Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Arising to carry out our pledges

The six Regional Bahá’í Conferences held in the United States have concluded. And the participants in these historic events have hit the ground running! The conferences generated enthusiasm, confidence, practical ideas, and above all momentum! Thousands of the friends have made pledges to arise to serve in specific and key ways, and already we are seeing examples of them taking immediate action on their pledges. In addition, in many places the friends are meeting to share the enthusiasm with those who weren’t able to attend the conferences, and to further refine their plans of action for their clusters.

Here is a report from a friend in a B-stage cluster in the Central region. You can feel their excitement and eagerness:

I'm already hearing stories and seeing confirmations of people engaging in their pledges! One of our new neighborhood classes started today (the a high of 0 degrees didn't stop the warmth of the friends wanting to share the Faith!) Nine children attended with 5 of the 9 being from the community of interest! The junior youth are assisting with the classes. Several of the parents stayed for a discussion on the same lesson the children were learning. I talked with the host afterwards on the phone and encouraged the idea of starting a Ruhi Book 1 with the adults. So we’re off to a great start. . . .

Several more folks have been attending and supporting the devotional gatherings already in place. Attendance has almost doubled at some of them. A few new Study Circles have begun and others ready to start soon! Also one friend shared Anna's presentation the day after the conference.

I heard one story from a friend who pledged to homefront pioneer to our cluster. She is going to accompany another believer on a home visit to a seeker one of the friends had met at a store who asked about the Faith and listened to Anna’s presentation.

The friends are building their confidence and skills needed as we inch closer to launching our intensive program of growth. It is truly exciting to see.

With much love,


Another friend reports:

I am still basking in the glow of the conference! And the friends in my cluster are moving! _ is remaining true to her plan to do a home visit each day: Day 1 was with a new friend, and then the two of them came over to my house. Day 2 was with __’s son, and they talked until midnight. And __ is starting on visiting the Bahá’ís in her cluster already.

And a believer in a B-stage cluster in the South Central region notes:

The friends who attended the Conference are pretty excited about getting to work. One of them has emailed:

I’m opening my house this Saturday morning to invite people who were at the conference to share the experience with those who weren’t able to go. We can also have some further reflection and consultation about the pledges we have made, the strategies we discussed to help move this cluster forward.

Although we will be having a reflection meeting in January, I thought it would be good to keep the energy going, and get some planning and refinement before then.

Finally, one of the Regional Bahá’í Councils has observed:

The Regional Bahá’í Council has learned of four clusters where believers met on the weekend following the conference to reflect and bring to fruition the individual commitments of service.

No doubt we all have additional stories to share of our first steps “hitting the ground running” in our clusters. They will all be delightedly welcomed to this blog.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Oh! I can do that too!"

Well, your humble teaching blog staff attended the Central Regional Bahá’í Conference held in Chicago on December 6 and 7. In a word: Wow! What an experience. Everyone who attended surely has their own inspiring stories to share. Here are some reflections from our end:

The conference was blessed with the presence of members of the International Teaching Center Mr. Juan Mora and Dr. Penny Walker, serving as representatives of the Universal House of Justice, as well as Counselor Alison Milston, and members of the National Spiritual Assembly Mr. Muin Afnani and Dr. Robert Henderson. Their wisdom, insights, and encouragement were a source of inspiration for everyone. . . .

Very early on, the conference’s refrain became, “Oh! I can do that too!”. In one of the opening presentations, a member of the Regional Bahá’í Council for the Central States reported on the progress and learning that has taken place in clusters in the Midwest region. She noted that as the friends learn and gain experience in teaching efforts, it gives their fellow believers confidence to also arise and try. For example, not sure if you can start a devotional meeting? Then you hear about how in one cluster some of the friends are having success by finding lots of reasons to invite their neighbors to come and pray together—“My friend’s spouse has now been deployed to Iraq; let’s come and pray for their safety.”; “My niece’s final exams are next week; let’s pray for her success.”, etc.—and you realize, “Oh! I can do that too!”

Mr. Mora shared with everyone the importance of the institute process as a way of helping us acquire the habits needed for teaching. For example, participating in Ruhi 1 helps develop the habit of praying regularly. Book 2 helps us acquire the habit of having meaningful conversations. When our conversations are meaningful rather than about trivial matters, it opens up opportunities to share the Faith. Book 2 also prepares us for home visits, which are not just for sharing deepening themes with new believers but also for forging the bonds of friendship that create a strong community life. And he reminded us of the all-important role of the study circle tutor in accompanying the participants, walking with them as they strive to start their paths of service. He stressed that we must all remember that ALL of us are learning.

All over the world, we are becoming more confident in finding receptive souls, teaching them the Faith, and inviting them to become Bahá’ís. It is the follow-up process, the consolidation, that is challenging. But also here, we are learning from our experiences. Dr. Walker shared four factors that are very important for a successful follow-up process:

  1. We must plan follow-up activities just as carefully as we do teaching. In many cases, the friends are starting to plan follow-up efforts at the same time as they plan their teaching projects.

  2. Follow-up requires a level of activity and effort that is just as intensive as for teaching.

  3. The higher the quality of the teaching encounter, the easier the follow-up will be. For example, when presenting seekers with the Faith, it is important to help everyone understand that an integral part of being a Bahá’í is being actively involved in service, in teaching, in core activities, etc.

  4. Most important is to create a pattern of raising up human resources from the new believers to carry out the work of the Faith.

Both Mr. Mora and Dr. Walker constantly reminded us to try and see things through the eyes of a new Bahá’í, what they are feeling, what they see as they participate in activities for the first time. Their initial experiences will shape their views of what a “normal” Bahá’í community life is. So when they experience a culture of learning where everyone is actively engaged in serving the Faith, this naturally leads to their own involvement with the teaching work.

Counsellor Milston gave an overview of the needs in clusters in the Central region. She explained that we are developing a culture of learning, a culture of growth, and a culture of joy.

And what a joy this conference was! At each minute there was the delight of meeting old friends, sometimes from the other side of the world (as in, “What are YOU doing HERE?”), and making new ones. And the joy of everyone’s teaching stories—so many stories were shared by the youth, of their efforts to establish core activities and invite people into the Faith. Their humility and confidence inspired all of us and helped us realize (of course), “Oh! I can do that too!”

But perhaps the most inspiring of all were the pledges of service at the end. On the second day of the conference, we all divided ourselves into small groups depending on which cluster we lived in and developed individual plans of action, such as systematic prayers, participating in additional training institute courses, starting a core activity, etc. We call came back together in a big group (over 2,000 of us) and summaries of everyone’s pledges were reported. With joy and love the diverse pledges were shared. Such as a group of youth deciding to form a monthly “caravan” to visit a nearby cluster and help it advance. Or the friends starting a tidal wave of new devotional meetings (in their small group session, each pledge to start a devotional meeting encouraged others in the group to try and start one too). Our efforts encourage each other—“Oh! I can do that too!”

So the conference is over, we return to our homes, the spirit remains in our hearts, and the focus and confidence to act and serve is strengthened. You all surely have inspiring stories to share as well, and they will all help us realize, “Oh! I can do that too!”

Historic Regional Conferences

In just a few weeks, six truly historic events will be taking place in the United States. In its message dated October 20, 2008, the Universal House of Justice called for a series of 41 regional conferences around the world to celebrate the progress of the series of Five Year Plans, as well as for the friends to consult on the next steps to advance the teaching work in their communities, and what they can do to contribute.

As of November 20, six of the 41 conferences have taken place so far, and another four are scheduled to take place this coming weekend. (The six in the United States will be taking place on December 6-7 and December 13-14.)

The stories from the conferences that have already concluded are truly inspiring. The friends have come together in unity and joy, celebrated, reflected, consulted, and have been galvanized into action. Here are some examples of the types of commitments made by individuals who attended these events:

“Yes, we have financial crises, yes, our societies are morally degrading by the day, and yes, we are constantly in search of answers to so many questions. Yet by being part of this event, I realized that all that all the planning we ever do for children’s classes, for teaching efforts and other activities is preparation for the real thing—the action.” Youth from Zambia

“We know exactly what to do to help the surrounding clusters achieve their aims.” Woman from Kenya

“I’m going to work on the junior youth program that is already established in a nearby village, strengthen it and make sure that it grows.” Participant from Botswana

“The vision is clearer, and I am enthusiastic to go home and teach. I have more confidence.” Participant from Mauritius

“I’ve very much inspired by this conference, and now the believers from my cluster have taken the firm resolution not only to bring it to the A stage by Ridvan 2009, but also to help the neighboring clusters in their efforts to grow.” Woman from India

“I am now planning to start a core activity that will be a help for the whole of humanity.” Man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo

“The conference played a big role in recharging my batteries and saying to me, ‘There’s work that needs to be done’. And I’ll do it happily.” 13-year old from South Africa

“Everyone got to rethink their role in the Plan. The number of volunteers who offered to help was very encouraging. We start on Sunday!” Participant from the Central African Republic

The National Spiritual Assembly encourages all of us who attend the upcoming conferences in the United States to share our personal stories.

To read more about the conferences around the world, you can visit the following news site:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Singing the name of Baha'u'llah

Backing in September, we had a story of an individual initiative in a C-stage cluster in Florida where a believer has made connections with members of a local Christian church. Here is an update; it shouts for itself. With such receptivity and openness, it’s clear there are so many opportunities to teach!


Results of efforts so far include one declaration after sharing Anna’s presentation, and the start—at the church itself—of a study class based on the compilation, “Bahá’u’lláh’s Teachings on Spiritual Reality”.

And here’s a teaching experience from this morning: . . .

I attended the church’s service one Sunday, and the pastor decided to speak about “angels”. The church has a large screen at the front, and I was surprised to see the word “Bahá’í” and quotes from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

In his presentation, the pastor mentioned that he particularly liked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s description of angels and the quote “Ye are angels if your feet be firm.” And he introduced me to the entire congregation as a Bahá’í, pointed to the name of Bahá’u’lláh on the screen and asked me to pronounce it. “Bahá’u’lláh,” I sang out joyously, stunned at the opportunity to shout out the name of my Lord in the midst of a packed church. “What was that?” the pastor asked. “BAHA’U’LLAH!” I repeated even louder this time. I was stunned. And very, very happy.

Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá!


The seeker as teacher

What is teaching? It is directly proclaiming the Message to our friends, families, neighbors and colleagues. At another level, it is to open our arms as wide as possible and warmly welcome them into the community. That is why this story, taken from the “Light of the City” newsletter of the San Francisco, CA (A) community, is so delightful. Here, a seeker has been welcomed into the community in the most profoundly important way—by becoming totally involved in the life of the Cause.

My friend and I had just finished the first unit of Ruhi Book 2, “Arising to Serve”. After she read the first two paragraphs of the final section of that unit, I asked what thoughts she might have about the topic of teaching. She reflected that she has a friend in another city who has been wishing to learn about the Baha’i Faith, and was wondering what book she could give her for an introduction. I suggested that perhaps Anna’s presentation might be a good way to share the Faith with her. She agreed.

I gave her a copy of the materials used with the presentation, and clipped a declaration card to it, just in case her friend decided to join. My friend expressed the hope that she could also use the presentation to share the Faith with her nephew and his family and children. Hence she is going travel-teaching to share the Faith with her friend and family members!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Study circle gives power to make a change

Here is a brief but delightful story from an A-stage cluster in the Central region. The training institute process helps us develop skills, qualities and attitudes to carry out acts of service; in other words, the institute courses help motivate us into action—and give us the courage to do so. Throughout the courses, we try to put into practice what we are learning. And that’s exactly what one seeker participating in a study circle has been doing!

Dear Friends,

The Creative Word has made a huge inroad in one heart after one session of Ruhi Book 1, “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit”. A seeker in group saw me today and shared this experience. We had previously studied the section about the importance of avoiding backbiting and gossip. So they reported:

I was at my place of work and noticed during one conversation with some of the other staff that there was a lot of complaining and negative talk. I waited a while to let everyone empty themselves, and then I asked, “Well, what should we do about it?” I have always thought about saying that in these types of situations and today I did. It felt very good. This was amazing.

So, if anyone has not activated their tutor skills and wants to, I would be happy to arrange a short brush up session or connect you with experienced tutors to co-tutor.



The power of the neighborhood

Here is an update from East Valley, AZ (A) summarizing some of their recent experiences and insights gained. Many valuable lessons have been learned from the friends’ efforts. One particularly important area of learning in this cluster has been how to create a strong, vibrant community life at the neighborhood level. This has required planning, accompaniment, human resource development, and commitment. And it has enhanced many of their other teaching efforts as well.

Importance of empowerment: We have found that where we see signs of new believers taking ownership of their community life, such as neighborhood Feasts and devotional gatherings, neighborhoods are stronger and more vibrant. This is generally a result of their tutor or neighborhood coordinator accompanying and empowering them in the field of service.

Teaching teams: Where there are strong signs of neighborhood teaching teams, it has been easier to sustain growth at the neighborhood level. Efforts are being made to strengthen teaching teams, as well as neighborhood coordinators . . . .

Seeker response: This cycle we saw an increase in declarations from people that have contacted the 1-800-22UNITE phone line or the national Web site. Of these declarations, all of the people have joined regular patterns of community life. Because of the systems of teaching developed within the neighborhoods, we are now able to do what we were unable to do in the past with regards to seekers that contact us through these channels. As soon as a seeker response notice is sent to the Local Assembly, the secretary of the area teaching committee will arrange a meeting to share Anna’s Presentation with the seeker. In almost every circumstance, the seeker will declare and will quickly be connected to a study circle.

Junior youth groups: This cycle saw an increase in the number of junior youth groups across the cluster. This was due in part to a youth initiative held a few weeks before the launch of last intensive teaching effort. The youth have been far more involved in the teaching work than they were previously. Youth are slowly arising to serve the cluster in various aspects of service, particularly within the avenue of junior youth groups. Cluster agencies accompanied youth to develop plans based on their own initiative, and accompanied them in the field.

Data collection: The core team and the neighborhood coordinators learned this cycle the importance of collecting data as opposed to simply reporting data. This is central to all activities, and the collection of data encourages accompaniment as individuals engage closer and closer to the field in all their endeavors. It has also encouraged more accurate data collection, as information is verified and tested in the field.

Devotional gatherings: Devotional gatherings decreased in number, but there has been an increase in attendance by members of the community of interest. This is a result of neighborhood devotional gatherings, where individual believers are inviting their friends, families or co-workers to their neighborhood devotional. This will be one of the primary approaches for the next teaching effort.

Moving: Various conditions have forced a number of new believers to move out of the cluster. In some instances, it has been difficult to track down new believers at new locations, but most individuals who have moved within the cluster are located within a few weeks of their move, particularly if we have already been following up with them after their declaration.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Building human resources in Tallahassee

The friends in Tallahassee, FL (B) are building their capacity in so many ways. The various institutions and entities in the cluster are learning how to coordinate their efforts. They are learning how to develop human resources for teaching and follow-up work. And as more people participate in the teaching activities, the spark of excitement is ignited and leads to yet more learning. One believer reports:

Learning in our cluster is continuing at a slow but steady pace. Most notable is an increase in the awareness of the responsibilities of the entities that constitute the core group and the role of the Local Spiritual Assemblies within the current framework for action on the one hand, and the role of individuals on the other. . . .

The cycle of activity that just ended saw 3 declarations, which marks a significant advance at the local level. A small group of teachers made consistent and multiple efforts to reach the new believers, by physically visiting the homes many times, telephone calls and messages, and leaving notes at the homes on a couple of occasions. While there was a good effort on the part of few teachers, we need to improve our capacity to follow up. This capacity seems to have five major areas of focus presently:

1) Increase the active core of teachers (presently, the teachers are the same people doing the home visits) through accompaniment of any willing individuals. The accompaniment process locally includes prayer, deepening, reflection, and practice of Anna’s presentation mainly in the organization of collective direct teaching, but also for individual initiatives.

2) Increase the active core of friends who can do home visits for the purpose of sharing deepening themes with new believers through accompaniment of any willing individuals and refresher trainings on Book 2.

3) Increase the community of interest within the neighborhoods so that the organic and generative aspect of spiritual growth at the grassroots level provides multiple, immediate, and ongoing follow up opportunities to connect hearts to Bahá’u’lláh.

4) Mobilize all the human resources in the cluster so each person has a path of service within the framework for action.

5) Nurture the Assemblies to encourage individual action within the framework for action.

Signs of recent progress can be seen since the beginning of our current cycle. We started with a gathering of 8 friends (including two children 3 and 5 years of age) for prayers, deepening, reflection, and practicing of Anna’s presentation. Two beloved and long-standing friends from one Local Assembly participated in this session. One of these individuals who had never participated in a neighborhood teaching effort joined an experienced teacher and served as a prayer partner in the field. After we had fervent prayers together as a group, they drove out to the neighborhood. They said a final prayer before exiting their car. There was a woman on the porch looking at them—she seemed to be waiting for them. They introduced themselves and asked if the woman would like to hear about the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. She warmly welcomed them and half an hour later she declared her faith in Bahá’u’lláh and her son eagerly asked to be included and his mother registered her son as well.

This believer’s new direct experience with teaching will inform the learning and growth of her Local Assembly and community.

A home visit is scheduled with the newly declared Bahá’í and a team of friends is ready to offer children’s classes in that neighborhood.

Some thoughts on sustainability

Throughout the country, the friends are learning how to increase the effectiveness of their teaching efforts. An important issue is how to make teaching—and the follow-up efforts—sustainable. Here are a couple of insights shared by friends from two clusters about sustainable teaching and follow-up.

For example, a report from Chattanooga, TN (B) recognizes the value of visiting teachers but that local human resources are always essential:

When visiting teachers take part in a teaching effort, it is essential that a local Bahá’í accompany them in order to establish a connection with the seekers. This also enables us to follow up more quickly (i.e., within 24 to 48 hours later).

And here are some comments from Houston, TX (A) showing that the quality of the teaching encounter helps determine the ease of follow-up:

We are learning from our collective teaching activities that sharing the Faith should be done thoroughly rather than just taking 20 minutes. Starting a Book 1 study circle right after an individual declares is crucial. We are also going to not just rely on collective teaching activities but also focus on teaching those participating in core activities, as well as holding firesides.

Step by step

This brief report from an A-stage cluster in the Central region is not only inspiring but also interesting because it so clearly outlines the process by which one individual entered the Cause. First was contacting the 1-800-22UNITE phone line. Next was being connected with local friends. This was followed by close personal encounters and study of Ruhi 1, and participation in core activities. Then a warm invitation to join the Faith. And finally, plunging into the overwhelming thrill and joy of the Central Regional Baha’i Conference!

Hi friends,

__ had first contacted the Bahá’ís through the 1-800-22UNITE phone line and came to a fireside in August during our intensive teaching effort. She had been nurtured by one of the believers in a personalized Ruhi 1 study circle and attended other events such as a weekly devotional/fireside. On Thursday, the host of that event asked if she was ready to accept the Faith, and she said yes. This weekend, she attended the Regional Bahá’í Conference. She actively participated in the workshop session about assisting a neighboring *C-stage cluster.

I asked her if she was enjoying the conference. She had a very satisfied smile on her face and said, yes, very much! She had been wanting community fellowship, and was very happy to be part of this large, wonderful gathering of friends.



Friday, December 5, 2008

Learning from each new interaction

This story from Coachella Valley, CA (*C) is full of gems. A group of believers, small in number but totally committed to teaching, accompanied by their friends from neighboring clusters, rose up to engage in a collective teaching effort. The report shared by the cluster institute coordinator speaks for itself. They have tasted the joy of teaching and are steadily gaining in knowledge and experience. They are learning how to present the Message directly and respectfully. One insight is particularly thought-provoking: “When we are presenting the Bahá’í Faith to someone, we need to encourage them to see themselves as having the capacities to help build the unity of the human family and empower them to arise and serve.”

I am so pleased to report success in our mini teaching effort. We had approximately 12 people from our cluster participating, and joined by the cluster institute coordinator from the Riverside cluster, our Auxiliary Board member, and 2 members of the area teaching committee of San Diego. As a result of the teaching, we have one new Bahá’í!

We have gained a lot of insights from our experiences. Here are some: . . .

Our purpose in collective teaching is to find receptive, waiting souls and invite them to recognize Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for this Day.

Wisdom requires refraining from trying to convince, arguing about philosophical points or dogma, and avoiding engaging in contention or dispute.

As we work together as teaching teams, our skills and capacities improve markedly with each new interaction.

When we are presenting the Bahá’í Faith to someone, we need to encourage them to see themselves as having the capacities to help build the unity of the human family, and empower them to arise and serve.

As we invite people to join the Faith, we have the opportunity to encourage them to participate in the processes of growth by entering the institute process and engaging in the core activities. We need to be committed to accompany them in this process.

So now, our own cluster’s collective understanding has grown:

We realize that there are pure souls waiting for us. Visiting a receptive neighborhood is a very effective way to find them.

We can gain people’s confidence through our own sincerity and purity of motive, and speaking to them from the heart in a respectful and dignified way.

“Careful” teaching does not mean slowly over a long period of time! Anna’s presentation IS a careful, well-thought-out, effective approach!

We must not lose sight of the institute process when we get engaged in exciting and fruitful teaching efforts. In other words, we need everyone to continue moving through the Ruhi courses, so we have more resources to carry out the work. An integral part of the institute process is the practice and service components.

Newark is "in it to win it"

There is only one phrase to describe Newark, NJ (B): on the move! Here is a brief report of a recent Nineteen Day Feast, and you can just feel the energy and excitement. This is a wonderful example of how the Feast is a perfect vehicle for consulting and planning and moving forward with action. And mention must be made of their Bahá’í Jeopardy game—with categories like “Five Year Plan” and “Vibrant Institute Process”, you know the only outcome is going to be more and more teaching!

There is only one word to describe today’s Feast. That is, “Jampacked”! Not only was the home jampacked with 25 Bahá’ís, but it was jampacked with inspirational prayers, singing, and drumming. Our Consultation was jampacked with sharing of ideas resulting in the coming together in unity of the minds and hearts of the Friends.

Today’s Feast was also special because 3 of the 7 new believers in the Newark Area Cluster attended. What a cause for celebration! We discussed in detail the letter from the Regional Bahá’í Council informing us of our advancement to a B-stage cluster and all that that entails for revving up our teaching efforts. Today many seeds were planted to further the institute process and increase the core activities in the Newark Area Cluster.

And whoever said consultation can’t be fun? This Feast it was exactly that as we partook of a fabulous meal complete with a “B” Cluster Cake while the chair of the Feast led us in an exciting game of Bahá’í Jeopardy. We all scored points and had a fabulous time. We are “in it to win it” friends!