its emphasis on developing virtues through study and service activity.
After talking with her parents, the girl returned the next day. She brought a friend her age, as well as her younger siblings. “Thus a neighborhood children’s class and junior youth group began on our little porch,” they wrote.
More and more parents got the word, and the classes grew. Fortunately, parents supported their efforts, and other Bahá’ís and some of their friends found roles to play as well.
A university student who is a Bahá’í brought along some classmates from law and medical school, and while the younger people’s classes were conducted on the porch he facilitated devotions and answered questions about the Faith in the house.
On May 20, at the last children’s class session for the school year, the small Bahá’í community arranged a ceremony where the Bahá’ís and other volunteers presented the children with certificates and simple drawing supplies in recognition of their participation and accomplishments, and all enjoyed homemade treats.
Dressed in Sunday finery, the children recited quotations from the Bahá’í sacred writings that they had learned to read and write in English and Amharic, and sang songs they had composed from those passages.
Bahereh Smith talked about “the importance of this neighborhood education program in promoting peace and unity in their community” and their purpose to “respond to children’s spiritual aspirations and for the junior youth to realize their talents, and to have a positive vision about their future.” She added that these are the reasons Baha’is all over the world are giving time and resources to establish such programs.
In the send-off, the mothers of the children were asked to encourage the children to continue saying prayers daily at home. “The mothers expressed appreciation for this advice and how grateful they were for this neighborhood class.”
And Doug Smith adds that a number of local residents have begun participating in study circles alongside the Bahá’ís, so that the cycle of service inspired by the Bahá’í teachings can continue.