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.

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