Barely twelve hours after the cluster reflection gathering ended, a group of ten friends, including a young child and a couple of junior youth, committed to teaching in the Open Doors Campaign (door-to-door) reconvened in NW Evanston, dressed to take on the Illinois winter. We were blessed with the Charepoos and visiting friends from Wilmette, including an NSA member, all of whom were truly loving and encouraging! The morning began with a discussion on how direct teaching could happen at the door step, and the Charepoos shared some of the learnings and experiences they have had from Colorado Springs and Seattle. Quotations on the power of divine assistance, finding and teaching receptive souls, and the importance of being systematic in the project were provided, and read aloud in the gathering. We were assured that "whensoever holy souls, drawing on the powers of heaven, shall arise with such qualities of the spirit and march in unison, rank on rank, every one of those souls will be even as one thousand, and the surging waves of that mighty ocean will be even as the battalions of the Concourse on High". That we only had three teaching teams, drawn from ten friends, mattered little that day - in the streets, we would be ten thousand in spirit, assisted by the Concourse on High!
Around 11am, the group paused mid-meeting to assess their comfort levels with going out to teach. We discovered that every single person in the room, child, youth, adult, were just raring to go. We had enough of the warm and hospitable living room - it was time to make new friends out in that freezing arena of teaching. In fifteen minutes, the map of the target neighborhood was divided into sectors and teams were formed to reflect the diversity of age, ethnicity and gender in the room. Just to give you an idea of the beautiful team formations . . .
Each team had at least one person from the IL-17 cluster, to ensure ease and convenience to schedule follow-up visits later, and to nurture the new friends we would make.
Team ORANGE was a Persian man, a white American woman,
a Malaysian father and his 3 year old child.
Team PURPLE was an
African-American man and a Japanese-American woman, and
consisted of two junior youth, a father of one of the junior youth, and a
Equipped with a plastic box with a handle, to weather the elements (we realized in December that paper bags disintegrate in snow storms!), filled with teaching materials such as prayer books, several pamphlets on the Baha'i Faith, event fliers for devotions and children's classes in the cluster, prayer cards, tracking cards, and a flipchart of a direct presentation on the Faith (based on Book 6's Anna's presentation). Both pens and pencils were provided, as earlier learnings found that below a certain temperature, ballpoint pens were rendered ineffective out in the field! The tracking cards were narrow pieces of card stock which fit neatly in the palm, for the team member to record the date/time, team name, address, level of receptivity (1 to 5) of resident, name and contact info, what their specific interests were (core activities), which materials were given and miscellaneous notes. A card was also provided to record homes at which no one was home, or no soliciting/trespassing preferences were indicated.
By noon, the teams were out the door, driving to their target sectors, which were but a few minutes away by car. The streets were icy, the pavement often treacherous. We were if not walking, then sliding purposefully down the driveways to offer the message of Baha'u'llah! The junior youth showed remarkable courage as they braved the freezing winds to record data, to knock on doors, introducing themselves and asking in a beautiful dignified manner if the residents would want to hear about the Baha'i Faith. The little three year old out in the field was a fearless example to the team she was in, as she hastened forward towards each door, eager to meet who lay behind it! One of the junior youth even had an opportunity to offer the Faith in Spanish. There were quite a number of homes whose doors remained unanswered, but oh, the ones that did get opened!
The teams had a number of people ask them to come back later in the day or week to share about the Faith. Those that were not interested were polite and courteous to the Baha'is and even asked us to stay warm as they closed the doors. Part of the nature of this receptive neighborhood was quite obviously their sense of community and love for others. When one team encountered a sick woman, a healing prayer was shared with her when she invited them in although she was not yet ready to hear more about the Faith.
Another team encountered a man from Belize who was visiting his sister in the neighborhood. He invited the team in, as the little child in the team needed to use a restroom. The man then told the team that anyone willing to be out in this weather was definitely worth listening to, and so the friends launched into the direct presentation of the Faith. The more the shared about Baha'u'llah, the man became more interested. A prayer was shared and the friends left information on children's classes in the area (as the home was also a daycare center). The man told the team before they left that his sister should hear about the Faith, and that she became Baha'i, he would too. Bolstered by the hope of this self-widening circle of interest, the team left happily, promising to visit again soon.
The same team encountered a number of Hispanic friends and realized they would need to return with a Spanish speaking Baha'i, as the level of hospitality and receptivity was definitely high. At one home, the cleaning lady who answered the door assured the team the lady who lived there would be interested and invited them in to meet her. The lady who was the resident knew the Baha'is and wished to hear Anna's presentation but had to leave for work. She was assured that the Baha'is would revisit and share the Faith with her. When one of the teaching team members left their eyeglasses in her home by accident, the wonderful soul who had wanted to hear more came running down the street, even in the ice, to return them to her!
After returning to the base in mid afternoon, to restock their materials, grab some lunch and share their stories, the teams went back out. Some were re-formed, as another Baha'i had joined and others had had to leave. The newly formed team had incredible success within their first hour out. One door they knocked at turned out to be a man that had been long searching for the truth, he had heard about the Baha'i Faith and even pronounced Baha'u'llah's name on his own accord. He had questions about resolving the concept of the Trinity, wondered why innocents suffered in this world and did God really _need_ us to worship Him? Although he had at first told the team he was busy cleaning house, he prolonged the spiritual conversation they had and the team offered a prayer book and a pamphlet on the Baha'is before leaving. The resident asked them to return the following Saturday as he was interested in continuing their conversation.
The team had no inkling of what Baha'u'llah had planned next for them, they had been beseeching Him for her receptive soul as they knocked on each door and rang each bell. They repeated the prayer for God to "open the door, to prepare the means, to make safe the path" - a path that evening that was so treacherously icy!
The final home this team went to was initially one they thought was empty as it was not lit in the sunset hour. But they noticed a man in the shadowy inner porch and knocked on the door. As they introduced themselves, the man seemed especially welcoming and invited to come on in, into a hallway that was filled with construction material and furniture. There in that smoky hallway, the team told this man, from the Bahamas, about Baha'u'llah and His Message. They asked if it was possible to present a 20 minute presentation using the flipchart. The man acquiesced, and the team members took turns to talk about God, the Unknowable Essence, the Manifestations, the Covenant, Baha'u'llah's life and the Báb, even the laws of the Faith. The man seemed deeply intuitive about spiritual matters. When told about the Báb, he instantly mentioned how similar this was to the role of John the Baptist in Christ's Revelation. He was a plasterer who often came to Evanston for work, and drove by the House of Worship a number of times admiring the intricate concrete architecture. Imagine then the surprise of the team, when they discovered he didn't even live in that house, but was doing a job there, but lived elsewhere. The man felt that it was divine inspiration that led the team to him, and he wanted to participate in Baha'i gatherings and know more about the Faith. The team gave him an event flier, exchanged contact information and gave him a declaration card explaining that he could sign it when he was ready to declare his Faith. This beautiful receptive soul thanked the team, and said he would give due thought to the matter and wanted to investigate the Faith further.
By 5:30 in the evening, the teams had converged upon the base, each one, radiant with love, wreathed in smiles, excitedly sharing their positive experiences. After debriefing, they decided to attend a community feast at the National Baha'i Center to share with others their news. At the Feast, it was discovered that there was a Baha'i family living in the target neighborhood, who offered their home as a base as the teaching work continued there! Timely indeed, as the campaign was in need of exactly that - such providence was definitely of the divine nature! As Feast was going on, a group of young adults had held a musical devotional in the Baha'i Home at Wilmette. As the week unfolds, similar devotions will continue being held every evening throughout the cluster, to "attract the hearts of all men"! All those who participated in the Open Doors Campaign couldn't wait to be back on Sunday, to continue to partake of that "sweetness of the teaching experience" which as our beloved International Teaching Center promised us, had sustained their enthusiasm.
Story shared by the IL-17 Cluster Institute Coordinator