August 19,2021

ROBSI Online Camp Dedicated to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá this Summer

In late July, almost 60 participants gathered via zoom for a three-day online ROBSI camp experience inspired by the life and writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. As many of you are aware, 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, throughout 2020 we were only able to offer a few online events at various times throughout the year.

When we realized that, sadly, summer camps in 2021 also needed to be online, members of the ROBSI board planned and organized a three-day counsellor training event for 14 to 16-year-olds, followed by a three-day camp for those aged 8 to 13. After participating in their own training, the newly-minted counsellors were then able to practice their skills at the camp under the guidance of the counsellors and directors. The theme this year was “Together We Shine,” so there were many activities that involved light. The writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were incorporated whenever possible. The week before camp, participants received shoeboxes with the materials needed for the craft and science activities as well as some special snacks and their own special bright yellow ROBSI t-shirt with the words, “Together We Shine.” There was also a handwritten note of welcome to each camper from the head counsellor.

Every day of camp included both full group and small group sessions, as well as classes with a focus on nature, science, arts and the Bahá’í writings. Small groups of counsellors and campers worked together to plan and present devotional gatherings morning and evening. Between the morning and afternoon sessions, there were nature activities such as birdwatching, pressing flowers and drawing in nature. Even though we could not canoe, swim or hike through the woods, it was important to incorporate some nature activities.

The activities themed around "light" were all carried out within the respective age groups. Counsellors with the utmost selfless support from their CITs walked campers through each step of creating the window mosaics, lava lamps, clay tealight holders, and 3D glasses with the materials supplied in each camper's camp package. The crafts – each hand-chosen by the counsellors – had a matching quote from 'Abdul-Bahá that the campers then studied and discussed in their respective breakout rooms. For example, here is what Tara's group presented about their reflections on the spiritual concepts of light, as explored in the stained-glass art activity:

"We talked about how the different colour tissue paper is 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.” For the clay candle holder activity, the camp reflected on the following quote by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “Love is light in whatever house it may shine.”

Our two guest presenters helped to focus the attention of the group on the station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. On the second day we were joined by storyteller Louise Profeit-Leblanc who mesmerized the group with a story she wrote about a young Wabanaki fisher who had a dream of a shining tent that would bring unity to all, and a holy man who stood within it. He told his grandfather about the dream, who encouraged the young man to look for its fulfillment. One day in 1912, when he 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.

On Day Three, during the music workshop, Joel Corey Tamas shared his song Tyendinaga and reminded us of the story of how a four-year-old Jim Lofts (the first indigenous Canadian Bahá’í) was sitting on a fence in rural Ontario one day watching the trains go by when he spied 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.

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