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!

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