Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A B-cluster transformed by new (young) Baha'is

There are few B-stage clusters that would not be affected by an influx of 45 new believers, especially when those believers are primarily youth, junior youth, and children. The following describes how the Savannah, GA (B) cluster has been transformed in almost all aspects of it community life by its newest members. (My favorite part of the report? A mini-teaching campaign in which every teaching team includes a newly-declared young person to help the "older" Baha'is become more comfortable with direct teaching. Love it!)

Things has changed in the Savannah Area Cluster since the Birth of Baha'u'llah, in November 2007.

The once small quiet community in Savannah GA which was content with "talking about it" has now become a wonderfully, wild experience in which 45 new believers have transformed any trace of "before"!

Feasts which used to have 4-5 Baha'is now buzz with over 40, most of whom are children, junior youth, and youth. Last night’s Feast of Sovereignty featured 14 adults and 26 younger Baha’is. All prayers and writings were read by the younger friends and they were great. The spiritual growth visualized in these kids has been remarkable in the last 3 months.

Sunday children's classes which used to have 8 children or junior youth who were not yet Baha’is are now classes which regularly host 18-20 children most of which are new Baha’is. Three mothers and one grandmother of children and junior youth have declared, eager to learn more about this Faith that their children, in part, are teaching them about.

And the "before" Baha'is couldn't be happier! Challenges with increased numbers of children, junior youth, and youth are being met by old and new Baha'is alike stepping up to serve. The number of Sunday school teachers for the children and junior youth has gone from 2 to 4 to 6 or 7.

Animators for the weekly Friday night JYG include 4 for the 2 classes, and approximately 6 as support to the 20 to 25 junior youth

who regularly show up.

Even though we still have a lot of work to do to get more of the friends fully engaged in the consolidation work we have made some progress. In the last several months, home visits have greatly increased to each of the new believer’s homes, in an effort to befriend, connect, and include all of the family in core activities and service. There has been a great effort to begin to deepen all the new friends through weekly children's classes, weekly JYG meetings, home visits, having the new friends to dinner, and frequent informal interactions at the Baha'i Center. The Baha'i Center has become the neighborhood place to "hang out". Whenever the Center is open, kids walk in off the street for a chat, a snack, or to play in the "middle room" where there are games, puzzles, toys, and tables.

In the month since our last report, there have been 4 registrations of junior youth, 4 enrollments of youth, 2 enrollments of adults, and 3 junior youth who have turned 15 and signed their enrollment cards. Our trained resources include: Book 1- 40, Book 2- 27, Book 3- 22, Book 4- 22, Book 5- 15, Book 6-15, Book 7- 23. We have a great deal of resources, given our size, but we need to get the trained people to do what they have been trained to do at a greater level. We are in the mist of another mini-teaching campaign this weekend. Yesterday, we had 6 teaching teams go out to visit all the new Baha'is. Today and tomorrow, our teams will go out and do direct, collective teaching in the neighborhood surrounding the Baha'i Center and invite everyone to the jazz concert fireside at the Center tomorrow evening.

We are focusing our planning in an effort to assist some of the senior friends to feel more comfortable in going out into the neighborhood around the center. Because of this, each of the teaching teams include at least one newly declared junior youth or youth. These youth have been wonderful team members, anxious to go out and well recognized in their own neighborhood. We are sure this strategy of accompaniment will eventually give all of the friends the confidence to go out and realize their potential.

Halfway through the Howard County/Laurel IPG

Here is an update at the mid-way point of the Howard County/Laurel, MD cluster's IPG. Keep it up, everyone!

Dear friends,

Wow, what a week! Where to start.... Well, let's start with the organized door to door teaching. We had 14 intrepid souls go out door to door in the below freezing weather, that includes two children and one soul developing in the womb!!! This was a wonderful experience and all who participated certainly generated a lot of energy with their prayers for confirmations. We learned a lot, some of which reinforced previous learning. All in all, we found 8 homes to which we will do follow up home visits and an additional 5 homes that were interested and will receive cards and pamphlets in the mail. Additionally, we followed up with two other seekers that we met the weekend before. The goal of the expansion phase, as defined by the Universal House of Justice in the 27 December 2005 message is to "to widen the circle of those interested in the Faith, to find receptive souls and to teach them." This is exactly what we have done.

The wonderful part of this expansion phase is that we have been teaching in many, many different ways. We are continuing our other core activities and firesides and continuing to teach in this way. I am certain that the energy generated from all of these prayers and focused effort on teaching is yielding great results. Speaking of great results, we had a declaration this weekend! This was someone that was not a contact from the door to door, but the teachers did utilize concepts from Anna's Presentation to teach him the Faith. In addition, one woman we met going door to door just started attending firesides and learning about the Faith, before we met her! Imagine the confirmation for her, as a new seeker, to have Baha'is come to her home and find out they’re her neighbors!! In fact, she and her family will be starting a Book 1 very soon! :) I have also received word of another study circle with seekers that has just recently started.

As I said, teaching is happening in so many different ways. One person told me that he was so inspired by the expansion phase that he decided to actively teach a few people at work and challenge/encourage two coworkers to really investigate the faith. Both coworkers have agreed and he has started a process of consolidation with these seekers. Friends, I think it is safe to judge this expansion phase a success, even though it is only half over! And the reason for that is that so many people are teaching in so many different avenues during this expansion phase; the energy in the community around teaching is palpable. Certainly it is becoming the dominating passion of this community! Let's keep it up!

With hearts very full of love and excitement,

The Area Teaching Committee of Howard County/Laurel

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Diagram of an IPG: Seattle Day 7

As the friends in the Seattle-cluster enter the later stages of their expansion phase, they continue to learn valuable lessons. In addition to highlighting the valuable and unique contribution that new Baha'is can make to teaching efforts, the following account depicts the transformative changes sweeping over this community as it's members consecrate themselves to unitedly sharing the Faith of Baha'u'llah.

Dearest friends!

We are already completing Day Seven! It can honestly be said that our successes only multiple! We have refined the quality of our visits, the detail of our data collection, the authenticity of our interactions, the clarity of our priorities, and certainly more, since Day One!

We now have a much clearer awareness about where we've been, where we are at currently, and where we intend to be. . . If we have anything by now, Day Seven, I think it could be summed up in the single word: vision. Let the stories speak for themselves!

Again, yesterday, teams were focused almost exclusively on follow up. It is important to note here that follow up can be of various kinds. Conducting a return visit is certainly the prayed-for option. Others include simply saying prayers for that individual, sending the contact information through the mail (such as a short notice to our neighbor of events taking place at the Center that month), an invitation to the evening program, or an invitation to a core activity. The teams have had to hone their discernment for what next step, or steps, is appropriate.

One team went to make a return visit to a woman they had spoken to just two days ago. Her interest seemed promising to the team. When they arrived at the house, the woman's 14/15 year-old daughter answered the door instead. While the mother said she had some other things she needed to take care of at that time, the daughter was interested in hearing Anna's Presentation. The team proceeded, not finding any objections from the mother. During the presentation, one team member noticed that the young girl seemed to be sincerely interested, but the she also appeared to be made more comfortable by the authentic attitude of the other two team members (two young women), who were giving the presentation. This same team member reflected that it is very important for all team members to be engaged and show one's love for Baha'u'llah and the teachings that are being shared. Looking around distractedly, or being nonchalant takes away all credibility and interest for the individual receiving the presentation. At one point during the presentation, the mother came back in. The team was still a bit cautious and checked in with the mother. She simply wanted to ask if the dog was being too loud. Some time after that, the daughter mentioned to the team that she was not raised in any specific religious tradition, but that her mother has always been careful to educate her about many different religions! The team was able to get through approximately 3/4 of the presentation before the daughter had to leave for a piano lesson. They have arranged to make a return visit with the daughter, and they hope to invite another junior youth from the community to accompany them.

Another team went to do a return visit. When they reached the door, they realized that the individual did not actually want any further information. The team offered a gift of a prayer card, thanked the individual for their time, and left. That individual's name will be put on a prayer list, and not contacted further. Each team has situations such as these. Most teams find these to be particularly rewarding experiences, actually. If the needs of that individual or family were not clear after the first visit (perhaps they were only being polite), they are now, and there is no harm done! Notwithstanding, these teams also reflect on the utter detachment that is necessary, and remember what 'Abdu'l-Baha said about this Faith not being so cheap as to be bestowed where it is not wanted. Move along, folks.

So, this team did! After knocking on a few more doors where no one was home, the team began to pray (more) that they might be blessed with finding a receptive soul. It was getting darker, colder, and the team prayed harder. Then, the next door opened, and the team was able to give Anna's presentation in its entirety. While the individual didn't originally have much time to spare, he became particularly engaged in the discussion brought about by a recent declarant who was on that team. The new Baha'i said later that this individual reminded him of himself and he needed to simply say, "You know, I became a Baha'i only two days ago..." and go on to describe his experience with meeting the Baha'is and being a part of the community. In the end, the man took some more literature and said he would read it on his own, and come to the Center.

After the team shared this story, Counselor Murphy reiterated the fact that the community must learn all that they can from the new Baha'is. "New Baha'is can't help but be authentic! Don't let them pick up our bad habits, and learn from their sincerity."

Another team went to visit a couple that they had visited previously. One team member in particular was excited to revisit and to bring two of her nearest and dearest Baha'i friends with her to meet the couple. This team member had been so struck by this couple and with the conversation that they had had during the first visit that her secondary motivation to teaching the Faith was simply to engage in another conversation with them. When the team reached the house they were able to confirm that the couple was satisfied with the information that they had received in the prior visit, but they were radiant with the fact that the team just so sincerely enjoyed their company. The group had talked about the couple's passions - their home and yard - and that the original team member had been excited to introduce her old friends to her new friends.

Counselor Murphy's head nodded in approval as this story was told, and one could just see the thoughts running through her head: "That is authenticity, people."

The team left the couple's home, and walking back to the Baha'i Center managed to introduce themselves to another five people or so out walking their dogs. "You've probably heard of the Baha'is now in the neighborhood, then?" the team would ask after a moment or two. "Oh -- no, I haven't. Who are they?"

One final team had finished their return visits on their assigned blocks and proceeded to retry the homes were no one had answered on the first round. At one such house, a young woman answered with her newborn in her arms. The team spoke quietly and engaged the woman in conversation. She spoke about how she had been raised a Catholic, but now felt quite disillusioned from the Church. She had since developed her own observations and philosophies about society and how it should function. The team responded accordingly, citing unity as an important facet of how society needs to function. The woman's eyes lit up for a moment and she paused, thinking. Her baby became fussy just then and she had to go, but she took a great deal of information and thanked the team for coming by. At this point, another new believer, whose first teaching experience this was, felt so jazzed up by this encounter that he wanted to head off in the other direction and start teaching on his own! The other team members burst into smiles and thanked the young man for his zeal! The team then discussed the benefits of teaching as a team, and how this unity strengthens them.

This observation has been tried and tested these last seven days it is most certainly true. In fact, these daily groups of two or three have shown an outrageous ability to work together in this process! Each night the stories are told with such excitement as team members rally back and forth between each other saying things like, "----- did so well in describing this facet of the presentation," or "I am so glad that our new believer is out teaching with us right from the beginning of their Baha'i life - their ability to speak from the heart, with such authenticity, is something that I am learning from him, and something all "old" Baha'is will have to learn."

Come by the Baha'i Center, no prior notice necessary, and you will see divine love just beginning to burst from the hearts of the friends there. Youth are befriending the elderly in the community in ways that may not have occurred save for these teaching experiences. One team of two youth and one older adult was seen racing each other to the Center. The older team member shared during the evening debrief, "I won the race!"

Another young man was told, "I'm so glad you've been with us these past few days teaching!" "Really?!" the young man said somewhat bashfully, "well, that feels good to hear. I didn't know anyone felt that way."

The face of this community is changing. Through the bonding experience of trial and error, as well as the confirming outcomes they share together, all types of Baha'is are finding their common ground in the midst of great diversity - service to the Faith of Baha'u'llah. Is this organic facet of community development is just another "convenient byproduct" of cycles of growth - or could this have been planned?!

With much, much love,

-- for the ATC and all who participated today!

Declarations across the Southwest

Updates on clusters in the Southwest seeing enrollments in both expansion and consolidation phases. . .

San Diego, CA

The teaching work in San Diego cluster is progressing beautifully. By the end of yesterday, Jan 16th (four days into the expansion phase), there have been 10 new Baha’is (5 declarations and 5 children registrations). One of the teachers has shared his story below.

“Baha'u'llah has blessed us with another declaration in City Heights, including her two children! We had the most wonderful experience with this amazingly receptive Latino family today. My teammate did children's classes with five children while I presented Anna's presentation to three wonderful ladies. They listened with such love and enthusiasm, particularly enjoying the quotes from Baha'u'llah. When we finished, I told them that I was not there to convert them, but that if they believed in Baha'u'llah and wanted to join the Baha'i community, I wanted to give them the opportunity. One of the younger ladies wasted no time in grabbing her pen and filling out the card, with the greatest smile on her face! Ya-Baha'u'l-Abha!

There are more people like this, just waiting for us to find them! As the International Teaching Center says, "It is the souls already prepared by Bahá'u'lláh whom we must be seeking. They exist even where receptivity may not be expected." Let us find these blessed souls!"

Phoenix, AZ

During the consolidation phase in Phoenix the declarations keep coming in! 6 more declarations have been added to the 34 (plus 35 children registrations) they had at the end of 2 weeks expansion phase. You will enjoy reading the wonderful story below by a member of the teaching team.

“Tonight in bk 4 a new Baha’i who declared during the expansion phase of this cycle brought a friend who said hi, and said he had to leave to get some medicine. We assumed he wouldn't be back. In 5 min he was back with the bk 4 we had given him weeks ago and tonight, for the first time, he sat down to study. Since he had missed the first unit, we found ourselves reviewing the life of the Bab and the concept of the Covenant, and the station of the Bab and Baha'u'llah--- and also ‘Abdu'l Baha. The new Bahá'í is so reflective, after every paragraph, he will quiz all present -- he will be a great tutor! He also explained the eternal covenant to his friend, using Anna’s Presentation. We were unsure whether to ask the friend, as we didn't want to "pressure him," but as we concluded, he was so firm about the oneness, we asked if he believed that Baha'u'llah was a Manifestation of God, and he looked a little startled that we had asked, and answered “seguro”!! as he signed his declaration card. What i have learned from the new Bahá'í who brought his friend, is that if we persevere we will achieve "ultimate and complete victory." I think that we won't be perfect, but if we keep trying to reach new believers, and keep teaching, we will continue to achieve victories.”

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Receptivity of the younger generation

In so many places, the believers are seeing that the younger generation, both children and youth alike, are attracted to the Faith, as illustrated in this report from Loudoun County VA (B) :

“There were 3 declarations of youth during a door-to-door teaching campaign using Anna’s presentation. The direct teaching focused on an apartment complex where there is an ongoing neighborhood Bahá’í children’s class with many children from non-Bahá’í families participating. It was during this campaign that a team of 3 Bahá’ís visited an apartment and 3 young people ages 19 and 20 declared. Bahá’ís in the cluster are following-up with more visits to deepen these new believers and enroll them in a study circle.”

Source: Bulletin Update, published by the Regional Bahá’í Council of the Southern States, Volume 7, Number 1, p. 4.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Diagram of an IPG: Seattle Day 5

1920. No, it's not a date. It's the number of homes surrounding the Baha'i Center that teaching teams in Seattle have visited in the first five days of their expansion phase. Through this effort, the teams have found that of the homes in which someone was home, 23% of residents were receptive to the Faith. To put another way - one out of every four people these teams found at home showed some level of interest in hearing about Baha'u'llah. That is truly a powerful number to consider. Read below for more details (and for the great story about the Baha'i who found out that the "data collection guy" on his teaching team was not a Baha'i, but a seeker still studying the Faith). (And yes, he declared.

To all those dearly loved ones who are keeping the efforts of Seattle's 10th Cycle of Growth in their thoughts and prayers!

Today was another rewarding day. It almost feels redundant to say so. Could it possibly be true that things could go as well as this? Well, we know that those prayers are with us.

Today, five teams (which is a lot for a weekday!) worked on follow-up visits, and went to the remaining unvisited areas and homes. As of today, the fifth day (of nine), we have knocked on the doors of approximately 1920 homes, or all areas anticipated by the ATC! Regardless of that new benchmark, the responses of new contacts, and the learning gleaned from those encounters, has not ceased to amaze!Two different teams were struck by the inspiring challenge that new knowledge of the Baha'i Faith brings to some individuals.

The first team did a return visit with a young mother. Her initial reaction at seeing the team on her doorstep again was hesitant. A conversation began, however, about that woman's daughter, and the daughter of a Baha'i on the teaching team. The group discussed the importance of the education of children as set forth by Baha'u'llah. Through this, the young woman began to grow more comfortable. At this point the team clarified that their intentions were sincere and they would respond to whatever it was that the woman was looking for, whether that was to be left alone, or to be introduced further to the Baha'i Faith. Her answer continued to go back and forth between "interested" and "not interested" This was enough to tell the team that she is receptive – she was "willing to listen." The team plans to continue offering her time to investigate and will respond accordingly.

A second team went to conduct a return visit of their own. You may remember from a previous email summary the couple who had responded receptively to offers of a return visit, but were found to be unavailable for one reason or another when that visit was attempted. When asked (directly) if they would like to be left alone or are still interested in learning more about the Baha'i Faith, the husband responded, "Yes, come tomorrow at 11 am, and we will talk about the Baha'I Faith." Upon the team's return to the couple's house at 11 am this morning, they were happy to find the couple awaiting their arrival. Invited inside, the team began a discussion and worked their way into the beginning of Anna's presentation. The man walked around the area in a noncommittal fashion for quite some time, while the wife listened attentively. Finally, the husband sat down to join them and he began to share more, a great deal more in fact, about his own beliefs. It took the team 2 ½ hours to make it through the presentation. It became clear to the team members that all this man believes is in line with what Baha'u'llah teaches us. "You are so in sync with what Baha'u'llah tells us – why don't you join us?" asked one team member finally. For all the man's resistance during the presentation, he had no response to that question. "Why don't we walk back to the Baha'i Center together, have some lunch and talk some more?" Whether it was to the surprise of the team or not, the man and his wife got up, put on their coats, and came to the Center. There, the couple shared more about their background, performed a beautiful song of their own writing about Africa (the gentlemen himself is from South Africa), and got into a deep discussion with Counselor Murphy over their common backgrounds. The couple seemed to enjoy themselves a great deal and hope to return during the week to present some more musical pieces.

In addition to the interesting dynamic that plays out between teacher and seeker/new contact during these interactions, there is a great deal to be said for the direct nature of them. Let's not waste time, ask what the individual wants, and then give that to them with detachment and love.

During the devotions so lovingly prepared by a member of the community a couple of days ago, a brilliant and relevant story was brought to our attention. You can find the story in its entirety on page 57 of Vignettes from the Life of 'Abdu'l-Baha under the category of 'Sensitivity.' There, the experience of a certain Mademoiselle Letitia is described: she was the French tutor to the children in 'Abdu'l-Baha's home in Akka, and she was Catholic. One day her services were required as a French translator, for there was no one else who could speak the language. She went, did as she was bid, but found herself feeling incredibly anxious after the experience – she felt afraid that the Baha'is were being conniving with regard to her relationship with the Faith. Mademoiselle Letitia felt so badly that she confessed this to the nuns, but her dour mood remained. 'Abdu'l-Baha noticed this and said: 'Letitia, tell the good nuns that they need have no fear…We have so many Baha'is, who come here, begging with all their hearts and all their love for instruction, that only to them do we give our precious teaching. You would have to beg and beg and beg before I would give it to you, and even then I might not do so; for it is not so cheap as to be bestowed where it is not wanted. Stay in the home if you like, or go if you are not happy here. We are glad to have you if you care to stay, but free your heart of all fear that we will try to make a Baha'i of you.'

While this is a longer anecdote, I felt the need to share it. In the last few days, we have learned that the situation 'Abdu'l-Baha describes here is a real, modern day one. There are so many individuals who are desperately looking for the type of guidance mentioned here; we need not hem and haw with those who simply do not want this Message. Our time can be better spent.

And, hopefully, it is! For all the hard work, sincerity, prayer and trust that go into the efforts of these teaching teams, there are always a few "easier" experiences. These can also be the most fruitful.

One team visited a young woman who is from Chicago and so is familiar with the Wilmette area and the Baha'i Temple there. She had spent time investigating the faith ten years ago when she was there. "I saw ya coming," she said to the team. She now felt that she was ready for them to come. The team invited her to the events at the Center, and they plan to go accompany her to one of them during the week.

Another team found that they were running into many people in homes, but not necessarily those who own the homes. Nannies, construction workers, or house-keepers answered the door in the owner's stead. At one home in particular, the house-cleaner opened up asking them what this group of radiant faces standing on the door step were all about. The team introduced themselves and gave a short introduction to the Baha'i Faith. The house-keeper responded mildly. Then, a voice and head popped around the corner of the house to the right. "I want an invitation!" said a construction worker who had been standing out of sight but just within ear shot. The man realized that he was too engaged in his work to be able to get an invitation for himself, so he asked the house-keeper to grab one for him. When the team left to continue their walk down the street, they heard the man say to someone else nearby, "Boy, that's cool!!"

The same team had continued on their way for some time before they realized that they had forgotten to find out from the man when or how they could come back to visit him. So, they returned to the house took look for him. Instead, they found his friend and co-worker who engaged the team in conversation. It turns out that the friend's mother is going to Iraq soon, so the team offered to say a prayer for her safety and protection. That man also took an invitation and information about the Baha'i Faith.

All of these stories were shared with excitement and anticipation by all the teachers who went out today. Sitting there together in the front room of the Baha'i Center in the evening, the group thought they had heard all they could hear in one day. Then, the one representative present from a remaining team piped up.

"We, uh, had just gone out this morning," he said, "when I asked the young man on our team, 'How long have you been a Baha'i?' He smiled and said, 'Well, I'm still making my decision.' About ten minutes later, this same young man – the data collection guy for our team – pulled out a declaration card from his jacket pocket. He had signed it that morning!!!"

The room burst into exuberant hurrahs! The young man has been participating in core activities already for some months. Yesterday, he joined those of us at the Baha'i Center, now being a close and supportive friend to all. Before leaving the Center yesterday evening, one of those close friends and Book 1 tutor said to him, "I think you might be ready to become a Baha'i." At the time, the young man said that he still felt like there were some holes in his understanding of things. Fortunately for the young man, another close friend and deepened Baha'i was able to engage in a lengthy several-hour conversation wherein all of the young man's questions were answered. "All of the holes were filled!" he said. After a lengthy reflection of his own before going to bed, the young man had made his decision. He signed his card the next morning, and waited until a bit later on when he could announce his decision to the person who had first invited him to join the Faith – one among the three in his teaching team today. All day at the Center, his eyes were sparkling with tears, and his smile was filled with gratitude towards God.

Clearly, this has been a monumental first five days of Seattle's IPG. Can it be true that this is only mid-way through! Half of our IPG is still before us! How are we doing? Very well:

In five days we have knocked on the doors of approximately 1920 homes. Of those, 577 doors opened or were found at home. Those who were not interested, or those who had No Solicitors signs on their doors (we did not visit those), amounted to 469. The remaining 108 new contacts are at varying levels of receptivity, and we will be following up with those individuals. Now, consider that the generally proven and expected percentage of those who are receptive out of those who are given an opportunity to hear about the Baha'i Faith (in other words, we knocked on their door, they opened, and they responded somehow) is 10%, it should be utterly shocking to you that the percentage reflecting the same for this area of contacted individuals is 23%.

Repeat: we are only half way through our IPG.

Note: let's keep our expectations somewhere around "Whatever God Willeth." That means, keep those prayers coming!

With much, much love and appreciation,

-- for the ATC and all those who have participated thus far!

Diagram of an IPG: Seattle Day 4

Yet more stories from Day 4, written by another (possibly younger and certainly much more humorous) teaching team member on behalf of the Area Teaching Committee. (Was it the summary comment of "This 10 th Cycle of Growth has been totally rad" that tipped us off that this might be a youth?)

Salutations and innumerable happy greetings!

Day four of WA Cluster 14's 10 th Cycle of Growth is over, and yet again, our loins were girded to their utmost as we ventured out into the bitter cold for another day of teaching. (Loins,which by day four have walked enough, that they are admittedly quite sore.)

Five teams spent the afternoon scattered across the beautiful countryside of North Seattle (that's a joke). With the frigid air sharply filling our lungs, and an overwhelming sense of anticipation and joy in our hearts, we were ready for another great afternoon.

Our first team conducted three return visits before moving ahead into the great unknown. Within that great unknown, they met a woman who was "just sick of studying, and only wants to pray." So they gave her a prayer book, which she immediately took a liking to, and she invited them to come back in the summertime. That's right. WA cluster 14 . . . plans home visits seven months in advance!

[The second team] knocked on a ridiculous number of doors until one finally opened: There was a woman just visible through the window in the door, who appeared to be resting on her couch. Someone in the team said "oh well, looks like she is asleep, we don't want to disturb." But another team member replied, "Ya. But there really isn't anything more worth while to get up for than the Message of Baha'u'llah." If anyone can think of a better response, please send me the memo.

Anyway, long story short, the woman was very interested in learning about not only the team's cultural roots, but about the history and teachings of the Baha'i Faith. Therefore the team was able to share Anna's presentation in its entirety, and needless to say, got some digits, and will be scheduling a follow-up visit.

Our third team had some wonderful experiences as well. One young woman they met was a Quaker who knew a lot about the Baha'i Faith, and during the course of their dialog revealed that she was "Pro-Baha'i. All of it – except for the homosexuality part." A follow up visit has been scheduled with her.

Another woman the same team visited had been to Panama, and had visited the House of Worship there. One of team three's members had served a term of service in Panama, and found an instant connection with this woman. Again, a follow up visit of epic proportions has been arranged.

Our fourth team went back only for follow-up visits today. There was a couple that they had visited a few times already, but had seemed to visit at all the wrong times. This prompted one of the team members to ask: "Would you like us to come back, or would you like us to leave you alone?" The response was "come back tomorrow at 11am, and we will talk about the Faith." It was very direct, people.

And now team five! This story plays out in two places at the same time. So back at the Baha'i Center Prayer Team was going at it like there was no tomorrow. They were praying away, and then the suggestion was brought to the circle of friends that they should say 9 Tablets of Ahmad to assist in the teams' teaching efforts. In the midst of the 9 th Tablet of Ahmad, team five barged in through the front door accompanied by a middle-aged man. They traversed the room and filed into IPG headquarters and were momentarily lost from view. What was going on…?

At the same time, likely just preceding the recitation of the 9 Tablets of Ahmad, Team five was nearing the end of its teaching circuit. Throughout the day, they had been saying prayers in front of all the houses where no one was home. This house appeared to have no one in it, but the team decided to try it out anyway. To their surprise someone was home and he immediately invited them inside, where the team was able to share the entirety of Anna's presentation. At the end of the presentation, one of the team members said "Of course, this is a religion we are introducing you to, if you'd like to join the Faith…"

The response had conviction: "I think I could do that."

At this point team five reached into their trusty packet of teaching materials, and found the declaration card, which was supposed to be included, was missing. …Back to the Baha'i Center!

Team five barges into headquarters, Michael signs his card, and the 9th Tablet of Ahmad is recited following the event. (whew).

Yes friends. It was another exciting, joyous, action-packed day. We laughed, we cried, we prayed, we ate, we sang, and we're ready to do it all over again tomorrow!

There's something inexplicably uplifting about one's participation in the teaching effort, and the personal transformation that takes place during that process. On day one, there was a feeling of anticipation, but it was flecked with notions of nervousness and anxiety. Now, there is an overwhelming sense of joy, determination, devotion, and excitement, which has only been gained through action and experience.

Abdu'l-Baha says in His Will and Testament that: "Of all the gifts of God, the greatest is the gift of Teaching. It draweth unto us the Grace of God and is our first obligation. Of such a gift how can we deprive ourselves? Nay, our lives, our goods, our comforts, our rest, we offer them all as a sacrifice to the Abha Beauty and teach the Cause of God. Caution and prudence, however, must be observed, even as recorded in the book. The veil must in no wise be suddenly rent asunder. The Glory of Glories rest upon you."

This 10 th Cycle of Growth has been totally rad.

With Love and Gratitude,

on behalf of the ATC and all those who participated today.

Flash update - Tucson IPG gathering momentum

The Tucson, AZ cluster began it's most recent expansion phase with a bang this past weekend, assisting 12 individuals (9 adults and 3 children) to embrace the Cause of Baha'u'llah by Sunday evening. By day 5 (Wednesday) the cluster had welcomed a total of 17 new Baha'is (12 adults and 5 children). The cluster is well on it's way toward it's goal of 24 new believers in this phase, and we wish them nothing but the best. (And here's one quick story too.)

"Another mother, on an initial visit, had seen first hand the beauty and simplicity of the Core Activities when two Jr. youth held a children's class in her home for her child. She invited the Baha'is to return, and after hearing Anna's presentation in the cold outside of her front door, firmly declared her belief in Baha'u'llah and signed her card."

Westchester NY (*C) seekers receive loving support

Here is a shining example of accompaniment at the cluster level. There is no substitute for consistent and loving follow up with seekers by local Baha'is!

Alice and Ray are seeker response champions in the Westchester County NY (*C) cluster. Long time Baha'is, they have lived there for years and know most of the Baha'is in the surrounding towns, so gathering support and accompaniment for seekers is only a phone call or an email away. They have a systematic method of lovingly welcoming seekers and step by step they lead them through introductions, meeting other seekers, firesides, devotional gatherings and Ruhí study circles. They follow up to make sure that the seekers are contacted by Baha'is in their own town, and they encourage the formation of new core activities there. When seekers declare they make sure that the tender new Baha'is are welcomed into the Baha'i community where they live. And, they offer a special gathering monthly for seekers and new Baha'is to attend and get to know each other. Some Baha'is keep coming back to these gatherings for years, bringing new friends who then embrace the Faith.

Of the eight seekers who have come through the national seeker response from Westchester County in the past few months, two have declared, four regularly attend core activities, and one is being accompanied via email while she is on a work assignment in Hawaii. As if that wasn’t enough, Alice and Ray provide regular and timely updates on each seeker for the Regional Specialist so we can keep track of their progress.

~NE Regional Seeker Response Specialist

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Knowing our human resources

The Pittsburg PA (C) cluster shares an example of how we can be most efficient in our response to seeker requests when the Local Assembly and the cluster agencies know the human resources in their clusters.

In the past few months there have been 14 seekers from the Pittsburgh PA (C) cluster have inquired through 1-800-22UNITE or the public web site. Nine seekers have responded and of those, five have attended core activities and two have declared. This effective response is due in great measure to the quick and loving follow up provided by the cluster agencies there, particularly the Institute Coordinator and the Local Assembly secretary.

Yesterday a seeker contacted us in Spanish and the Regional Specialist sent out the call for a Spanish-speaking Baha'i in Pittsburgh. Within 20 minutes replies were again received from both the Institute Coordinator and the Assembly secretary, recommending the same person – a graduate student studying Spanish at the University of Pittsburgh.

~NE Regional Seeker Response Specialist, 1/16/08

Diagram of an IPG: Seattle Day 3

The best part of this Seattle WA (A) day's report? Perhaps the young man who announced to his team, "I'm scared! Who else is scared?!" and broke the ice. Or maybe the inspiring words of Counselor Murphy about the power of divine assistance. Or maybe the giant map of all the homes around the Baha'i Center marked up with those wanting to know more about Baha'u'llah. There's so much to choose from. . .

Dearest friends!

The spirit around the Baha'i Center and that which can be seen emanating from the friends is only more radiant than before. This is said with the utmost sincerity.

When on Saturday morning a few dozen friends gathered to go direct teaching, or during the last two days of continued efforts by new participants, there was not a one among them without fear! A young man in one of his groups announced boldly, "I'm scared! Who else is scared?!" The others on his team and nearby looked over with hesitant faces and sideways grins, then responded, "I am!!!"

One of the clearest conclusions that has been noticed by each teacher, each prayer team member, each friend who has stopped by in support, is that once a believer has made the first step out into the neighborhood, they come back a changed person - a confirmed soul. Fear dissipates. Divine assistance sees to that.

Counselor Rebecqua Murphy, who has graciously joined the Seattle community in their efforts since the lunch of the cluster's 10th cycle of growth, shared a touching insight on the topic of divine assistance on the morning of the second day. She called our attention to the words of Baha'u'llah in a well-known passage which begins with the invocation:

"Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him..."

She quoted the portion about half-way through this particular passage:

"Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb."

She told of another passage found in the Writings of Baha'u'llah that identifies the believers in Baha'u'llah who step forth to share His Message as those scattering angels of the Almighty.

Counselor Murphy went on to describe how these two passages link those who teach with the prayers said in their name: the teacher goes out on the wings of that prayer.

It is not the efforts of that teacher which finds receptive souls. It is, instead, the prayer, your prayer, said for their sake that "... must needs sooner or later exercise its influence."

That influence was noticed today among the efforts of all those praying and teaching, and for that many thanks to those who are keeping the teaching efforts in their prayers. It was the consensus of the group present that the highest number of receptive individuals were identified today as compared to Days One and Two.

One team trudged through the cold and rain to the home of a man who turned out to be particularly interested in religious philosophy and discussion. When asked if he had heard of the Baha'i Faith before he responded, "Yes, of course! Seals and Crofts!" When asked if he would be interested in spending some time discussing the Baha'i Faith, the man accepted, saying he would like to attend one of the events this week being held at the Center.

Another young man was engaged in discussion by another team. Oddly enough, numerous teams have encountered several very young families with brand new babies having just arrived home. This visit happened to be with one such family! The young man had also heard of the Baha'i Faith before. In fact, he shared that he had lived in Samoa for some time and visited the Baha'i Temple there on a few occasions. He would like to visit the Baha'i Center with his family after they have settled in a bit.

Two other teams found receptivity even (perhaps especially) among those who are late in years and have seen a great deal with regard to religion, the ills of the world, and the changes it is going through.

One team's first visit of the day was with a man in his eighties who said to them when they knocked on the door, "Well, I don't know who you are, but come on in!" The team entered his home and began a conversation that would last over one hour! The team sensed his receptivity to hearing the concepts included in Anna's presentation. After some time, the team had yet to get through the presentation - not for lack of interest, but for the man's prolific supply of questions! It was clear to the team that this man had a need to share, to empty his cup. He conveyed his experiences with investigating many religious groups throughout his life only to be disappointed with finding "nothing more than shells." After the team shared with the man a bit more about the Faith, including Baha'u'llah's claim to be the Promised One of all ages, he concurred, "I need to go investigate this more." The team left some information with the gentlemen and plan to return during the upcoming weekend.

A second team met with a man of age and wisdom. The man's sweet nature was apparent from the start: one team member shared with him that her name means butterfly. The gentlemen responded, "Well, my name's Buzz, like a bee!" He had just had surgery so was not up for a presentation or guests but accepted an invitation for a return visit.

One of the same teams mentioned above also met a young woman working as a nanny for several children. When the team introduced themselves and the reason for their visit, she responded, "Well, the children are about to do a play - they're all dressed up - but I'm really very interested! Could you come back a bit later on? I'm sure the children's mother would also be very interested - she is very open!" The team has agreed to follow up with the household this week.

One last encounter to share reflects the receptivity of many for that which heals. A team knocked on the door of a home inhabited by two women. At the door, the team noticed that one had a foot brace on, and the other look somewhat weary. After inding that the two women were not particularly interested in receiving a presentation at that time, the team simply offered to say a prayer for healing with them. The two women that had, before, remained behind their screen door suddenly swung it wide open saying, "Oh, yes, that would be wonderful. Thank you."

It is hoped that through these stories the community at large will be further inspired with the successes of those acting on behalf of the entire cluster. It is also hoped that these stories will offer thanks and encouragement to those who are assisting ever so importantly through personal prayers.

At the end of the evening debrief, all gathered took a moment to study the map of homes that surround the Baha'i Center (marked by a small, glittery sticker of a treasure chest). Those homes where no one answered were marked with a purple dry-erase marker. All those homes where "No Solicitors" signs were posted, or inhabitants declined any visit were marked with red. All of those homes where someone receptive has been found were marked in green. Someone said, "Look at all those little green points where there are souls who want to hear about Baha'u'llah." We took a moment to imagine those homes scattered so closely in each direction around the Baha'i Center. Three days ago, we did not know of these 75 people. Three days ago, most of these people had not yet heard the name, "Baha'u'llah." Imagine that.

With much love and gratitude,

on behalf of the ATC and all those who participated today!

Diagram of an IPG: Seattle Day 2

Day2 - the friends reflect on their experiences the day before, articulate the lessons they learned, refine the approach through consultation, and prepare themselves for some follow-up home visits and some more initial visits. This stuff is great!

Dearest Friends!

This has been Day Two of Seattle's Intensive Program of Growth (IPG)! With yesterday's incredible jump-start, new teams formed this morning with an even greater level of confidence, if such a thing were possible.

Certainly, a hugely important contributing factor was the marvelous devotions that were prepared, with great love and care, by a very conscientious member of our community.

Today, 14 teams went back out into the neighborhood to follow up with individuals or families that requested return visits, and to initiate new visits with additional contacts. Those efforts were strongly reinforced by the Prayer Team and their dedicated efforts throughout the entire day.

Since this was the second day of the expansion phase a great deal of learning took place. The experiences of yesterday were compared to those of today. Insights were made into everything from what the data forms should look like, to what exactly should be said when a team reaches the front door of a home, to how one arranges a follow-up visit.

Before leaving the Center, one team made sure that they put their boisterous excitement on hold for a moment to channel that energy toward prayer. Remembering this simple but essential step brought a renewed boost of confidence to the team as they walked to their new block.

Another team focused their energy on studying the language and subsequent success of their introduction. The group consciously tried a variety of introductions and concluded that a few more days of teaching would be necessary to give them some solid ideas. Despite the fact that no immediate solutions were drawn, the team was extremely hopeful and modeled trust, patience, enthusiasm and humility - an exemplary attitude of learning.

A third team gave an additional example of the diligent consultation that took place among the teams with the intention to refine their understanding of the direct teaching process. After leaving each home that the team was able to engage with, they paused to reflect on their experience, whether or not the individual or family seemed willing to receive follow up of some kind, and when that would take place. After continued consultation, the team made a significant realization: it is necessary to ask directly whether or not that person would like a return visit or other kind of follow up. The team found that this simple question ("Would you like us to come back?"), made every bit of difference in meeting the needs of those they spoke with. This may have been accomplished by leaving the individual to themselves, or by providing them with the healing medicine that the Baha'i Faith offers.

Another team learned that on rare, beautiful, sunny winter days, people may not be at home. They will be outside! While two members of the team walked up steep stairs to knock on doors, prepared with warm greetings and prayer cards, the third member let her knees rest and concentrated on prayers. Multiple times after the two members descended from those front doors they found their third counterpart engaged in full discussions with people out on walks with their pet dogs!

Such an incredible amount of learning took place today. The highlight of this learning was simply practicing the attitude necessary for learning! In the midst of all this trial and error, a few surprises, perhaps some of the sweetest moments of the day, found their way to two other teams.

One team went on a second round in the afternoon. Their first outing had not produced many direct results. Their second outing, on the other hand, produced three outstanding experiences. The most heart-warming of these was in the meeting of a young girl in her twenties who has a relative that is a Baha'i! She listened to the beginning of Anna's presentation and requested that someone meet with her later this week.

A second team was making their way back to the Center and decided to make their final visit. An elderly woman opened the door of this home. They gave her an invitation to the activities at the center, and then ended up saying a prayer with her there on her front porch. She gave them her contact information but said that she wasn't really in a position to receive guests for any kind of presentation. The team was about to leave when one member was inspired to ask if she might be willing to hear the presentation at that time. She responded excitedly, "Yes!" The team stayed with her for an additional 45 minutes during which time they were able to share nearly half of Anna's presentation with her. Their visit was very well received and the team has scheduled a follow-up with her.

The evening program was rejuvenating and inspired renewed efforts of focus on guests and seekers. At the end of the day, all participants were tired, but very, very happy. Tomorrow is another day, with more stories awaiting us!

Please keep all efforts in your prayers, as you have been.

With much love and kind regards,

for the ATC and all who participated today!

Diagram of an IPG: Seattle's Core Team

Though short, this observation from the secretary of the Office of Cluster Advancement for the Northwest Region gives a fascinating look into what it really takes to pull off a well- organized, efficient, and effective expansion phase. These guys are making it happen!

This [core] team is really amazing and learning so much. They went from being at the Center until nearly midnight on the first day, trying to figure out the data and follow up, to becoming more efficient and wrapping up by 11pm on the second day. Then today they got it all done during the day – including follow up cards, maps for the return visit teams, and return visits scheduled into specific slots for the remaining days of the cycle – and ready in neat stacks by the end of the evening program. Of course, data processing is just one part of the many things they are doing, and they are exhibiting wonderful learning and refinement on the go in many areas!

Diagram of an IPG: Seattle Day 1

The friends in the Seattle, WA (A) cluster are currently in the middle of their 10th expansion phase, and are sending day by day reports of successes, challenges, and profound teaching stories. Because of the volume of learning they are generating, we have decided to share these reports as they come in, to give friends in other clusters an idea of what one expansion phase looks like. We’re all rooting for you, Seattle!

Dearest Friends and Fellow Servants of Baha'u'llah,

The first day of the expansion phase of Seattle's Intensive Program of growth has been, in the most simple terms worthy of such an endeavor, a raging success. It can only get better.

Today, nearly 50 individuals participated in the Cluster Reflection meeting which consisted of devotion, service, and practice. After some discussion of community statistics, an opportunity to pledge acts of service for the consolidation phase, and short workshops on how a teaching team actually works, the group reconvened to be divided into their own teams for direct teaching!

These teams reported to the "Peace Room" for their assigned portions of the neighborhood and a folder literally bursting with materials to pass along to those who were interested in hearing a little or a lot about the Baha'i Faith.

Thirteen teams made up of three people each knocked on the doors of approximately 400 homes between the hours of 1 and 4 pm this afternoon. While many homes chose the Seahawk's game over answering the door; several dozen homes engaged in extremely positive visits with the teachers. Approximately one dozen homes requested return visits tomorrow, alone! And we've still got eight days ahead of us!

Numbers abound about today's experiences. More important are the actual interactions:

One team learned to follow the promptings of their heart. After knocking on the door of one home, a woman answered and declared herself satisfied in her faith after the teachers' introduction to the Baha'i Faith. The teaching team thanked her and left, until one member stopped to ask the others if they thought the woman would at least appreciate an invitation to the activities at the Baha'i Center. When the teaching team knocked on the door again, and presented the invitation, a conversation began again leading to a warm 45 minute visit.

Another team learned that practice really does make perfect. Many individuals felt quite nervous at the outset of their venture into the neighborhood. As doors opened and opportunities presented themselves for practice, the team reflected on their growing level of comfort and desire for more chances to introduce new contacts to the Faith.

Others felt so nervous that when their team knocked on the door of the first homes on their block, they hoped no one would answer! Again, after the confirming experiences of teaching those so willing and genuinely interested in hearing about the Baha'i faith, that same hope turned into a prayer for receptivity.

Even chance encounters confirmed the teaching teams. A young man walking down the road was engaged by the kindness and gentle nature of a teaching team. His reply to their introduction was, "I love the Baha'i Faith! My girlfriend and I have been interested for a long time!" He hopes that he and his girlfriend will attend an evening program at the Baha'i Center this week.

While many successful encounters were taking place on all streets immediately surrounding the Center, a great deal of positive interactions also took place at the Baha'i Center itself.

One young man came through the Center door during the afternoon when most people were out and about. He engaged in conversation with a young man from the community, subtlety conveying his interest in becoming a Baha'i! The young Baha'i went in search of a declaration card! In the meantime, another Baha'i woman engaged in conversation with the young man. She sensed something and felt the need to ask, "Would you like to become a Baha'i?" "Yes!" he says! Our new member of the community returned in the evening to join us for a very joyous evening program. His voice could be heard above the crowd in songs led by several community members. This man had not been approached by anyone on a teaching team – he came to the Baha'i Center on his own, seeking to declare himself a believer in Baha'u'llah.

The intensive efforts of several dedicated individuals who spent the afternoon in prayer at the Baha'i Center, and those of you in the community who are keeping the teaching efforts in your personal prayers, clearly, were of assistance.

The evening program itself was an incredible success. Lively music and laughter literally filled the back room to capacity, conveying the joy of newly confirmed teachers of the Faith of Baha'u'llah, and introducing what a Baha'i community spirit should look like to as many as ten seekers who joined in the evening's festivities. Approximately half of those seekers will be starting a Book 1 in the near future.

This is only day one of Seattle's Intensive Program of Growth. Please continue with your prayers for assistance and teaching.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"A lot of teaching" in Maryland, door-to-door style

"Cycle 10 starts with a lot of teaching!!!" was the title of the email that shared news of the Howard County-Laurel, MD (A) cluster's 10th cycle of growth, and what better way is there to start? This report shares the friends' experience in approaching neighborhood residents in a door-to-door manner, and the confirmations that they witnessed, despite some initial reservations. A note accompanying the email added that "In the two days since the launch of Cycle 10, we have heard from at least three other friends who have overcome their reticence about direct door to door teaching, and have agree to accompany the teaching teams, if only to stand back and watch what happens!! With action comes understanding, and greater passion for teaching!" Well said!

Dear friends,

We launched our 10th Cycle of our Intensive Program of Growth this weekend, and it was exciting! We started off with our Reflection Gathering, which outlined where we have been, what we have learned and where we are going.We studied guidance from the World Center and consulted about how to improve our method. We all learned a lot and if you weren’t able to make it I suggest you to talk to someone who did to get a highlight of the learning! We also had a lively skit by our youth and one community member on what to do and what not to do when giving Anna’s Presentation. The skit was so lively it may have cost him a potential client… Just ask him!

We kicked off our Expansion Phase on Sunday at the Nowbahar home. We had two teams go out door to door in their neighborhood – and what a success it was! We were all so surprised at how many people invited us into their homes to tell them about the Bahai Faith! We gave Anna’s Presentation IN ITS ENTIRETY to two different families and gave it partially to another seeker!Plus we many homes that asked us to return at another time when they would be available. Just to give you a sense of how it felt, let me give you a little anecdote:

“We just started going door to door and knocked on a lot of homes which no one was at. When someone answered the door we said something like ‘Hi, we are your neighbors and would like to let you know about a few activities we have in the neighborhood; a prayer gathering and children’s class. We are from the Bahai community and wanted to introduce ourselves and see if you would like to know more about the activities or the Bahai Faith.’ About the fifth door we knocked on was answered by a boy – his mom was sitting in the living room. She asked us what the Bahai Faith was. As we were explaining it at the door she stopped us and invited us in. She then offered us a seat and said to her two sons (who were playing video games) “boys – turn the TV off – we are going to listen and learn now!” We gave the hole presentation to her and her boys she loved it! She said she agreed with so much. She said she did not want to change churches at this point but wants to come of our activities. Additionally she said that she wanted us to contact her niece who is looking for a Faith Community. We got contact information for her and her niece and are looking forward to seeing them soon! In total we were there for over an hour!

After that we were so excited, but thought that was probably going to be our only chance to find a seeker that day. But we wanted to go through the whole building so we knocked on the next door. At this door a man said to us, ‘oh, you are Bahai? I know about the Bahai Faith. You believe in Baha’u’llah right?!!’ We asked him if he would like to know more, and he said yes and invited us in!We talked with him for another half an hour or so and said he wants us to come back when he has had time to read on his own and form his questions. He is very interested – he even asked us if he could be a Bahai and Hindu at once! :) We are returning next Sunday to follow up with him.”

Friends- this was such a wonderful experience for everyone involved. I really encourage you to come with us at least once. Even if you don’t feel comfortable knocking on doors or talking to strangers, just accompany a teaching team one time and feel the experience for yourself. It is truly a joy and is so exciting! Also, please, please pray and beg Baha’u’llah for assistance for the teams to find seekers. We know that we have found these seekers only through Divine Assistance! And if we rely on Divine Assistance we will surely find many, many more! If you don’t want to go door to door please come to one of the days to stay back and hold a prayer session and then hear the stories and enthusiasm when everyone returns. This is such a wonderful experience and we truly hope that as many people as possible will have the privilege of being part of it.

Also, remember that so much of our teaching during the expansion phase will happen on an individual basis – both planned and unplanned. Please send the Area Teaching Committee your teaching stories – both planned and spontaneous! We would particularly like to know if you have given Anna’s Presentation to anyone or if you have a seeker that you would like to give Anna’s Presentation to.

With much love and excitement,

The Area Teaching Committee

Cycles of growth off to roaring starts in the Southwest

With 53 intensive programs of growth already underway in the United States (and several more set to begin soon) news of more and more victories are being reported. Two common themes are the significant receptivity to the Message of Baha'u'llah and a palpable sense of excitement as Baha'i communities report their eagerness about sharing His message both individually and collectively.

San Diego, CA

Dear Friends, San Diego cluster launched its 7th IPG Cycle yesterday. Today on the 2nd day of their intensive expansion phase they have had 2 declarations and 3 children registrations. Their goal for this cycle is 50 new Baha’is. 5 down 45 to go!

Tucson, AZ

Dear all, Tucson started its new IPG cycle yesterday with a youth retreat. Today after the cluster reflection gathering teaching teams went out to five neighborhoods. During this first weekend they have had 9 declarations and 3 children registrations! Their goal for this cycle is 24 new believers. So far they have had 12! They have 69 revisit appointments to go back and give Anna’s presentation!

The other exciting news is that 17 youth were among the members of the teaching teams taking part in direct teaching activities and going door-to-door over this weekend.

Ongoing efforts by the Houston LSA

Below is a letter from the Houston Local Spiritual Assembly (part of the Harris County, TX (A) cluster), following up on a previous letter sent to the National Assembly and giving updates on initiatives that have since been undertaken. This letter not only shows an ongoing process of action and reflection about the aims of Five Year Plan, but the Assembly's decision to keep the National Assembly and their Regional Baha'i Council abreast of their efforts ensures that other communities can learn and benefit from their example as well.

Dearly loved friends,

Since the initial response of the Houston Assembly to the August 14th letter of the National Spiritual Assembly, the Assembly has . . . engaged in on-going consultation on the needs of the Five Year Plan in light of the August 14th letter and these meetings.

The initial response of the Assembly sent . . . to the NSA on September 5th was:

1. Members of LSA to continue taking Ruhi Books to finish the sequence, members who have finished the sequence to participate in core activities, tutor, and/or co-tutor.

2. To invite [our] ABM, to meet with the LSA on any Wednesday she is available.

3. LSA members to form three groups of three, or other format, for home visit during the upcoming IPG in September.

4. Meeting with ATC: Date and agenda will be decided later after meeting with ABM.

The first item is on-going and the 2nd and 4th were done. Not all members of the Assembly were able to do the home visits during the September intensive campaign as mentioned in the 3rd item.

Subsequent actions and/or decisions have been as follows:

1) The Assembly will add one extra meeting a month so that there is more time to focus on the needs of Five Year Plan while still addressing other business of the community.

2) Committees and neighborhood councils are being evaluated both in regard to the need for each as well as how many friends are needed for the task. To date, the Assembly has decided that the existing committees are needed but decided to reduce the number of friends serving on the neighborhood councils.

3) One need identified during the meeting with the ATC and Auxiliary Board member was that of encouraging attendance at the Reflection gathering. . . Actions taken for the recent Reflection gathering were:

· Assembly members contacted Houston council and committee members to encourage them to attend.

· A letter from the Assembly was read at the feast encouraging friends to participate in the Reflection Gathering.

· A calling post callout was made to Persian speaking friends to announce that translation would be available at the Reflection Gathering.

4) The Assembly is endeavoring to have the Five Year Plan activities the main emphasis at Feast and is exploring different ways of doing this.

5) The Assembly is considering ways to encourage individuals in both the institute process as well as the core activities.

The Assembly continues to consult regularly on what more can be done towards active involvement in and support of the Five Year Plan. The Assembly will also continue collaboration with the Area Teaching Committee, Cluster Institute Coordinators and Auxiliary Board members.

With loving greetings,

The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the City of Houston

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chicago IL launches its 4th cycle with Anna's Presentation

Every cluster is different, especially those where the entire cluster is one locality with one Local Assembly. The Chicago IL cluster (A) recently launched its 4th cycle of intensive growth and has this to share about how it approached this expansion phase by dividing the cluster into sectors for planning and training


In the current cycle of growth there was a great emphasis on direct teaching. There were three gatherings held across the cluster on January 12 to serve as training and refresher meetings for the participants to eventually come up with teaching plans that incorporate direct teaching. All participants were introduced to Anna’s presentation and practiced to determine receptivity and share the Message at any given time when appropriate. The purpose of this report is to capture the various activities in the cluster so that the Core Team can better gauge growth and so that the LSA and cluster institutions can offer guidance on goals for the next expansion cycle.


Instead of one central location or area of focus participants in the training and refresher meetings were encouraged to invite their neighbors for a devotional gathering that could possibly lead to a fireside and an opportunity to share Anna’s presentation. The goal was to determine sustainable teaching and consolidation approaches at the neighborhood level that can be replicated or intensified in other parts of the cluster during the next expansion phase.

Planning and Activities:

The Core Team met to consult and plan the expansion phase activities. Chicago has one LSA and the Core Team is constantly in touch with the LSA through a liaison who is a member of both the ATC and the LSA. Learning and suggestions for planning the next IPG have been to start the planning as soon as possible since gathering resources and making sure that everyone is on the same page with a plan requires much effort, communication and time. Another aspect that may enhance the scale of activities is for the Core Team to meet with various participants and the LSA to discuss and refine plans much before the launch of the IPG. Also there was no time to plan a reflection meeting instead there were the training and refresher gatherings planned across the cluster.

Three coordinators planed the training and refresher meetings for the three separate areas and one person coordinated and communicated with each coordinator especially for reports from that area during the expansion phase. Primarily it was decided to pursue a door-to-door teaching approach to gain experience in the process. Other activities were also encouraged as long as the emphasis was on moving towards direct teaching. Many participants did go door-to-door despite the cold weather in the city.


Although it was challenging to gather all statistics systematically, this report has primarily been possible with the help of the Core Team members for sending in as much information from various teaching activities as possible during the expansion phase. All numbers are based on reports that came in and are therefore conservative since there are always activities that the Core Team does not hear about till much later. The reporting process needs to be streamlined where the required information is clearly identified and conveyed to the participants in the IPG before the launch of the expansion phase. This would allow for a standard reporting process that would make it easier to tally data during and after the expansion phase.

Total Participants in expansion phase activities: 62
Participants in Teaching and Outreach activities: 39
Neighborhoods with door-to-door initiatives: 8
Total contacted through outreach: 187
COI and contacts attending activities: 51
Home visits: 17
Anna’s presentations: 14
Declarations: 2

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Receptive Populations? Just Look Next Door

This is the account of one Auxiliary Board member from the Springfield, IL B cluster who went door-to-door with his son, inviting neighbors to a devotional meeting at their house. Particularly interesting is his observation that the receptivity of a population might depend on the Baha’i who is approaching them - the idea that our neighbors might be receptive to hearing about the Faith from us, because they know us personally (or at least share a common neighborhood with us), whereas these same people might not be as open to Faith if they were introduced to it by Baha’is from another area. It gives you a feeling of responsibility, doesn’t it!

After leaving Evanston [IL B-stage cluster] one Sunday, I was reflecting on the experience of direct door to door teaching in Evanston and Aurora [IL A-stage cluster] while driving back to Springfield. . . I thought about the circumstances of these projects and wondered what we can do to increase the rate of successful teaching encounters.

When I got back home, my son and I prepared an invitation card for a neighborhood devotions at our home for Wednesday evening and went out the same afternoon, going door to door in our neighborhood to invite the neighbors. We have lived in this neighborhood for 17 years and sad to say, other than two or three of the neighbors immediately next to us, we have not met anyone else. It is an almost homogeneous, white, middle class, conservative, suburban kind of neighborhood, mostly middle aged couples with grown children.

We knocked on 26 doors. 24 of them were home and opened the door. 22 of them were very happy to talk with us and warmly accepted our invitation. Most of them made comments such as “What a wonderful thing you are doing, of course we will come”. One of them said that they had their own church activity on Wednesday evening. Another one we woke up from an afternoon nap and was not in a happy mood.

Wednesday night was our devotional. 7 households came at 7:30 and stayed till 10:30, 45 minutes for devotions and the rest of the time listening to a direct presentation of the Faith and questions and answers. Two other neighbors telephoned and said how much they wanted to come but one had caught the flu and another had to attend an award ceremony for their son. They wanted to make sure we let them know when the next one will be so they could attend it. All of those who came said that they would like to attend it every time and will spread the word to other neighbors that could not come last night and let them know what a “spiritually enriching” experience it was for them.

Seeing the success of this project which took very little time and effort to plan and implement, we have decided to hold this devotional once a month starting January and use the other three Wednesdays of the month to have a book 1 to invite the neighbors to. Children are almost none existent in the neighborhood, so, children’s classes would not be needed and my son is friends with the few youth in the neighborhood and is working with them directly.

Lesson Learned:

  • Direct teaching in your own neighborhood is very easy and rewarding,
  • Neighbors would never slam the door on a neighbor’s face,
  • It is more likely for a neighbor to accept the invitation of another neighbor than a stranger.
  • Follow up is easy and effective. You are right there.
  • Statistics are: Size of teaching team: 2, Time spent planning and executing door to door campaign: 2 hours, Of the 26 doors that were knocked on, 85% were happy that you stopped by and accepted the invitation, 27% attended the function and were presented with a bold assertion of the fundamental verities of the Faith, 100% of those who attended said they will come back.
  • If it can be done in such a conservative middle class neighborhood, it can be done anywhere.
  • Definition of receptive populations begin to take on a different character when it comes to our own neighborhoods.
Assuming we have 20 Baha’i households in a cluster, if 10 of them would do this in their own neighborhood, they can potentially add 70 households to their community of interest and depending on the makeup of the neighborhood, they can provide children and Jr. youth activities, study circles and devotionals and lead to large number of enrollments in a short time.

Direct Flight Equals Direct Teaching

This story from a member of our National Spiritual Assembly is a shining example of how direct teaching can happen in even the most unexpected situations and the power of an effective team (however divinely coincidental) in nurturing and confirming a receptive soul. In addition the touching account, the new believer’s own words will certainly be a source of inspiration and and reflection. Enjoy!

Attendance at this year’s SED conference on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly brought a special bounty. When I boarded the plane and had settled into my seat, a woman came on board who looked exhausted – and very focused on getting into her seat next to me. She was tired beyond niceties and distractedly handed me her coffee, a second glass, her purse, while looking for overhead stowage space. She settled into her seat and fell asleep almost immediately. Nearing Orlando, as the engine sounds changed and the plane began its gradual descent, she woke up and pulled out her book. I had my laptop open, and was scrolling slowly through the SED program, familiarizing myself with this year’s schedule when she leaned over and without any preliminary, began to recommend the book she was reading. “Love, Eat, Pray” was the book, and she was enthusiastic about its spiritual focus. Quickly we began to speak of spiritual things, she mentioned that she had just established a non-profit in L.A. for service to the homeless, and then asked me why I was going to Orlando. When she discovered I was going to the Bahá’í SED conference she asked about the program, I shared my laptop screen with the descriptions of the talks and workshops, and as we landed she asked if anybody could attend the conference, saying that no one knew she was in Orlando. As we talked together heading for baggage claim her questions alternated between the conference and the Bahá’í Faith – by the time we reached our luggage she was seriously considering attending the conference. I mentioned that she would find herself among hundreds of kindred spirits if she came, and in the next moment we were joined by Eric Dozier and JB Eckl at baggage claim. Our reunion enveloped her, and she made the decision to call the hotel, register for a room and to attend the conference!

Her attraction to the Faith was nearly instantaneous. The next day, after some much needed sleep, she registered as a conference attendee and during my opening talk, with her sitting in the front row, I told the story of meeting her. After the evening’s program we lingered and talked until 3:00 AM. Her eyes grew wider and more luminous with each question answered, and early in the conversation she wanted to know how to become a Bahá’í. I gave her a card, telling her that she could register when she knew in her heart that Bahá’u'lláh was the Messenger of God for this day. At that point she had not seen a Bahá’í book, had only heard some wonderful Bahá’í music and my talk, which focused on how the grand “SED project” of the unfoldment of the Faith was picking up momentum with the core activities. Having her in the audience kept Bahá’í jargon out of my talk (and made it better!)

In the next day and a half her joy and wonder grew with each encounter with one after another like-minded Bahá’í. You can imagine how a woman of deep spirituality, with a desire to serve humanity, who had never really found a niche – and, like many, had not imagined that there were others like her - must have felt amongst 600 friends who were all focused on spiritual development. Saturday evening she slipped into the seat next to me for the musical evening, and whispered, “I have my card ready…” As she handed it to me, I handed her the prayer book I had inscribed earlier. Her acceptance of Bahá’u'lláh’s message was full-hearted and grateful and her face was aglow, her joy palpable. I quietly alerted the MC, and at the close of the evening, Jack Lenz called me up to make a final announcement. I grabbed her hand and led her up on stage to greet the friends who had known that she was amongst them from the first evening. With tears in her eyes she expressed her gratitude in finding Bahá’u'lláh and his followers, how honored she felt to be amongst us – and her wonder that the Faith had existed without her knowing it for all these years. Hearts swelled as people stood and applauded the sincere expression of gratitude to the Blessed Beauty. In just these few days she had met and bonded and networked with dozens of Bahá’ís, and knew a new family. Andrew Johnson was at the conference and only lives about 10 minutes from her and will follow up with her, and Red Grammar, who, though he lives farther away, couldn’t resist also taking her under his wing. She looks forward to attending the Nelson’s fireside in a month when she returns to her home in Burbank, and to beginning her book 1 study. Her bag now has her first copies of The Hidden Words, Gleanings, the Iqan, God Speaks Again, her prayer book and Ruhí book 1 (she didn’t want to wait!) There are also CD’s of Red Grammar’s children’s songs for her grandchildren whom she is surprising with this visit for Christmas, CD’s of some of the musicians she heard and loved, and her checkbook has also been lightened with her first contribution to the fund – to the temple in Chile!

This experience brought home to me how our conferences, especially this one, are a potent portal to attract those hearts which have been prepared by Him. This friend was ready – and in three days her experience at the SED conference with hundreds of loving Bahá’ís who’s love for humanity was evident in their actions catapulted her into a sense of confirmation which amplified the few hours of information to which she had been exposed. In those few days her teachers included Counselor Debbie Kirten, Brett Gamboa, Patty and Tom Kubala, Mehr Mansouri, Layli Miller, and Red Grammar to name a few. She ate with people who she felt she’d known all her life yet had only met moments before. She held the Writings of Bahá’u'lláh in her hand for the first time, heard His words sung, chanted and spoken on the lips of hundreds of devoted followers, prayed with ardent youth, rose to her feet with the crowd singing along with Red Grammar, “We are one Family” holding hands, and wept with joy.

What tongue can voice my thanks!

Warm greetings,


From: []
Sent: Friday, December 28, 2007 10:46 PM
To: Erica Toussaint
Subject: RE: all my contact info

Hi there sister,

Alláh-u-Abhá and so is meeting you. I can not say how powerful this information is to me and the journey has been do delightful so far. It is as though a re-construction of my life has been completed and I am enjoying the benefits.

I am listening to the tapes that I bought and learning more about making the readings a central part in every aspect of our lives and how we need to grow steadily in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. I really love it all. The Hidden Words, (God asks of us) and The Prayer Book, (We ask of God). I can only pray that I become addicted and dedicate my behaviors and thoughts in alignment of these teachings. It has been so profound for me and I still am so amazed at how blessed I am to have been introduced to my new family and to awaken to the nourishment I have always craved.

I have been really busy with the children. I thought I would finally get rest… maybe next year (Ha). I am just grateful to participate in their lives and have played and sung Red’s songs with them and in the car when we are driving. I speak about my new found glory to my family and friends and every one is happy for me saying that it is perfect for me. There is an acknowledgment that it is not for them. It is so sad to me that they are not interested, but it is what it is and hopefully one day they will realize the preciousness of what I discovered in the Bahá’í Faith.

We need to speak one day and I hope to find out if I could get a tape of the talk that you gave. I would love to preserve this memory and to actually have your spirit and inspiration on hand would be so wondrous for me. This was life changing for me and our friendship and sisterhood will never be severed, not now nor never. I am grateful beyond words. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Finally home,

[Airplane Buddy]