Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Keeping everything balanced in Huntsville

Huntsville, AL (B) had a very eventual and exciting summer. In that cluster, the friends carried out a teaching effort, assisted by a couple dozen youth participating in Project Badi. Lots of foundations were laid and lessons learned from this effort, and a neighborhood children’s class was also established. Here is an excerpt from a report shared by one of the believers in that cluster. Huntsville’s experience has generated many intriguing and useful insights about how to coordinate human resources and organize all the work and above all how to keep everything balanced.

A major issue is how to encourage growth in our cluster without overtaxing the small groups of active believers carrying out the work. Out of the process it was realized that care is needed to preserve our human resources while keeping the teaching activities at a manageable level. Also, a greater effort can be made to engage more believers in the process through accompaniment, as well as through setting up opportunities to practice Anna’s Presentation and how to invite people to declare.

It was also recognized that prioritizing Bahá’í commitments is important, such as making sure to free up the core team from tasks that can be taken on by others.

Further, It is important to fine tune the process of data collection. Creating good lines of communication between the Local Spiritual Assemblies in the cluster and the core team has also proven to be crucial. For example, the core team can inform the Local Assemblies of planned activities and enlist their assistance, as well as the support from the rest of the community.

A neighborhood children's class grows and grows in Anaheim

Normally when I hear the phrase “neighborhood children’s class”, I think of something small-scale. Well, they may start out that way, but they sure don’t stay that way! Here is a delightful report from Anaheim, CA (B) about a successful neighborhood children’s class in that cluster. It is not only growing and flourishing, but is a source of inspiration to the friends there. Another noteworthy item is the efforts to engage the friends and start core activities in additional parts of the cluster. Go Anaheim!

A neighborhood children’s class has been the cluster’s focus in recent months. An average of 10 to 15 people have contributed their energy towards this effort each week for the past four months, by teaching the class, preparing snacks, organizing games, helping with songs, and carrying out home visits with parents. . . .

The class has an average attendance of 24 students. The children arrive at the park early and are very enthusiastic about learning the prayers, quotations and songs. The class has now been broken into two smaller classes, and over time there is potential of creating additional children’s classes as well as starting a junior youth group.

The class has been an inspiration for everyone who has been involved with it, and it has taught us many things, as well as giving us a priceless experience.

Also, recently a very vibrant reflection meeting was held in a community on the side of the cluster where there are no Local Spiritual Assemblies but some potential resources. The core team hopes to capitalize on the enthusiasm that has been generated so we can multiply core activities in this part of the cluster.

Deploying human resources for children's classes

Two Bay-area clusters, Marin County, CA (*C) and Santa Cruz, CA (B), have gained some valuable experience with children’s classes and junior youth groups in recent months. Here are some of the insights shared by believers in those communities:

It is necessary to identify a committed team to support any neighborhood effort. It is not sufficient to have just one person committed to it; there needs to be at least 3 to 5 people involved.

It is beneficial to engage other family members such as parents or older siblings in the children’s classes. . . .

The closer the classes follow the lesson plans in Book 3, the smoother the lesson will go. The teacher will be better prepared with the activities, and the children will remain more interested.

The interest in children’s classes and junior youth groups is high; people in many neighborhoods are very open and supportive of these activities.

Neighborhood youth are open to attending the classes, learning how to become children’s class teachers themselves, and studying Ruhi Books 1 and 3 to prepare for this act of service.

Youth serving as volunteers at Bosch Baha’i School have likewise been effective as children’s class teachers. When a meeting had been held to share with them the vision of the Five Year Plan and their role in it, they all offered to assist with at least one of the core activities.

Taking time to get to know junior youth on an informal basis has been a factor in their subsequent interest in joining a junior youth group.

Collection, analysis and use of data from the field not only guides the steady progress of a cluster, but also helps the friends see possibilities for service and understand their own role in the process.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Learning about planning and human resources

The friends in Chicago, IL (A) have had many teaching experiences over the last few years. From this have emerged many important insights. Here is trio of some particularly compelling insights about the institute process and planning efforts based on available human resources. This knowledge is helping the friends to be more effective in sharing the Message in their neighborhoods.

Study circles can be very effective when they are in small groups, for example a 2 or 3 people including the tutor. It helps respond directly to a seeker’s needs, there is no time wasted in waiting to put together a group, and after the study circle has started, there is more flexibility.

Planning in the last few cycles has been first strategy based and second resource based. A key learning has been that planning should be resource based first and then strategy based as well. This is related to learning gained about teaching and the institute process. We have learned that if the friends participate in the institute process without being involved in teaching, it slows down the teaching work, just as we have learned that if people participate in teaching without also being involved in the institute process it creates challenges for follow-up activities with new believers. A balance of both is needed for growth, so the cluster institute coordinators are working with the tutors to strengthen the friends’ understanding of—and participation in—the institute process.

We have learned that it is important that the dates of forthcoming intensive teaching efforts should be communicated to everyone well in advance to give more time for the community to plan for everything.

Youth and the institute moving a B-stage cluster forward

When the youth and the institute process get moving, watch out! Here is a brief report from B-stage cluster in the Southwest. Look at how the training institute is helping youth and new believers to arise and serve. Look at how the institutions are involved in encouraging the friends. It is wonderful to see.

Even though the number of resources in the field is still relatively small, recent teaching efforts have resulted in 3 declarations. Learning and confidence through experience is on the rise. The 5 youth who are studying Book 7 have all participated in teaching efforts and are assisting with children’s classes. The Local Spiritual Assembly is more actively supportive than ever before.

The Auxiliary Board members are having meetings with the youth to deepen their understanding of the significant role they have to play. Mobilizing the youth has been a key factor for renewing the spirit of teaching in the cluster.

One new believer contacted the local Baha’i Center to learn about the Faith, and was connected to a study circle. She has finished Ruhi Book 1, is attending Book 2 and Book 4 study circles. She wants to eventually serve as a tutor and interested in organizing a junior youth group.

Building trust in West Valley

This report from an individual believer in West Valley, AZ (B) is uplifting in a number of ways. First are some practical insights, gained from the friends’ experience, that are helping to engage an increasing number of the believers in service. Next is systematic outreach in one neighborhood, dedicated and attentive efforts that are building bonds of trust. And finally, are some inspiring stories of new believers.

In order for people to commit to service, they need to feel that they “own” their role in the process. One way to achieve this is to ask them to do something specific and then report back on their experience. Keeping data is another way to help the friends take ownership of the process. . . .

Because we are holding study circles, children’s classes, home visits and devotional meetings at the same time every week in one neighborhood, the residents now know they can expect us to be there at that time. It has also helped the believers to participate in a collective effort based on unity of vision.

Attentive consultation with the residents allowed us to understand that a key need of the community is an English class. So weekly afternoon English classes are being held and are well attended.

In meeting the challenge to assist all members in our cluster to find their niche in the Five Year Plan, we have learned to focus on the guidance. This helps everyone understand that teaching can occur in a variety of venues.

Here are some stories of new believers in West Valley.

One has been studying the Faith for several years, including online study. She contacted the National Center via email and it has been clear sailing ever since! She and her husband declared and registered their children. Currently at their home there is a weekly children’s class, junior youth group, and a Book 1 study circle occurring simultaneously!

Another couple enthusiastically declared their Faith during Anna’s presentation after hearing of the sacrifice and suffering of the Blessed Beauty. They immediately requested study sessions to learn more of their new Faith.

Three other young people declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh after hearing Anna’s presentation. Two of them immediately began studying Book 1 with their teacher. Another member of the family has been studying the Faith and asked for websites and books, and always seeks us out when we are visiting the neighborhood. He is participating in a Book 1 study circle each week.

Intriguing insights from Fullerton

The friends in Fullerton, CA (*C) have been reaching out to their neighbors and finding many people are interested in learning more about the Faith. They have also been starting core activities. Their experiences thus far have yielded some very intriguing insights about successfully establishing core activities and responding to people’s interest in the Message.

We have learned that we need more human resources to help with follow-up visits to people who expressed interest in the Baha’i Faith . . . .

We have started children’s classes in an apartment complex and have learned that conducting the class outdoors in a central area of the complex allows parents to feel more at ease, and also allows easy visibility for other children who may be passing by and may decide to join the class.

We have also learned that it is important to have multiple teachers present, since parents often approach the children’s class and ask questions about the Faith. In these situations, one teacher can continue teaching the class while the second teacher can share Anna’s presentation with the parents.

We have learned that it is easier to get smaller study circles started, such as group of 3 to 4 people. We have also learned that some of the parents of students in the children’s classes are willing to participate in and even host study circles because they want to learn more about the Faith.

Intensive training-teaching: getting the most out of the institute process

The training institute is the engine of human resources development. When individuals participate in training institute courses—whether in a “study circle” format or an “intensive” format—they develop skills that enable them to carry out acts of service to share the Message, start core activities, build community life, etc. How can we ensure that the training institute courses can prepare the friends as effectively as possible to arise to serve and participate in teaching activities? This very detailed report from the Northeast region provides many, many, many answers to this question! Based on year-long experience from Philadelphia Southwest, PA (B), Vermont (B) and Upper Maine (B), the report outlines a particular approach to planning and conducting institute courses in parallel with teaching activities.

This story is about experiments in three priority B-stage clusters in the Northeast with intensive institute courses to help clusters prepare to advance to the A stage and establish an intensive program of growth. It describes what we learned giving intensive institute courses in the Northeast region during the last twelve months. The effort is characterized as a training-teaching initiative. This was done to convey the importance of institute training and teaching projects being done in parallel, and that each one supports the other. . . .

It seems natural that both training and teaching would be conducted in the same cluster at the same time, and often by the same people. This supports the vision expressed in the Ridvan 2008 message about the “coherence that characterizes the pattern of growth presently under way.”

Steps for an intensive training-teaching initiative:

The following steps to organizing and conducting intensive training-teaching sessions emerged from experience over the past year in Philadelphia, Upper Maine and Vermont. These steps can help increase the number of people completing the sequence of Ruhi institute courses in a short period of time, while engaging in direct teaching during the process.

Step 1 – plan

The Cluster Institute Coordinator should consult with the Regional Institute Coordinator, Auxiliary Board member and Area Teaching Committee secretary (or Cluster Development Facilitator in clusters without an ATC). They should determine what is to be accomplished, dates for the intensive training-teaching, and who will be asked to coordinate the effort.

Step 2 – list

The coordinator(s) of the effort should develop a list of individuals who need one, two or three books to complete the sequence of Ruhi institute courses.

Step 3 – commitment

The coordinator(s) of the effort then talk to each person on the list to see if they will commit to completing the sequence of courses in a specific period of time. They can ask if they would prefer to complete the books through an intensive or regular process, and which dates and times they will be available.

Step 4 – schedule

The coordinator(s) then secure tutors and match them with study circle dates, times and participants. The coordinator(s) then communicate with prospective participants for each study circle and confirm that the final plan works for them. They secure Ruhi books for the courses. Once the courses are confirmed, they can then invite other people (i.e., those who need to complete a larger number of books) to join in the study circles as well.

Step 5 – study circles

The study circles can then be conducted in the regular manner, or an intensive manner. For the regular format, the process is as follows for all participants:

All sections, paragraphs and quotes should be read, and all exercises should be completed.

Any reading or exercises assigned by the tutor to be done outside of class time should be reported to the tutor by each participant to confirm that they were completed. Normally, there are not many out-of-class assignments in a regular format study circle.

If a class or a portion of a class is missed, make-up material should be done with the tutor between class times.

All practices are to be done during or outside of class time before a participant can be considered to have finished that course. If practices are done after the book is completed, participants should call the tutor to report it.

Tutors should accompany people in doing the practice if they need help to follow through.

After a participant has done the practice, tutors should invite them to continue this activity as a path of service on a regular basis, and provide accompaniment to do it.

If a specific act of service associated with a particular book this isn’t right for an individual participant, the tutor should work with them to define another act of service stemming from the other Ruhi books, and provide accompaniment if necessary.

When the practice for a book is completed, tutors should confirm and record that the participant has done the practices for all previous books completed as well. If they haven’t, the tutor should work with them and accompany them as necessary to complete all practices.

For an intensive format, the process is as follows:

All sections, paragraphs and quotes should be read, and all exercises should be completed.

Any reading or exercises assigned by the tutor to be done outside of class time should be reported to the tutor by each participant to confirm that they were completed. There is a larger amount of out-of-class work in an intensive format institute course.

If a class or a portion of a class is missed, make-up material should be done with the tutor between class times, or after the course is completed.

All practices are to be done during or outside of class time before a participant can be considered to have finished that course. If practices are done after the book is completed, participants should call the tutor to report it.

Tutors should accompany people in doing the practice if they need help to follow through.

After a participant has done the practice, tutors should invite them to continue this activity as a path of service on a regular basis, and provide accompaniment to do it.

If a specific act of service associated with a particular book this isn’t right for an individual participant, the tutor should work with them to define another act of service stemming from the other Ruhi books, and provide accompaniment if necessary.

Lessons learned—during the intensive training-teaching period:

Organize make-up sessions for anyone who missed sections of a book.

Offer rides to anyone needing transportation. Provide meals to anyone who misses meals to attend a study circle during this intensive period.

Establish a collective teaching project concurrently with the intensive training for individuals who have already completed the relevant courses.

Those studying Book 6 during the intensive session should have an active refresher practice for Anna’s presentation. This can be done at the beginning of Book 6 rather than at the end so that they are better prepared to take part in the concurrent collective teaching project. Each Book 6 participant will ideally do all three of the following:

Share Anna’s presentation in full with an individual seeker;

Form a personal teaching plan;

Participate in collective teaching activity in a neighborhood for at least an hour while they are still studying Book 6.

All study circle participants should commit to finishing the practice components within two weeks of completing the course.

Identify the locations within the cluster where institute courses should be held. Reducing the need to travel long distances helps increase participation in courses, particularly in large clusters and during the Winter months.

It is for everyone to take a Book 6 refresher course, regardless of which specifc books they are studying. In some cases it can even be “Book 0” and done before they study Book 1.

Many people who were invited to participate in intensive-format courses agreed to complete the sequence of institute courses in the regular study circle format. Thus, organizing the intensive courses motivated people to rise up and participate in the institute process, regardless of the delivery format they chose.

Lessons learned—after the intensive training is completed:

For those who wanted to participate in either the intensive institute courses or teaching project and were unavailable, connect them with people to accompany them so that they can complete the sequence of courses, gain experience in a direct teaching effort, or both.

Set up a tracking system to follow up with each individual who participated in a study circle for any of the books. Record who has 1) completed the practices and 2) arose to carry out the acts of service that are the intended outcomes of the book they took.

The tutors can follow up with each person and offer to accompany them in doing the practices they may have missed of any book they completed—even if they studied that book years ago. If they completed the practices but did not continue with the act of service associated with that book, offer to accompany them to engage in it during the next quarter.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Helping the core activities support each other

The various core activities are each very useful in helping to build community. The friends in Ventura, CA (B) have been learning a lot from their efforts to establish core activities in their cluster. What is very interesting to see from their experiences so far is how the various core activities can mutually support each other.

Reflecting on the needs of the youth in the cluster led to the idea to start a junior youth group. While this group is working with Ruhi Book 3A, the hope will be to use the animator books later on. Ruhi 3A seems to be appropriate now as a starting place.

Some of the friends found that travelling distances became unsustainable. So it was suggested to start local activities . . . .

We have seen is that those that have regular devotionals are having them with their friends from the wider community; it is not just the Bahai’s who are having devotionals.

We have seen some friends helping each other with devotional gatherings by encouraging each other to contribute however they can. Some are singing and chanting. Some have found that after starting a Book 1 study circle, they can maintain participating by scheduling monthly devotionals with the group while finishing up Book 1. The flexibility of juggling schedules with a Book 1 and weaving in devotionals has really worked. In a couple of cases, with the help of other Bahai’s, the attendance and quality of the devotionals has really increased.

Joy, growth and building unity in Monterey County

You can feel the joy and radiance in this report from Monterey County, CA (B). The patience, love and unity among all the friends and institutions involved in teaching efforts in the cluster have brought exciting results, fresh learning, and new friendships. Among the many interesting insights is the approaches the friends are using to help parents and families take ownership of children’s classes, thereby strengthening the bonds of unity within the community.

The vision, love and support, and previous experience shared by our Auxiliary Board members, are crucial elements to the success of our cluster's efforts.

The spirit of love, patience, flexibility and perseverance among our two Local Spiritual Assemblies, core team, Auxiliary Board member, cluster development facilitator and cluster institute coordinator have made pursuing this new endeavor possible . . . .

Not being afraid of failure, praying, reflecting, consulting, modifying the plan of action and always proceeding has given us new light. Grappling and struggling together with whatever comes up to find the solution is creating a new experience of God in our lives.

All of the above have resulted in a community of interest of 65 people, including 17 children and 10 junior youth. There is significant growth in study circles, children’s classes and junior youth groups in one apartment complex in particular.

We’ve learned that clarification of roles and responsibilities of the cluster agencies is very important.

We’ve found that children’s classes and junior youth groups are more effective when we adhere to the age range that the curriculum was created for.

Visiting the neighborhood every week creates a positive presence that eventually starts to overcome any language barrier that may exist.

In a locality where we do not have existing relationships, an effective approach has been to start the children’s classes outside, such as in the courtyard of the apartment complex, in order to build relationships with the residents. Once trust has been established with the parents, it is natural to move the classes indoors, e.g., an apartment of one of the parents.

Holding a children’s class in the apartment of parents is empowering for the family. It helps them take ownership of the class, and allows us to strengthen our friendship with them.

When visiting homes, local children and junior youth can be very helpful in introducing us to the families and helping us overcome language barriers. A small group of enthusiastic children can help us quickly meet all the other children and youth and will let us know names and ages of persons who are not home at the time.

To each their own, and all for one

Each community has its own unique circumstances, and it is a learning process to identify which approaches to teaching work best for each situation. A friend in a B-stage cluster in the Central region briefly describes the learning in their cluster. They are also supporting a neighboring cluster—with different approaches suited to that community.

We are learning that some teaching approaches may not be the most effective in our cluster. So we are trying to find portal activities that work and refine them. We are trying to expand neighborhood-based activities for children and youth, and pursue direct teaching as individuals within our own social spheres and at community events.

In addition, we will continue to assist a neighboring cluster with their direct teaching activities.

Multiplying core activities, on the spot, and in advance

Spontaneity, or advance planning? The friends in St. Paul, MN (A) have found that both are necessary for successfully establishing core activities. Here are some insights gained from a recent teaching effort.

The most successful new development resulted from a concerted effort to arrange space for a children’s class in a community center, begun before the phase began. This has produced both a successful new children’s class and a study circle . . . .

Another new study circle resulted from a couple of teachers just coming back by the seekers’ house and offering to establish a schedule. Thus there are two observations: The children’s classes seemed to really benefit from the pre-planning, particularly in areas where people have small residences that do not encourage bringing children from multiple families together. The other observation is that a tutor should keep it simple, returning to the home or neighborhood and trying to establish a pattern of activity right away—and then following up on that pattern.

Another believer notes the value of accompaniment in helping to multiply core activities:

My main point of learning and reflection this quarter has been on the support and close contact of the regional institute coordinator. He has been accompanying and encouraging me in my work with the cluster’s tutors and children’s class teachers. I feel that strength is being built in this area, and my skills for accompanying and encouraging tutors is being strengthened.

"Building strong bonds of friendship is crucial to building a new civilization"

The friends in Kansas City, MO (A) are finding two factors especially important for their teaching efforts: children’s classes, and focusing on their community of interest. As an individual believer reports, the efforts are building friendships and community as well.

In the intensive effort, the friends visited a neighborhood and shared Anna’s presentation with those who were interested. After this effort, there were 60 people in the community of interest, we continued to re-visit them. People are particularly interested in children’s classes, almost all the mothers are interested in it. The children's class also helps establish a relationship and trust, and later on the mothers often express interest in learning about the Faith . . . .

During the second effort, we focused on expanding core activities, increasing the membership of our community of interest, and building human resources. Inviting parents to help teach the children class helps form closer relationships. Building strong bonds of friendship is crucial to building a new civilization.

Currently the friends engaged in teaching form their own groups and stay together over two or three cycles. They form their own plans based on current needs. We hope to multiply core activities among our community of interest during this next effort. We will do this by asking participants to invite other people who may be interested to join their activities. The friends have also been encouraged to hold neighborhood Feasts.

Collaboration helps Louisville move forward

Collaboration and working together are helping Louisville, KY (B) move forward. In this brief report from an individual believer, you see the value of friends helping friends to start core activities. The power of a core team and Local Spiritual Assembly united and supporting each other. Also interesting is how a visit to an A-stage cluster to observe and participate in the activities there gives experience and encouragement to the friends in their home cluster.

The members of the area teaching committee are enthusiastic and working to understand their role in the development of the cluster. Collaboration is developing and they are a unified group supported by the Local Spiritual Assembly . . . .

To increase the vision of the Five Year Plan and help the friends learn about how a neighborhood teaching effort can be carried out, the Auxiliary Board member invited the core group to visit a nearby cluster to attend a reflection meeting and participate in a teaching initiative there, as well as observe a successful neighborhood children’s class. The friends reported that this was very helpful and encouraging and provided a strong vision for them to take back to their own cluster.

Some lessons learned: Devotional gatherings increase when people are committed and feel confident in hosting them. Those who have experience in tutoring can provide encouragement and accompaniment to these friends. Those who complete Ruhi Book 7 also need help in the process of starting a study circle.

Building on past efforts and learning

Progress takes work, and that is exactly what is happening in Triangle, NC (A). The friends are sharing the message, involving new believers in core activities, thinking about how to start teaching efforts in additional parts of the cluster, and coordinating their efforts among the institutions.

The Triangle Cluster is actively engaged in learning the process of direct teaching. We continue to work on strengthening the follow-up process with new believers and seekers. Many times due to their schedules their availability is limited and they are not always there for follow-up visits. It is important to be patient and not become disheartened by this. The study circles that have begun with the new believers are vibrant, and a couple of the new Baha’is are teaching their family and friends. One is regularly visiting a friend to share prayers with her.

Our focus for our next effort is to continue teaching in the neighborhood we have been working with so far, and then begin teaching in neighborhood in another city in the cluster. We have done a little bit of teaching there and found that people are interested in the Message. So we have consulted the Local Spiritual Assembly of that city, and they are supportive of having the teaching effort take place there.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Until we try something we can't learn and move forward"

The learning process is often challenging and rarely clear-cut. It often requires being comfortable with ambiguity or uncertainty, and above all, flexibility. Learning how to translate “theory” into “practice”, how to apply the knowledge gained in other places in one’s own unique circumstances—these are the challenges that are all naturally part of the process of growth. Here an individual from Savannah, GA (A) shares both some of the cluster’s successes, activities and goals, as well as what the friends are learning about the learning process itself.

After continuing prayer and consultation, we felt that our most pressing charge was to follow up as many of the new friends as possible during the summer months. Therefore it was decided not to go out teaching in neighborhoods this time around. We felt growth could come through visiting the homes of new believers and other direct methods including individual teaching plans . . . .

Our greatest progress has been made this summer with our junior youth and youth. Taking advantage of 6 college age Baha’is who were home for the summer, we held two week-long summer camps, multiple home visits, multiple gatherings for deepening and socialization, and a trip for 19 junior youth and youth to the House of Worship in Wilmette. During these activities many of the new young people learned about Baha’i virtues, prayer, Feasts, and the lives of the Bab and Baha’u’llah among many other things. We have seen a transformation in these young people. So much learning has evolved from these activities, but the greatest joy is watching our new leaders gain confidence in themselves as noble human beings, which is transforming our Baha’i community into a dynamic, loving, growing family.

Another insight gained about our cluster has been that we are unique! We are gaining confidence by trying something and then watching it unfold, often times in much different ways than we had planned or imagined. Reflection, flexibility, and change are becoming more comfortable for us, knowing that until we try something we can’t learn and move forward!

One of the greatest tools we have developed during the last teaching effort is systematic collection of statistics. It was a real eye opener for all of us when we broke down our numbers into children, junior youth and youth!

Our goals for the next cycle include: offering Ruhi Book 3A (Teaching Children’s Classes Grade 2), starting monthly children’s classes on a Saturday at the Baha’I Center followed by a family gathering, starting children’s classes at several homes where there are large families, organizing study circles of Books 1 and 4 for our youth, continuing the junior youth group, continuing our home visits with deepening themes and building friendships.

Another goal will to be constantly aware of our individual obligation to teach the Cause of God. Often when we are so involved in the core activities it is easy to forget to pray for, plan and seek out teaching opportunities. We have pledged to remind ourselves that teaching should be our #1 goal, passion, and responsibility.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The learning behind the success

We have recently seen that the friends in Nashville, TN (A) have been experiencing a lot of exciting success in reaching out to their neighbors with the message of Baha’u’llah. Behind these success stories is a growing body of knowledge gained from their action in the field. Here is a report shared by a believer in the cluster highlighting some of the insights compiled from their most recent efforts.

The Nashville cluster experienced a thrilling breakthrough in enrolments surpassing everyone’s expectations. Finding 30 new believers and establishing a children’s class in the neighborhood that is attended by many children of these new believers have inspired friends throughout the cluster to develop a teaching culture never before witnessed. A growing sense of unity of vision, heartfelt connectedness, sacrificial efforts, loving bonds of friendship, institutional support and loving collaboration continues to develop and grow in the cluster. . . .

Key ingredients for success are specific actions and attitudes including: prayer; identifying a receptive neighbourhood; a focused and organized teaching effort; an anchor person who works daily on data collection; determination among the friends; a handful of skilled teachers who have gone through the relevant training; many friends willing to sacrifice time for service; and above all a reliance on Baha’u’llah to guide the friends.


Strong systemization resulting from a committed and skilled neighborhood anchor person;

Increased Local Spiritual Assembly engagement in the institute process and in teaching, (one Local Assembly completed Ruhi Book 6 together as an institution);

The participation of many youth in the teaching;

A seamless integration between teaching, enrolment and follow-up;

Strong support for neighbourhood children’s classes, and increased experience in how to make those classes self-sufficient;

Increased teaching activity and enrolments in communities throughout the entire cluster;

The formation of 8 new study circles attended by new believers.


Difficulties maintaining devotional meetings during the effort;

A continuing need for capable teachers to deliver Anna’s presentation and understand the systematic process of nurturing a seeker.

Lessons learned:

One thing to focus more on next time is home visits to the community of interest (i.e., people already participating in the core activities or who have already expressed interest in the Faith). This would be a way of including more of the friends in the teaching work; trainings in Anna’s presentation should be organized for them.

Devotional meetings decreased during the teaching effort, mainly because everyone was focused on teaching and starting study circles. However, when the friends receive encouragement and support they do take the initiative to start devotional meetings as well. It is important to remind the friends that devotional meetings do not need to be elaborate.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Systematizing the work in Palm Beach

A report of a recent teaching effort in Palm Beach, FL (A) reveals some interesting insights. By becoming more systematic, the friends are contributing to the sustainability of their activities. Plans are being drawn up with human resources in mind and identified.

21 believers were engaged in direct teaching. Although this is fewer than the number who participated in the last effort, what is promising is that 24% of the friends engaged in direct teaching this time around were new believers. During this effort 17 individuals declared their belief in Baha’u’llah.

Some lessons learned:

If someone declares, it is important to return to them on the next day or as soon as possible after and start study of the institute courses with them. . . .

Persistence with follow-up is very important. Don’t give up.

For individual teaching, the friends can focus on their neighborhoods by inviting their neighbors, family and friends to firesides and devotions.

When teaching activities are taking place in a neighborhood, it is important for the Bahá’ís that live in that community to be involved by accompanying whoever is doing the teaching.

Commitments for follow-up were gathered and confirmed during the reflection meeting. Those commitments were then documented on a chart splitting the cluster into North and South areas, in order to help keep human resources close to all the activities. The chart is used systematically to match tutors and other human resources with new Bahá’ís as needed for study circles, home visits, devotional meetings and also for children’s classes and junior youth groups, and has proven to be very useful.

A Neighborhood Coordinator has been appointed in order to systematically follow-up with new believers.

Raising up human resources in Santa Monica

The friends in Santa Monica, CA (B) are learning lots about how to raise up human resources in their community. A believer in the cluster shares their thoughts about some of the key lessons that have been learned. They have noted the importance of the training institute process—particularly the practice components of the courses—as well as the power of children’s classes and home visits.

Raising up new human resources through home visits:

Home visits to new believers who are open to receive repeated visits can be a source of inspiration to those friends who have not yet been involved in teaching, and can help them gain experience in the practice components of the institute courses. . . .

Home visits with new believers can be a great opportunity to empower the new believer to give Anna’s presentation to their friends and neighbors in the company of a veteran believer.

Practice components of institute courses:

While studying the Ruhi courses with new believers, it is important to emphasize the practice component of the courses and accompany them in the practices.

Prioritizing the practice before and during the institute course is highly effective for raising new human resources, as any issues related to an act of service such as teaching a children’s class can be directly addressed by the tutor.

Children’s classes:

Planning for decentralized neighborhood children’s classes should begin 1-2 months prior to class start date.

Having an open house for parents (with a brief presentation and visual display including photographs of the children’s class activities, drawings, prayers and quotations learned) is an effective tool for transitioning a virtues class into a Baha’i children’s class. Being transparent about the spiritual nature of the class opens doors for direct teaching with the parents.

Having the flexibility to perform the core activities within a culturally-relevant framework (children’s class at the park on a weekend afternoon, with families present and socializing) attracts family participation and commitment; these children’s classes at the park also function as firesides for the parents.

Hands-on involvement of the children’s class coordinator in the individual classes invigorates the classes and encourages the teachers and hosts.

In order for children’s classes to become outward-looking, the core team needs to meet with individual class hosts, teachers—and students—to consult on how they can invite their friends and neighbors to participate.


Effective follow-up can be accomplished with the right human resources – even if those human resources are few in number.

There is a significant degree of personal transformation for those who enter the teaching field, which creates a ripple effect on the community.

Increased capacity for action

Teaching and growth are a result of increased capacity of the friends for action, and the action they take. In this excerpt from a report from Howard County-Laurel, MD (A), one can see increased understanding and capacity, the importance of the institute process, and encouragement from the Local Spiritual Assembly.

This last intensive teaching effort for the Howard County/Laurel cluster saw 9 new enrolments in the Faith.

There was an increase in the number of friends participating in direct teaching as well as a well-coordinated follow-up plan. An approach for the community of interest was tried in which participants in a Book 1 study circle were invited to join the Faith, and they decided to enroll. The Local Spiritual Assembly has also been instrumental in encouraging the friends and led by example by participating in the teaching efforts.

Another friend notes:

The friends are demonstrating an increased understanding of the neighborhood nature of growth and core activities. There is a clear demonstration of skills in the use of Anna’s presentation in all teaching efforts and an increased desire to use the practices of the Ruhi books in follow-up.

"You come to plant Baha'u'llah's seeds"

This short and sweet narrative of an encounter between a friend and a young new believer in San Jose, CA (A) should bring a smile to your faces. Implicit in the remarks are the types of attitudes and commitment that create connections, build community, and contribute to the progress of the Faith.

If you have not smiled brightly today, this short story should take care of that. I went to visit __ during a home visit. As some of you know, his whole family enrolled in the Faith during the last intensive teaching effort. __ and I socialized and studied for two hours. The most touching moment came during a discussion on how frequently the friends come to visit the neighborhood. Just prior to that, we had talked about the importance of prayer and the bounty of having Bahá’u’lláh's Revelation to feed our souls. __ then said with great assurance, "I know why all of you come so often. Here is like a garden. You come to plant Bahá’u’lláh's seeds and to care for this garden." I was very moved by his insightful words.

The various dimensions of reaching out

Here are some reflections from an individual believer in the Nevada North (A) cluster about the friends’ experiences so far. In a number of ways, they are learning about the variety of dimensions of reaching out and building communities.

We don’t have many youth available to serve as animators of junior youth groups, so we are going to be more flexible and identify adults who are young at heart to participate in animator training.

One of our children’s classes has created a community of interest that we have not had before. This effort is bringing energy to the teaching work.

Building friendships are essential to the work in the neighborhood. We become friends, share in each others lives, and do a study circle together, thus dispelling a possible viewpoint that the friends who visit the neighborhood are like 'clergy'.

We need to focus more of our efforts on accompanying those Bahá’ís who may be interested in the process but unsure of how to become involved.