Thursday, April 23, 2009

Technology, Twitter, lead to online declaration

An exciting milestone was reached on April 13, 2009. That’s the day that On-Line Declaration and Registration system (OLDR) was turned on. It is now possible for an individual to declare their belief in Bahá’u’lláh online! This opportunity is available at the public Web site, by visiting the home page, scrolling down to the left and clicking on the “I want to be a Bahá’í” button.

Within hours of this launch, a declaration had arrived electronically. As of today, about a dozen individuals have declared their belief online.

Key to the OLDR is the immediate follow-up by the national Seeker Response system’s Regional Specialists. When someone declares online, the Regional Specialists are immediately informed. They can then follow up with the new declarant, affirming their belief by sharing Anna’s presentation over the phone, and then informing the relevant Area Teaching Committee, Cluster Institute Coordinator, and Local Spiritual Assembly of the new declaration. This new development opens many doors for the Bahá’ís to welcome more and more people into the Cause. . . .

The story of one of the on-line declarations from the South Central region highlights how new communications technology is helping to spread the Message—and to bring people together. This individual had recently purchased a cell phone and subsequently was introduced to Twitter. As a result of participating in Twitter, she started following the activities of actor Rainn Wilson and learned that he would be having an interview with Oprah Winfrey [which is covered in a story on this blog dated March 12, 2009]. It was during this interview that she first heard of the Bahá’í Faith when Rainn Wilson mentioned it during his interview with Oprah Winfrey. She then began studying the Faith on the internet, and later declared online. Of her experience she states:

So I bought a cell phone, that led me to Twitter, that led me to an interview with Rainn Wilson that led me to studying the Bahá’í Faith that led me to clicking the button on the internet and declaring my faith. This is not a story about me. It’s a story about God’s amazing love and the journey to get to Him.

Such communication advances were the center of an engaged discussion at a recent fireside in another part of the South Central region. One of the friends who attended reports:

We were all “atwitter” with the story of Ashton Kutcher on the news with one million hits on “Twitter” and having beat CNN. He proclaimed on Oprah two days ago that communication has become “democratized” for the first time in history, and that an individual can have as much influence on the whole world as an international network like CNN. He spoke about his part in combating malaria with the use of this technology.

We talked about the revolution in communication and what the spiritual effect will be on the world. M shared a (memorized) quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about how in the past separation of the continents and lack of communication technology kept mankind apart, and how now in this century it would bring us together. And then another quote was shared about how one pure heart can change the nation with its thought of love and unity.

New believer takes the first step to advance cluster

It is always exciting to see new believers arise to serve. And it is always heartwarming to see that, even when the numbers of believers are few, gathering together in unity to consult and plan can help any cluster move forward. Thus we share this brief story from the Central region. A new believer in a C-stage cluster had the idea of organizing such a meeting for his cluster, and has been encouraged to connect to the institutions and proceed! The national Seeker Response system Regional Specialist reports:

Here is a message from one of our new Bahá’ís in a C-stage cluster of widely scattered believers, who has seen the need for a Cluster Reflection Meeting! I have encouraged him and given him contact info for his Auxiliary Board members and Regional Bahá’í Council.

Dear __,

I’ve been speaking with a few Bahá’ís in the area about putting together a Cluster Review Session with the idea of placing all the believers in the counties in our cluster together in one room to discuss the advancement of our cluster. I feel that there are many friends in the area that don’t know each other and this meeting would give an opportunity to unite and grow.

Warmest Bahá’í greetings,


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Newark enters the A stage at full speed

The friends in Newark, NJ (A, yes that’s right, they advanced from *C to A in just a few short months) have been teaching up a storm! They have been reaching out to their contacts with both sensitivity and courage, as well as to those individuals who have reached out to the Bahá’ís via the public Web sites or the 1-800-22-UNITE phone line. One of the friends notes:

“The Newark Area cluster has rallied around the seeker reports sent to them through the national Seeker Response system. The description below is just half of the effort – the local effort. The Regional Specialist had also been trying to reach her for months, unsuccessfully. Since this seeker had originally asked for local contacts, and since we had been unable to reach her by phone or email, it was appropriate to send a teaching team to pay a courtesy visit and inquire politely if her questions had been answered and if she would like additional information. Here is what happened next.”

A woman contacted the Baha'is on the public Web site in June 2008. She specifically requested that the Bahá’í community be gentle and patient with her search. Several emails were sent and phone calls made (but the phone number had been disconnected). Out of respect for her request, the friends did not want to be pushy and waited for a response to the emails. During a recent teaching effort one teaching team decided to visit her home. The teaching team was invited into the apartment, where they met the seeker who was surprised to see the Bahá’ís (it had been almost 10 months since she visited the Web site). The teaching team didn't stay long, but offered a gift of some Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. A few hours later, the seeker called one of the Bahá’ís thanking them for their brief visit and expressing interest in meeting up for coffee to discuss more about the Faith!” . . .

A key aspect of the cluster’s progress has been the establishment of core activities. Here is a brief story of how a pledge for devotional meetings has been transformed into reality:

As part of a pledge to start a devotional gathering at my home, we were able to hold our first meeting today. The biggest blessing was that one of the participants, a seeker, asked at the end of the gathering about when we would be starting Book 1.

God willing I will be able to host this on a monthly basis, assuming the support from my family members.

And here is a story about the beginning of a new study circle:

Recently some Bahá’ís and friends met for lunch. The discussion was mainly focused on Christian themes. Afterwards, one of the seekers was asked what she thought about the discussion and she spoke about what had attracted her to the Faith and where she was currently at. She ended with the statement that she definitely wanted to continue to study it. So I told her about study circles and "Reflections on the Life of the Spirit". She said she would like to observe a study circle and we made arrangements for the following week. The following week the seeker came, and we decided to start with the first unit of the book, “Understanding the Bahá’í Writings”, which we completed in 2 hours. The seeker found it interesting and enjoyable. She was hesitant about making a long term commitment, but when it was explained that we would be finished in 3 weeks, she readily agreed to continue.

Finally, here is an inspiring story about a new declaration. Like the preceding story, it shows how many seekers have an initial point of attraction, and the friends are learning how to follow up from that point of attraction.

A neighbor of a Bahá’í was invited to a fireside at that believer’s apartment. She was instantly attracted to the spirit of love and unity. The next day, she attended a Book 1 study circle. While waiting for everyone to arrive and get settled, she was asked what she knew about the Faith. She answered, "Not a lot, but I want to know. I really like the idea of the unity of all races." We happened to have on had the booklet of pictures and quotes from Anna’s presentation. Of course we don't need anything to teach other than desire, effort and Divine Assistance. The booklet just makes it much easier. The seeker read the quotes aloud with great interest. Halfway through, when asked, she repeatedly affirmed that she did believe that Bahá’u’lláh was the Manifestation of God for this time. When told that that meant she was a Bahá’í, she smiled and said "Really?" Luckily the owner of the home also had available the new, beautiful registration cards. She eagerly filled one out and reviewed the short obligatory prayer.

"Now there is truly nothing we aren't willing to do"

The news from San Diego, CA (A) just keeps getting better and better. Here is a brief report from that cluster’s area teaching committee summarizing the results from their most recent teaching effort. Two new developments are especially exciting: teaching teams reaching out in several new neighborhoods in the cluster, and a focus on their community of interest that led to 140 new participants in the various core activities. The report keeps using the word “extraordinary”, but given the spirit, capacity, and dedication of the friends here and throughout the country, such “extraordinary” occurrences will no doubt become increasingly common.

Cherished friends,

We had our most extraordinary teaching effort to date! Taking to heart the wish of the Universal House of Justice that all may “find a part to play”, we arose, redoubled our efforts, and pledged to invite our friends, families, neighbors and coworkers to the core activities. As a result, teachers went and visited homes, not just in City Heights (where we have been using this approach for some time), but also in neighborhoods such as Coronado, La Jolla, Clairemont, Del Sur, Carmel Mountain and Chula Vista—and often times at night! Now there is truly nothing that we aren’t willing to do. No boundary can hold us back, no fear can paralyze us. . . .

You all arose to new heights of boldness and audacity and invited those closest to you to the core activities, and as a result, we have 140 new friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers who are now participating in devotional gatherings, study circles, junior youth groups and children’s classes!

For each of the 16 days of the teaching effort, some type of teaching activity was being carried out, particularly fireside devotionals. Often times there were 4 or 5 teaching activities happening on the same day. As a result of these extraordinary 16 days, we now have:

10 new Ruhi 1 study circles

5 new children’s classes

4 new junior youth groups

5 adults enrolled in the Faith

Most significantly, our community of interest has grown by 140.

Friends, your efforts are extraordinary!

Your area teaching committee

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A relaxed and forthright discussion

There’s a phrase in this report from the Southwest region that truly summarizes what direct teaching involves: “a relaxed and forthright discussion”. We are openly and warmly presenting the Message to interested seekers—in this case, the seeker contacted the Bahá’í community himself through the 1-800-22-UNITE phone line in a way that is clear, direct, respectful and sincere. What is particularly inspiring about this report is that the core activities are naturally presented as an integral part of the Faith and what it is trying to accomplish in the world. Thus, the teaching process is organically linked with these transforming and civilization-building efforts.

Recently, the cluster’s Area Teaching Committee received the name and contact information of __, who lives in Scottsdale and who had called the national 800-22-UNITE Information Request number. Immediately, the Area Teaching Committee passed the information to a local Bahá’í to contact __. Here is his description of what happened next.

Soon after, we met at a coffee shop. __ has been studying different religions and was looking for a faith with which he can identify. After some visiting, __ was asked if he had any specific area of interest and if he would like to receive a comprehensive presentation on the Faith (i.e., Anna's presentation), to which he happily agreed. The presentation was carried through in its entirety, including joint reading of quotes, as well as discussing subject matters included in the presentation, such as the importance of unity, outward orientation, and service to society. In terms of the latter, this meant discussing the components of the current Plan and specifically the 4 Core Activities and what each is designed to accomplish. His responses were very heartwarming and exciting. . . .

At the end of the presentation __ was given a registration card, explaining that if he believed Bahá’u’lláh to be the Messenger of God for this day and age and if he agreed with what the registration card said, he could then join the rest of us Bahá’ís in our endeavor to accomplish our goals of unity and oneness. A relaxed and forthright discussion followed about what it meant to be a Bahá’í. The meeting lasted 3 wonderful and energizing hours. He took the registration card and said that he was ready, that he believed in every thing that he had heard, and that he wanted to reflect about the declaration.

At the next meeting (in the same coffee shop ), __ handed his signed registration card. Since the exciting dynamics of the 4 core activities had been presented to him during the first meeting, he was invited immediately to a Ruhi 1 study circle, which he attended a few hours later. Pursuant his first Ruhi session, and studying and discussing the quotations and observing the dynamics and the level of engagement of the other participants, young and older, he commented how he saw everything coming together.

It is so humbling, such a blessing and unbelievable privilege to be alive and take part in the Plan of the Universal House of Justice.

Assisting the friends to carry out their pledges

The pledges made at the recent Regional Bahá’í Conferences are the foundation of so much of the progress that has occurred in clusters throughout the country. The friends are learning how to coordinate and plan their efforts so that all the earnest services carried out in the field can effectively support each other. Organized and encouraging follow-up is key. A good example of this is the letter sent out by the Regional Bahá’í Council for the South Central states to a number of friends. It illustrates how the friends can be directed to transform their yearning to serve into practical accomplishments.

Dear Friends,

An email letter (below is an example) has been sent to follow up with those friends who have pledged to be a mobile tutor, travel teacher, or homefront pioneer. The Auxiliary Board members and core groups were copied on these communications.

To: The friends who have pledged to assist the __ Cluster (on Bcc: line)

Dear Friends,

The South Central Council was delighted to receive your pledge from the Regional Conference which shared your intention to arise as a mobile tutor, travel teacher, and/or homefront pioneer in service to the Five Year Plan. We were especially pleased to note that many of you have completed the sequence of courses of the training institute, an accomplishment that will best prepare you to take on this important service. . . .

As you carry out your commitment, whether within the cluster where you now reside or in another goal cluster, whether for a short period of time or on a more permanent basis, the Council stands ready to assist you. As you make your plans, we offer some suggestions that may smooth your path. These include:

Consultation with the Auxiliary Board members assigned to the area to determine the most advantageous place for you to render your services (or settle if homefront pioneering). We can provide you with the contact information, if needed.

Brush up on your skills, particularly those of tutor, children’s class teacher, junior youth group animator and direct teacher. Institute refresher courses may be available in the cluster where you now reside and certainly participating in direct collective teaching initiatives and practicing Anna’s presentation will better equip you in your service.

Consult with the friends living in the cluster to learn more about their capacity and challenges. Here again, the Council can provide you with the contact information.

Pray that the doors will be opened for your service.

The Council is praying for your efforts and looking forward to receiving the results of your devoted services.

Get ready for the freight train

The momentum is clearly building in the Central Mountains, NC (B) cluster. Core activities are starting and the friends are arising with new energy. We’re highlighting this excerpt of a recent report from one of the believers because it shows a particularly exciting development: The formation of a junior youth group. This core activity is often challenging to begin, but once even a few junior youth become enthusiastic about participating, there is no stopping them! (That’s why we have the runaway train imagery!)

A junior youth group has commenced. They plan to meet every two weeks and see where the group takes them from there. The junior youth had several ideas for service projects and the animators are planning to guide the consultation to a conclusion to pick one project that they can be successful with. One of the animators commented that the group was so enthusiastic and so happy to have some direction. She said it was effortless because they want to find ways to be a positive force in their community. The junior youth had unbounded excitement and so many ideas for ways they could benefit their community.

Dear friends, all I can say is get ready because opportunities are coming down the track like a freight train on the loose! Be ready to jump on board; this cluster has momentum and wants to keep going!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Personal systematic action on pledges

A few months ago, the pledges were made. And now they are being carried out! One of the beautiful things about the series of Regional Bahá’í Conferences in December is that not only have so many of the believers been mobilized into action, their services are being carried out in a systematic, organized, methodical manner. That is why we are sharing some excerpts of an individual believer in the South Central region, who reports the progress made so far on their own personal pledges—which, by the way involve several communities in a number of clusters. It is one example of the types of persistent and focused efforts that are helping clusters throughout the country advance.

Personal Three-Month Plan for Moving a Goal Cluster in the Region: Log of Personal Accomplishments So Far


Recited daily the Teaching Prayer for the region to recognize receptive souls

Participated in prayer campaigns, and specific daily prayers for specific matters.

Participated in weekly devotional meetings. . . .


Completed Ruhi __ in an intensive course.

Competing Ruhi __.

Not yet completed Ruhi __.

Will participate in intensive institute campaign in __ cluster.

Co-tutoring Ruhi __ in __. Will probably complete in a few weeks.

Co-tutoring Ruhi __ in another cluster; halfway done.

Co-tutoring Ruhi __ in __.

Participating in a one-on-one study circle with a friend.


Organized home visits by members of the __ community to an isolated believer.

Carried out a home visit to another friend.

Helped with children’s classes in __.

Have tried to start a junior youth group but this has not happened yet.


Have expanded personal contacts for teaching. Record contact information for everyone with whom I discuss the Faith so I can stay in touch with them.

Made connections with other friends to strengthen friendship and begin spiritual conversations. I have also tried to use a direct approach when teaching the Faith.

Participated on direct teaching team that shared Anna’s presentation, resulting in several individuals asking for more information about the Faith and requesting return visits, which then led to some declarations.

Organizing fireside.

Made an additional contribution to the local fund for the teaching work.

Friday, April 10, 2009

An engaging conversation

It’s happening more and more frequently. Someone contacts the Bahá’í community, perhaps through the 1-800-22-UNITE phone line, or the public Web site, or perhaps meets the friends at a core activity or during a teaching project. They ask to know about the Faith. A believer shares the fundamental verities through a heart-to-heart conversation, perhaps at their home, or at a public venue. A new soul enters the Cause and joins the community. This brief report from the Southwest region is along these lines. What is striking is the direct, engaged, conversation between the teachers and seekers. The declarations were naturally followed up with a study circle, and they are not letting geographic distance get in the way: look at what technology can do . . .

E met with myself and another believer. She brought along a friend, B. E was responsive immediately through the entire presentation. . . .

We had met at a coffee shop near her place of work. When we finished Anna’s presentation, she said she had questions, I said WONDEFUL! She asked about the teachings of the Faith about Christ, and we discussed progressive revelation and the importance of God never leaving humanity alone.

She also asked where Bahá’ís meet, as she wanted to meet other Bahá’ís. We discussed some of the activities in her area. B asked E if she had other questions. She said no, he said neither do I, and both declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh right there.

It was such an amazing and spiritual encounter. We discussed the concept of obligatory prayer, as well as Ruhi Book 1. We covered a few of the first quotations during that meeting. She is now participating in a study circle at her home. B lives in another city but is participating in the study circle via a computer chat program so they can see each other and include him in the conversation.

You know you love the numbers! (Because they show us how far we've come)

We’ve pulled out the following excerpt from this report of recent teaching activities in the Pee Dee, SC (A) cluster since it launched its intensive program of growth. It’s a lot of numbers and figures, and in this case the numbers very clearly illustrate the tremendous progress the friends have made, both with teaching and follow-up, just in the past few months, as well as the high receptivity to the Faith.

Dear friends,

As you can see, the Pee Dee cluster has made great progress. Where previously it was quite challenging to commence a Book 1 study circle, now 14 of the 18 most recent declarants are participating in Book 1. Also you can see that after sharing Anna’s presentation 35 times with seekers, 18 people declared, which is a strong indicator of both the effectiveness of the teaching and the receptivity of the community.

Now for the numbers: (You know you love the numbers!)

From 12-13-08 thru 03-05-09 in the Pee Dee Cluster . . .

We visited 251 different homes in 7 different areas of the cluster.

We made 587 total visits to those 251 homes. . . .

There were 308 times that there was no answer.

There were 66 times that we got the response of “not interested”.

There were 218 times that we were invited for a return visit.

There were 35 individuals with whom Anna’s presentation was shared.

We had 18 dear souls declare their belief in Bahá’u’lláh.

We had 14 of the new believers start Ruhi Book 1.

We had 4 of the new believers study at least one deepening theme from Ruhi Book 2.

We have 1 of the new believers already hosting regular devotional gatherings at their home.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Something truly great is happening here"

There’s a certain point in a cluster’s history where a threshold is crossed. The hearts of the friends are touched in a new way, and they arise with love to serve the Cause with new levels of dedication. It is a point where the friends’ hearts, filled with both courage and love, arise to share the Message as part of an organized, collective, direct teaching effort. Here is a description of that joyful evening where this milestone was reached in Arapahoe-Douglas Counties, CO (B), shared by a member of that cluster’s area teaching committee.

Dear S,

I want to recount our second Cluster Reflection Meeting since we became a "B" Cluster. It was wonderful.

The clubhouse is full in Arapahoe County. 35 Adults, 7 children and 6 Junior Youth. We had 48 red and white roses next to a large photo of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. There was a slide on the screen of the Sea Gate in Akka. One believer told us about Bahá’u’lláh’s experience on that dark day entering the prison city while crowds threw things and called Him names. But what was happening in the spiritual realms was a different story. He heard the angels sing and was greeted by banners of light. She then sang "Soon will all that dwell on earth be enlisted under these banners." It was beautiful. We had a prayer for the 7 friends imprisoned in Iran. . . .

Then a junior youth gave an amazing and well presented account of his teaching team experiences. He began with a prayer and guitar music. It was so wonderful. And sitting in a ring around him, very quiet and respectfully, were all the children. They really looked up to him! Next, a new believer gave a talk about her teaching team’s experience and how they now have 6 kids in their neighborhood children's class. And how one little girl memorized a prayer of Bahá’u’lláh’s perfectly!

D was a perfect emcee. G and J gave a wonderful presentation about forming teaching teams and we broke up into discussion groups, came back together and reported our learning.

Then something wonderful happened: We formed 6 teaching teams for the cluster. Six groups of enthusiastic, excited and creative people decided their own individual paths of service and formed teaching teams! We have 6 teams and already 6 contact people. 6 different goals and focuses. And they all had children, youth or junior youth on them!

It was magic. It was wonderful and I think I actually heard the angels singing, "Soon will all that dwell on Earth be enlisted under these banners!" I am very, very happy tonight!

Something great is happening here. Something truly great. I think even when we don't we see it, when we feel like nothing is happening, there are things occurring in the spiritual realms that are so amazing. There really are banners of light. The angels really do sing.

In His Service,