Raising “Lions of Justice” in Our District
Keys to creating unity, raising youth and achieving joyful propagation toward 2018.
Historic Highland Park District, in Northeast Los Angeles, has welcomed 26 new members to the SGI this year—of which 17 are youth—a four-fold growth from last year. Arlen Vidal and Charles Sarceda, the district women’s and men’s leaders, discuss their thoughts on creating unity, raising youth and achieving joyful propagation toward 2018.
Congratulations on the great advancement of Historic Highland Park District! What have been the keys to your victory?
Charles Sarceda (district men’s leader): We began 2017 with fresh, enthusiastic energy toward accomplishing our united goals, based on the 4 Pillars of Kosen-rufu: 1. discussion meetings, 2. shakubuku, 3. study and 4. personal guidance.
We set a very ambitious goal this year to achieve 24 Gohonzon conferrals. Last year, we accomplished 5. As district leaders, we decided to lead by example, so we helped our friends receive the Gohonzon first. Through making such profound causes, the joy of sharing Buddhism spread quickly throughout the district. Eight months into 2017, we’ve already helped 19 people receive the Gohonzon, amounting to 26 new members, of which 17 are youth!
Arlen Vidal (district women’s leader): We also resolved to make sure every person received member care. To achieve this, our district team set a collective goal of 300 home visits and for 30 individuals to receive personal guidance. We began communicating our progress every day and uniting through our prayers.
As of now, 16 members, including all the district leaders, have received personal guidance. We’ve also done 115 home visits and recently became a Champion District!
As leaders, we’ve had to strengthen our resolve more than ever to use prayer to do our human revolution and become leaders who can have utmost conviction in each person’s life and reach their hearts.
Congratulations! Were there any challenges you faced along the way?
Charles: At the end of last year, I was discouraged because we were not united as a district. I had become judgmental and let my ego get in the way, thinking that I knew more than others. My attitude was a source of disunity, and it reflected in our results. But once I took full responsibility in my heart for the unity of Historic Highland Park District, things began to change. Not long after, we got news that a new women’s leader, Arlen, would be joining our district, which refreshed our whole team.
We all had ideas, maybe different at first, but we dialogued about our differences until we agreed on united goals. We never left anybody’s thoughts unanswered or ignored.
Arlen: As a new district women’s leader, I was very overwhelmed at times. I was also in my first year of graduate school and had a four-hour commute to school, three times a week. When I questioned whether I could do it all, I remembered what my women’s leaders shared with me—everything is about life condition and prayer!
How do you ensure the success of your district meetings?
Charles: Our preparation and planning have proven crucial. We always set guest and Gohonzon conferral goals, chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo about them and keep track of our progress. To ensure that all district study and discussion meetings are filled with inspiring content, we visit each participant beforehand and go over their presentations with them.
Arlen: At the beginning of every month, we also write a district report to SGI President Ikeda, sharing our goals for the month and reporting back our results. This constant back-and-forth communication with our mentor has served as fuel to achieve our monthly goals, no matter what.
Have you seen any changes through your member care efforts?
Arlen: Many times, members are struggling just to chant and do not respond to us. As leaders, we’ve had to strengthen our resolve more than ever to use prayer to do our human revolution and become leaders who can have utmost conviction in each person’s life and reach their hearts.
For the members who’ve received personal guidance, each one has experienced significant shifts in their lives.
Charles: And the one-to-one connections made through the home visits have resulted in a three-fold increase in both study and discussion meeting attendance from last year. Our discussion meetings now have an average attendance of 30–45 members, and since the beginning of the year, we’ve reconnected with eight members who hadn’t come out to activities in a while.
Any advice on raising new members?
Arlen: Propagation efforts taking place in our district allow us to immediately care for our new members. We give them opportunities to participate in our meetings and take on unit or group leadership right away. Our greatest challenge is remaining confident in each new member’s unique journey in faith, staying consistent in our care and chanting for their absolute happiness. What are your determinations toward next year’s gathering of 50,000 “Lions of Justice”?
Charles: I’m determined to raise capable new leaders for kosen-rufu and send 35 youth from Historic Highland Park District to the gathering!
Our district is also determined to surpass our initial goal of 24 Gohonzon conferrals for the year by Aug. 24. To do this, we have turned our district/group chanting sessions into intro-to-Buddhism meetings and created a list of 12 guests who are potentially ready to join the SGI. This way, we can connect, visit and dialogue with them, and support them on their journey to becoming happy!
Arlen: Toward our gathering next year, I promised Sensei that I would send 10 youth whom I’ve personally taken full responsibility to raise. I don’t want a single member—no matter who they are or what they are going through—to miss out on experiencing the joy of winning together with Sensei toward 2018!