Sunday, May 20, 2012


So here I write, about five months after the end of my year of service. I was asked to give a short presentation at a Colorado Springs community feast, so I thought I'd use this space to reflect and also bring closure to the blog (though it will always be open as a resource for other youth wanting to go on a year of service).

Perhaps the greatest lessons I learned had to do with social skills and learning to live and work in unity with others. When I find myself in disagreement with others, I've learned to just take a deep breath and let it go. Let it go, be detached, those are the phrases I've had in my head the last few weeks. If we allow ourselves to be beaten down by all the sour things in life, we're in for one helluva bruising. I've found that I'm stronger then I think I am, with a long way to go of course. The words and actions of others can be hurtful, but you can't change what has already happened, only how you handle it.

I've also learned about trust, trust in the Creator, trust in the power of prayer, and trusting that things will generally be alright.Our actions determine the success of an endeavor, but prayers are like a little wind in the sails. Prayers bring confirmations and remind us that we don't have to do anything completely alone.

This semester, I've had the full range of emotions from joy to discouragement. The college culture is alcohol and drug-centric, and I sometimes feel I'm living in upside down world. But the important thing is not to be disillusioned, to remember all humans are created noble and to continue to search for the spiritual food for which the entire world is hungry. I have perhaps most importantly realized upon my return that a "year of service" is just a term, that the journey I have been embarking on is in fact one of a life of service. And the things I've learned this semester, both in school and in the local community, have been equally as life changing. I'm certainly not the same person I was in January 2011, or January 2012. We are always changing, always growing....

Friday, May 18, 2012

Year of Service: Jamaica (4)

Post 4:

The After-Story

During his time in Jamaica, Josh became close with another year of service volunteer from New Zealand. At the end of his service, Josh decided to visit New Zealand himself and visit his partner in service. Josh stayed with a friend whose parents owned a mansion overlooking the bay of Auckland. The contrast with Jamaica’s abject poverty was shocking. Truly it was “the other extreme of existence.” Josh had his own room with a bathroom and towel warmer, fresh bread and jam every morning, and a marble-lined swimming pool. He stayed in Auckland for two weeks then visited Wellington, where he stayed in a college flat with seven other people for two weeks. Back in The United States, Josh noticed a lack of color compared to Jamaica and New Zealand. To him, the American scenery was filled with neutral browns. However, it was nice to have warm showers and food available. In Jamaica, Josh would save up just to have a bowl of rice and chocolate soymilk and would take showers with a cup out of a five-gallon bucket. Cultural differences also became apparent. Unlike in The States, Jamaicans were friendly regardless of the personal danger. “You could sit next to anyone and have a great conversation with them.” His year of service, Josh reflects, provided the opportunity to open his eyes and develop many qualities. “It’s different when you’re focused on doing things for people all day, every day, with no opportunity to worry about your own life or situation.” For those who do not get a chance to embark on a year of service, “it is a huge loss in their life.”

Okay peoples, I want your stories! I know there are youth out there who have lived epic spiritual adventures and aren’t writing it down for future generations. Perhaps you are not a writer, in which case I am offering with all the eagerness I can muster to write it down on your behalf. I would love, love, love to be of service in helping you record the experiences, lessons, and stories of your year of service. Contact:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Year of Service: Jamaica (3)

Post 3:

Awesome and Horrible Extremes

The contrast between positive and negative aspects of Jamaica, in its culture and environment, were striking to Josh. On one hand, there was no running water, no windows (just holes in the wall), and “an outrageous amount of bugs”. The mattresses were sometimes sloped and uncomfortable. Mosquitoes and cockroaches abounded. As Josh puts it, “The floor would be crawling with cockroaches.” At the same time, he considered Jamaica a paradise. He lived on a college campus, which was heavily guarded by men with machine guns. Once past the guards, however, there was a trail which led to a quiet beach. Jamaicans hate water, leaving Josh with the beach to himself. He would sometimes buy a chicken patty and coke on the way to the beach, then sit in a hammock and watch the sun go down. There was an outcropping of coral reef with a few palm trees which were silhouetted against the sunset. He would later tell his mother, “I think I finally learned how to meditate.”


Years of missionaries giving material goods freely to locals created, over time, a culture of stealing in Jamaica. If things are left in the open, an individual feels obligated to steal it, regardless of their economic status or education. Even people one would not expect to steal, someone well-dressed and well-educated, would steal.

On another trip to Kingston while Josh waited at the taxi hub, a man blatantly attempted to pick-pocket Josh. Josh refused to hand over his wallet and the offender pulled out a knife. A second man appeared, also with a knife. Again Josh refused to give-up his wallet. Both men attacked with their knives, where were so dull that they only left temporary red marks. Eventually, Josh gave the two men his money but kept the wallet. At that point, Josh had no money to pay for a taxi back to Port Antonio. At this time several school girls around age 11 dressed in uniform approached and asked Josh if he needed money, which he desperately did. They contributed enough for him to catch a taxi back to Port Antonio.

“It’s amazing what you can get used to” Josh says when reflecting upon the dangers he was surrounded by in Jamaica. Josh’s year of service coincided with the Jamaican election year, a time of great turmoil. The party in power controlled the militia and the party wishing to be in power controlled the gangs. During another Kingston trip, while visiting the Baha’i National Center, there was a “full-out auto-machine gun fight” and the National Guard appeared to get things under control. It was like a scene “straight out of the movies”, and there was nothing to do but turn off the lights and lay down on the floor until all was safe again.

His most frightening experience, however, was not being robbed by knife-point or the political upheaval. Rather, it was his first ride in the car from the airport. The roads have no shoulder, sometimes with a cliff face on one side and a cliff drop on the other, and are riddled with potholes which drivers swerve to miss. At all times there are pedestrians and bicycles to add to the confusion. Later in his year of service he realized how blasé he had become about walking on the hectic roadsides. “Jamaicans are really good drivers” he explains, “and you just trust that they won’t hit you…most likely. An American would die trying to drive in Jamaica, but Jamaicans have become expert drivers.”

Another aspect of Jamaican culture is an aversion to water. Jamaicans don’t like to swim and only “begrudgingly take showers”. The whole of civilization shuts down if it rains in the morning and people won’t go to work. Towards the beginning of the year, Josh remembers when he still thought “everything was awesome” and the heavy rain showers captivated him. One day the “sky exploded with the biggest raindrops I have ever seen in my life”, Josh describes. He ran out into the warm rain and could barely see or hear the world around him, so thick was the downpour. He could just barely see Mr. Gary, a local friend, standing on his porch shouting and waving his arms, beckoning for Josh to come under the covered porch, as if there was some ominous danger. Josh went to the porch and Mr. Gary threw him up against the wall and shouted, “Are you mad!? You get wet up!”

Monday, May 14, 2012

Year of Service: Jamaica (2)

Post 2:


A member of the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) of Jamaica picked Josh up from the airport and took him to Port Antonio, the largest city in the parish of Portland, where he would stay with a Baha’i college instructor. With no expectations of the year to come, Josh left his heart open to become a pure channel, a true instrument of service.

Carrying out tasks for individual community members were among the services rendered. In one instance, Josh was asked to find rubber booties for the bottom of a community member’s crutches. The booties could only be found in Kingston, the capitol of Jamaica, also considered by some to be among the most dangerous cities in the world. Downtown Kingston is considered especially dangerous, to the point where even locals avoid its streets, which are occupied by massive rats. Even the city bus refused to drive to downtown Kingston. Nonetheless, Josh walked to his destination. In his words, he simply “didn’t consider not going” at that point. He obtained the booties and left with no major ordeals.

In another instance, Josh was to pick up the elected delegate for National Convention and drive her to the convention. “There are no schedules in Jamaica” Josh explains, and so he reminded the delegate two weeks before, one week before, a day before, and the hour before the convention to ensure a timely pick-up. When the delegate walked out of her house, she seemed sheepish, as though she wanted to ask a question but was too shy. Finally, she asked Josh, “Who is Baha’u’llah?” Such was the nature of the Faith in the area: although individuals had declared as Baha’is, there was a real need for consolidation.

The Ruhi process had barely been introduced at the time of Josh’s service and, although he had no experience prior to his arrival in Jamaica, he tutored Books 1 and 2 as part of his service to assist the community’s process of consolidation.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Year of Service: Jamaica (1)

Post 1:

The following experiences are the result of an interview with Josh Ritson, son of the current caretakers at NABI. He currently resides in Nevada with his wife Galia, who is from Mexico. Nine years after his year of service, Josh has shared stories and insights that youth currently pondering their own year of service will find both useful and intriguing. His story will be posted in four installments.

It Begins…

At 19 years old, Josh Ritson faced a decision many grapple with after high school: what next? Following graduation, his mother presented him with two options, go to college or go on a year of service.

After obtaining a list of countries from the Office of Pioneering, Josh narrowed his options down to two English speaking countries where he would be interested in offering a year of service: Hawai’i and Jamaica. Hawai’i had already recently received a youth volunteer and so, without knowing much about the country or the nature of the adventure on which he was to embark, Josh bought a plane ticket to Jamaica. He was scheduled to fly out a mere 3 day after making the initial decision to go.

Before his entrance into the country, an immigration official asked Josh about the nature and length of his stay, and who he planned to stay with. Unsure of any specifics, Josh could only say that he was planning to stay for a year in service to the community.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Grand Canyon Conference

December 23-26

Not much rivals the sight of hundreds of Baha’is. People rush up to greet friends they haven’t seen in years. Strangers meet up and learn about each other’s communities, and find out they live in very different places, and yet are also very similar. The energy radiates out into the atmosphere when so many who share their deepest beliefs, and love for Baha’u’llah, convene. One realizes the scope of the word “world citizen” after seeing and hearing from so many Baha’is, all working to build a New World Order based on spiritual principles.

My experience at The Grand Canyon Conference in Phoenix, Arizona was multi-faceted. From one angle, I assisted a children’s class for a day and gained capacity learning from other teachers. I saw what deep thinkers children can be, and also experienced their radiant joy as dozens of children participated in a sing-along led by musical artists Erik Dozier and JB Eckl.

From another angle, I experienced firsthand the development of the arts in the Baha’i Faith in its most nascent stages. NABI set up an art vendor with artwork from various Navajo Baha’is, mostly jewelry but also pottery and nine-pointed star wall-hangings. Beside us sat Nikki Kinne, a watercolor artist displaying her paintings of the Holy Land. I found her perspective on the development of Baha’i art interesting: the art of the believers now in this early stage of the Faith will be so valuable in the future, when mankind is looking back upon the work of the earliest Baha’is and the subjects they chose to paint. The conference was especially rich in the field of music, with performances from an African drumming group, vocalists from a range of styles, and traditional Persian music. There is not “Baha’i art” yet necessarily, but it certainly can be seen in the making as Baha’i artists arise in various arenas: music, jewelry, visual arts….

From yet another angle, I was able to participate in several sessions. One session in particular has stood out in my thoughts. It was called “Living the Encouraged Life” and touched upon the subject of encouraging those around us. The speaker observed that inspiration is not a sustainable motivation. Inspiration reaches a climax and wanes with time. True motivation can come from encouragement, and true encouragement is similar to a fire. The spark already exists within the individual; it needs only to be fueled. We can be each other’s fuel. True encouragement is not telling people what to do. It is finding the strengths in others and “uplifting them to their rightful station”. And sometimes, encouragement is silence.

Here are a few links you might explore:

Baha’i Music from Shadi Toloui-Wallace:

Artwork from Baha’i watercolor artist Nikki Kinne:

Some Artwork from our Table:
Pottery by Anna M. Feria

Ceramic Nine-pointed Star wall hangings by Anna M. Feria

Jewelry from various Navajo Baha'is, including beaded nine-pointed star necklaces by Charlotte Kahn (right)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Poem: Young Woman

I have changed far too much
For turning back
Like a hermit crab
Who has outgrown her

I must not stagnate
Not let myself forget
Must press onward
Push myself to look

I was once named after The Sky
And I am only just
Beginning to understand
The sky is not something you
Get to keep
Or hold down
The sky belongs to the world
Detached from people and places

The sky is not
One way
For long
Her clouds are always
On the move
The sun is always
Shining from a fresh point

Other times I am the horse
The filly who has finally
Discovered the strength of her legs
Now I stand on this vista
Always wanting to push ahead
Where to I should run next

Loving the wind in my hair
The sun on my cheeks
Casting life back into
My eyes

Let me tell you something,
Young Woman,
I will whisper it into
Your life history:
The possibilities are infinite
And you are a
Strong and free spirit