Sunday, December 23, 2007

How Phoenix Made It Happen In Just 15 Days

It probably says something that the Phoenix cluster’s core team, in describing their first expansion phase as an A cluster, did not mention the 70 enrollments they achieved over 15 days (34 adults and youth, 36 children and junior youth) until page seven of a ten-page report. The focus, rather, was on the systematic planning and preparation that set the stage, the spirit that moved the community, the coordination and consecrated efforts as they moved to action in the field, and the lessons learned that they will use to make their next program of growth even better. We have posted the report here in full, and there’s not much that we can add to it, except to encourage you to read through to the end because it’s full of invaluable learning. (We will note, though, that it’s a pretty cool core team that adds a “You know you’re in an IPG if. . .” section at the end of its report. Maybe that says something too.)

Movement of the cluster from one stage to the next During the B stage of growth, the Local Spiritual Assembly of Phoenix made a decision to decentralize the children’s class at the Bahá’í Center. Soon thereafter children’s class teachers were trained in Book 3 and deployed into neighborhoods to start classes, thereby widening the circle of those interested in Faith. The neighborhood children’s classes became well established. Teaching teams were formed to support children’s class teachers in their efforts to make systematic home visits to participating families. The home visit campaigns led to bonds of true friendship and community building. Strengthened family relationships naturally led to the multiplication of devotional meetings. The outward-looking orientation quickly transformed the cluster, and teaching teams organically began to seek out receptive souls.


  • The objective was to keep the plan “straightforward and simple” and not have too many elements incorporated in the IPG: Find receptive souls and teach them
  • Priority goal: Directly teach the COI and other receptive souls
    • Method– wholeheartedly and intimately utilize Anna’s presentation in the seekers homes (4 definite and two tentative target neighborhoods were selected)
  • Secondary goal: Multiply core activities with the COI
  • A Collective Direct teaching day (with a review of Anna’s presentation) held six weeks prior to IPG launch prepared the nucleus of 8-10 teachers.
  • Core group (including: ABms, ATC, CIC, CCC) met twice during IPG planning phase”
    • To study the documents from the ITC Nov 28, 04, Sept 30 07
    • To plan the CRM (Cluster Reflection Meeting)
    • To outline plans and logistics for expansion phase
    • To select target areas (based on receptivity, strength of core activities, established collaboration of core group with teams)
    • To select virgin target areas (based on proximity to target areas)
  • Based on learning from other clusters, decision was made to launch the IPG on Saturday during the CRM, to capitalize on the enthusiasm and availability of the friends, and to avoid a second gathering in order to utilize the entire week end for teaching.

Numerical Goals

  • 24 new Bahá’ís (we begged Bahá’u’lláh for this one :-)) In the previous cycle Phoenix had 8.
  • 5 new children’s classes
  • 20 new Bahá’ís in Book 1 or other study circles
  • Increase the junior youth groups from 3 to 6

Materials Prepared – Teaching Folders in both Spanish/English

  • Anna’s presentation – in color, printed and bound in AZ13 (Phoenix)
  • Declaration and child registration cards
  • Color-coded teaching folders to match target areas with maps and materials
  • Devotional and children’s class invitations, prayer cards
  • Home visits forms (for systematic follow-up)
  • Directory of neighborhood COI locations and family members

Cluster Reflection Meeting & IPG Launch

  • Spiritually uplifting, high-energy devotions by African-American team
  • Skit performed by youth demonstrated the activities of IPG phases.
  • Break-out session groups studied and discussed activities of IPG phases.
  • 15 large sheets of paper were posted on the walls, allowing a visual perspective of the Expansion Phase, giving everyone the opportunity to participate in different ways, and put their pledges on these sheets.
  • Pledges were made by participants for each of 15 days of expansion phase.
  • Target areas for the 1st week-end of the IPG were discussed with teaching teams.
  • All the friends at the CRM were given the opportunity to join teams, form their own teams, or pray for the success of the teams.
  • Teaching folders (color coded by area) were given to teaching teams.
  • Immediately after the CRM, teaching teams were deployed in the field of action.
  • Teams were asked to return from the field after 3 hours for brief reflection.
    • A family affair: 14 adults, 7 youth, 8 children participated in teams Day 1.
    • 40 people attended, 27 people pledged.
    • Many teachers are mothers with young children; therefore to ensure their participation in the CRM, we invited an adjacent cluster to help with the childcare and children

IPG Launch First Weekend Review – Importance of Collective Teaching

  • Teachers gathered to pray, review Anna’s presentation, form teams, to review the teaching folder and data collection methods.
  • Doors knocked: 203, doors opened: 104, homes receptive 70, Declarations 4.
  • Witnessing victories and becoming courageous during the collective teaching days 1 and 2, friends additionally approached nearby virgin areas and made unplanned door to door teaching efforts; this proved to be very important to the success of the expansion phase.
  • As planned at the end of the first day, teams met to reflect, learn from experiences, and plan follow-up.
  • Teams shared stories and data with each other and the core group daily.
  • Teaching stories and victories were shared hourly amongst the core group and other teachers in the field.

The Core Group During the Expansion Phase

  • Constantly being in the field with the teaching teams and contacting each other, the core group did not have time to meet in person until late on Day 2 to coordinate team schedules.
  • At that meeting the group created a 2-week schedule of direct teaching activities for follow-up during the expansion phase with receptive souls who were open and had asked for return visits (there were plenty!)
  • Core group maintained continuous contact by phone, email, text (and pigeons).
  • Core group shared teaching successes with cluster via email consisting of: 1) quotation from Writings, 2) Statistical updates, 3) Teaching Story.

The Core group only met in person twice during the entire phase!

Support from the Institutions

  • At the CRM the LSA thanked the core group for their efforts with roses.
  • Some Assembly members were teaching shoulder to shoulder with the friends in the field daily.
  • The LSA has been generously funding the teaching activities.

Support from the Community

  • Many friends prayed daily for the success of the IPG expansion phase.
  • Several have expressed interest in participating in the consolidation phase.
  • More friends began to participate after a gathering of momentum.
  • Nucleus of 8-10 people anchored teams in target areas.
  • 20 friends participated in teaching teams.

Involvement of Youth, Junior Youth and Children

  • These young Baha’is played an integral role during the expansion phase:
  • They served as record keepers, door knockers and praying partners.
  • Children opened the hearts of seekers by offering prayers for them.
  • Children were even encouraging their parents to go teach!

For the next IPG, make sure that….

  • We have a collaborative calendar to coordinate more quickly.
  • Teachers add their own initials to declaration cards in case thee are questions during follow up.
  • We provide a tutorial on filling out the declaration cards.
  • Draw on a larger number of the friends in the cluster to teach collectively.
  • Invite the new believers to join the collective teaching efforts.


  • New believer spreadsheet has been developed to systematically track follow-up for each new declarant during consolidation phase. Tracking includes: book 2 deepening themes heard, study circles attended, and core activities in which he/she participates.
  • Spreadsheet uploaded to online collaborative webspace for members of core group to view, edit and share data in real-time with teaching teams.
  • Consolidation to rely heavily on the direct teacher being paired with another Bahá’í in the cluster, thus drawing on pool of human resources, to arrange HVs for deepening themes and core activities.

General Learning - Expansion Phase IPG Cycle 1

  • The most important aspect of the efforts made by the Core Group and teachers was reliance on Bahá’u’lláh, and unity of vision, thought and action
  • Collective prayer is powerful: Friends were asked to pray the Tablet of Ahmad and the Teaching Prayer for the Western States daily during the entire expansion phase.
  • Due to limited resources, and the fact that we were in the field every evening, it was not possible for teachers to meet daily. The love and unity generated by intense teaching motivated us to keep in constant contact through phone calls and emails.
  • Anna’s presentation (printed and bound) is an invaluable tool. Stick to the concepts.
  • Anna’s presentation (AP) is highly effective. Experience demonstrated that once a seeker agreed to hear AP, approximately 8 out of 10 presentations led to a declaration. Even if the seeker initially seemed distracted, once the presentation began, the intensity of his/her focus was surprising.
  • Due to the success of the presentations, no Firesides were scheduled during the expansion phase. The Firesides were created on the spot and as a result of the questions generated from AP.
  • Confidence increases with experience. (thank you Bahá’u’lláh)
  • Be flexible about time — A good portion of these declarations took place during the daytime when the seekers had availability.
  • Be bold, inviting and forthcoming.
  • Two-to-three person team strategy:
    • As one person delivers AP, the others observe and pray silently supplicating Baha’u’llah to open the hearts;
    • No interruption of the teacher by the other members of the team;
    • It was our experience that there is a direct spiritual bond that develops during the presentation between the seeker and the teacher, and this bond should not be severed.
  • It is most effective to stick to the concepts in AP and not to deviate from them. (this was a huge learning and at times a hard lesson
  • Inexperienced teachers benefited from accompanying experienced teachers. One teacher said, “I could never imagine myself doing this! Now I can!”
  • During the IPG, just teach! Children’s class presentations, events, devotionals, are better left for the consolidation phase. We found it more effective to teach the COI and seekers individually in their homes. Focus was on intimate settings for Anna’s presentation.
  • Core activities were offered with the presentation.
  • Children’s classes are the “portal” for other activities.
  • Perseverance in the face of rejection & disappointment is the key to victories.
  • This is Baha’u’llah’s Plan. Many times we would go to see a particular seeker to follow-up and often they would not be home. We would continue “knocking and praying,” or “wander and pray” and would then find another receptive soul.
  • We must teach for the joy of sharing the Word, and be detached from the results.
  • Be forthcoming and inviting.
    • We’ve learned that the declaration card should be a part of the presentation.
    • After the presentation, the teacher asks “Do you believe that Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God for today?”
    • If yes, then the teacher presents the declaration card, reviews the concepts on the card (which have just been presented) and invites the declarant to joint the Bahá’i Community.
    • If there are obstacles the teacher takes time to allay concerns.
    • If the declarant has children they too are invited to register.

  • If a seeker is open, but does not declare right away, do not give up. Eight seekers declared on the second visit.
  • Some teams prayed for each other though not physically present, and were successful in their efforts to confirm souls. For example, one teacher didn’t have a partner on her way to a follow-up visit, so she called her cousin for prayers, and the seeker declared.
  • Though the bodies were exhausted at the end but the spirits were soaring and ready for more…
  • Declarations –34 Adults and Youth (and 36 children registered) during the expansion phase.

“Not infrequently, the consolidation phase gives rise to further enrolments as the family members and friends of new declarants accept the Faith.”

Declarations will continue through the consolidation phase:

Two days after the expansion phase ended, a mother requested that her family hear AP after a devotional they all attended. In this way 1 more Youth declared, and 2 more children and one junior youth were registered!

Declarations of 34 Adults and Youth

  • Anglo - 5
  • Cuban - 4
  • Mexican - 10
  • Sudanese - 2
  • African American - 2
  • Liberian - 5
  • Native American - 6

You know you’re in an IPG if…

  • In the middle of Anna’s presentation, you notice your sweater is on inside out.
  • You discover you’ve been using your red fine tipped children’s class marker as lip liner for two days.
  • You walk through a store, staring at people, thinking “I bet that is a receptive soul!” and run into a display.
  • You forget to eat.
  • You can’t sleep.
  • You wake up at 3:00 am dreaming of the eyes of the new Baha’is and how to consolidate them!
  • You forget to change your child, and realize it in the middle of a presentation.
  • You are so intense about getting your teaching materials out of the car, that you leave your trunk open in an apt complex for hours, and no one steals anything.
  • You loose your cell phone, and go teaching anyway, hoping Baha’u'llah will lead you to your team. (He does)
  • You leave your computer case standing in the middle of a parking lot in your hurry to meet your team. (it’s still there when you discover it’s missing- Baha’u'llah is on overtime)
  • You trade your mini cooper in for a van to take seekers to devotionals!
  • You buy an umbrella, but are so excited you forget to use it, and all of your prayer cards have water smudges . . .
  • When you make a left onto on coming traffic because your thinking about teaching but, by the grace of God no one hits you!
  • You catch yourself saying Ya-Baha’u'l-Abha to strangers.
  • On your way to a devotional at the apt complex, on a mission to pick up coffee and cookies, and while calling to ask for directions to the store, you have an accident with another car, and Baha’u'llah blessed you with only “mini” damage : a hole in your bumper ;)
  • You find out a pipe is leaking on your new stove, and you cut your water off in the house and go teaching anyway.
  • Your three year old wakes up and says, “teaching mommy, teaching!”
  • All of your shoes are ruined from the mud, and you don’t care.
  • Your Local Assembly cannot get a quorum because too many members are in the field teaching.
  • When people think you and your teaching partner are sisters, and they keep commenting on the closeness they feel between you two!
  • Your teaching partner calls you that she will be a little late because she left home still wearing her slippers and had to return for her shoes!
  • You become familiar with where you can go to the bathroom near the apartment complexes where teaching is going on
  • The most health conscious member of your team suggests going to Jack in the Box for a bite to eat.
  • Reliance on Baha’u'llah becomes natural for the first time in your life.
  • You do your normal “daily work” in the wee hours so you can spend more time teaching the next day.
  • When your family dinners consist of take out, frozen dinners or rotisserie chickens w/ bags of salad
  • When your family asks when will you cook a meal again?
  • When the words like “Yeah, Let me get that combo# 2 with 2 tacos, to GO!!” become a part of our vocabulary!!
  • When the TV is on and very loud, the child is playing loudly, distractions abound, and you have to use the restroom, BUT you hold on, pray and finish Anna’s presentation and the seeker signs their declaration card.
  • You and your children’s piano teacher decide to cancel two lessons so you can both be in the field more.
  • You use your dash board to dry out wet declaration cards.
  • A handful of almonds for lunch seems normal.
  • You go to a teaching day with two grandchildren. You only take one home, and don’t realize you’ve left the other in the field until your daughter calls you, saying, “Where’s my other child”?
  • Your car breaks down on the way to collective teaching! When you call your partner she says, “park it, I’ll come and get you.” So you leave your car and go teach!
  • You are walking around looking for your ancestors in the strangest places
  • You realize that those in the field teaching with you are becoming your closest and dearest friends!

If any of these apply to you then perhaps you are in an IPG! These are actual incidents, but the names have been deleted to protect the intoxicated.

Final Thoughts, Summary & Teaching Story

The inaugural expansion phase of the Intensive Program of Growth in Phoenix, AZ was replete with divine assistance and confirmations from the Concourse on High. Triumph of the Cause during the expansion phase was evident. The Bahá’is in our community stood unified in serried lines and each played a role in His victory.

At the beginning of the expansion phase very few teachers had either experience direct teaching with Anna’s presentation or confidence in their ability to direct teach. Now transformed by arising to teach, these same individuals are confident instruments who have been imbued with the joy of teaching, never again to be the same!

Many successes were had but there is time for just one courageous teaching story. As the IPG approached the teacher made several attempts to share Anna’s presentation but was not given the opportunity. At a bus stop, to a mechanic, to any soul with a hearing ear the teacher offered to share the Message. The expansion phase began and the teacher fervently desired to teach the Cause.

“On the first day of the expansion phase I was offered an opportunity to share the Faith. As this was my first time sharing Anna’s presentation I was full of anxiety. During the presentation the seeker’s soul was attracted and she declared her belief in Bahá’u’lláh!”

Later this teacher told us, “I was too scared to present her with the declaration card!” Over the course of the fifteen day expansion phase this teacher tried to re-visit her friend six times but she was never home. On the very last night of the expansion phase long after all the other teachers had gone home exhausted, she attempted one last visit.

“I did not have anyone with me so I called my ever ready teaching partner, but she did not answer her phone so I called my dear cousin. He answered and said he would pray and be my partner. As I walked toward her home I did not beg Baha’u'llah for anything. I was filled with such gratitude for even being able to be approach her home. I thought, Bahá’u'lláh, if she signs her card wonderful, and if she doesn’t that is wonderful too!”

The teacher’s resolve was tested, and a final victory in the expansion phase was achieved.“My friend was decorating her home for Christmas because her father was planning to visit and this left her feeling sad somehow. We spoke awhile and prayed together then suddenly her mood changed. I reminded her that she had declared her faith in Bahá’u'lláh. She agreed and smiled. Then I presented the declaration card, reminded her of her right to participate in elections and to receive communications from Bahá’i Institutions, and she signed! We hugged and I promised to visit her after the New Year.”

Our collective experience in our first expansion phase is aptly captured in the words of the Blessed Báb.

“Heed not your weakness and frailty; fix your gaze upon the invincible power of the Lord, your God… Arise in His name, put your trust wholly in Him, and be assured of ultimate victory.”

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Results of Direct Teaching - Watch the Video Here!

The watchword lately - since the Universal House of Justice’s letter of 30 September, really - has been “direct teaching”, defined by the Guardian as “an open and bold assertion of the fundamental verities of the Cause“. (It is not synonymous with door-to-door teaching, as is a common misconception. But that is a topic for another day.)

We at the Teaching Blog were recently informed about a video of an Auxiliary Board member in India discussing teaching efforts in the New Delhi area and the friends’ experiences and successes with using Anna’s presentation in direct teaching. (And when I say “successes” I mean the cluster of New Delhi has had over 1200 declarations in 2007. Yeah. The goal for their upcoming expansion phase is 250.)

The great thing about this video is how this board member acknowledges and even describes some of the misgivings that people often have about this kind of teaching, and then describes how it actually worked. Take a look; it’s about nine minutes long. (The teaching tool she refers to is a flip chart-type booklet published in Malaysia that takes a seeker through Anna’s presentation. The seeker sees quotes, pictures, and illustrations, and the back side has notes for the teacher to refer to.)

Watch the video now!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Neighborhood Teaching in Queens

Many clusters are finding that among the most successful teaching efforts are those which are organized and executed at the neighborhood level. The following example from the New York, NY (A) cluster demonstrates this approach to mobilizing friends and planning action on a manageable scale. It is interesting to note that friends in the New York cluster have begun holding “mini” neighborhood reflection gatherings for certain areas. They have found that this helps both the neighborhood itself, and the cluster as a whole, as “due to the limited amount of time at cluster-wide reflection meetings, beginning the consultation and planning ahead of time at a neighborhood reflection meeting leads to smoother and more organized formation of collective action plans.”

Since August, the Bahá’ís of the New York City borough of Queens have channeled their passion for teaching into a systematic collective endeavor — the Queens Teaching Project. Conceived collectively through consultation and on-the-ground learning, the project grew organically out of a shared desire to teach the Faith and the call to action issued by the Universal House of Justice in its Ridvan 2007 message.

Reaching Receptive Populations

For the second expansion phase in a row, teaching teams and individuals joined forces to reach out to receptive populations — South Asians and Latin Americans — through personal teaching, home visits, evening events, and street teaching using “teaching tables” in the Little India and Spanish sections of the Jackson Heights neighborhood. In November a new effort targeted African Americans in the Jamaica neighborhood.

“We knew these areas would be good to target because we have put out teaching tables in a number of neighborhoods and Jackson Heights and Jamaica have been particularly responsive,” says a member of the Table Teaching Team.

During the two weekends of the expansion phases Bahá’ís worked in tandem with the teaching tables to invite contacts to core activities and evening events. New friends from the tables and personal contacts attended Spanish, Hindi, and English firesides and devotionals at a range of locations — a Jewish community center, an Indian restaurant and private homes.

Unity as the Foundation

To date more than 40 Bahá’ís have participated in the project, including members of four teaching teams, two study circles, two junior youth groups and one children’s class. Auxiliary Board members, Local Spiritual Assembly and Area Teaching Committee members, and cluster institute coordinators also joined in.

“The level of unity among the Queens Bahá’ís is wonderful — it is our most precious asset,” says a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly and Jackson Heights Teaching Team. “When you combine unity with the passion for teaching, Bahá’u’lláh opens every door and confirms every effort!”

Direct Presentation of the Faith

At a fireside following the day of teaching in Little India, for example, two seekers of Indian descent — both of whom had been nurtured through home visits and ongoing teaching — declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh. The next night, a Spanish fireside followed teaching in the Spanish section, and welcomed three seekers from the tables. Both new Bahá’ís and all three Spanish seekers plan to join study circles - one in Hindi and one in Spanish.

“We did Anna’s Presentation from Ruhi Book 6 at both of these recent firesides,” the Assembly member explains. “On Saturday we had Hindi translation and on Sunday we had Spanish translation.It was an amazing experience and look at the results — we have excited new members of our community!”

Multiplying Core Activities

A multiplication of junior youth groups and a new children’s class were highlights of the consolidation phase. A junior youth night during the consolidation phase welcomed 25 people — including 12 junior youth and 13 seekers and resulted in a new junior youth group. Home visits are being planned with the parents and one Bahá’í parent is the host of the new Spanish study circle.

“These are exciting times in Queens,” says a member of the Table Teaching Team. “There is nothing more exciting than teaching the Faith and participating in the Five Year Plan!”


The Opportunities

Along with the energy and enthusiasm of the Bahá’ís in Queens, here are a few factors that led to the project’s creation and initial success:

1. Regular study of letters from the World Center.

In 2006, the Area Teaching Committee of New York City, in collaboration with the Local Spiritual Assembly, began leading short “Discussions on Growth” during each Nineteen Day Feast. These consultations enabled the friends to study recent letters from the Universal House of Justice and International Teaching Center and consult together on the progress of the teaching work.

2. Passion for teaching.

A core group of Bahá’ís was passionate about teaching. Believers often spoke about wanting to do more to share the Faith, and wanted to know how to collaborate effectively.

3. Unity. The borough’s most precious resource is the unity among the friends. Dinners before Feast, social nights and devotionals were held not out of obligation but because people wanted to be together.

4. Reflection. Quarterly Queens reflection meetings, a week before the cluster reflection meetings, gave the friends an extra opportunity to evaluate neighborhood resources, assess strengths and make collective plans.

5. Ruhi Book 6, “Teaching the Cause.” A core group of Queens Bahá’ís enrolled in a Book 6 study circle and began to study the dynamics of teaching. These friends arose immediately to implement what they were learning and formed the core of the project.

6. Knowledge of receptivity. Through months of work, the Table Teaching Team learned where in Queens the Faith was most warmly received. This information was critical in planning which populations to target.

7. Focus. The more people studied messages from the World Centre, progressed through study circles and participated in the “Discussions on Growth” at Feast, the more effectively they served together.

8. Diversity. Reflecting the area in which they live, the Bahá’ís in Queens come from every corner of the planet, bringing with them language, cultural and teaching skills that they eagerly harmonized in the project.

9. Institutional Support. As Area Teaching Committee and Local Spiritual Assembly members living in Queens, and serving as tutors and on teaching teams, began to see the enthusiasm build around teaching, the institutions began to support activities in subtle but effective ways that empowered individuals and promoted collective action.

The Challenges

The experience gained through the Queens Teaching Project, shed light on important areas for continued learning.

1. Follow up. Proclaiming the name of Bahá’u’lláh is easy. Walking with contacts, seekers and new believers on a path towards Bahá’u’lláh requires regular, consistent follow up. More home visits are needed.

2. Understanding the institute process. A coherent understanding of the Institute Process as the “engine of growth” — and its importance in sustaining the project — has emerged as the friends have engaged in the teaching work.

3. Too few tutors. The institute is working hard to train new tutors while a small group of tutors work to meet the needs of seekers and Bahá’ís ready to start Ruhi Book 1.

4. Diverging opinions. Discussions at Feast, informally and in study circles have focused on the range of teaching methods that people find “appropriate.” Respect for opinions and flexibility of approach allowed people to participate in the project in ways that were comfortable and exciting for them, which has been key to fostering unity.

5. Effort and results. Over the course of four intensive weekends of personal and street teaching, well over 1,500 pamphlets and invitations were distributed. Of the 1,500+ pamphlets handed out, 35 people joined the Bahá’í mailing list. Of these about 10 attended firesides,two declared and four plan to join a study circle.

6. Two few resources. One of the lessons learned immediately was the importance of having Spanish and Hindi speakers involved, as well as having literature in Spanish and Hindi. Materials needed to be ordered in advance.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Children, Junior Youth, and Youth In Pictures

Some of you may know of the 30 children and junior youth that recently registered as Baha’is in the Savannah, GA (B) cluster. Here at the Teaching Blog we received a lot of feedback from this story, including several friends who sent numerous photographs of Savannah young people - present and past. We are sharing some of these as a kind of pictorial snapshot of a community. (Click on a thumbnail to see the full size picture.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Developments in Miami-Dade County

Here’s a quick update on what’s shaking down in the Miami-Dade, FL (B) cluster.

The Miami-Dade has seen many exciting new developments recently:

  • In the past 10 days, there have been 8 declarations!
  • The Devon-Aire neighborhood Children’s Class had a Family Gathering last weekend where 5 parents showed up, 3 of which will be starting Book 1 very soon.
  • In one weekend, 3 new study circles have begun.

Please continue to say prayers and hold devotionals for the success of our cluster.

We hope this news will encourage everyone to devote their energies to the development of our cluster, knowing that Bahá’u'lláh will send His confirmations as we arise to serve.

Oregon in the Summer (Children’s Classes and More Children’s Classes)

Appearing below are accounts from 8 clusters in Oregon, ranging from A stage to plain old C (like the cluster yours truly is from), about their experience in putting to practice their training from Ruhi Book 3 this past summer. If there was ever something you wanted to know about starting, teaching, or expanding children’s classes, the chances are good that you’ll find it here somewhere. Enjoy.

Recruiting in Bend (C cluster) for a one week day camp began with the manager of an apartment complex where two Bahá’ís live. The manager read through several pages in Ruhi Book 3, took notes in case she got questions about the classes, and volunteered to take the flier announcing “spiritual education” classes to the two hundred apartments in the complex. Seven children and junior youth (7- 14 year olds) came on the first day. On each subsequent day at least one new child joined the group. The teachers were delighted at how receptive the children were to saying prayers and memorizing quotes.

Recruitment for a day camp in Philomath (A cluster) was done with simple written invitations taken to apartments and homes by the teachers along with the four children from an on-going Bahá’í class. The class location was in a nearby park. As a result, four new families sent their children (eleven total) to the camp. Six of the children were from Latino families. Following this camp regular home visits were made to each family, a children’s devotional gathering has been given for families, and weekly classes are continuing in a home.

A junior youth group in Medford (B cluster) saw a need and shared their desire to teach children’s classes. After consulting with the Auxiliary Board member and Area Coordinators, a Ruhi Book 3 Intensive was held. Eight youth and junior youth completed the course and immediately the participants planned and taught a children’s class—in conjunction with a Feast—to practice their new skills.

After reflecting and learning from teaching that class, they were deployed the following week to teach a portion of a class during Badasht summer school/family camp in Oregon. Again, learning took place and confidence was built.

A week after summer school, neighborhood children’s classes and a three-day day camp began at a family apartment complex. It was very successful and the weekly children’s classes are continuing into the school year.

Recruitment began the day before the day camp. Three people, including one of the junior youth, took previously prepared fliers and knocked on all 82 doors in the apartment complex. This team of three began by saying prayers—as much for courage as for success. The responses were such that their confidence continued to grow each time they knocked and spoke.

The parents seemed pleased to hear what would be offered at the day camp. One person had questions about the Bahá’í Faith and another said she didn’t really have a religion, but wanted her son to have a strong spiritual connection. She was invited to a study circle and devotional gathering.

The White Salmon, WA (C cluster) (sharing some areas in Oregon) has shared some of the elements that contribute to its successful weekly children’s classes.

  • Having classes in a grassy area in a park where everyone can sit in a circle on the ground.
  • Sending out a weekly email and calling everyone the night before.
  • Going to pick up children, if possible.
  • Splitting up the workload.

Another benefit to having the classes in the park was that a lot of other people saw what was going on— some intrigued enough to have their children join the class. One day only two of the regular children showed up, but seven others joined and that made for a full, vibrant class.

One of the best parts about these classes was their ease in planning. All one needed was snacks, a guitar, a little art, Ruhi Book 3 lesson plans, and the children. Nice and sustainable is the key. In fact, these classes are continuing into the school year.

Woodburn (C cluster) started its first neighborhood children’s class with more success than anticipated. Nine children (ages 2-9), one mother, and a grandmother attended.

Three of the children were from Bahá’í families while the other six were the children from three Latino families. Originally, the children’s class was to be held outside while a Book 3 study circle met inside. Because it was raining there were worries about where to put everyone in the small apartment.

The Ruhi Book 3 participants ended up in the bedroom, while the living room was used for children’s classes. Now the Book 3 participants will be able to practice with the children’s class.

Many other communities in Oregon were holding neighborhood children’s classes for the first time this summer. Lake Oswego (B cluster) evolved from virtue classes to using the Ruhi 3 curriculum. To begin with, the Bahá’í children invited a few of their friends from school to accompany them. There have been slightly different groups in attendance each time, but the trend has been towards non-Bahá’í participation: seven non- Bahá’í children and three non-Bahá’í parents have come.

As was experienced in Bend, often when invitations to children’s classes are given out to families in apartment complexes, younger children are accompanied by their older siblings. As more and more Bahá’í youth are trained as “Animators” the natural result is to form a junior youth group at the same time.

In Washington County North (A cluster) a team of individuals invited children and junior youth by visiting the homes at a manufactured home park where a Bahá’í resides.

With the help of a child who knew the Bahá’í resident, other children and junior youth were invited to attend a neighborhood children’s class and junior youth group. One week later, the team returned to these homes and—like the Pied Piper—had a trail of youth and children following behind as they went house to house inviting them.

The class began on a grassy, open area behind the Bahá’í’s home. All who attended this first session were non-Bahá’ís. The entire group played a name game and then the children were brought together to work on one of the lessons from Ruhi Book 3. The junior youth got acquainted and did a science project.

In Springfield (B cluster) home visits resulted in many young people accepting an invitation to attend a neighborhood class held outside the apartment of their Bahá’í host. On the appointed day the teachers set out to bring the children from their homes only to meet them coming, a slip of paper with the address in their hands, their mothers by their sides, and the glow of happiness on their faces! A children’s class of 7 and a junior youth class of 6 were formed.

8 declarations in 10 days in Miami-Dade

Miami-Dade, FL (B) reports impressive progress!

The Miami-Dade Cluster has seen many exciting new developments recently:

· In the past 10 days, there have been 8 declarations!

· One of the neighborhood children’s classes had a Family Gathering last weekend where 5 parents showed up, 3 of which will be starting Book 1 very soon.

· In one weekend, 3 new study circles have begun.

Please continue to say prayers and hold devotionals for the success of our cluster.

We hope this news will encourage everyone to devote their energies to the development of our cluster, knowing that Bahá'u'lláh will send His confirmations as we arise to serve.

~Miami-Dade Core Team

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sixteen youth. Three states. Four days of Animator training.

The best part about this story? Youth, youth, youth. It’s so powerful to hear about how they overcame their fear and reluctance about doing home visits and then reading their own words about how much they appreciated the experience afterwards. It’s a lesson we could all learn. Keep it up, everybody!

Sixteen youth from three states completed a four-day intensive Animator training course in Lapwai, ID (C cluster). The youth completed Ruhi Book 5, studied the Dec 27, 2005 letter from the Universal House of Justice, studied two of the junior youth books, created lesson plans, did home visits in the area, and created an action plan to start their own junior youth groups.

Two key concepts learned through the study of Book 5 were that “whatever the nature of the cluster, it is imperative to pay close attention to children and junior youth everywhere … no attempt at community building can afford to ignore it,” and, that junior youth who are “accompanied for three years through a program that enhances their spiritual perception” represent a “vast reservoir of energy and talent that can be devoted to the advancement of spiritual and material civilization.” The most challenging of all the activities was doing home visits. Youth were not expecting it and were quite reluctant at first, but the facilitator from California insisted on the importance of learning how to conquer the fear of talking to friends and neighbors about the junior youth programs.Understanding the importance of the tutor accompanying the participants in their endeavors, the Idaho-based facilitator committed herself to visit each participant to help establish junior youth groups. Furthermore, the youth set up a network system to help each other.Here is what the youth gleaned from the training:

“Becoming spiritually involved.”

“Taking a great risk and using a great amount of confidence.”

“The home visits gave us a sense of what is possible, and that other people are open to the idea of change.”

“I am kind of frightened because I realize what a responsibility this is—its going to be a continuing process.”

“The Writings say that the youth are the spearhead or the tip of the arrow; a 14 year old shared his understanding that, we (youth) are the arrow head, the community at large is the shaft and the institutions the fletching, guiding our direction.”

“This weekend opened my eyes to equality of age groups.”

“It is sad that this is over, but I am happy that we are going to work on bringing entry by troops and contributing to the Five Year Plan.”

“I am so glad we did home-visits because it got me out of my comfortzone. At first I was quiet, nervous and confused, but the tutor was right there, and after a while I got into it.”

“This opened my eyes to new possibilities and now I understand the purpose of HOPE.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

“If we’re ready, we’re ready, and if not, well we’re going to do it anyway.”

Below are excerpts from an interview with a member of the Area Teaching Committee of Savannah, GA, a cluster that recently saw 35 declarations in response to a project aimed at junior youth (and children) and their parents. If this cluster could do it, why not others? A-stage clusters don’t get all the fun, afterall!

The results of this project were quite impressive. Do you have any advice to other communities contemplating a similar plan?

One thing is that I think we were so into the institute courses and the practices that we forgot to teach directly, especially collectively. So [after encouragement from the Regional Bahá’í Council and Counsellor Andrews] we finally decided to just do it, even though we were scared to death. One of the biggest learnings we had is to just set a date [for action]. We set a date and said to ourselves “If we’re ready, we’re ready, and if not, well we’re going to do it anyway.”

Also we learned to just go with the process and don’t be too concerned with [being perfect]. It’s a learning environment, so just do it, and if it’s not perfect, evaluate and do it again. Of course we’ve been told that before, but like Counselor Andrews said - you can read all you want about swimming, but you can’t know how to swim until you actually jump into the pool. We just had to jump into the pool.

Another thing that a Regional Bahá’í Council member told us is that 10% of our work should be meetings and 90% should be in the field. So that’s kind of become a motto for us – “1 to 9″. We just look at each other sometimes now and say “1 to 9” to focus our priorities.

Another thing is the power and contribution and energy of our children and junior youth. . . They really add a lot to a community. The more work they do, the more they want to do.

It’s also important to include parents in the process [of children’s education], which we didn’t do for a long time. We should have started engaging parents much earlier. We didn’t want to let them feel that this was something that their kids did, but they weren’t involved in.

How did the core team and then the teaching teams themselves represent to parents what it means to register a junior youth as a Baha’i?

We had a lot of discussion about this. We wanted the children and the parents to be aware of the seriousness of the registering as a Bahá’í, but we didn’t want to put blocks or obstacles in front of them. We would first say something like “Your child has been attending activities at the Bahá’í center, do you know what the Bahá’í Faith is?” If they said no, we would give a short introduction of what the Faith is – basically the first part of Anna’s presentation. Then we would explain that if their child was a Bahá’í they would receive things from national, would be on membership roles, etc.

In the home visits we are really trying to connect with the families of the junior youth. One of our first goals when we meet with families is to explain in what ways they could be involved with activities - like bringing cookies for snacks one day, or even just coming in for a visit. We want to make it clear that they are a part of what is going on - that it’s not just us doing this for their kids. We come in and say this is who we are and what we believe in and let them know how they can be involved with their kids’ activities.

What has been the effect in the Savannah community?

We’re so excited – our small community has grown again by a third. . . We’re in this amazing learning mode. At first when this happened, everybody was really quiet and sort of awestruck. Everybody got really serious and we all were sort of thinking “Oh no, what do we do now?” But after the core group meeting, we’re just taking things as they happen - trying to do the home visits and trying to keep a really joyful attitude. And we try to keep in mind that this is just the first of many teaching projects, and of many expansion phases.

Fellow Blogger Declares on 19th Anniversary of Hearing of Bahá’u’lláh

A seeker found our local webpage (for Madison, WI) and dropped in at the Center for devotions. It was one of those Sundays when there were very few Baha’is present. The small group didn’t seem to bother him and gave those present a chance to get to know him. We chatted over coffee.

He had grown up in Illinois and had seen the House of Worship from the park across the street at night and remembered its beauty. He learned about the Faith when he lived in L.A. back in 1989 and read “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era” and the “Kitáb-i-Iqán” at that time. He was raised Protestant, became Pagan/Unitarian, and for the past several years had belonged to a small religious group with origins in Japan. He was the only member of that group in Madison and planned to start a group here. But his mother died recently and he began thinking about afterlife issues and looking for community.

During that week I sent him a note, a copy of our calendar, a brochure from the House of Worship and a prayer card. I asked our Ruhi coordinators if they could start a Book 1 for him. This seeker came to devotions regularly. One day, after devotions, I went over some of the basics with him and another seeker. He checked “Gleanings” out of our Center’s library. Following that, he read Hatcher & Martin’s “Emerging Global Religion”. When I asked him if he had heard about the study circle yet, he said no, but that he would email the coordinators because he wanted to start right away. He completed Book 1 over the next few Sundays and helped prepare devotions as his practice. He emailed me with questions about spiritual paths other than those started by the Manifestations as described in the Writings. I wrote back about the “Divine Physicians” and the “ever-advancing civilization”, mentioning the likely existence of pre-history Manifestations. He mentioned that he thought Bahá’u’lláh would have a problem with the leader of the group he has been following.

He gave me his blog address and asked me to take a look. A good portion was talking with great love about the Faith and his path toward it. He emailed me that he would not be at devotions the next week because he was going to Chicago and hoped to visit the House of Worship and also let his previous religious group know that he is leaving it.

He also mentioned that he planned to declare his Faith, but wanted to choose a significant day and time to do so. On Nov. 19 he called to tell me that at 7:52, alone on the shore of the lake, on the 19th anniversary of his first hearing of Bahá’u’lláh, he signed his card. He brought the card to Feast on Nov. 23 and said he hoped to have a party at the co-op where he lives to celebrate and to let his friends know about the Faith and meet some of the Baha’is. This is already a very active believer!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tips on Starting a Neighborhood Devotional Meeting

This is a short story from the San Jose, CA (B) cluster about one friend who was accompanied by her cluster institute coordinator and an Auxiliary Board member in inviting neighbors to a neighborhood devotional gathering. Significant in the story and the tips these friends offer is the fact that several neighbors were so receptive to the Faith that the group felt they could have offered an overview of the Faith through Anna’s presentation “if [they] had been prepared to do so”. They join many other friends around the county in realizing that we must always be ready to meet the needs and level of interest we encounter by being prepared to explain the fundamentals of our Faith, no matter what we think our intention is in approaching a neighbor or acquaintance!

We met in the morning, prayed together, discussed what we would do and how. The Bahá’í friend whose neighborhood was the focus of the day’s activity was getting more and more anxious. With more prayers and much positive encouragement she felt good and we set out.

We visited 46 homes, 28 of which had people at home and whom we engaged in discussion. Of the 28, 13 were receptive to the idea of a neighborhood devotional and thought that it was a good initiative and were open to receiving a reminder visit on the night before the devotional. Of the 13, 3 were so receptive to the Faith that we could have actually engaged them with the introduction to Anna’s presentation right there if we had been prepared to do so.

At the start of the visits the Bahá’í friend was nervous and had a hard time even standing by the door as we introduced her and her invitation. By the end, she was engaging her neighbors and even teaching them on the spot as a response to their questions. Her resolve was indeed steeled through her experience and the confirmations she witnessed first hand. We plan to accompany her with the first devotional at the least, to offer a Book 3 lesson for the children, and to help her follow-up on opportunities for home visits to share the Faith.

  • Neighbors were immediately put at ease when she introduced herself as their neighbor right next door.
  • Neighbors were put at ease when she shared that the devotional would be at her home and not a church or such.
  • Neighbors responded very well to the portion of the invitation where we shared that the purpose of the devotional meeting included bringing the neighbors together and to help form bonds of fellowship between them and to foster community. Many stated that they did not even know their neighbors and that they wished it was otherwise
  • The most receptive neighbors were the Hispanics, and having a Spanish flier and a Spanish speaking person in our team was invaluable.
  • Receptivity is so high that we must always be prepared to offer Anna’s presentation. Even when the question “what is Bahá’í?”is asked, we can share the first paragraph of Anna’s presentation, with the quote, from memory as a response instead of using our own words to answer the question.
  • Next time we will review Anna’s presentation before we set out, even if our primary purpose is to invite them to a devotional meeting.
  • Even friends with fear and trepidation will arise if we accompany them effectively.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Children’s Classes and Home Visits - Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

A Neighborhood Children’s Class in Phoenix, AZ (A) Numerous clusters across the country are finding that children’s classes (and junior youth groups) and home visits are an unbeatable combination. They are learning that home visits to parents (thereby fostering family involvement) are a critical element to sustaining neighborhood children’s classes. Similarly, many clusters report that invitations to a local children’s class can be a natural way of engaging residents of a neighborhood in a teaching program. Either way, a common denominator is that these interactions naturally lead to opportunities to share the message of the Faith. A number of points in this vein were shared by friends in the Southwest Region.
  • Bahá’í children who participate in invitation home visits and are part of the neighborhood children classes form a strong Bahá’í identity and are transformed to teachers of the Cause.
  • Where trained resources reach out, door to door, to children in receptive neighborhoods and establish regular children classes with the larger community teaching becomes a natural way of life. The response is highly positive, encouraging the teachers. The courage that this process instills in the teachers is priceless.
  • Establishing a strong relationship with the parents of children is essential to sustainability of children classes. After the children are engaged in children’s classes, home visits with the family then should focus on what the children are learning.
  • Students are integrating what they have learned into everyday life. For example one child self-corrected herself saying, “That is not a kindly heart.” Anther child when his friend could not find her lost key told the teacher, “We need to have a prayer.”
  • Picking up and dropping off the children back home is the key to relationship building with their families and integration of core activities. The closer the class is held to the home of the seekers the higher their participation.
  • Deployment of mothers as teachers of children classes has been an effective strategy. They see themselves as the mother of ALL the children in the neighborhood, not just their children.
  • Follow closely the lesson plans as laid out in the Ruhi Books.
  • The children are the best instruments, inviting their friends and neighbors to come!

The Nuts and Bolts of Colorado Springs’ First IPG

We’ve already featured the Colorado Springs, CO (A) cluster’s first expansion phase which resulted in 10 individuals declaring their belief in Baha’u'llah, but we wanted to add some comments from one member of the Northwest Regional Baha’i Council’s Office of Cluster Advancement who took part in the project and saw it up-close and in action. After having described the preparatory planning/reflection meeting, she describes the nuts and bolts of how the program was carried out:

That Saturday a lot of people came from neighboring clusters and a whole youth workshop of 10 to 15 year olds from the Denver area. They came just for that day to be in teaching teams. That really bolstered the numbers for that day. They were able to form to 13 teams with 39 individuals.

The core team had really planned in advance and scouted out a neighborhood that’s within a mile of the Baha’i Center. . . and asked if it was ok if they could come through to meet people and tell them about the Baha’i Center. They had coded each apartment complex and figured a team in an afternoon could visit 2 of the apartment buildings with about 30 units in each building.

All these teams had packets with coloring books and crayons, invitations to the Center in English and Spanish, healing prayers and prayers for humanity, business cards about the principles and a packet of Anna’s presentation and in Spanish the presentation and some declaration cards. (Some of the materials can be seen (and are free to be used by all) at Over the week, they would refine it as they learned each day, which I think is the highlight.

They tried to make diverse teams - male and female, African American and White and Persian or Native American, racially, gender, and age wise, and also tried to have a Spanish speaker, although we were limited.

The teams went out in afternoon and knocked on doors to say we’re from the Baha’i community center down the street and wondering if we could tell you about the Center, and try to engage in a conversation and share Bahá’u’lláh’s message, and to get to know them, and share that the whole purpose is to build unity, through children’s classes and junior youth classes, and programs for adults, and prayers, and music - to work on overcoming prejudice. We asked - Is this something you feel would be helpful and is this needed in the community? Do you have children? If they were immigrants, we asked ‘is there a strong community here?’ The idea was to get to know them and to engage in a conversation to listen. Not everyone would want to engage. A lot of people would say, ‘thanks, I have a church.’ The first day we attempted 391 home visits. Of these, 137 were home and 96 were positive. The others weren’t negative, but just neutral. 38 actively needed follow-up.

The first two days were about casting a really wide net. From that process, some people will be really receptive. If we found someone who really wanted to listen, we wouldn’t worry about visiting the rest of the people on the list. We had lists for not home, not interested, has kids, etc.

We also noted if it was possible share Anna’s presentation. The team I was on the first day was able to share it in Spanish with one man. We had asked him about who lived in the apartment. He was saying there’s a lot of drug abuse. Then it was so natural to talk about the section in the booklet about the nobility of mankind from that booklet. So we shared it, focused on sharing the quotations. He was very open to that. He brought up a feeling of disconnectedness. So we brought up the section on unity. Then after a while, it was natural to say we could start from the beginning of the book. And after each section, we asked what he thought. There were a lot of people going in and out of the building. So we asked if he wanted to come to the Baha’i center 2 blocks away, so he walked back with us. We showed him the children’s classrooms. We finished the booklet and the last section is about becoming a Baha’i. We asked him, “Do you feel Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God for this time?” He said yes, so we asked, “So do you think you’re a Baha’i” and he said yes, so we got a declaration card and he signed. It was a wonderful confirmation for all the teams.

Each evening there was a fireside with music, drumming, prayers, and children’s classes at the time. The fireside was again just sharing Bahá’u’lláh’s message. Very few came. Most of the teaching came not at the firesides, and there were a couple every night, but most of the teaching happened in the follow-up visits in the home.

By Monday there were about 9 people who could go out in teaching teams plus a few remaining at the Center to pray. The teams scouted other new neighborhoods, but prioritized most of the teams on the follow-up visits. Children were excited coming to children’s classes in the evening. One lady said ‘you came at just the right time, it wasn’t a coincidence.’

Each night the teams would debrief and a couple people would compile the data, to determine who needed follow-up visits the next morning beginning around 10 o’clock. Looking at the list and considering who should visit them, looking at their needs. They decided that for all follow-up visits, someone local had to go along. The rest of the week was follow-up visits, prayer, and thoughtfulness on the needs of the seekers, and spending more time with the interested seekers.