Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Empowering college youth, advancing clusters

College and university campuses are places with immense potential for sharing the Message. How can that potential most effectively be utilized, both in the context of the specific campus and the cluster in which it is located? A challenging question, around which much learning is taking place! Over the past year, a lot of insights have been gained about teaching the Faith on college and university campuses. Here is a report from the Northwest region that summarizes some of the progress made over the past year. We share it because it depicts clearly a wonderful process of transformation in several Bahá’í Campus Associations (BCAs) as they strive to focus their activities to implement the main elements of the Plan. It is also heartening to see the loving encouragement and support given to the youth by the Regional Bahá’í Council and other institutions of the Faith.

So, to begin: In Autumn of 2008, two events were organized by the Regional Bahá’í Council for the Northwestern states, bringing together youth from several colleges and universities from 3 different states in the region. The purpose of these gatherings was clear:

To broaden our common vision of the Five Year Plan, to share experiences, to prepare campus action plans aligned with local cluster efforts, and to empower youth to take their place at the forefront . . .

The main elements of the retreats were as follows:

During the retreat, participants had an opportunity to review the major elements of the Five Year Plan, study recent guidance, reflect on personal goals, consult together and develop a campus action plan. Devotions, art, music and drama were incorporated throughout the weekend.

Over and over again, we heard from the youth that they felt excited and empowered by the retreat. They gained a much better understanding of the Five Year Plan and the specific role they can play. Another common sentiment was that youth on campus are a fertile ground. They are open to new ideas, have time available and not as many barriers as they may have later in life . . .

Consultation during these gatherings enabled participants to reflect on the experiences of their past efforts. For example, it was concluded that certain types of large-scale proclamation events involved substantial resources but relatively small results.

Campus plans of action were made, in which specific activities were identified, as well as the timeline and resources. Here are some of the commitments made for two of the participating universities:

Start a children’s class in an apartment complex in the cluster.

Start an interfaith devotional with other faith groups on campus.

Continue planning monthly firesides.

Start a children’s class in the housing complex for married students.

Start a Ruhi Book 1 study circle on campus.

Start monthly devotions on campus.

The impact of these gatherings on the youth was substantial, as illustrated by some of the comments about their experiences:

I liked seeing the different institutions, each with a different role, all working together.

I liked making solid plans. Sometimes, we are just wandering through our campus existence not doing what we should. Now, our BCA has a plan.

I wish I had done this while I was in college!

I like how we were so supported by the different institutions.

We are leaving here with concrete action plans and we all know what to do.

I liked how this weekend really helped us to organize and plan—not just talk, but action.

I’m so happy to see this. It’s amazing! We all had this passion, but we just needed a catalyst to get us going. I’m so excited to see what the future holds.

Even more exciting is to see how the campus plans of action unfolded. A member of the Regional Bahá’í Council states:

We have recently learned that the Ruhi study circle, the campus interfaith devotional gathering and the Bahá’í children’s classes in married student housing—all begun as a direct result of the “campus advance” gathering last fall—are growing in strength. That’s 3 out of 4 core activities initiated by our youth!

The events also inspired about 20 young people to attend the Regional Bahá’í Conference in Portland in December. These youth then returned home to spearhead teaching efforts in their cluster, helping it to advance to the A stage in February!

Two similar events are now planned to take place in August and September 2009. Stay tuned!

"They voted Baha'u'llah's prayer onto their program"

Here is a beautiful story from Montevideo, MN (C), which shows a small, dedicated group of believers putting into practice Bahá’u’lláh’s exhortation to “consort with the followers of all religions”, aka an “outward looking orientation”. And look--Bahá’í songs and prayers are incorporated not only into a church’s children’s class but also another important event (read on). One sees yet another example of the receptivity and openness that are present in communities of all types in every corner of the country.

We live in a town of 5000 people in western Minnesota. Approximately 99% of the people here are Christian, and of those, about 80% are Lutheran. There are 6 Bahá’ís in our town and 5 of them are in my immediate family. We have lived here for four years. We have been invited to read prayers at inter faith services at a few of the area churches and have been asked to give presentations about the Bahá’í Faith to two churches. . . .

I lead music for the preschool children at the neighborhood church and have taught them the “Hawaiian Unity Song”, “Blessed is the Spot”, and “O God Educate These Children.” We have also held interfaith dialogue gatherings at the local library and in our home, as well as study circles and devotional gatherings, with the help and support of the other believer in town, who teaches at the high school, and friends from the Minneapolis area.

About a month ago one of the seniors, who has come to many of our dialogues, and even led a few of them, asked if I would give him a recording of “Blessed is the Spot.” He wanted to see if the senior class would sing it at their high school Baccalaureate Ceremony. In Montevideo, the Baccalaureate takes place about one week before the official school graduation, and is filled with readings from the Bible and songs of worship from various hymn books from local churches. A minister delivers a homily and a few of the seniors give reflections on their spiritual journey. There is a student committee that is in charge of the ceremony and a minister from one of the Lutheran Churches is their spiritual advisor.

__, who is the senior who approached me, told me that this year he wanted the ceremony to include more than one faith tradition. He felt it was important to recognize the diversity of religion in the world. So we made a recording of the prayer set to music. I wrote out the notes and on the piece of music wrote, “Prayer revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, music by __, arranged by __.”

Last night I was asked if I was singing or reading at the Baccalaureate and I said “No, why?” and this person told me that a Bahá’í prayer was in the program. So I called __ and he told me that the senior class had loved the prayer and they had all learned it, had added a piano part and turned it into a round and that they had voted it onto the program. (They had to vote on the songs to include, and they chose “Blessed is the Spot”!)

So off we went to the Baccalaureate.

In the middle of the program the students stood up, and on a big screen for the whole audience to see, was written: “Blessed is the Spot. Prayer revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, music by __, arranged by __.”—as well as the complete text of the prayer, which the audience was invited to sing. The group sang it three times.

Then __ stood up to give his message. He said, “Friends, when you go out into the world and leave this place, you will meet people of different faith traditions. It is very important that you look for the common themes in all the religions. It is important to learn about your own faith, too. Then he quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama and read a passage from the Bible, and then said, “Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, was imprisoned His whole life for His beliefs. Bahá’u’lláh said, ‘Consort with the followers of all religions in the spirit of utmost unity and fellowship.’”

Then, another senior, in his closing remarks said, “Let us pray for the people who are imprisoned and persecuted because of their faith.” There were approximately 500 people in the audience tonight, singing and reading the words revealed to us by Bahá’u’lláh. Because of one student, who asked for our help, one-tenth of this town had now heard the words of Bahá’u’lláh and spoken them, too. And they voted Bahá’u’lláh’s prayer onto their program! God is great!


Study circle at a church continues to connect hearts

We continue to receive inspiring updates from Sebring, FL (C). Here, an individual believer has taken to heart Bahá’u’lláh’s command to “consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” She has visited a local church, made many friends, and even started a Ruhi Book 4 study circle with some of the church members. This persistence and openness is yielding amazing results, and the study circle participants are each beginning to connect with the Faith in their own way. Here are a couple of excerpts from her story:

__ says that when they first read the Writings, they could recognize “something holy” about them. __ says that they love the teachings, believes that Bahá’u’lláh is a Messenger from God and that all the Prophets are Messengers and equal. I expressed that this is what we believe, that we are not to draw distinctions between God’s Messengers.

And __ explained today that they had been approaching the Bahá’í Faith with skepticism and was just studying it with their friends. But hearing Rainn Wilson’s interview with Oprah Winfrey has now further sparked their interest, because Rainn Wilson emphasized that the arts are a way to worship God, and __ is very interested in the arts. So this has made a big difference.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

We've got questions! (And you've got the answers.)

Okay everyone, we want your comments!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the two most recent stories, and I’m wondering what y’all are thinking as well. So I’m throwing out a couple of questions, that you can reply via the “comments” link.

In terms of South Bay: “In your experience, what is the most important change that occurred in your cluster right before it advanced to the A stage?”

In terms of Southern Nevada, the last part was a vivid reminder to “not judge a book by its cover”. So here’s a pair of questions: “What has been your most surprising teaching experience?” AND “Of all the comments made by seekers with whom you have been sharing the Faith, which has had the biggest effect on how you now teach the Faith?”

Looking forward to everyone’s thoughts!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How do you get to IPG? South Bay shows the way!

South Bay, CA (A) has recently launched its first intensive teaching effort. This report, conveying comments of a couple of believers, is interesting because it gives a snapshot of everything that was happening in the weeks leading up to that historic point. Here are some of the key accomplishments that helped bring the friends to their first IPG! Note the importance of the youth and Local Spiritual Assemblies, a strong emphasis on teaching teams, and focused (and sometimes quite creative) action.

We have finally been able to engage our youth. It was helpful to find a young adult who is very dynamic and thus able to relate with them and keep them excited. The youth meet once a week for a research seminar where they learn to investigate the Writings to find answers to their questions and questions raised by their friends. Simultaneously, they’re being trained as animators of junior youth groups, by starting with the study of “The Spirit of Faith” followed by Book 5. They have found venues to socialize as well, such as getting together to break the Fast. . . .

Two separate meetings of the Auxiliary Board member with three Local Spiritual Assemblies each took place during the past month to study the guidance on intensive programs of growth and the roles of Local Spiritual Assemblies, as well as to consult about the ongoing regular teaching activities such as large firesides and deepening sessions. These meetings proved very helpful in increasing the understanding of the friends and engaging their participation in the formation of teaching teams. The participation of Core Team members enriched the consultation.

An orientation for teaching teams took place with the participation of the Core Team. This provided the friends with the opportunity to study the guidance from the World Centre and utilize a suggested planning sheet resulting in the formation of at least 5 teams who will begin to work in identified neighborhoods and with the community of interest starting now and continuing throughout the first IPG cycle.

We have learned that having focused meetings with specific purposes (such as a Book 3 refresher or a teaching team orientation/Book 6 refresher) is an effective approach to mobilize the friends. We will also have an intensive-format study of Ruhi Book 5 (“Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth”) for the youth.

And here are some of the key elements of their first intensive teaching phase:

We plan to explore a new predominantly English-speaking neighborhood in a central location in the cluster before the launch of the expansion phase.

We will continue teaching in the predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood that we have been previously visiting, as well as begin teaching efforts in an adjacent neighborhood where 3 of our 4 most recent declarations have taken place. It is also mainly Spanish-speaking.

We will try to have a Spanish-speaking person on each teaching team. If this is not possible, we will have a resource person “on call” by cell-phone during the teaching in these neighborhoods, to assist as needed.

Our goal is to accomplish the formation of 10 teaching teams who commit to a plan of action for the 3 month cycle, either in the above-mentioned neighborhoods or with their own community of interest.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Baha'u'llah is for everyone, not just for those we think look like a Baha'i"

Southern Nevada (A) recently launched another cycle of its intensive program of growth. There were many joyful results: 10 individuals declared their belief in the Cause, and numerous study circles, devotional meetings and children’s classes were established. Of the many inspiring teaching stories received from this cluster, we are sharing two here for the important lessons they convey.

The first is basic common sense, but something definitely worth reflecting on because it is easy to forget:

We were able to engage many people while walking through the neighborhood simply by saying “Hi” to everyone and by making eye contact. If we hadn’t taken this initiative we would have missed the chance to meet and talk with __, who then declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh. . . .

The second is a reminder to not make assumptions on people’s interest and receptivity based on their looks or outfit.

Today we had two new people on our teaching team. It was their first time going out direct teaching and they were so excited. Having that amazing energy with us today helped us to have great success. After we visited all our assigned buildings with little more than a half presentation and a couple of follow ups. We were walking to our car to return to the Bahá’í Center. A group of young men was standing out in front of the apartment, and as we walked by, one of them called out to us. He looked to us like the least likely person to be interested in the Faith based on how he was dressed. But he asked us what we were doing, so we started sharing Anna’s conversation with him. At the end of it he declared and said that he wanted to tell his good friend about everything that he had just learned. We learned the true meaning of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Bahá’u’lláh is for everyone, not just for those we think look like a Bahá’í. The best part is that our two new teachers were so excited and cannot wait for next weekend’s direct teaching effort.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tons of learning about junior youth, reflection, and justice

Much exciting learning and progress about junior youth groups is taking place in the Southwest region. We are very happy to share excerpts from a regional newsletter about this important core activity that is steadily emerging in many clusters.

First is an overview of the training institute material that prepares individuals to become animators of junior youth groups: Ruhi Book 5, “Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth”, currently available in pre-publication format.

The first unit of the book explores specific capacities and characteristics that define the period of youth: “A special point in the life of an individual.” One important capacity is developing and exercising spiritual power. Also explored in this unit is the preparation required for a life of selfless service, a sense of purpose, and the role that youth play in advancing spiritual and material progress. . . .

The second unit of Book 5 explores the immense potentialities of junior youth, the age group whose spiritual empowerment is the aim of the program. It examines the impact of the social environment on junior youth as well as the need for spiritual empowerment.

The final unit examines the types of materials used in the program, and helps animators to practically consider the concepts and elements that will be needed for a successful group.

Next are some insights gained from the collective experience of junior youth groups in the region:

Healthy exercise has been an important element for many junior youth groups in the region. Some groups go for walks before they study the materials, others play kick-ball at the end of their group, and some dance.

Complementary activities help enhance the concepts in the materials. Animators are finding that, as they become more confident with the materials, they can plan activities that are creative and meaningful.

Bonds of friendship are formed not only among the junior youth, but also with their animator. When an animator sees themselves as a part of the group and not an instructor, the junior youth feel empowered to take on more and more levels of responsibility within the group.

Groups can develop service projects that mean something to them and their community. One group cooked enchiladas for their community and presented issues that were affecting their families, offering solutions that they could work collectively towards. At a later date, this same group decided to make piñatas for the children attending a community gathering. The junior youth enhanced their artistic abilities by carrying out this act of service.

This next story depicts some of the steps taken to form a group and get it up and running.

A and B are two youth. With the help of A’s parent, they decided to start a junior youth group in a neighborhood that already had an established children’s class. It was located in an area with several housing complexes of about 50-60 homes each. It was clear that this location could potentially have a group of 10 to 20 junior youth.

The next step they took was to meet the junior youth in the neighborhood. They first met two girls who were both so excited to start the group that they eagerly introduced them to the whole neighborhood. A and B consulted with them and came up with a plan to invite more junior youth in their community. Both the animators and junior youth practiced how they were going to introduce the program. One of junior youth would say, “Hi, my name is __ and I’m 12 years old. We’d like to invite you to our junior youth group. We meet every Saturday at noon.”

A and B would then introduce the program’s concepts and shared a flyer outlining the fundamentals of the program. The team of 4 went into the neighborhood, and 14 junior youth confirmed their participation.

A and B realized it was important to be consistent and follow through on plans of action. At their first few meetings with the junior youth, A and B talked about a sense of purpose, introduced the materials and discussed the key elements of a group. It is now in its fifth week and progressing along.

As a team of two, A and B are trying to learn as much as they can each week. This process of learning is enhanced through the skills of reflection. Many animators find reflection an important part of the learning process. Some keep a journal, others email each other stories, and most take a few minutes after each meeting to consider their experiences and the group’s dynamics.

Finally, we share this account of an activity organized for one junior youth group: riding their city’s light-rail train together. This may seem like a very simple activity, but the animator turned it into a profoundly rich experience.

This was an outing about justice. The group rode the light-rail together. A lot of consideration went into the nature of the group outside its typical environment. They had to keep in mind concern for members of the group and making sure that no one got lost in the crowd. They considered the idea of what is appropriate behavior in large crowds. They were also conscious about being considerate of space and mindful of people with disabilities or the elderly and responding to their needs. The junior youth observed this without being prodded to do so.

Being aware of everything around them and observing their environment provided profound opportunities to develop their inner sight and expand their spiritual perception. The group observed posters and banners with biblical quotes and engaged in discussions on religion and issue related to justice. They noticed people that are homeless in a different light than they usually do; this prompted them to recognize the injustice around them, and they were promoted to express their thoughts around the injustice that exists in their daily interactions.

This experience transformed the group. Where in the beginning behavior could be sometimes silly, everyone shifted and transformed to be sincere and respectful. This outing, on something as simple as public transportation, provided a space to do this and to express their thoughts.

Sustainable growth? Look at Monterey County!

Monterey County, CA (A) has just launched its intensive program of growth. The friends there are using several approaches in various locations in the cluster. A combination of direct teaching, home visits and firesides resulted in registrations of 7 adults and 7 children. This has been followed by a systematic effort to get new believers into core activities. Some of the new Bahá’ís have opened their homes for children’s class and junior youth group.

A very intriguing approach is being used to ensure the growth of children’s classes in a sustainable manner:

While children are attending the children’s class, the parents are taking Ruhi 3. Having reached the time to practice their new skills, the parents are now taking turns teaching the class. The class has a special format, with younger children (2 and 3 years old) joining the “older” children, so that the parents can attend the Ruhi 3. Soon, with accompaniment, the parents will be able to take over this children’s class, or start new neighborhood children’s classes of their own! . . .

An ongoing Ruhi Book 1 study circle in the cluster is attended by many youth from several religious backgrounds. The study circle participants together went on a camping trip. One of the organizers gives an account.

We just completed a camping trip with 13 youth from the Ruhi 1 study circle. Joining us was one other couple who were parents of one of the youth in the group. Before the trip, I prayed for several things: That we would have the opportunity for a fireside with this couple, that they would be receptive to the Faith, that we would be able to do part of the Ruhi 1 study circle for them to observe, and that everyone would return home safely. I am happy to say that all of my prayers were answered beyond my expectation.

That night we had an amazing fireside (literally—around the campfire) with this couple. They were very interested. The next morning, the youth sat around the campfire again and we completed a few of the sections of Book 1 on Prayer. The discussion was amazing (the youth represent Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Bahá’í backgrounds). As this section of Ruhi 1 discusses the importance of reading the Writings every morning and evening, I offered to give everyone a small Bahá’í prayer book to read if they wanted it. One of the parents came up to me afterwards to make sure he got one! We all had a most incredible weekend full of fun and great spirit.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"I never imagined this."

The first time we arise to teach, it can seem scary. We’ve never done something like this before—how will it turn out? And then, we share the Message with an interested seeker. And for the first time, we see with our own eyes how a seeker’s heart reaches out to Bahá’u’lláh. And we experience the reality of the teaching process, and that we can do it! So with joy we share this update from West Valley, AZ (A), which recently launched its first intensive teaching effort, and contains a moving account of one believer’s first teaching encounter.

First, here are a few numbers reported by the friends, midway through the teaching phase:

Positive responses: 71

Anna’s conversation shared: 34 times

Return visits scheduled: 50

New believers (adults and children): 34

And here is the story of one believer’s teaching breakthrough: . . .

We approached a home where there were 3 young women conversing. One of the teachers had never before shared Anna’s conversation in a direct teaching encounter, particularly in English (which is not her mother tongue), but she said she would give it a try, asking us to help if needed.

Then, with complete faith, she began. All 3 women listened intently and asked a few questions. They were particularly moved by the teachings on racial equality and justice. At the end, all 3 declared their faith in Bahá’u’lláh. We informed them about the children’s classes and junior youth group that were ongoing at the apartment complex where they lived. One of them stated, “We really need this.”

The teacher was stunned at all 3 souls declaring their faith in Bahá’u’lláh simultaneously on her first occasion of direct teaching. Her eyes welled up with tears as she told us: “I’ve never seen anything like this.” and “I never imagined this.” and “How could I have done this?” This is such a bountiful confirmation of her efforts from Bahá’u’lláh!

Two conversations and a celebration

More and more people are declaring their belief in Bahá’u’lláh in Charleston-Berkeley, SC (A). This story, shared by an individual believer, has some beautiful gems. It highlights the fact that the teaching process is an intimate conversation between the seeker and teacher. It shows the central importance of the study and use of the Word of God. And the fruit of this teaching is not just numbers but the building of a community of unity and joy.

Dear Friends:

A truly joyful Ridvan!! With a heart overflowing with love and gratitude to the Blessed Perfection, I am pleased to report that we have had another declaration in our cluster, raising the number of new believers to 5 adults, 1 junior youth and 2 children. . . .

A declared his faith this evening at B’s home. A meeting had been scheduled but the regular participants were unable to come. A started the conversation by saying, “Now that we are alone, I would like to ask a few questions.” B continued the conversation with the Word of God, and some hours later, A declared his faith and asked to be enrolled.

It is especially interesting that A and B’s conversation started with some of Bahá’u’lláh’s words about backbiting—the same words being studied and memorized at a Spanish-language study circle. Both conversations were happening on the same day.

Our 12th Day of Ridvan celebration should also be mentioned. In attendance were 51 friends including 13 individuals from the wider community. Bahá’ís came from 6 different localities in the cluster, and all of the new believers except one also attended. I wish I had words to express the joy and love that animated the celebration.



Triad IPG off to a strong start

Just before Ridvan, Triad, NC (A) launched its intensive program of growth. The patterns of identifying receptive communities and direct teaching—so successful across the country—are now being established here. A friend reports:

Dear Friends,

The Triad, NC cluster launched its first cycle of its IPG and has completed the intensive phase. They taught in a very receptive neighborhood with primarily African-American residents and were blessed with the registrations of 6 adults and 1 junior youth.



Pledges fulfilled with joy

All over the country, the friends are joyfully implementing the pledges made at the Regional Bahá’í Conferences held in December. The spirit is dedicated, the action is systematic, and the results are exciting. Here is a summary shared by a believer in a cluster in the Northeast region:

Of the 3 new children’s classes pledged, our cluster has fulfilled 3 to date.

Of the 2 new junior youth groups pledged, our cluster has fulfilled 2 to date.

Of the 15 devotional gatherings pledged, our cluster has been able to fulfill 11 to date.

Of the 50 home visits pledged, our cluster has fulfilled 36 to date.

Let us rejoice in our accomplishments!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The learning never stops in Austin

Austin, TX was one of the first A-stage clusters in the country. They’ve been through more than a few cycles of their intensive program of growth. With each cycle, the friends learn more, they refine their approaches, and they move ever forward. Here are some of the latest insights gained and steps being planned:

For this latest cycle, we moved the IPG headquarters to new location under another Local Spiritual Assembly in the cluster. This resulted in:

Raising new human resources

The new host LSA’s support for the teaching activities rose to a new level.

There was increased enthusiasm in the cluster.

Collective teaching in two neighborhoods attracted several new teachers. Participation was diverse: children, junior youth, youth and adults from all backgrounds. . . .

There was a strong prayer component for the teaching effort. Prayers were distributed to the cluster, and community-wide prayer gatherings held on every Saturday of the project with more than 50 participants, where friends stayed at the center while others went out to the field to teach. Very strong confirmations were felt by all teachers!

Several meetings took place for the first time, attended by the area teaching committee, Auxiliary Board member and host LSA to share the IPG plans prior to beginning of the cycle. It was very successful and the Local Spiritual Assembly’s support was present throughout the effort, both from individual members as well as formal decisions as an institution. There was also increased communications from the Local Assembly to the host community.

We’ve learned that we need to have clarity of roles and responsibilities for the area teaching committee, Auxiliary Board member assistants and cluster institute coordinators. There was a lot of pull and push for information during the last cycle and different members felt overwhelmed at different times. We need to define responsibilities clearer.

For the next cycle, we plan to Increase the number of friends engaged in the teaching work by broadening the scope of opportunities to participate in the IPG.

We plan to increasingly focus our teaching efforts into those neighborhoods where core activities are ongoing and/or the Bahá’ís may already be known.

We will also be more focused on offering to teach the family, friends, and neighbors of newly declared believers.

"We realized that we are creating relationships."

Our efforts to teach the Faith are carried out with the ultimate goal of building a new civilization. In cluster after cluster, neighborhood after neighborhood, the early glimmerings of this process are showing themselves. One of the most recent glimpses of the future comes to us from Charlottesville, VA (B) with a delightful update from one of the believers. The friends are learning how to conduct—and sustain—children’s classes, they are reaching out to their neighbors and forming relationships. They are seeing the big picture into which all of their activities are being carried out. And joyful friendships are being created.

Allah'u'Abha friends!

We had another beautiful week. Here are some updates!

Children's Class

The children's class was such a success this week. We are starting to really get a feel for the children and how to best create order and structure within the class. Thanks to B who kindly provided refreshments for the children. They were much appreciated in the heat!

This week the children, in addition to learning prayers and songs, made puppets out of brown paper bags. They love doing crafts, and the parents take special note when the children bring home their art after the class. C, O, and A are being very creative in coming up with ideas each week. . . .

We are thinking it takes about 5 teachers to maintain order in the class; however, it looks like we only have 2 consistent teachers for the summer. Long story short, we need teachers! If you're interested in serving in this capacity, please let us know!


We are really starting to feel a part of this community. When we walk around, children are running out to greet us, parents are waving. As far as our direct teaching efforts, we will be focusing less on door-to-door teaching. Our hope is to expand upon the many connections and relationships we already have. For example, we spent one afternoon this past week sitting in one family's living room, getting to know them, sharing stories and playing music. Two of the younger men will join us for one of A's devotionals soon!

As a side note, we are realizing that door-to-door teaching is really only a fraction of what needs to be done. In comparison to what is needed for other efforts, it is minimal. The majority of our time and effort is needed in follow-ups, and in initiating and leading Ruhi study circles.

Birthday Party

This week we had an extra special event. A daughter of a in whose home we use as a home-base for the children's class had a birthday this weekend. The family warmly invited us and sincerely asked that we come to the event. A group of us showed up to the party. The small apartment was packed with people, balloons, mounds of fruit and yummy food, and a ton of singing. Members of a local church were there, leading devotional songs and prayers and giving talks. We all listened and sang when we could (when it was in English!). After their devotions were done, the birthday girl stood up and insisted to everyone present that we sing a Bahá’í song, "We Are Drops". Then she insisted we say a prayer they've learned in the class, and she and her sister led the prayer: "O God, guide me, protect me, make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful." Afterwards she and her sister wanted us to sing another song they had learned! It was truly wonderful to see the children themselves ask to sing and pray.

We are truly teaching hearts, and that goes so much deeper than words. More than anything, at this birthday party we realized that we are creating relationships. We have a large responsibility to these beautiful souls.

With much love,

The Core Team

"Support from the Local Spiritual Assembly has encouraged more activity"

When the institutions work together, progress in the cluster is a natural result. What is so interesting in this report from Las Cruces, NM (*C), is how sustained commitment is creating a close working relationship between core team members and the Local Spiritual Assembly. It is one of several things being done to help encourage more and more of the friends to arise and serve.

Actively engaging the Local Spiritual Assembly in the plans and actions of the cluster is vital. By meeting with the Assembly recently we have enlisted its support for the Reflection Meetings. The Assembly has asked to meet with the cluster institute coordinators for at least 20 minutes at every Assembly meeting (which is held every 19 days). In just a few weeks this support from the Local Assembly has encouraged more activity. We also informed the Assembly of our projected Reflection Meeting dates for the entire year. . . .

Outside encouragement is vital to this community. Having speakers on the Regional Bahá’í Conference recap the highlights and walk us through the planning sessions helped everyone understand where we were and where we needed to be. This format will be used for our next Reflection Meeting as well.

We have found that setting a goal of 100% participation in at least some aspect of the core activities is helping some folks see what is possible with the institute process. Patience with the process and striving towards having more individuals completing the sequence of courses is working well in our cluster.

Data, human resources, commitment, reflection all lead to steady progress

Knoxville, TN (A) is moving forward! This report, several excerpts from which we have shared here, is a stellar example of operating in a learning mode. The friends are analyzing the information they are regularly collecting, consulting about progress made and current needs, and creating goals and specific plans of action to meet those needs. Especially exciting is the breakthrough that has been made in relation to consolidation. There is now a wider and deeper understanding among the friends about the necessary elements of a sustainable follow-up process and the human resources needed—for which they have a well-organized system. Finally, it is thrilling to see how the various Local Spiritual Assemblies in the cluster are arising to support the teaching efforts and the close working relationship between the LSAs and cluster entities. Go Knoxville!

Analyzing consolidation:

At the end of this 13th cycle, the area teaching committee analyzed the rate of retention of new believers in the cluster over the past year. The following aspects of each cycle were reviewed: 1) how many of the new believers for the last 3 cycles have remained connected to the community, 2) how many are consistently in Ruhi classes, and 3) how many are receiving home visits and being knitted into the fabric of community life from an organic level. The findings were clear: during cycle 11 there was a 30% retention rate; during cycle 12 there was a 40% retention rate; during cycle 13 so far there has been a 90% retention rate. . . .

The ATC feels that this increase is due to a greater knowledge of what consolidation truly is. There is a much clearer understanding of the importance of immediate follow-ups with new believers. The core team has learned to continue visiting people, even when they are not home or seem disinterested. It can be said that one the greatest lessons from this cycle was the importance of being persistent and not giving up. Often, when new believers were not home or did not answer the door, it was simply because they were busy with their life, jobs, or children, not because they were disinterested. The friends never stopped visiting new Bahá’ís. They remained consistent in visiting the new Bahá’ís and seekers on a weekly basis and did not lose faith or hope in them.

Appropriate time was allocated for Ruhi classes based on the needs of the new believers. There are 3 “shifts” that volunteers who wish to assist with the process of consolidation can choose from: weekend, daytime weekday, and early-evening weekday. There is at least one core team member always available during those shifts to lovingly accompany a community member who wishes to home visit with a new Bahá’í.

Committed human resources key:

During this cycle, the home visits and follow-up processes were sustained better than ever before with the help of some motivated and dedicated community members who have become firmly involved in the organized teaching process. There were members from each Local Spiritual Assembly in the cluster to assist with teaching and consolidation. Additionally, there were members of the Sevierville community (one hour away) who traveled to Knoxville to assist with home visits every week.

Goals set based on reflection and experiences:

After consultation and careful review of core activities in the cluster, it was decided that the first goal to reach this cycle is to improve the number of devotionals held in the cluster, both quality and quantity. The core team has been encouraging and empowering the community in this aspect of the 5 Year Plan since the Reflection Gathering, where there was a special presentation on what a devotional is and how easy it is to have one in your own neighborhood. As a result there were 10 pledges of people who are going to try and hold regular devotionals this cycle.

The second goal for this cycle is to increase the number of people visiting new Bahá’ís, both to share the deepening themes from Ruhi Book 2 with them and for general home visits. This was discussed at the Reflection Gathering, and some of the youth talked about how fun and easy it is to share deepening themes with new believers. A number of people volunteered to visit new Bahá’ís and share these deepening themes.

Close institutional collaboration:

The area teaching committee secretary and the cluster institute coordinator have been visiting local Nineteen Day Feasts and Local Spiritual Assembly meetings to help create and foster loving fellowship and a humble environment of learning. It was helpful for all parties involved to be on the same page as far as what the goals and needs are for the upcoming cycle. Everyone was able to learn from one another’s suggestions and had a feeling of love and a better understanding of what the organized, systematic, and cooperative efforts of an IPG cycle are.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Thank you for your sacrifice and your teaching"

This delightful piece from San Diego, CA (A) brought lots of smiles to my face. The teaching is continuing in earnest, and now there are signs of a SECOND “Bahá’í village” emerging in the cluster. Plus, an 8-year old believer participated on a teaching team, and his humble and thankful attitude gave much encouragement to the rest of the friends. I’ll say no more!

Cherished teachers

What an extraordinary teaching effort we just completed! The cluster’s second “Bahá’í Village” has now emerged. Over 3 weekends, there were 50 friends engaged in direct teaching in this neighborhood, including 10 visitors from all over the country. With so many loving teachers in the field, everything was surrounded and infused by the holiness of the presence of the Supreme Concourse. Now there are 9 more new Bahá’ís—9 more family members! . . .

Here is a beautiful story from one of the members of the coordinating team about our youngest teacher, __, who joined us at the tender age of 8. :)

With warmest love and affection for you all!

The Area Teaching Committee

Dear friends,

Here is the picture drawn the weekend of 4/18/09 by __.

He accompanied our teaching teams on Saturday during a teaching effort in a neighborhood. After spending most of the afternoon on Saturday accompanying his mother and another member of the team to visit homes, he came back to our afternoon reflection. While we ate lunch he drew a picture of the Bahá’ís visiting homes carrying the materials for Anna's conversation. It showed lots of details of the homes, even the staircases and doorbells and addresses. His drawing, as he described it to everyone, shows God smiling and happy with the sacrifice of the Bahá’ís who are teaching. Afterward, he came up to me and he said that he forgot to tell the group one more thing. He had wanted to tell them, "Thank you for your sacrifice today and for teaching." Rather than trying to get the attention of everyone again, I suggested he go talk to each of the participants and tell them directly because it was hard for everyone to hear him in the big group the first time. He did exactly that. I watched eyes get watery throughout the room as he, with such humility went to many of the friends, and I was happy that so many of the teachers told him what a difference his being there made to the effort.