Deciding to Pioneer: “Our role is to walk the path of service with our friends”

By Sonya Appadoo

Our desire to homefront pioneer was first sparked when we studied the 29 Dec. 2015 message from the Universal House of Justice with a group of friends in London, Ont., soon after it was released. Helping to raise “the number of clusters where a programme of growth has become intensive to 5,000 by Ridván 2021” appealed to us as a “truly formidable”[1] objective and we knew we wanted to contribute to it as a family. This Plan also presented a rather unique opportunity to serve from a historical perspective: it not only is the “last in a series of consecutive Five Year Plans,” as the Universal House of Justice mentions in the Ridván 2016 message, but its outcome “has the potential to be profoundly significant, even epoch making.” Through the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, we learned that

“Efforts to stimulate activity in a cluster…are greatly enhanced if one or more individuals to settle there as homefront pioneers, concentrating their attention on part of a village or even a single street where there is heightened receptivity.”[2] This settled it. Homefront pioneering would be our next teaching act.

It became very clear from the outset that the “herculean labour”[3] required of us, at least initially, was coming to understand all the implications of settling in a new town, relocating our business and finding a high school for our teenage son. We knew our lives would be unsettled, and we had no illusions about the “concerted effort”[4] that would be required in terms of helping to advance a cluster to the second milestone. We felt that – after residing in clusters which had attained and sustained an intensive programme of growth – our experience, the things we have learned and the capacities we developed could be useful in a cluster that had yet to reach the second milestone. But where could we go?

We received the Bahá’í Council of Ontario’s call for homefront pioneers in the province a few months later and learned of a cluster near Ottawa called Cornwall. We knew nothing about this place except that it was a goal cluster, but found it confirming that moving there would also bring us closer to Montreal, where our older son and his family reside. We immediately contacted the Council’s secretary and informed her of our intention to pioneer to Cornwall. The encouraging response from the Council and their guidance to consult with the Auxiliary Board member set everything in motion. We were quickly engaged in a consultative process with the Auxiliary Board member, and we set out to meet him and a devoted Bahá’í couple in Cornwall – themselves pioneers in a previous Plan – for a consultation to initiate steps for our settlement as homefront pioneers. With the institutions setting the direction, it was now a question of how quickly we could move to our pioneering post. Here again the guidance of the Universal House of Justice proved priceless: “By concentrating on the advance that must be made in a cluster in an initial period—for instance, in the six cycles occurring before the first of the bicentennial anniversaries—the friends will do much to bring their goal for the full five years within reach.”[5] It became abundantly clear to us that the move should happen within the six cycles leading to the first bicentenary celebration, and the sooner the better.

Our teenage son, who had been given the choice to continue his education in London or to come to Cornwall, pleasantly surprised us when he said he had decided to join us as a pioneer, leaving his many friends behind. This was welcome news and confirmation as the cluster needed youth of his age to animate a junior youth program. We decided he would complete Grade 11 in London and join us in June 2017.

With the help of a friend from Ottawa who offered to host us, we spent much of the summer of 2016 driving to Cornwall to visit one neighbourhood, scouting others and having conversations with parents and youth about starting a junior youth spiritual empowerment programme. Activities started in earnest when we settled in our new home in November of that year. We started hosting dawn prayers every Sunday, study circles and meetings to plan Bahá’í Holy days and other events. By this time a nucleus of friends studying, acting, reflecting and consulting together was already emerging in the cluster. Regular visits to friends in Russell, Ont., an hour’s drive from Cornwall, to tutor Ruhi Book 10: Building Vibrant Communities and to attend devotional gatherings ensured that the teaching efforts involved the friends in the furthermost parts of the cluster. Efforts to reach out to families with children and junior youth multiplied. With the help of two young animators from Ottawa, the reservoir cluster, we organized a junior youth camp in the summer of 2017 at our home. Several families happily sent their junior youth, laying a strong foundation for starting a regular group. More confirmation was on the way when we received the go-ahead from the public library to use one of its rooms for the junior youth program every Saturday morning, free of charge. The first junior youth group started in August 2017, and the participants are, to this day, mostly those who attended that first junior youth camp. 

Efforts to reach out to families with children and junior youth multiplied. With the help of two young animators from Ottawa, the reservoir cluster, we organized a junior youth camp in the summer of 2017 at our home. Several families happily sent their junior youth, laying a strong foundation for starting a regular group. More confirmation was on the way when we received the go-ahead from the public library to use one of its rooms for the junior youth program every Saturday morning, free of charge. The first junior youth group started in August 2017, and the participants are, to this day, mostly those who attended that first junior youth camp.

The search for a junior youth animator was another goal that we set right from the beginning. A friendly conversation with a young man while shopping led to a strong friendship being developed with him and his girlfriend, herself a young teacher. She was interested in the program and, during a gathering at our home, she volunteered to animate the junior youth program at the library. She has since completed Ruhi Book 1: Reflections on the Life of the Spirit and is about to complete Ruhi Book 5: Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth. This new animator takes her role very seriously, shown through her careful preparation each week and her desire to always consult prior to and debrief after the sessions. She and her friend are both regular attendees at our monthly devotional gathering, and they actively participate in our Holy Day celebrations.

We’re now past the halfway mark of this Plan, and since deciding to dedicate ourselves to its goals our nucleus of friends has expanded to 15 believers and friends of the Faith. We have a well-structured cycle of growth with reflection meetings and an expansion phase; the cluster has 17 core activities including three junior youth groups, one of which is held every Friday at our place and involves participants from our and neighbourhood, with a fourth on the way. As pioneers, we see our role as continuing to walk the path of service alongside these friends, identifying “the nascent capacity that must be nurtured… and initiators of a fledgling effort who must be accompanied…”[6]

Original article published in Baha’i Canada, Winter 2019.

Read more about recent developments in Cornwall here.

[1] From the Universal House of Justice to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 29th December, 2015.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] From the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Ridván 2016

[6] From the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Ridván 2014

Get in touch with the neighbourhood team in this story, or share your own learning with Ontario Baha’i here.

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