Written by Heather Harvey
In late July, almost 60 participants gathered for a three-day online ROBSI camp experience inspired by the life and writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. For the last 35 years ROBSI (Rideau-Ottawa Bahá’í Schools Initiative) has run week-long residential camps in wilderness settings inspired by the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. Due to the pandemic, we were only able to offer a few online events at various times throughout 2020.
When we realized that summer camps in 2021 also needed to be online, the ROBSI board opted to organize a three-day counsellor training event for 14 to 16-year-olds, followed by a three-day camp for those aged 8 to 13, where the newly-minted counsellors were able to practice their skills at the camp, accompanied by those with more experience.
The theme this year was “Together We Shine,” and as a result, many of the activities that involved light. The writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were incorporated whenever possible. The week before camp, participants received shoeboxes with materials, snacks, a handwritten note of welcome from the head counsellor and their own special bright yellow ROBSI t-shirt with the words “Together We Shine” on it.
Each day of camp included both full group and small group sessions, devotions, classes with a focus on nature, science, arts and the Bahá’í writings. Nature activities such as birdwatching, pressing flowers and drawing in nature happened between online sessions because even though we could not canoe, swim or hike, it was important to incorporate some nature activities.
Activities around the theme of light included the creation of window mosaics, lava lamps, clay tealight holders, and 3D glasses. The crafts, which were selected and planned by the counsellors – were accompanied by a quote from ‘Abdul-Bahá that the campers then studied in their breakout rooms. For example, here is one participants reflection on the how the stained-glass art activity assisted them to explore the concept of light and the quote by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “love is light, no matter in what abode it dwelleth.”
“We talked about how the different colour tissue papers are like our qualities and characteristics and the sun in the window is God. We all have different characteristics and qualities and without the sun shining through them, those characteristics are dull and dark, but with God (the sun) shining through us we shine. God’s light animates us and makes us shine.”
Our two guest presenters helped everyone better understand the station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Storyteller Louise Profeit-Leblanc mesmerized the group with a story she wrote. It was about a young Wabanaki fisher boy who had a dream of a shining tent that would bring unity to all, and a holy man who stood within it. After hearing about this dream, the young boy’s grandfather encouraged the boy to look for its fulfillment. One day in 1912, when the young man was fishing near the site of Green Acre Bahá’í School, he saw this shining tent. Attracted, he went up into the summer school grounds and there met with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, whom he recognized from his dream.
As part of a music workshop, Joel Corey Tamas shared his song Tyendinaga and reminded us of the story of how four-year-old Jim Loft, who later became the first Indigenous Canadian Bahá’í was sitting on a fence in rural Ontario watching the trains go by when he saw a shining older man in oriental robes waving at him from a passing train. When this figure beckoned to him, young Jim was so shocked that he fell off the fence! He later realized that this figure was none other than ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
The camp day ended – as days at camp always do – with campfire songs and the Writings set to music. We all hope that we will be able to gather in person next summer!
A version of this article was originally posted on August 19, 2021 on the Official Site of the Bahá’ís of Ottawa, Ontario and can be found here.
 Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá