Friday, February 6, 2009

Prayer, firesides, teaching, love and more in San Diego

San Diego, CA (A) has recently started another cycle of its intensive program of growth, and we have received wave after wave of exciting news. The friends are teaching, praying, working together, and reaching out with joy to their neighbors in all parts of the cluster. All I can say is, WOW!.

Let us first share an excerpt from a story about one of the teaching days in the City Heights neighborhood. The friends there had the bounty of a visit from one of the members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, who accompanied them on this particular day.

We were delighted to learn that one of the members of the National Spiritual Assembly was going to visit our cluster during our expansion phase and had requested to form part of a teaching team.

The day started with a home visit to one of the first believers in the neighborhood, a lady who had joined the Faith a little over a year ago and whose profound love for Bahá’u’lláh led her to write songs for Him. As we sat around in her backyard, in between the kind conversation of loving friends we were lulled by the sweet sounds of an Afro-Caribbean ballad, a dad pleading Bahá’u’lláh to take care of his young son, to guide him and raise him in His service. . . .

We went to visit another home. The door opened and a beautiful, radiant woman peeked her head out. “Good evening”, she greeted us. We readily answered her and introduced ourselves. We told her all about the reason for our visit, “We are in your neighborhood offering to share a presentation on the Bahá’í Faith”, we said. “It is a religion which accepts and elevates all others, and it is a wonderful way to unite the world. Could we have a few minutes of your time to share this presentation with you?”. She readily agreed. “Sure, come in,” she said.

We all sat around her dinner table, and we went through the presentation slowly and lovingly. She read along with us the creative word of God in her own sweet voice. By the time we got to showing her the picture of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, she had been so touched by the quotes and the principles that we told her that we wanted to invite her to be a member of this Faith, of a community which is working to establish a new world civilization. We also said that once she feels comfortable with her knowledge of the principles, she would be a magnificent teacher herself, helping us share this wonderful message with others. She declared her belief in Bahá’u’lláh! We are planning follow-up visits with her.

A key element of this latest cycle of teaching activity was the devotional/fireside gathering. One believer gives an overview of this approach:

The area teaching committees in the Southwestern region have started formally introducing devotional/firesides as an additional line of action in the intensive teaching efforts. They are learning how to promote this activity systematically and how to accompany the friends to fulfill their goals. There are many success stories coming in from various clusters.

And San Diego is definitely home to some of these success stories! A believer who recently hosted such a gathering talks about her experience.

Our cluster has one neighborhood they had been focusing all their energies on. But this cycle they decided to try a new approach in some of the other areas of our cluster. It is called the devotional fireside.

Well, part of the process is of course to invite your neighbors. Well in my neighborhood, we don't do much more than say, "Hi", "Bye", or "It looks like another day of sunshine!" You're considered a good neighbor if you don't have loud parties or too many cars parked on the street! But I approached several of my neighbors. One neighbor I had not yet met. One who said she would see how her schedule was. And so on.

Ultimately there was not a large turnout at this gathering, but it was a positive experience for everyone involved.

After prayers and readings the host asked if any one would like to learn more about the Bahá’í Faith. She mentioned Anna's conversation. __ said she would like to hear more. P and I volunteered R to give the talk because she is in Book 6 and that would be part of her practice for the course. She gave the talk and invited __ to join the Bahá’í Faith. (bold and audacious), and she agreed! It is interesting that 5 people in the prayer chain [more on this below] were also present at this gathering.

The believer who shared Anna’s presentation states:

Since all the other friends had already finished Book 6, I took on sharing the presentation as my practice. My Book 6 facilitator, P, was there to help me if I slipped. I used the one with the flip chart and sat next to my friend. I pretty much just looked at the headings and put the ideas in my own words as much as possible. When I finished I asked __ if what she had heard was something she'd believed and if she'd like to help us build the unity of mankind and she said, "Yes."

Here is a summary of another devotional/fireside that was held in another part of the cluster.

__ and I hosted a devotional gathering at our home and we thought we would share the experience with you. We passed out invitations to all 46 units in our neighborhood by going door to door and talking with our neighbors. It was fun! Everyone was pleasant and a total number of 10 people attended our devotional.

A friend reflects on their experience with this gathering, and some of the implications for future teaching efforts:

It is much easier and sustainable to follow up with our neighbors! No driving! :) Going door to door to visit our own neighbors should be done with the objective of being their "loving friends" as the House of Justice wishes for us all to be. In just one neighborhood, 10 neighbors showed up to a Bahá’í devotional. 10!

As mentioned earlier, the believers in the San Diego cluster were engaged in a non-stop “prayer chain” throughout the entire teaching effort. This is but one example of how the friends throughout the country are starting to use prayer more systematically in their teaching activities. One friend shares their thoughts:

No wonder our teaching efforts have been so extraordinarily successful! The non-stop prayers 24/7 since the beginning of the cycle 13 and a half days ago have filled our cluster with the divine fragrances—and the scattering angels of the Almighty have been very busy. The prayer chain has also connected our hearts together in a sustained, systematic way and has created a very special unity of action for these very special 16 days. The discipline of praying together so intensively has caused some to remark that it reminds them of fasting or of going on pilgrimage. Here is one sweet thought from one of our teachers in the prayer chain:

I just wanted to share with you the joy and spiritual gratification that I am experiencing through this prayer chain. I feel a closer communion with Bahá’u’lláh by getting up at 4 a.m. to pray (although at times I do feel tired, but my spirit is still uplifted). It is teaching me a discipline that I utmost needed. I also feel the power of the prayers within the group of our prayer chain. It's amazing! I love it and would like to do it again.

Another believer reflects on the implications of the prayer chain and series of firesides:

This is proof that there is receptivity in every single neighborhood in our cluster, regardless of the strata of society, and proof of the power of the prayers that are being said 24 hours around the clock keeping our hearts centered on asking for and relying on Divine Assistance and confirmations.

Finally, here are the words of a new believer, who approached the friends expressing an interest in studying Ruhi Book 3 (Teaching Children’s Classes, Grade 1) in Spanish. In this request, she also describes her experience of becoming a Bahá’í:

I so recently became a Bahá’í and recall vividly the questions I had, as well as the time that the Bahá’ís who were loving me into this global family offered to give me this process. I was able to express fears, confusion, sadness and concern and was held throughout the process in a container of compassion and gentleness. There were even times when I reflected on my own history and related it to the new concepts I was being exposed to about the Faith. . . . It was ultimately this unconditional love that enabled me to trust my heart and its path to Bahá’u’lláh! . . . It really made me long for the ability to extend to others the same quality of discovery that I was gifted with. I have some education in Spanish and I thought doing a Ruhi course would allow me to move towards offering Spanish-speaking Bahá’ís the gift of unity.

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