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.
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!