Full-time service: tapping ‘a reservoir of capacity to transform society’
By Ben Fanning and Roya Mason
Dozens of young people are looking back at how far they’ve come in the short time they have dedicated themselves to full-time community building in neighborhoods across California. Many find they built spiritual capacity, and learned a lot about applying it effectively, over as little as a few weeks or as long as a couple of years.
Some mention developing “qualities and attitudes that allowed me to better serve humanity.” Others talk about striking a balance between service, work, education, family and school, and sharpening the criteria they will use to choose a career.
Programs in every region of the country are helping young people spend a summer, a year, or more dedicating their full time and energy to such services as mentoring younger people, visiting neighbors, facilitating study circles, or nurturing devotional gatherings — helping to build communities that move populations toward the vision of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Faith, for material and spiritual progress.
Regional Baha’i Councils organize these programs in light of guidance from the Universal House of Justice, assuring Baha’is worldwide that young people represent “a reservoir of capacity to transform society waiting to be tapped.”
In the California program, for example, people of college age, or just out of college, take part in a process that develops their capacity to mentor and empower those younger than them, and to build true friendships and vibrant communities.
One former participant reflects, “My friends and I increased our capacity to be unified and work as a team, and our faith and confidence deepened. I made some of my closest friendships during that time as well.”
Parents saw their sons’ and daughters’ transformation, too, and drew inspiration for their own service to humanity. Parents of a youth who has offered three summers of service say, “After each summer of activity, he returns home with greater confidence, a growing sense of personal responsibility and a network of friends that will serve as positive influences during the rest of the school year.”
Many others across California have shared anecdotes about the transformative effects full-time service has had for them, both personally and for their communities:
From a youth who offered a period of service after college: “My period of full-time service helped me develop a closer relationship with God and the [Baha’i] Cause. I deepened my understanding of the history of the Faith and strengthened spiritual habits such as prayer, reading the writings daily and teaching the Faith.
“With a greater focus and attention on developing spiritual habits and service to others, I was able to reflect and develop qualities and attitudes that will allow me to better serve humanity in my future job, family and personal life.
“It also helped me gain confidence in inviting others on my path of service and in accompanying others with less experience.”
From a youth who offered a year of service after high school: “Before, I was struggling to balance service, education, work, family, and school. Serving [full time] not only helped me balance all of these by striving for coherence, but also allowed me to develop qualities that I didn’t even think I was capable of having.
“For example, I learned how to have deeper conversations with people about the institute process [of training for service], I experienced and gained a deeper understanding of confirmation and prayer, I saw the transformation within the community, and learned how to work together with others.”
From a youth who offered a year of service after college: “In the field we make efforts, face challenges, and advance in our understanding. In the same way, I found that my understanding of my career, of marriage and family life, of the dynamics of working with others, and of the daily choices we all have to make in our lives was advancing. It helped me to leave behind habits and ideas which were obstructing my growth.”
From an adult who offered a summer of service: “It was a wonderful time that reminded me that my true identity is built on the Baha’i Faith and its teachings. It also helped me realize that any career that enables someone to be of service to humanity is desirable.
“What I remember most about the summer of service is the period of deepening [study], the sense of camaraderie, and joyful singing that preceded our outreach efforts.
“This incredible experience helped to not only inspire and motivate me to teach in new ways but also motivated me to share my experiences with my local community and encourage them to take advantage of opportunities to engage in deepening, teaching, and service.”
From a youth who offered two years of service after working for a few years: “There are often many obstacles we might think are stopping us from offering a period of service, but are often only mental obstacles. … The heroes of our Faith often arose in the face of what seemed to be barriers in their path.
“The Cause is never without a great need for more workers, and humanity will continue to be in great need of the unifying force that can free it from the sadness, confusion and suffering which seem to increase every day.”
How parents feel
From a parent of a youth who offered two years of service: “My daughter’s decision to serve full time for the past couple years has had a deep effect on me. I have become more active for the first time in several years, and more inspired to teach the Cause.
“Both her grandmother and I have fasted for the first time in years. I am now deepening twice a day and saying my daily obligatory prayer.
“Her service has inspired me to teach her younger siblings and get them to Baha’i children’s classes on Sundays. Her commitment has helped motivate me to be more committed to the Faith.”
From parents of a youth who has offered three summers of service: “It means so much to us as parents to see him develop his own relationship with Baha’u’llah, knowing that the Faith isn’t merely a family tradition but is, instead, something that belongs to him and is part of his identity, influencing his behavior and the goals that he sets for himself in his life.
“Since we live in a community without many other Baha’i youth, we are especially grateful that he is able to develop a strong Baha’i identity alongside Baha’i youth from many different backgrounds.”
A day in the life
Year-of-service youths often spend mornings studying Baha’i writings or training courses; preparing for, planning and coordinating campaigns for clusters of communities; and maintaining data.
Afternoons and evenings are usually spent supporting various activities such as study circles, children’s classes, junior youth groups, visits to people in their homes, devotional gatherings or other meetings.
The emphasis is on operating in a mode of learning: planning, acting and reflecting on how to improve their service.
Those who serve full time are typically accompanied and supported throughout the year by experienced resources in their community, as well as direct support from agencies of their cluster of communities and from coordinators of the regional board that oversees training courses.
Along with other local and regional Baha’i institutions, they consult with full-timers to develop a schedule of deepening and training, formulate lines of action, and provide logistical support.
In California, they have opportunities for training and reflection to gain the skills, qualities and attitudes necessary for walking a path of service.
California participants receive a monthly living stipend. The Regional Bahá’í Council helps place youths in appropriate housing — often with other full-time service youths or Bahá’í families.