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!”

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