Zooming on Manitoulin Island: The Spirit Island

Ina and Pam snowshoeing together after making gifts for the children in their class.

Written by JP Mayer and Pam Jackson

How would you conduct a children’s class without children being present?  Ask Ina Swain and Pam Jackson, two friends who live on an island in the Sudbury-Manitoulin cluster. When you live far from children and grandchildren but your heart aches to serve, you get creative.  When one door closes a window opens up, in this case, a window on their computers.  Ina and Pam started Zooming with zero experience. This was quite interesting at the beginning because as they fiddled with the controls on their computers, the children could be seen on screen, checking out their missing teeth, another with their feet up on the back of a couch, one was out of sight under the table, the other was eating strawberries. All normal occurrences for families with children and a clear indication that this was indeed a first tentative step “towards the goal of a New World Order.” [1] 

How would it turn out? Months later, the class has grown, the buttons are easy to find, the songs and videos play properly, the prayers flow, artwork is shared, the “show-and-tell” is interesting and the children are on-screen and participating. So how did this tentative step in the right direction come about? Living on Manitoulin Island poses some challenges: an island big enough to fit the city of Toronto on it four times over, but with a population density of less than five inhabitants per square kilometer. The nearest Local Spiritual Assembly is almost two hours away in Sudbury. Study circles and devotionals have been done by phone or in very small groups in the past.  There’s always a way.

Recently, Pam was inspired by re-reading the 28 December 2010 message from the Universal House of Justice.  One of its inspiring sentences seemed to describe their own situation:

It begs reflection and consultation with others about the reality of one’s situation, to see one’s own possibilities, and asks us to use our own resources and to respond to the exigencies of the large-scale expansion and consolidation to come.  This letter makes it clear that the movement towards expansion and consolidation is along a continuum which starts with a meaningful conversation and leads to a more complex program of growth.

Ina putting together quote books for the children in their children’s class, using a combination of images and twigs found on their walks.
Ina putting together quote books for the children in their children’s class, using a combination of images and twigs found on their walks.

Pam’s story gives us an inkling of what can be accomplished when two souls living some 30 kilometers apart on the world’s biggest freshwater island decide to have children’s classes with 5 to 9-year-olds, some living even farther away on the mainland. Isolation is not necessarily isolating.

The meaningful conversations between Ina and Pam started them on this more complex path.  Pam shares:

These conversations have led us to be ever more joyfully engaged in this service. Nikki, is a friend and grandparent who recently completed Ruhi Book 1 and encouraged six of her grandchildren to join our children’s class. The little class has doubled in size!

In so many ways COVID has opened doors. The children in our Zoom class all live in different towns and cities and most are related to families on Manitoulin Island. Some are local and four of the grandchildren are in Toronto. On one occasion, one mom was traveling and connected to Zoom on her phone so her child could participate en route to Sudbury. The following week my grandson joined in on his mom’s phone while traveling home from camp. I thought: Can this really be happening?

 We wonder if the children are learning through this medium. Then, we get confirmations as they request to play a game we haven’t played for a while or recite a quote that we haven’t heard them say. I got the following response from the mother of four after sending a message with some links for service projects to do for Ayyam-i-Ha: “Thank you so much!!! This is amazing!!! My girls are reading the prayer and the books you gave them every night. They seem to be enjoying the class a lot.

As Pam concluded her letter, she explained:

Ina and I feel so energized by this challenging service that it seems to happen effortlessly. Between the weekly online classes, Ina and I meet once or twice a week, either by phone or in person. We take the time to enjoy each other’s company and the beautiful environment in which we live. We also draw energy from the unity of the parents and grandparents, and from the children’s eager participation through this strange medium of Zoom. We all win! This energy gain might be the key to the continuous growth of community-building service.

We long to have a children’s festival outdoors safely. It would be so cool to have these children meet. We hope it will happen in the summer.  In the meantime, we take Abdu’l-Baha’s exhortation to heart: “Strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers.…”

[1] Universal House of Justice, 28 December, 2010

See more of Pam’s artwork below, and here.

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

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