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By Badi Shams

In our community we had a soul-searching discussion about the role that service to humanity can play in teaching the Faith. That heart-felt consultation and realization that some friends wanted to do something but did not know where to start, encouraged me to write these few lines and make a list of possibilities of service open to us.

As Baha’is, we are often struggling to balance our time among our own efforts at spiritual growth, our family life, our work, our commitments in the Baha’i community, and our core activities and teaching. And no thanks to technological advancement with so many gadgets that enable us to multi-task more and more, we have been transformed from human beings to human doings. Added to that is also the rampant spread of materialism that is consuming our spiritual growth and draining our energy. How can we have time for one more thing- one more social action, one more commitment? Though providing a service may sound like one more thing to fit into our already busy lives, in reality it does not necessarily need to become a big project. Any look, gesture, word or action that helps others is an act of service.

The concept of service is nothing new to people of all religions and as Baha’is we have the wealth of Writings on this subject and we have read how Abdu’l-Baha exemplified service throughout His life.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  (Mark 10:45)

And do not forget to do good to one another.  (Quran 2:238)

That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 250)

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. (Mahatma Gandhi)

Service to humanity is service to God.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 8)

How else can our world become united if, as citizens, we don’t try to help each other? How else can the sufferings of the world be reduced? The ordinary people of the world like you and me will ultimately make a difference, and make this earth a better and more peaceful place—if we take one more extra step to help our fellow human beings.

The Baha’i Teachings encourage all people to extend themselves into the arena of service to others:

A Baha’i who serves others is like unto a candle which burns and sheds light upon all those who circle around it. The highest attainable station of the candle is to burn and brighten the dark room, and the loftiest pinnacle of our progress and perfection is to be confirmed in service… (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 8, p. 61)

Serving others has the added benefit of healing and can give peace and contentment to our souls. It helps us to deal with our problems and tests which can destroy or undermine our happiness.

Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you — and your unhappy mood will dissolve into a blessed, contented submission to God.  ([The Research] Department has found that these words were attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in an unpublished English translation of notes in German by Dr. Josephine Fallscheer taken on 5 August 1910. As the statement is a pilgrim note, it cannot be authenticated)

So perhaps it is a good idea to revisit this concept and with the help of the list below look at the possibilities of service open to us. Maybe we can get involved with some kind of service that fulfils our commitment and connects us to the larger community. This may also create more opportunities for enhancing the conversation and introducing Baha’u’llah’s message in the best light possible, through our actions. The list below may help you to find a service matching your talent or your passion:

  1. Doing one’s job the best way possible is not only a great service but an act of worship
  1. A kind gesture, a kind word, a kind act
  1. Random acts of kindness e.g. paying for someone’s coffee, paying for someone in front of you in line, giving your place in line for someone in a rush, presenting a stranger with a bouquet of flowers, mowing the neighbour’s lawn. Your imagination is the limit.
  1. Paying for the education of children who are poor
  1. Paying or contributing towards hospital bills
  1. Visiting in senior facilities
  1. Visiting in hospitals
  1. Volunteering to serve residents in group homes
  1. Driving people to appointments
  1. Shopping for your neighbours in need
  1. Cleaning homes
  1. Volunteering in women’s centres
  1. Volunteering for the Red Cross/ Red Crescent
  1. Volunteering in treatment facilities and organizations
  1. Cleaning roads and highways or cleaning garbage in your neighbourhood or on trails
  1. Teaching: Dance / Music / Painting / any other forms of the arts
  1. Coaching sports
  1. Picking fruits
  1. Calling or visiting those in need
  1. Offering companionship to lonely people
  1. Connecting with Baha’is outside of Baha’i meetings
  1. Offering services to literacy agencies
  1. Volunteering at homeless shelters and halfway houses
  1. Manning school crossings
  1. Teaching yoga / Tai Chi / martial arts/ any other exercise classes
  1. Self-help classes
  1. Teaching product-making classes like soap-making
  1. Teaching gardening classes
  1. Teaching farming classes
  1. Teaching woodwork classes
  1. Providing jewellery making classes
  1. Teaching bead work
  1. Teaching home decoration
  1. Providing food preserving classes
  1. Providing driving lessons
  1. Providing foreign language lessons
  1. Teaching house repairs
  1. Teaching appliance repair
  1. Teaching basic car repairs
  1. Teaching computer classes
  1. Helping refugees and newcomers
  1. Teaching adult education
  1. Volunteering with the Welcome Wagon for newcomers
  1. Picking up medicine or food
  1. Translating written materials or interpreting
  1. Cutting grass or doing landscaping
  1. Baby sitting
  1. Doing taxes
  1. House cleaning
  1. Giving financial advice
  1. Offering counseling
  1. Providing medical services
  1. Providing legal services
  1. Doing the makeup or costumes for plays
  1. Teaching others to apply makeup
  1. Volunteering in community gardens
  1. Connecting with volunteer organizations for possibilities
  1. Volunteering with food programs in schools
  1. Providing accommodation for the sick and needy
  1. Cooking for the sick
  1. Remembering in your prayers and supporting those who are going through a difficult time

As you embark on your quest to serve humanity, a few words of caution: Please make sure, while offering your services, that you respect the boundaries of agencies, individuals and families. Also, focus on why you’re there serving rather than the motives of others. Some people volunteer in organizations for self-recognition or out of boredom, and don’t really capture the essence of serving others with selfless intention. Be aware of this in any voluntary situation, so that it doesn’t discourage you or influence you in a negative manner.

If you approach the opportunity to serve others with a radiant countenance and the pure motivation of kindness and love, you’ll find that the gifts you give will come back to you a thousand fold.