Children’s spiritual education brings generations, cultures together in Minnesota

November 29, 2022
Children’s spiritual education brings generations, cultures together in Minnesota

Spiritual education brings generations, cultures together in Minnesota

A group of Minnesota septuagenarians from varied backgrounds are providing the spark for an expanding process of spiritual education within their community. 

Tim and Julie Crawford are teaching 16 children in several grades in a weekly class at their home in Willmar, Minnesota, a town of about 21,000.   

The class started with an act of service in 2020. Tim, 72, would regularly drop his granddaughter off at the local elementary school and he noticed one family that walked to school every day but lacked clothes warm enough for the Minnesota winter. It turned out they lived very close to him, so he offered them a ride. The family did not speak English.  

 “The thing about Willmar is we have a large population of recent immigrants and families that speak exclusively Spanish,” Crawford says. “Many of them work at the turkey factory.” 

Despite the language barrier, the Crawfords began to make friends with this new family. Tim gave rides and learned key phrases. To further strengthen the connection with the family, he and his wife enlisted the help of Margarita Santiago, a local Baha’i, also 72, who is originally from Puerto Rico.   

Santiago met the family and immediately began developing a bond with them, discussing spiritual themes. Soon she invited them to begin a study of Reflections On The Life Of The Spirit, the first book in the Ruhi Institute curriculum, in Spanish.  

Children’s class teacher reading to students.

The family began hosting the study circle in their home, and the Crawfords would entertain the children while the adults studied. Santiago, who has many friends within the Spanish-speaking community, invited other local families to the study circle. As time went on not all of the adults were able to participate regularly, but many children began coming. The children’s classes became the foundation of the neighborhood’s activities.  

Santiago has been a Baha’i since 2017. Several years ago, when her grandson participated in a junior youth group organized by the Crawfords’ daughter, Santiago took an interest in the teachings behind the program. The Crawfords introduced her to the Baha’i Faith through a study circle. Now the team of grandparents is expanding the education process through the children’s class. 

Within the team Julie Crawford handles most of the actual teaching of the children, Santiago handles most of the conversation with parents in Spanish, and Tim supports with transportation, setup and hosting. Tim says he feels very good about the dynamics of their team.

“There is a lot of cultural empathy,” Tim says. “Margarita [Santiago] knows everyone in town. And if she doesn’t, her daughter does. It really helps that we have someone who is so well known in the Spanish-speaking community.” 

The class is still evolving because many different ages of kids want to attend, creating a challenge for the small team. Transportation has also proved to be a limiting factor when many children live beyond walking distance. 

Elma Strom is a Baha’i who has been working with the Willmar cluster of communities for the past five years. In early 2022 Baha’is around the world hosted local conferences to launch long range plans for community building activities in their neighborhoods, inviting participation from all “well-wishers of humanity.”. 

“Willmar was the first cluster in our [three state] region to hold their conference. They made it as fully bilingual as they could,” Strom says. “The banners were in English and Spanish, all the materials were translated, and there were a lot of Spanish-speaking people who came.” 

The next weekend a similar conference was held in sparsely populated Northern Minnesota. Baha’is and their friends from Willmar were among those who offered assistance. “They helped with the children’s class and those volunteers included two families from the wider community,”  Strom says.

Children’s class and teachers studying while gathered at a table

Among other activities in the Willmar cluster was a recent campaign to train youth to focus on building capacity for service; it is an approach founded on faith in the ability of a population to become the protagonists of their own development (30 December 2021 – To the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors). A youth from the Crawfords’ and Santiago’s neighborhood attended. Strom notes that three small groups of people in the cluster have each formed a nucleus of activity. 

Santiago says she hopes that as the society-building work in the neighborhood expands, the Baha’i community and the growing circle of friends from the wider community can continue to integrate.  

“I like the Baha’i community because there is so much fellowship,” Santiago says. “And I’ve learned many things. And [many other Baha’is] come to visit and support, they are trying to build this community with us. I want to integrate the Baha’i community more and more within our neighborhood, but it’s like I tell Tim, ‘Poquito a poquito [Little by little]’. 

She acknowledges that language can be a barrier, but when people have a pure heart, their actions can communicate very profound concepts, and the adults and children all appreciate it. 

“I’m very happy with this class, because I really feel it is a gift to these children,” Santiago says. “And the parents are also learning. We are all becoming one. It’s like Tim says, ‘Todos somos una familia [We are all one family].’” 

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