Saturday, February 9, 2008

DAY 1: Bearing our hopes (and fears), we launched! And what a launch!

The excitement is raising in Zikrullah Khadem Cluster (Evanston IL) the newest A-stage cluster in the Central Region. The reflection meeting was packed full of friends eager to hear the news, and to jump into action. The following story was shared by the Cluster Institute Coordinator. Enjoy!

This is our first daily narrative from the IPG!

It was less than six months ago, when the Zikrullah Khadem cluster, galvanized by visits from Counsellor Walker and Counsellor Birkland, and loving assurances from their Auxiliary Board Members started laying the groundwork for their FIRST Intensive Program of Growth. The cluster core team held a number of active refreshers - one day teaching projects that gave the friends opportunities to participate in collective teaching efforts in the neighbourhood, the Northwestern campus, the library, even at the mall! The focus of these refreshers was to learn how direct teaching could be practiced in any situation, that the presentation of the Faith from Book 6 (Anna's presentation) could be utilized in any interaction.

The fruits of these one-day endeavors aided the Cluster Core Team to outline the plans for the IPG. An IPG, ambitious even in its first attempt, to provide a teaching avenue for each and every believer in the cluster. Campaigns of various flavours were conceived and shared with the friends in the week leading up to the launch of the IPG. A Cluster Reflection Meeting was to be held on DAY 1 of the IPG, where the friends would pledge their plans and make commitments to each of these campaigns.

On the evening of February 8th, friends from all across the cluster converged upon the reflection gathering, bearing not only their hopes (and fears) for the next 9 days of the IPG, but also dishes, sweet and savoury for their potluck dinner. A dinner that tasted all the more delicious for the teaching stories that the friends shared over their meals! Devotions were then led off with the beautiful voices of several handmaids of His Cause, inspiring the friends to join in song and spirit.

The theme of the Cluster Reflection Gathering was "Soaring Higher"; and we found out just how high we could soar when one of our beloved Auxiliary Board Members announced that IL-17 had, that very week, been designated an A-Cluster by the Regional Council of the Central States! Just as we were recovering from the joy and the realisation of how we really had to step it up a notch to maintain a level of activity consistent with the nature of the A-Cluster, the plans of the IPG were presented. The response and enthusiasm to the plans of the teaching campaign was amazing. The five lines of action designated for IL-17's first IPG cycle are:

  • FAMILY CAMPAIGN: Families with children would share the Faith in child-friendly locations such as the library or play areas, inviting their friends to the Evanston/Skokie children's classes.

  • NORTHWESTERN CAMPUS CAMPAIGN: Sharing the Faith with Northwestern University students, with the support of the Northwestern Baha'i Campus Club! A series of activities are being planned on campus including an open mic in the vein of Crimson Spot, Cafe Ruhi (a casual coffee-house atmosphere for spiritual conversation based on Ruhi Book 1 themes, inspired by a similar event in Atlanta GA) and firesides.

  • PRAYER CAMPAIGN: Offering ardent daily prayers for receptive souls in the cluster and for Baha'i teachers to arise courageously to directly teach the Faith, holding devotionals every other day of the IPG.

  • OUTREACH CAMPAIGN: Reaching out to our friends, families, co-workers and neighbours and offering the healing message of Baha'u'llah to them, inviting them to core activities in our home or in the neighborhood.

  • OPEN-DOORS CAMPAIGN: Sharing the Faith in a receptive neighborhood in Evanston, teaching door-to-door.

The friends got together in groups to discuss, finalize and make commitments to each of these campaigns. The Open-Doors campaign had the bounty and benefit of the Charepoos from Colorado, who had participated in the very successful expansion phases of the IPGs in Seattle and Colorado Springs and witnessed the recent Phoenix AZ IPG phenomenon. Their loving encouragement to the friends of this campaign, their invaluable experience and sharing of key learnings from similar campaigns, particular as related to direct teaching and its effectiveness were shared.

At the end of the evening, there was a raffle giving away three "flipcharts" of Anna's Presentation in Book 6, used to great success in Malaysia. Each friend also received a beautiful card bearing the Central States prayer for teaching, and a folder full of resources to help them along in the next 9 days of the Intensive Program of Growth. Some of the fruits of the reflection gathering included:

  1. Commitment to devotionals held throughout the cluster for every day in the expansion phase!

  2. Family firesides, a family bowling night (to teach at the Bowling Alley!) and a Baha'i-inspired children's book event at the library

  3. Plans to invite neighbours to the believers' homes and share prayers together, in Park Ridge, Skokie, Morton Grove and Evanston!

  4. Commitment of students and young adults in Evanston to hold portal events to invite their friends and widen their community of interest, midterms notwithstanding!

The reflection gathering came to a close with beautiful and inspiring devotional music, prepared by a Northwestern Baha'i student.

The delicious food, stirring music, the anticipated joy of teaching, the celebration of our shiny A-cluster status, the wonderful fellowship and love amongst the friends - it was truly a gathering of the beloved of Baha'u'llah, and what better way to consecrate the cluster's plans of this first intensive program of growth, the first of many, which will aid us to fulfill the dear wish of our beloved Universal House of Justice, for "the day when teaching is the dominating passion in the life of every believer".

Story shared by the IL-17 Cluster Institute Coordinator

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