Friday, October 31, 2008

New believers and old arising to serve in Knoxville

The good news can’t get any better than this. Here is a truly exciting report from an individual in Knoxville, TN (A), sharing some highlights from a recent teaching effort. Particularly noteworthy is that more and more of the friends—both new believers and old—are arising to participate in the teaching activities.

Dear friends,

We have wonderful news from our teaching effort:

7 of our newest believers are all participating in Ruhi Book 1, and 4 of them are about to start studying Book 2

There are now 15 additional people helping out on a regular basis for the teaching work. . . .

We have a well-established neighborhood children’s class attended by 29 children from the community. It is so much fun doing those classes! We follow the Hidden Gems program. There are many families from all around the world whose kids attend. We plan to start another class in another neighborhood.

With the help of a few dedicated college youth, we have our first ever neighborhood junior youth group. The college youth have become very active through the loving encouragement of the area teaching committee.

All of the new Bahá’ís from our last teaching effort are participating in the institute process, except for one family that moved out of the cluster.

Most important: Many of our new believers have arisen to serve, volunteering for the neighborhood children’s class, hosting devotional meetings at the Bahá’í Center, and teaching the Faith to their neighbors.

With love,


Innovative children's class in the park leads to "friends forever"

Here is a delightful report about an innovative approach to a children’s class in New Hampshire (A). You see the integration of children’s classes with teaching efforts with reaching out to neighbors. The result is much joy and new “friends forever”.

“Sundays in the Park” was a pilot program for neighborhood children’s classes held in a park for eight weeks in July and August 2008. The Book 3 curriculum was used. Graduates from Ruhi Book 3 were the teachers, each rotating and committing to teach two classes. The rotation was a great way to mobilize human resources.

Students included both children from the Bahá’í community and 8 to 18 other children from nearby apartments who come from several different countries. Some parents also attend these classes with their kids. This is a very receptive population. . . .

Classes included memorization of prayer, sacred writings, a story, song and game. Children were eager and attentive to learn quotations and prayers. Visuals and role play were helpful in assisting with English. Each new child returned home with color pages and box of crayons.

There are now 9 new believers associated with this effort. One of the friends visited families and highlighted themes from Anna’s presentation in their own language. All the children have continued into fall classes. We also hope to continue home visits and begin a weekly class for parents, as well as a junior youth group.

Rotating teachers and assistant teams each week was a successful approach. It enabled us to mobilize human resources and help them do the practice components of the Ruhi Books. These teachers and assistants not only taught the classes but were accompanied on home visits, sharing Anna’s presentation as prayer partners or presenters. During the children’s classes, the assistants were essential to help monitor children, maintain focus and discipline, and meet specific needs.

The friends have found it absolutely essential to accompany the children to and from the park each week where the class was held. This was a must to ensure attendance and safety!

When one of the children visited the Bahá’ís at their home, they went into the backyard. Once they were seated on the lawn chairs, she suggested “it was time for prayers”. Clearly she has made this connection from the children’s class.

The teachers felt they would never have met these precious families had they not participated in the intensive teaching effort in the spring. A team had initially met two individuals from the neighborhood at a laundromat. They feel they have met people who have enriched their life and with whom they will be friends forever.

"Reverse Home Visit" in New York City

Over and over again, the experience of the friends has been, “Go to where the seekers are.” Well, here’s an exception to the rule coming from New York City (A), where a Bahá’í was surprised to receive what I’m going to have to call a “reverse home visit”! This experience helped inspire one of the new believers into arising to start teaching.

One of the friends was talking to a new believer in the apartment lobby where they lived when the new believer’s neighbor approached them and asked if they were talking about the Bahá’í Faith. The friend had told this individual about the Faith some time ago but had forgotten about the encounter. So they made arrangements to meet at this neighbor’s apartment later that day. . . .

But they delayed getting to the appointment, so in the meantime this neighbor and her roommate, so anxious were they to hear about the Faith, took it on themselves to visit the Bahá’ís at this friend’s home. And so when the Bahá’ís stopped by their home on their way to the appointment, they found their neighbors in their living room with the friend’s parents!

The two individuals were very interested and spent over four hours conversing with their Bahá’í neighbors. They heard Anna’s presentation and had many questions. They were very interested to come to devotionals, as well as attend a study circle. At the end of the evening they were given a declaration card by their teachers in case they wished to sign it.

The new believer was quite moved by this teaching encounter. He is now enthused about becoming active, and has offered to hold a devotional at his place. He will be starting Book 1, and is working on bringing his son to a children's class.

Building momentum in Iowa

The momentum is building up in Ames, IA (B) on a number of fronts. You can see it in increased activity, new contacts, new confidence, and new insights. Here is a brief report shared by an individual believer:

While summer months were slow, the pace of teaching is picking up, as evidenced by the number of new friends in study circles, including 3 from the community of interest, and a new children’s class, in which all of the students are also coming from the community of interest. Two “mini” teaching activities have been held, resulting in increased confidence and capacity among the believers. More of the friends are beginning to see themselves as teachers and more people who have completed the tutor training are beginning to tutor study circles.

I keep learning again and again how important it is to visit the tutors and to walk with them on the path of service. Also, while it is of course important to focus my efforts to support those who are already eager to move forward in understanding and action, I need to also remember to give attention to the other friends, as it eventually leads to their arising to serve as well.

The fruits of collaboration

This report from an A-stage cluster in the Central region is full of gems. Here is a cluster where the various institutions have learned to collaborate and work together, where the friends have made steady progress in raising up human resources and accompanying them to serve to the utmost of their capacity, where the Local Spiritual Assemblies are taking a leading role in all the work. And no matter what their achievements, the friends are continually striving to learn more.

Although the summer vacation period interrupted the intensity of the efforts in some zones of the cluster, other zones took great advantage of the period by starting junior youth groups or children classes. In the future, advance planning, such as summer programs for children and youth, will help to insure consistency in the teaching efforts.

We have managed to make use of almost all our human resources (tutors, children’s class teachers, animators of junior youth groups); now the challenge is to maximize their time. . . .

Follow-up with new Baha’is has been less intensive than we had hoped. Adjusting to their schedules and priorities has been a challenge, but the core team and Local Spiritual Assembly are reflecting on how to address this challenge.

One junior youth group has formed from an earlier effort where a group of young people learned about the virtues with the Bahá’ís. Now the friends are able to make use of the animators materials with this group.

We are now in the process of increasing the number of zones in which there are teaching activities. More Bahá’ís are engaged in teaching by participating in home visits, study circles, children’s classes, junior youth groups, devotional gatherings and firesides.

Teaching teams are gathering together and studying the guidance and planning projects in their neighborhood, and then consulting about the progress made and lessons learned.

The core team has given support to surrounding clusters by increasing their understanding of the Plan and by encouraging their involvement, as well as supporting multiplication of the core activities. As a result, about 8 of the friends from surrounding clusters are now involved. Direct teaching efforts and children’s classes have started in nearby communities.

Accompaniment of the Local Spiritual Assemblies by our Auxiliary Board member to work in a collaborative and coordinated way has been one of our main goals and has brought a wonderful outcome. The level of commitment of the 4 Local Spiritual Assemblies in the cluster has increased notably. Since they have started to serve on teaching teams and be more focused on the Plan, they are also much more involved in teaching and multiplication of core activities, as well as home visits to the members of their communities. The loving collaboration and coordination among the institutions is a strength in the cluster. Of course there is still so much to learn but we can already see nice progress.

We have started to take advantage of the Nineteen Day Feast as a resource for encouraging the friends and accompanying them in their consultation about planning, follow-up, and lessons learned.

The cluster institute coordinator role is so critical in an A-stage cluster, and so different from one cluster to another. The spirit of teamwork among the institutions has been vital, and we hope to continue learning about it.

Baha'i Center a portal in Plano

Here is a brief progress report from Plano, TX (A) shared by an individual believer. The friends are making use of their Baha’i Center to help directly share the Message with those who are interested.

We have begun to see changes in the level of involvement of the Local Spiritual Assemblies in the process. Assembly members are beginning to arise as individuals and serve in the teaching arena.

The Plano Baha’i center serves as a portal each Sunday morning with devotionals held, to which members of the wider community frequently visit. We have begun giving Anna’s presentation to individuals who attend and wish to learn more about the Faith. This has resulted in 2 declarations to date, as well as entry of interested individuals into the institute process.

Learning how to start more children's classes

Here is a succinct but telling report from Fairfax, VA (A) describing some of the insights gained about starting children’s classes. The friends are drawing from not only their own experience, but also from the experience of other clusters.

We have had an increase in the number of our children’s classes due to the initiative taken by our parents in starting classes for their own children and the children of their neighbors. We have also learned that when someone declares their belief in Baha’u’llah, it is important to start an informal Ruhi Book 1 study circle with them immediately. Without this component, it is very challenging to reconnect with the new believer and start children’s classes for their children. After reading all the good news from other clusters and learning from their experiences, we are going to implement this approach in our cluster.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"What we end up with may not be what we start out with"

This story from Benton County, OR (A), is taken from an article in the most recent issue of “The Spirit of the Northwest”, a newsletter produced by the Regional Bahá’í Council of the Northwestern states. It involves a small group of friends wanting to teach the Faith and starting a devotional meeting as a result. This was the first step on an amazing path of learning. Some highlights of their journey: the power of prayer, an orientation to the needs of the seeker, a willingness to be flexible, and the exciting potential of firesides. Finally, their experience is another example of the value of directly sharing the Message from the outset.

We began a monthly devotional gathering to which we invited neighbors. It was very indirect teaching, inviting people to bring any prayers or thoughts they had on that month’s theme. After a while, however, we realized that our purpose was not being realized and that our gatherings were becoming increasingly unfocused and ineffective. . . .

So we decided to refocus our efforts on finding and inviting receptive souls to hear a direct presentation of the Faith, and inviting them to become Bahá’ís. We stopped advertizing our gatherings, ramped up our prayers, and opened our hearts to any souls who were presented to us. The more ready we were for them, the greater the flow of seekers who were willing to listen. Some seekers reached us by calling our Bahá’í community’s information phone number. We were connected with others through friendships at work and other activities.

Of course, we were feeling uncomfortable that we had replaced a core activity (devotional gatherings) with something that wasn’t (a fireside). However, now we realize that these firesides are fueling another core activity—study circles—and are a means of teaching.

One approach we take is to include other Bahá’ís in the presentation and have them give parts of it. This gives more people the opportunity to learn how to share a direct presentation of the Faith (and build their confidence to do so), and gives the seekers the opportunity to meeting more Bahá’ís.

We have learned much about the power of prayer, the value of direct teaching, and how to be sensitive to the needs of our seekers. It is not enough to send them off with reading material, aside from prayers. It is much better to meet with them personally, nurture friendships and engage their hearts. Our “method” is simply to pray systematically, open our hearts and minds to the resulting assistance, lovingly and confidently invite receptive people to a direct presentation of the Faith (this is the scary part), and then walk with them as they come to know Bahá’u’lláh.

I think if we were to sum up how to form a teaching team, it would be to act on some inspiration, prayerfully and determinedly start with some short-term plans, act on them for awhile (preferably in alignment with a cluster’s teaching effort), reflect on the results, and adjust the plans according to what we have learned. What we end up with may not be what we started out with, but if we are truly willing to be guided, we will be—in miraculous ways.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Teach within 48 hours

Here is an intriguing story from the Northeast about an innovative and simple approach that mobilized the friends into action. A challenge was presented to the friends at a gathering to do something to teach the Faith within the next 48 hours. The area teaching committee for that cluster then passed on the same challenge to all the believers in that cluster. The result? The friends immediately arising to serve (and consulting on how to support each other). In other words, it led to enthusiastic and spontaneous action, and if one effort didn’t work out, the friends would then simply try something else.

In the afternoon the friends reread the Ridvan 2008 message from the Universal House of Justice and centered their consultation around the insights gained from the active teaching in their clusters. Our Auxiliary Board member reminded those present that no one will come in to our clusters to do our teaching for us. It is only through each of us actively teaching will we see progress in our clusters. She then challenged the friends to get together with someone else in the room and plan what we could do to teach the Faith during the next 48 hours. The friends took up the challenge and immediately began planning what they would do to teach and to support each other. . . .

Your Area Teaching Committee would like to extend this challenge to every believer in our cluster. Please call one other person and plan what you can do by October 12 to 1) teach or 2) start a small devotional with a friend, neighbor, coworker or family member who might need prayers for healing or comfort. There may be other things you can do to teach, but the idea is to do something this week. We can only learn by doing. “The more we do, the more we learn.” Only by doing can we bring the healing message of Bahá’u’lláh to those who are waiting and yearning to receive it.

Please share your stories with us. What happened when you made this commitment to do some act of service? How did prayer help your efforts? How did your partner help your efforts? What do you plan to do next?

With warmest Baha'i greetings,

Your area teaching committee

Here are some excerpts from some of the responses of the friends:

1. One friend came home and called a seeker who has been attending devotions fairly regularly. She invited her to join a Ruhi 4 class, which she had mentioned to her at the devotions and the seeker seemed interested. She accepted, and the same evening they, along with seven other people from two communities, started Ruhi 4. At Devotions, another believer asked this same seeker about getting together to share an overview of the Faith (i.e. Anna's presentation) and together, we hope to arrange a time with her and her husband in the near future.

2. The day after the challenge was given, a believer invited a friend to her home for the purpose of sharing the Faith and determining receptivity. This proved to be a wonderful introduction. The following day, the same believer continued upon her weekly “teaching trail” by attempting to visit a family that has shown great interest in the Faith over an extended period of time. Unfortunately, they were not home, so she added this family to her, “follow-up list”. In the meanwhile, the latter part of her 48 hours ended with agreeing to facilitate a study circle in a nearby community.

3. Another teaching endeavor continued mainly by email. At the prompting of the seeker, these emails have generally contained continuous excerpts from the framework of “Anna’s presentation”, as well as a PowerPoint slide show on the Birth of the Báb and the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh. This believer has noted the importance of being able to consult with other friends.

“We should not belittle anyone and call him ignorant, saying: ‘You know not, but I know.' Rather, we should look upon others with respect, and when attempting to explain and demonstrate, we should speak as if we are investigating the truth, saying: 'Here these things are before us. Let us investigate to determine where and in what form the truth can be found.' The teacher should not consider himself as learned and others ignorant. Such a thought breedeth pride, and pride is not conducive to influence. The teacher should not see in himself any superiority; he should speak with the utmost kindliness, lowliness and humility, for such speech exerteth influence and educateth the souls." (‘Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, no. 15, pp. 33-34)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Some lessons learned from Chicago

The friends in Chicago, IL (A) have been enthusiastically engaged in a wide variety of teaching activities over the past several months. Here are some insights gained from their experiences that were recently shared by one of the friends there.

Neighborhood trainings: Before an intensive teaching effort, it was useful to hold neighborhood-level training sessions. This allowed a greater number of people to attend. The trainings did not limit themselves to just one activity. Participants were encouraged to invite their friends and neighbors to a devotional gathering that could lead to a fireside and an opportunity to share Anna’s presentation. Participants learned how to assess someone’s level of interest in the Faith. They also improved their ability to share the Message at any given time when needed. . . .

Planning: It is beneficial if the core team can meet with the Local Spiritual Assembly and various participants well in advance of the teaching effort. This helps a lot with the planning.

Reaching out to the local community: When teaching, it is important to identify yourself as a neighbor and be a familiar face in the neighborhood.

Venues for sharing: Home visits and small meetings in public places offer one of the best opportunities to directly share the Message. This is often because such meetings take place with someone who has already expressed an interest in learning about the Faith.

Don’t hesitate to share: Experience has shown there is a real value in directly sharing the fundamental verities of the Faith from the outset, rather than taking a long and gradual approach. Beginning with Anna’s presentation sets a good foundation for dialogue. Meeting with a seeker individually instead of in a large group allows for a heart-to-heart discussion. It is helpful to have a prayer partner.

Trust in people’s interest: Don’t be discouraged if people say they are interested in attending an events such as a devotional meeting and then do not show up. Most of the time this does not indicate a lack of interest but simply that something prevented them from being available. Keep following up with them.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Are you making everyone a Baha'i?"

What do you do when an energetic boy runs up to you, pokes you in the side (more than once), and asks a lot of challenging questions? Poke him back? Not in Nashville, TN (A)! Here is a delightful report of a neighborhood in that cluster, which has been shared by the Regional Bahá’í Council for the Southern states. Walk around the neighborhood and you will see that a community is being built, by young and old, new believers and long-time believers, residents and visitors, with the help of children’s classes, sharing prayers, and friendships. You can also see that the believers are gaining experience in how to respond when children express an interest in learning about the Faith.

Dearly loved friends,

We continue to receive uplifting and insightful stories and accounts of the friends striving to share the Message of Bahá’u’lláh and learning how to involve the new believers with increasing efficacy in the core activities.

The Nashville area cluster has recently seen a sizable number of people entering the Faith. The friends have been particularly engaged in one neighborhood. It is a diverse community, with residents from Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, as well as being home to many Bahá’í refugees from Iran. In addition, other believers from the cluster visit regularly and offer their services to new believers and seekers . . . .

One friend shared her impression about the openness of this community: “The Persian Bahá’í residents walk around the neighborhood and say prayers and connect with their neighbors.”

About a week ago, one of the friends was in the neighborhood visiting a new believer. They were outside enjoying the pleasant weather. While she was reviewing Anna’s presentation with the new friend, one of the neighborhood boys, who is best friends with one of children of the Persian families living there, ran up to her, poked her in her side and asked, “Are you making everyone a Bahá’í?” The teacher responded to his question by saying, "I am sharing the message of the Bahá’í Faith with those who are interested in learning about this new Divine Message”.

The boy then asked, "What is the Bahá’í Faith?" He told the teacher that he too was interested in the Faith and wanted to know more. But since she was already going over Anna’s presentation with the other friend, she was not able to respond to him at that time.

Later in the week, this teacher and another friend met the sister of one of the new Bahá’ís as they were walking in the neighborhood. They took the opportunity to share Anna's presentation with her, and she felt moved to declare her Faith. Her four children were already attending the children’s classes being held in that neighborhood, and she registered them as well.

By now it was getting dark and the teachers were walking to their cars to go home. The same boy from the previous week ran up to them, poking the teacher in her side again and asked, "What is the Bahá’í Faith?" It was dark and she could not see who he was and asked, “Who are you?” He responded that he was the same one who asked about the Faith last week.

The Bahá’ís decided they would like to meet his parents first. So they asked him when would be a good time to speak with his parents, and he said, “How about now?”

So the boy ran ahead towards his home with the Bahá’ís close behind. Standing outside were his mother, father, and five siblings. The teachers shared how much their son wanted to learn about the Bahá’í Faith and so everyone went inside the lighted hallway of the apartment building to hear the presentation. There seemed to be a heightened sense of spirit in that hallway as the Message was shared. The boy helped by reading the quotes. After sharing the life and suffering of Bahá’u’lláh the presenter turned to the father and said, “It appears as though your son is attracted to this Message”. The father nodded in agreement.

After the entire presentation was given, the whole family recognized Bahá’u’lláh’s Station and embraced the Faith.

The teachers then explained the importance of education of children. “That is why we come here—not to educate just our children but all the children and we need a lot of help to do this.” The mother of the family carefully went through all the registration cards to maker sure that each of her children was registered.

The teachers went and revisited this family within the next couple of days, and then visited them another couple of times over the next week.

We feel very blessed to learn from the friends who are consecrating their efforts in sharing the Message of Bahá’u’lláh, and are striving to create a community of devotion and service.

"Intensive firesides" in Phoenix

Here is a very brief report from Phoenix, AZ (A) where the friends are exploring a new approach: “Intensive firesides”.

For the first time, the friends are trying “intensive firesides”. This means that the believers have committed to hold 20 small-scale firesides over the 14-day period of the intensive teaching effort, with at least one fireside during each of the 14 evenings. This approach has the potential of engaging believers in the cluster in addition to those already involved in the neighborhood teaching. So we are watching this development closely to learn about its effectiveness.

Friday, October 3, 2008

"The kids were climbing all over him and the tree."

Yes, you read that right. Not only are the friends in Solano, CA (B) building capacity to plan and increase their level of teaching activities, not only are they connecting with their neighbors and recognizing opportunities to address the needs of their local community, not only are they encouraging others to taste the joy of service, they are demonstrating in the clearest way possible that we are all leaves and branches of one tree. . . .

We had our second reflection meeting as a 'B' cluster on Saturday! At our reflection gathering we reviewed our experiences, our current human resources, and what we can do to multiply our outreach activities. We learned that there is a role for all of us to play in advancing the Five Year Plan, at the level of individual, community, and institutions.

As we move forward now in the next three months, we are striving to keep our current efforts going strong and are looking forward to starting new ones. We are in need of various kinds of support. Our afternoon teaching in the park, for example, has already made clear the need for a second children's class in the same neighborhood! Here is the story: . . .

Two groups of the friends happened to have met different members of the same family in the same afternoon and had conversations with them about children's classes, study circles, and God and the Holy Spirit. They were very open to having conversations about God. Several children were pouring out of their home and though they were not available to attend the current children’s class because it is held on Sunday mornings when they go to church, they invited everyone to revisit their family in the afternoon. Some friends went back on Sunday afternoon and were literally bombarded with 8-10 loving kids (about 3 of which were junior youth). One team member started helping one of them up the tree in front of the house and, of course, he became an instant hit! The kids were climbing all over him and the tree!

Though the adults we had met the previous day were not home, another family member was home, and the possibility of an afternoon children's class was mentioned. Both she and the children were very open to it. One of the children had even recognized members of the team after spotting them in the park in the morning, and a couple of the kids walked away with team as they said goodbye.

Whether you are interested in supporting these projects or initiating new ones, we invite you to come observe learning in action. You can participate in the children's class, just observe and be a positive presence, talk to the parents that bring their children to the class, or do follow-up home visits with families in the neighborhood—there is so much exciting work to be done!

Thank you to all for your continued prayers and support!

Loving greetings

Your cluster development facilitator (on behalf of your core team)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Who is Anna?

Many of the stories posted on this blog make reference to “Anna’s presentation”. You may be asking yourself, “What is Anna’s presentation?”, as well as, “Who is Anna?”

Thousands of Bahá'ís across the country have completed their study of Ruhi Book 6, Teaching the Cause, and have learned a particularly eloquent approach to explaining the fundamental and distinguishing features of the Bahá'í Faith. This approach is called "Anna's presentation" because it is outlined in a story involving a hypothetical character—Anna—who is a young Bahá’í who introduces the fundamental verities of the Bahá'í Faith to her friend Emilia.

Learning how to effectively share the Message of Bahá’u’lláh using this approach requires great care and sensitivity for the spiritual receptivity of the individual with whom it is being shared. "Anna’s presentation" is not a speech or monologue, but rather a conversation—about the aim of the Bahá'í Faith, the relationship between God and humankind, the life of Bahá’u’lláh and His teachings—with someone interested in knowing more about the Bahá'í Faith. Most often, this heart-to-heart conversation is shared in person, perhaps in a friend's home, at a coffee shop, at an information booth on a university campus, or even over the phone.

For more information about the Bahá'í Faith, visit or or call 1-800-22UNITE.