Wednesday, November 28, 2007

35 Enter the Faith in Savannah in One Week

35 gets your attention doesn’t it? But this was the result recently achieved by the friends in the Savannah, GA (B-stage) cluster. By focusing on inviting junior youth already involved in Baha’i activities to become Baha’is and then visiting their parents to explain the process and obtaining parents’ signature son registration cards, this 94-member cluster grew by another 35 new believers - 30 children and junior youth, one youth, and four adults. Below are excerpts from an interview with the lead Auxiliary Board member for the cluster in which he discusses this accomplishment, what has happened since, and the lessons the cluster has learned from it.


We’ve been doing lots of home visits [since the project ended]. This weekend, for example, we took 12 of the junior youth out for pizza and then back to my house to show them what a Bahá’í home is like. We listened to the tape of William Sears talking about what it means to be a Bahá’í and then talked about it ourselves – that this is what we are, and we’re here to serve human kind. We showed them pictures of the shrines and talked about the central figures, telling them the story of the Báb which went over really well. One of the youth said “I’m going to go home and dream about this tonight.” And you know, she and another girl hosted devotions the next day.

What I learned is that the friends have to be very spontaneous in the service of these new friends. We have to not spend too much time planning to be with them, and just be with them. Even though there will be planning and sharing information required, we can’t spend too much time one that. These new believers need lots of personal time.


There are a couple of enrollment forms that are still out, but we haven’t aggressively pursued more enrollments. Given the number that have already declared, we think it’s very important to get this consolidation part right, and to not let our desire of being “successful” get in our way. It’s important because we have already have successful models of enrollments, but we’re in the process of creating a successful model of consolidation. We’ve learned that the teaching victory is not enough, that the consolidation victory will be just as important.


I don’t know if we really get it yet. None of us have a reference for anything like this, so we’re just learning as we go. We’re all excited, but we all have feelings of anticipation and feelings of some concern – of “Will we do it right?”

These new believers are in large part African American children. Our community is learning - really learning – what diversity is. We’re learning under fire, so to speak, which is sometimes the best way to learn.

We have also learned what an advantage it is to have the larger community recognize the Bahá’í community for being of service. We are now realizing the benefit of long and constant efforts to be a social force in the community. We’re reaping the benefits of it.

We now have a couple of distinct communities. One is a community that has been around for quite a while. And then there is a very large segment of the community that have been Baha’is for a very short period of time. A lot of us are realizing what a precious opportunity this is to make these new Bahá’ís’ experience a very enjoyable one. Often times we know of Baha’is who came into the community, but didn’t hang around, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.


Our parents were so excited that we barely got our opening line out - most couldn’t register their kids fast enough. It was like offering water to a thirsty person. The reality of it is that what we have done with these kids spoke for itself. We have been a clear servant of the community, and that is what facilitated these declarations. The parents wanted more than anything for their kids to be identified with these people who were doing these good things. We – the Bahá’í community – are seen as a good thing and people want their kids to be involved with a good thing. We’ve put ourselves in a very advantageous position. It’s like people feel that if these people are part of it, it must be pretty good. We’ve garnered the trust of the community.

When a person sends a kid to your classes for a year or more, they’ve already committed to the Faith. Their actions have made a commitment. We just had to have the courage to honor the commitment that the parents had made. That was what was so great about having the kids fill out the cards themselves and then saying to the parents “The only way your child can officially be a Bahá’í child is with your permission” – someone was acknowledging the parents’ import in the process. It was a way of honoring the family and the parent and the commitment they had already made to the Baha’is. It was a gift, and they received it that way.


[Advice I would give to another cluster is] go serve your community. Bahá’ís need to be visible. Service to your community will reap its rewards. It’s so important for some number of the wider community to be able to say “Oh yes, I know the Bahá’ís – aren’t they the ones that do such and such service”. And if you haven’t done a lot of service in the community, start children’s classes and junior youth groups as assistance to yourselves. Serving people’s most important resource just legitimizes all the grand and noble ideas that we have. Be visible when you’re doing the core activities.


Teaching blog said...

Nov 29, 6:05 AM

Absolutely fabulous! It’s good to read a success story right in our state of Georgia, right on our door-step.

T. Nomvete

Teaching blog said...

Nov 29, 7:49

Yá Bahá’u-l’Abhá! This is so exciting! Go, Savannah!!!

M. Varner

Teaching blog said...

Nov 30, 3:34 AM

Bravo, Savannah! This is what it is all about, and shows what happens when we put aside our fears and invite people of all ages into the Cause.
“Ask, believe, receive” is a popular phrase, but it works. This can be done anywhere where the friends are willing as we have been told that there are thousands of receptive souls out there just waiting to be invited to the “table of the Lord” !

R. Pellegrino