Monday, June 29, 2009

Be detached from the results . . .

For anyone who’s ever felt a little discouraged when their efforts don’t seem to achieve results, here is something that will surely lift your spirits. As these animators of a junior youth group in Fort Collins, CO (A), found out: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. What dedication! What steadfastness! What reliance and faith in Bahá’u’lláh! Well, that’s what the animators used; their first two participants did the rest.

Despite our best efforts, our junior youth group in Fort Collins got off to an unexpected slow start. After meeting with a few junior youth and their parents in the close-knit community, the animators of the group attempted to hold the first meeting the following day at the community’s club house. Waiting with great anticipation, nobody showed up. But determined to hold our first meeting, we revisited the homes we visited the day before. We were unsuccessful in finding anyone interested. . . .

Trying to figure out what we did wrong, I was reminded by my co-animator that we need to be detached from the results and put in our best efforts and Bahá’u’lláh would do the rest. A few weeks later, revitalized and determined, we once again visited with junior youth in the community and their parents, further explaining the group and inviting them to come the next day. We felt better about our meetings this time around and once again we waited at the clubhouse with great anticipation. Fifteen minutes after our planned meeting time, nobody had showed up and the feeling of discouragement had started to settle in once again. One of the animators suggested that we give it one last shot to revisit the houses, but this time we focused on remembering to be detached from the results. Two animators decided to stay at the meeting venue while the other two headed off to visit people.

As soon as we started walking towards our first residence, we were hesitantly approached by two junior youth aged girls. I was reluctant to think they had come for the junior youth group because they were not anyone I recognized from the previous day’s visits. They kept walking towards us and one of them asked, “Are you doing the youth group?” I couldn’t believe it! These were our first two participants! And what Junior Youth they were. We invited them to come with us to invite more kids their age. Willingly they accepted, and just a half hour later and a few rounds of the neighborhood, there were 10 kids walking with us towards the clubhouse. You should’ve seen the look on the two animators’ faces as all the kids walked up!

Astonished, we gathered the ten kids aged 10-16 (and one 6 year-old sibling who we just couldn’t turn down when he asked, “Can I come too?”). We sat in the circle and introduced ourselves and the idea of the junior youth group. The group dynamic was better than we could’ve ever imagined. The youth were happily participating in discussion and team-building games. We even had two more youth join us that had seen the group while riding their bikes. Feeling blessed we thanked the youth for coming and invited them to come back the following week and to invite their friends.

Since that first meeting, we’ve had three more meetings with a total of 18 different junior youth aged 10-16, an average of about 12 youth showing up at each group, with new faces showing up each week. This week we will be embarking on our first community service project, gathering sunflowers from a local friend’s garden and delivering them to some of the elderly in the community. The week after, we plan to start our first lesson in Breezes of Confirmation.

We always hoped for a group like this, but realized that it can only be achieved through our best efforts and being detached from the results, leaving the rest in Bahá’u’lláh’s hands. Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Nothing--not even success--stops them from keeping on teaching

There are several reasons to rejoice at this report from Chester County, TN (C). First, it is an example of a collective, direct teaching effort in a C-stage cluster—and a very enthusiastic one at that! Second, it shows the continuing influence and transforming effect of the series of Regional Bahá’í Conferences held last December. Third, it shows a beautiful partnership between an A-stage cluster and its C-stage neighbor that is empowering in BOTH directions. The friends from the C-stage cluster support a new A-stage cluster during its newly-launched intensive program of growth, they gain experience and confidence by assisting with the teaching there. Then they go back to their own cluster and begin teaching there! (And they are supported by their friends from the A cluster.) Finally (what number are we on now?) the friends do not rest on their laurels after their initial heartening results (reaching the minimum number of Bahá’ís necessary to form a Local Spiritual Assembly), but keep on teaching!

How the First Spiritual Assembly was formed in Chester County, Tennessee

After returning home aflame from the Regional Bahá’í Conference called by the Universal House of Justice held in Atlanta in December, the believers in Henderson and Chester County, Tennessee set out with a gusto to fulfill our pledges to the Memphis IPG. (Our community is small, but we had pledged to assist with this nearby A-stage cluster.) We committed to travel teach, to help enliven their reflection meetings and celebrations with music, and to be prayer partners for their neighborhood teaching teams. . . .

The result: Immediately we made stronger friendships and became more confirmed by the Holy Spirit that we were being assisted and supported, and we saw declarations of new believers in Memphis. To our joy, the Memphis teaching teams were inspired to travel teach to our community and accompany us in our efforts to visit homes and share the Message using Anna’s conversation. On December 29th we our first new Bahá’í, a youth of 19, enrolled.

We increased our travel teaching trips to Memphis to once a week through March and April, and continued direct teaching in our home community on weekends. On April 12th with the enrollment of a mother and her daughter we suddenly realized we now had grown from 4 adult Bahá’ís and 1 youth to 9 adults—enough to form a Local Spiritual Assembly. Breathlessly, we contacted our Auxiliary Board member with the news. She coordinated with us and her Assistant so we could make a joint declaration on April 20th. [In a community where there are exactly 9 adult Bahá’ís, a Local Spiritual Assembly is formed by “joint declaration”; if there are more than 9 adult Bahá’ís, an election is carried out to choose the members of the Local Assembly.] Past experiences inspired us to begin beating the bushes and find a 10th Bahá’í so we could possibly have an election.

We committed to direct teaching every day for 5 days until the deadline. We made a list of 9 people and sent their names to the Universal House of Justice for prayers. The names were of people who had either been through Anna’s Presentation and had actually said they believed but hadn’t enrolled yet, or had otherwise asked for return visits. Saturday, we went to the home of one of these individuals and met her husband instead. He told us that she wasn’t there and that he was too busy to visit with us, but we could come back another day.

Monday April 20th arrived, and we had had no luck catching up with the people on our list, though we have tried many times in the last 5 days. It was 1:00 pm and our friends were saying, “Well you have done your best; maybe you need to prepare for the joint declaration.”

“No,” we thought, we still have some folks to contact. We stepped out of our apartment and suddenly there were all 9 of the people on our list standing around their apartments in every direction we looked! We didn’t know which way to go first! We prayed, then my mom said, “Let’s go see __ (our very first contact when we returned from the conference in December). We marched over singing under our breath, “We are the people of Baha… firmly we walk the path of God!”

Then we say the man we met on Saturday, standing in his doorway with the door open. He was dressed up, and his house was spotless. It was obvious that he wanted us to come to see him. He shouted, “Good! You are here. I can talk to you today. Come in and sit down.” I then knew we were on our way!

Two hours later, he declared his belief in Bahá’u’lláh. We told him about the election that would be held at 7 pm. He said, “Okay. I will give you my ballot now, because I won’t be available this evening.” By 4:00, off we went to make ballots and to deliver them to everyone in time for the meeting. That night we had 5 people attend the election and had collected 3 additional absentee ballots.

Although we didn’t have this man’s name on the list we had sent to the House of Justice, God had prevailed. We ended up having 9 adults who voted, and now we have our new Local Spiritual Assembly for Chester County.

A true team effort

I’m posting this chain of emails (plus a few comments) because it is a fine example of how the friends at the national, regional and local levels can work together to respond to seeker inquiries.

First, a seeker called 1-800-22UNITE line and left a message. The National Teaching Office then forwarded the message to the regional specialists. Notification was also sent automatically to that local community (which the system does for specific clusters).

One of the regional specialists emailed back:

Dear N, that is a wonderfully precious seeker. Do you have those 2 books he requested at the Teaching Office so that we can send them to him? Also, I will look to see who is in that community. Also, maybe he is a candidate for the new telephone Ruhi Class. I am sharing this with A as we share seekers if one of us has too many, vice versa. Love you. Let me know before I call him. S . . .

The other regional specialist noted:

Hi S and folks in the NTO,

Since he is a “pass through”, I've made a comment mentioning that the NTO will send one of the books, and so the local folks can see the comment. He said it was okay to visit, so maybe they'll go to his home. (By the way, the local Bahá’ís have already assigned him to a believer: a very good sign!)

So for the first book, yes, please send it to him. Please just write that we don't keep the other book in stock, but it's on the web. Perhaps print 10 pages for him from that book and we'll see how he responds.

How does that sound?


So, then the National Teaching Office did that.

Dear Friends,

I have sent him the requested book, a print out of some of the web pages of the other, and the regular introductory packet, along with a cover letter.

That’s great that the local folks are already on the ball.

Thanks for your collaboration.

Finally, one of the local believers sent email that the cluster institute coordinator will go and visit the seeker at his home.

Talk about a team effort!

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Everybody decided to do something"

The friends in Newark, NJ (A) are always up to something. This time it’s a cluster reflection meeting that managed to empower everyone there! How did they do it? Through encouragement, consultation, and leadership, that’s how! And as a result, more of the friends have confidence that they can find their own part to play in the Five Year Plan and that their contribution is valuable.

The cluster reflection gathering was carefully organized so that we first reflected as a whole cluster, and then divided ourselves according to county and consulted about the next steps for each county. We were given a list of various possible strategies for teaching and asked to decide what we could reasonably do. I think this process set up by the institutions was excellent in that it gave us some focal points (we were also able to add additional strategies to the original list). There were strategies suited to everyone’s capacity and availability so no one was forced to do something that they were not comfortable with—and so everybody decided to do something.

It was also good to have the guidance of the institutions because we didn’t wind up wasting time trying to figure out what to do. We were also fired up with prayer before and after the meeting. I believe everyone left the cluster reflection gathering with a firm desire and commitment to do something, however large or small, to spread the Faith. Our group developed a list of 16 seekers and new believers in our county that we will be praying for and teaching. It was a great day!

"This is what we envisioned when we began direct teaching"

Neither rain nor sleet nor snow can keep the friends in Vermont (A) from teaching. Here is a story of an uplifting home visit, and is yet another example of how bonds of friendship and unity are the strongest foundation for teaching efforts.

Due to the torrential downpour and lightning, no one was outside; it was quite unusual to see the courtyard deserted, as most of the time it is full of children of all ages. We visited a couple of apartments of people we had previously met, but were not able to find anyone at home. So T suggested that we visit her friend __, who leaves nearby and who has been meeting with T and sharing prayers for over a year. . . .

__ welcomed our damp group of four into her home with open arms, seated us in the living room, and showed us wonderful hospitality and joy. Three of us chatted with her in her native language. We said some healing prayers for her son. We also recited two prayers of the Báb, “Remover of difficulties” and “God sufficeth”, and shared a little about the life of the Báb. __ read the prayers out loud and showed compassion and distress for the martyred Báb.

We asked her if she would like to study together and have more discussions about the Faith, to shich she readily agreed. She and T will see each other and pick a time.

This meeting was what we had envisioned when we began direct teaching, and it came about from the long association, true loving friendship and patient development of the relationship which T has built with this friend. We will reflect and consult on this, and will take great care to accompany __ and her son in their investigation of the Faith.

A pure and open attitude

The act of teaching is challenging. It is challenging to those who teach the Faith, and challenging to those who hear the Message. Bahá’ís do not impose the teachings on those who do not wish to hear them; nor do we timidly keep the Faith hidden to ourselves. Rather, we joyfully share the Faith in a spirit of openness and fellowship with people of all religions.

Numerous times I see stories of Bahá’ís who offer to share the Faith with someone whose initial reaction is to say, “I already have my own religion/my own church.” The friends have found that generally, this statement does not indicate the person has no interest whatsoever in hearing about the Faith (and it also isn’t an invitation to start a debate!). The friends have learned to respond with sensitivity and love, which leads to building further connections. In the course of our teaching, we encounter those who want to join the Faith, and we also encounter those who decide not to join. Again, we respond with love and openness and welcome them into whatever activities they wish to be a part of. This brief story from Lancaster, PA (A) is a perfect example of this attitude of openness.

Yesterday, we visited a neighborhood to share the Message. We met one man, and began introducing the Faith with “The Bahá’í Faith is a world religion whose aim and purpose is to unity all the people of the world in one common faith.” He replied politely, “That would be wonderful, but I don’t believe that can happen until Christ has returned.”

I then asked him how we will know when Christ returns unless we keep our eyes, ears and hearts open. I asked if he would be willing to listen further. He said yes, so we shared all of Anna’s conversation with him. When we asked him, “How do you feel after hearing this wonderful news?”, he gave a radiant smile and said, “I feel good. I feel very happy.” He then said he is not ready to change his religion but would very much like to come to a devotional gathering to share the sacred. I told him about several gatherings this week; he will attend the one in my home this weekend.

You just never know . . .

It’s not all sunshine and roses. We’ve all had our frustrating and disappointing teaching experiences. And if you experienced what these friends in Brookhaven, NY (A) went through, you’d be feeling pretty down too! But this story is an example of how you just never know. . . . and that no teaching effort is truly wasted.

During the Autumn, a team of 4 members of the Brookhaven community went to a neighborhood to continue some of the direct teaching that had started during the summer by the youth participating in Project Mirza Mihdi. It was early evening, getting dark, a little rainy, and not many people were at home—and those who were home were not eager to talk at that time of day. So their efforts seemed fruitless, yielding no apparent results. . . .

However, the group persisted and visited another home where they met a man who said that he couldn’t talk then but that he would be willing to take their contact information in case he was ever interested. One of the teachers gave him her telephone number (thinking that they probably would not hear from him), and then the team called it a night and went home.

Well, several months later, wouldn’t you know that the same guy called back the Bahá’í teacher saying that he really wanted to know more. He has been invited to come to the home of that Bahá’í friend and learn more about the Faith.

Now, who knows what will happen! Why did the friends keep going, even when it seems like they were getting nowhere with their teaching? All questions to think about!

Innovative approaches to devotional meetings

Devotional gatherings are an important part of any sustained teaching effort. Around the country, the friends have learned how to organize devotional gatherings in their homes and how to invite their friends to the devotions. The believers are finding that their friends and neighbors and family members and colleagues are very interested in participating. The friends in Long Island, NY (A), have experimented with a couple of intriguing approaches to devotional gatherings, which we are happy to share here. First, is an example that involves a community’s Bahá’í Center: . . .

During the latest cycle, one of the communities embarked on a teaching effort that resulted in some wonderful opportunities. Calling it a “Friends and Family” event, the community had a gathering at the Bahá’í Center, and invited friends and family members to this social but also prayerful gathering that was designed as a way to introduce the Faith to those who knew something about it but had not yet had a “full out” introduction. 9 seekers attended. There was an excellent presentation and very good one-on-one conversations both before and after the presentation. The friends concluded that this was a very good approach.

Second, is a brief report of a “Spiritual Tea”. In this case, a Bahá’í Holy Day (Ayyam-i-Ha) provided a perfect opportunity to introduce and establish a devotional gathering.

The Bahá’ís who attended invited coworkers and friends, as well as other contacts. In all, there were 12 guests. One of the participants noted:

The Spiritual Tea was a wonderful evening. It was a real “getting to know you” evening, along with an explanation of the Faith and the Holy Day, and a sharing of prayers. Guests indicated that they would like to see the activity continue.

First teaching experience "will always be my story and the beginning of so many blessed stories to come"

Many seekers declare their belief in Bahá’u’lláh after being invited to join the Faith. But in this case, a seeker in Boston, MA (A) declared after INVITING someone else to join the Faith! This lovely story of how the teaching process transformed one individual needs no additional comments, except that it is beautiful.

A seeker had been participating in a Ruhi Book 1 study circle for some time, then happened to come “by accident” to the Bahá’í Center during the expansion phase just as we were about to go out to teach in neighborhoods. She asked if she could join us, and after the first visit, she declared. We recently invited her to speak at our reflection meeting; her job prevented her from attending but she asked if she could send a letter to be read to the participants instead:

Dear Bahá’í Family,

Looking back into who I was before coming to know you I find great hope and love for a universal community. I find great faith in my heart for God’s kingdom to dwell on earth with courage and knowledge of Him. I knew this was the path every human soul had to walk. . . .

I just did not know what the element was to hold it all together, the unifying piece, until I came face to face with it. And here I am telling you my story, which is but the story of a trusted heart in the ever shining sun. Bahá’u’lláh is my teacher. He is my prophet. He is the very essence of God in this our earth.

And I went through doubts and hesitation . . . And here I am; because by teaching what I had the blessing of having opened up endless possibilities. And because by telling this that was in my heart to __ with N and J will always be my story, and the beginning of so many blessed stories to come.

Thank you all for being there for me, and I can only hope to be there for you.

Prayer opens doors in Allentown

Allentown, PA (A) has recently completed the expansion phase of the first cycle of its intensive program of growth, and what is particularly striking about the set of the friends’ teaching stories is the centrality of prayer. Whether devotional gatherings or sharing of healing prayers during a home visit, prayers are a way to connect hearts. The friends are finding that the people they meet are open to and grateful for sharing of prayers and are moved by the experience.

My friend came to the devotional gathering arranged at the __s’ home. Her words to me afterwards were, “I could feel the spirit in the room as soon as I came in. This is where it was happening!” She loved seeing how the children were welcomed and hearing the prayer “O God, educate these children” sung. . . .

We met this family on a teaching day. D shared all of Anna’s presentation in Spanish. Later, another family member arrived from the hospital, and D offered to say a healing prayer. As she read, the newly arrived family member fell to tears. They all wanted us to come back and when asked if they want to have a children’s class in their house, they said yes. They have two younger youth that they are interested in having them join the junior youth group.

We visited some other families. They have been experiencing many different tests—illnesses, economic difficulties. So we share prayers for healing, prayers for overcoming tests and difficulties. Everyone is grateful and appreciative of the prayers.

We visited another household who welcomed us in for the sharing of prayers. Although they initially indicated that they were not interested because “we have our own church”, they wanted us to return again and were in fact very open to everything we shared.

All four core activities sprouting up in South Middlesex

This report of the latest cycle of the intensive program of growth in South Middlesex County, MA (A) caught my eye because it demonstrates how the core activities are truly the foundations of teaching and building community. Within this cluster examples of all four core activities are sprouting up, each with a story of a heart-to-heart connection behind it!

Last week a teaching team visited a family they had met during a previous teaching effort. They met __, a radiant junior youth, and spoke with him about the Faith and the importance of the empowerment of junior youth. They decided to start a junior youth group with __ and his friends, and he actively took part in the planning of this group. One of the team members immediately agreed to serve as the animator for the group. The team then followed this up with an invitation for the whole family to attend the upcoming fireside. . . .

In another locality, a few teaching teams went to visit a neighborhood that had been previously explored by another believer. They found an incredible community of families with children. In home after home, the friends were invited in, and they shared the Message with receptive souls. In just two hours they had met many people who wanted to investigate the Faith further. Two believers carried out follow-up visits over the next two days, and as a result, one of these individuals has committed to hosting a new children’s class in her home! A number of other parents in this neighborhood have also expressed interest in the spiritual education of their children. We are truly beginning a new relationship with this wonderful new community.

In yet another locality, we have reached out to 2 new families and 2 other seekers, who have begun to attend the children’s classes and devotional gatherings. A new study circle is beginning today with one of these seekers, who feels she is ready to seriously investigate becoming a part of the Faith. An additional devotional gathering will begin on Saturday. Throughout the week, these seekers have been calling us, with such joy and inspiration in their voices, and with a sense of commitment to be part of creating a new world.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Accompanying the seeker at each stage of the journey

The friends who serve at the regional level to respond to seekers who call the 1-800-22-UNITE phone line or send inquiries through the Web site are truly dedicated. These “regional specialists” are there to meet the needs of seekers and new believers. If a seeker wants information about the Faith, they provide it. If a seeker wants to meet Bahá’ís, they connect them to believers near them. If seeker wants to become Bahá’í, they take the necessary steps so that the seeker can enroll. Or if someone declares online but then decides that they want more time to investigate, their wishes are respected, and the regional specialist is a resource for them. The regional specialists do not do this in isolation, but work closely with Local Spiritual Assemblies and cluster entities to ensure that interested individuals can be put in touch with Bahá’ís and core activities.

This story from a C-stage cluster in the South Central region is a wonderful example of how accompaniment, patience, and regular follow-up by the regional specialist helped the friend meet the needs of a seeker. . . .

__ declared online using the new online registration process. After speaking with her, the regional specialist realized that she was still considering herself a seeker rather than a new declarant. The regional specialist noted:

We just talked. She needs a little more time and will talk with a Bahá’í she knows at her place of work. She had already registered online, so her status was changed from “registrant” to “seeker” in the database. She has read up on the Faith on the Web.

The regional specialist didn’t stop there but continued to show support to her new friends.

I emailed her and offered assistance with questions, sending books, etc., and informed her of local activities and events. Further contact revealed that she is not ready to declare just yet, but is very interested in furthering her investigation.

__ has become friends with her, and they have found they have very much in common regarding background and interests.

The regional specialist kept in contact with the local community through the Local Spiritual Assembly and learned more about this seeker’s investigation.

J called with terrific news today. __ declared, and is helping out at the Bahá’í Center right NOW, and is involved in community life there. Yá-Bahá’u’l-Abhá!

Neither the regional specialist nor the local community gave up. Their C-stage cluster is on its way to further growth and learning with this approach to teaching!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"I gave him the 800 number and he called right there on the spot"

This story from the in Los Angeles, CA (A) cluster confirms that, yes, you CAN share the Message while still in your pajamas! But even more important, it underscores the point that seekers are eager to meet Bahá’ís who live near them to learn more about the Faith. In this case, the seeker IMMEDIATELY called the phone number he was given.

I was on vacation in California to attend a wedding. The day after the wedding my one-and-a-half year old son woke me up during an hour of the morning I never knew existed before parenthood. I took him in the backyard of the home where we were staying. He became restless, so I decided to take him out the front yard, despite the fact that I was wearing my pajamas. . . .

He started running down the sidewalk and paused at a car that was parked on the street where a man in his twenties or thirties was sitting with the window unrolled. “Hey little buddy,” the man said.

“Hi,” I said.

“Has he been to the House of God?” the man asked right away.

At first I didn’t know what he meant.

The man pointed to the church across the street. “Has he been to church?” (He was just coming from there.)

Realizing we had been led to him, I said “We are Bahá’ís.”

“What that?” he asked.

I just began to tell him about the basics of the Faith, and he interrupted and said, “That’s what I believe.” He asked if we believe in God and I told him Bahá’ís believe God is Unknowable in His Essence but we know Him through the Messengers He sends, like perfect mirrors reflecting the light of the sun.

He shared with me a little about his beliefs. I acknowledged the truth of what he was saying and mentioned that we are all likes drops of one ocean. He asked where there are Bahá’ís. I said all around the world. He said, no, where are there Bahá’ís in that town. I explained I was from out of town but I could give him a toll free number so he could contact the Bahá’ís. He said okay. I gave him the number for the 1-800-22-UNITE line and he called right there on the spot. He kept telling me how he was really interested. At that point, someone else jumped into the car and they drove away, but I was glad that I was able to give him the 800 number.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"The prayers are working."

These brief messages from the South Central region involve one of the “seeker response” regional specialists trying to follow up with an individual who had contacted the Bahá’í community asking for more information. Note how the prayers of the friends assisted the teaching process with the seeker.

Dear J

Did you or someone you know attend the Holy Day or the program the next day? I’d like to ask about a possible guest. We corresponded a bit and he was planning to attend one or both events, and I just wanted to see if anyone met him. . . .

Thank you very much.


Later (after many prayers):

Dear friends,


Mystery solved. The seeker I asked about earlier called me out of the blue today. He shared how he's doing.


The prayers are working. Please know that I was in the process of 'affirming' him, but this is not yet complete. A couple of weeks ago I shared half of Anna’s presentation with him. If he attends any event or if a teaching team contacts him, please mention my name and that he might like to join a study circle or attend a devotional gathering.

We'll see if I can complete the process in this month, and then communicate with the beloved Assembly. If not, he may want to be a seeker and friend of the Faith. In either case, please keep him in your prayers.



Quick follow-up to an online registration

Here is a brief but very compelling report of a declaration in a B-stage cluster in the Central region. This individual is one of the growing numbers of people who have taken advantage of the opportunity to register their belief in Bahá’u’lláh online. This new believer was quickly connected to her local Bahá’í community and to the institute process. This also shows the importance of home visits in the follow-up process.

It’s official! We have a newly registered Bahá’í in our locality. I’m meeting with her and the community at the next Nineteen Day Feast, and will speak with her to arrange a new tutor to meet with her. Thank you for the prayers, we are feeling the effects!

Further details: M found the Faith on her own. She has been investigating and searching for a Faith. She called up P, who was the listed contact in the newspaper article on the Faith that she had read. M investigated it online, and she registered herself online. The seeker response regional specialist then sent an email to P verify the registration. P visited M for the first time, and M said that she’s too old to monkey around, and she doesn’t want to waste time. She wants to immerse herself into the community and doesn’t need any more questions answered. So, I spoke at length with P, and suggested she visit M’s home a least one time each Bahá’í month (and take some of the other believers who need to build their confidence in carrying out this service). It’s also good if she can attend Feast, and begin participating in study of Ruhi Book 1 as soon as possible. I’m going to meet with her to introduce her to the institute process and connect her with a tutor. We are all too excited.

An online devotional

This is the third in our trio of “seeker response” stories. I’ve heard of “fireside devotional” gatherings and “impromptu” devotional gatherings and even devotional gatherings over the phone, but here is another first—an online devotional! Here we have one of the friends working at the regional level, responding to a seeker’s requests for prayers for himself and his family. In this case, one of the friends first emailed him:


My hope is that this note finds you well. Back in February your request for prayer for your brother was honored. At that time __ may have let you know about that. Now, I am helping her with following up with folks like yourself who have requested prayers or want information about the Bahá’í Faith).

I wanted to let you know that your brother is still on our prayer list, and if there is anything we can do to be supportive of matters of the heart, we are here to support you. This is the prayer that I am saying for him: . . .

"Lord! Pitiful are we, grant us Thy favor; poor, bestow upon us a share from the ocean of Thy wealth; needy, do Thou satisfy us; abased, give us Thy glory. The fowls of the air and the beasts of the field receive their meat each day from Thee and all beings partake of Thy care and loving kindness.

Deprive not this feeble one of Thy wondrous grace and vouchsafe by Thy might unto this helpless soul Thy bounty.

Give us our daily bread and grant Thine increase in the necessities of life, that we may be dependent on none other than Thee, may walk in Thy ways and declare Thy mysteries. Thou art the Almighty and the Loving and the Provider of all mankind."

(From the Baha'i prayer book)

I would love to hear how you and your brother are doing.

Very sincerely,


The seeker then sent this reply to the Bahá’ís:

Dear A,

Thank you for the prayer for my brother. He seems to be doing better lately.

If it is ok, I would like to have another prayer made for my other brother. I am sure he gets a lot of prayers sent his way from the church he goes to, but I would like to have the Bahá’ís pray for him also.

Again, thank you and the others for your prayers,

The regional specialist then commented

Dear friends,

It's nice to see Mr. __ respond to prayer in this way. I'm writing an email back to him.

Would you put him and his two brothers on the Regional Bahá’í Council’s prayer list?



Following up with a seeker leads to a surprise

We now share the second in our trio of “seeker response” stories. In this case, one of the friends decided to follow-up with an individual who had already contacted the Bahá’ís for information and see if she wanted anything else. This led to a deep conversation on spiritual matters, which led to this individual declaring her faith. It is inspiring to seek the friends’ dedication in following up with seekers and ensuring they are not forgotten.

A, what a beautiful story and experience. How perfect a moment. I think it is also great that you are going back over previous contacts. There does not seem to be much time to backtrack, but when we do, we often find the jewels. They have had time to grow and to reflect. Thanks so much for sharing this.



Glad tidings that there is a new believer in our region!

She has been a seeker for many years. Believers in a number of cities where she has lived nurtured her. She has also been to meetings and has had home visits. . . .

Tonight I decided to go through my list of people that had been contacted already and just send notes to folks and see if they had what they needed. Since her phone was listed, I called her and she was so grateful to have a call.

We ended up have a deep conversation. When she told me about her life, I said, "It sounds like God has a purpose for you. I wonder what it is?" I also asked "What do you think is the purpose of life?" Our conversation went deeper and deeper; she was open to talking about the soul, life and death, and so I started with my Ruhi Book 1, section 3 on life and death. I asked if she would like me to read what Bahá’u’lláh says about the soul. She agreed. As we kept talking, I expressed a genuine feeling, "You sound like a Bahá’í" and she chuckled with delight. I knew then that I would be sharing with her how we do our membership. Then we went through Anna's Presentation in natural, conversational way.

About two hours later, I asked, “How do you feel about all this?” She said, "I believe it." I explained about cards, and registering on the internet. She said that she remembers hearing about the card, and that she thinks she has one somewhere packed in a box. I said I could do it for her. She said, “Yes, you can register me.”

I encouraged her to call all the Baha'is she knows, share the good news, and thank them for praying for her. We closed with singing a prayer. She asked for us to keep praying for her.



Remembering the 7

Increasingly, people are seeking out the Bahá’í Faith on their own. They research it on the internet, check out books in libraries, etc. And then, they reach out to the Bahá’í community. Some call the 1-800-22UNITE phone line, others may send an email through the public Web site When they do, the friends at the national, regional and local levels work together to respond to their inquiry, say prayers with them, share a presentation on the Faith with them, connect them with local Bahá’í activities—whatever the seeker requests.

We are delighted to share with you a trio of joyful stories from some of the friends at the regional level who respond to seeker requests, answer their questions, and ensure that they are put in touch with believers who live near them. In this first one, some of these friends have been encouraging each other’s efforts by periodically setting goals for themselves of the number of new believers they would discover through their interactions with the seekers who have contacted the Bahá’ís through the above-mentioned channels: . . .

Dear friends,

The South Central SRS team reached its goal of 12 new believers!

We may set a new goal. All the prayers and efforts of the friends over the years and recently, as well as “direct” teaching, show us that Bahá’u’lláh has made things happen as they have.



Now that one goal is completed, they need a new one!

Dearest A and Company . . .

I love your spirit. Alright, A . . . your choice, what is our new goal.

Sent with love,


And in doing so they are remembering the 7 Bahá’í leaders who are imprisoned in Iran for their beliefs.

Dear friends,

For now, may I suggest 21. When thinking of the 7 who are imprisoned leaders in Iran, each has 2 parents, 14. So 7 + 14 = 21. Let us teach for them and their parents. We will remember them every day, and teach teach teach!

With love and devotion,


Involving and empowering more and more of the community

This brief report from Tucson, AZ (A) is full of gems. Yes, it is a snapshot of a cluster steadily progressing, with the friends becoming more confident and more systematic. Yes, it also has many of the type of practical insights that can be gained only through on-the-ground action. But what is particularly heartwarming are all the indicators that the believers, old and new, are being encouraged and empowered to take ownership of the Faith. The last point (I’m not going to spoil it for you) especially profound. Let us all reflect on it!

Culture of Teaching: A culture of teaching is being developed. Friends are becoming more bold and courageous in their teaching efforts. 4 of the most recent declarations resulted from believers (in one case a relatively new believer) inviting their friends to hear about the Faith. . . .

Increased Communication: We held two small reflection gatherings midway through the cycle to share with the friends the current needs of the cluster and what has been learned. This was warmly welcomed by the friends as they felt more involved in the process. Cluster Liaisons were established in each community and sector to share information about institute activities in the cluster, gather information about core activities, and express needs for home visits, tutors, etc. The data received was excellent and more friends are sharing their desire to work in the field.

Involving Parents: It is becoming more apparent that parents’ involvement in children’s classes is the key to expansion of the Faith; it also helps encourage the children’s class teachers.

Involving New Believers in the Field: One of the new believers started a regular devotional gathering. This gave the newer Bahá’ís a sense of community in their own neighborhood, as well as showing the friends the power of collective prayer.

Study Circles: “One on one” study circles have been stretching our resources, so attempts are being made to bring participants together to study in larger groups of 3 or 4 people.

Children’s Classes: Bahá’í parents are seeing the benefits of having non-Bahá’í children in their children’s classes. The children no longer see their friends as two different groups, as in “These are my Bahá’í friends and these are my non-Bahá’í friends”; instead, they are all united together and the children discuss the Faith freely with their Friends.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"It is a bounty to be able to share the Message with those who want to hear it."

What does it mean to teach? All of us have our set of experiences that shape our view of what teaching is, what it should be, and whether we feel we can even do it! We don’t want to do something inappropriate. We may not have seen much interest or receptivity from the people we have encountered over the years. And yet . . . we still want to respond to the Five Year Plan. We take on responsibilities. We try to get involved, maybe participate in an institute course. We step up and do something we may not feel ready to do. But our friends are right there to accompany us, and we in turn accompany others. And we find out we CAN teach directly, and that we WILL meet people who are interested. Here are the reflections of an individual believer from the Central region, recounting some of her experiences from before and during her cluster’s new intensive program of growth. And reading her story one can see that all these efforts take place while humbly relying on God and from within a framework of selfless service.

In reflecting about what I have learned in the process of getting ready for and going through our first Intensive Program of Growth, I am in awe by the amount of subtle points that I have learned.

After declaring as a Bahá'í in 1982 I was very excited to share my new Faith with all my friends and family. Unfortunately, none of them were very interested. I’ve never stopped trying to share the Message with others, but my experiences over the years made me become more cautious and less open about sharing what was in my heart. . . .

When it was announced at Ridván 2008 that we were to embark on an IPG before Ridván 2009, I thought we should be ‘ready’ to do whatever was needed. To that end, our Bahá'í Group set a goal of finishing our study of the Ruhi Books, which we did.

Back in November 2008, I received a call from our Auxiliary Board member to see if I would serve as the cluster institute coordinator. I agreed to take it on, saying that I’d probably only able to do it part time.

I started with organizing refresher courses of the Ruhi materials with the community in December and January. In February, a “test teaching weekend” was scheduled. I was nervous. I was apprehensive. I was not believing that someone (us) could visit a home and find people who would embrace the Faith based on one presentation—given my 27 years of disappointment. But I prepared, and prayed, and went. We had someone “experienced” lead the way. Our presenter was confident and open about what we were out in the field doing. She openly asked people who opened their door if they wanted to hear a presentation about the Bahá'í Faith. While we didn’t have so many takers, what it did for me was show me that it was OK to directly ask people if they wanted to hear about the Baha’i Faith. It really bolstered my courage and made it straightforward. I was heartened.

When it came time for our IPG launch, I was teamed up with our Auxiliary Board member. I thought he should be the presenter since he had more “experience,” but he said, “No, you go ahead and do it. I’ll be the prayer partner.” I thought, “Well, here goes…” When we visited the first home, a Spanish lady answered the door. I introduced who was on our team and said that we were in the neighborhood today. I also told her that I was wondering if she would like to hear the spiritual message of the Bahá'í Faith. She was busy and turned us away. We visited the next home, and were told to come back another time. Sometimes wasn’t an adult home.

Finally, we came to a house where the person who was home stated that they “had their church”. I then asked if I could share a prayer, to which she said, “Yes.” So I began saying the “Refresh and gladden my spirit” prayer. She listened intently as I prayed out loud. By the end of the prayer, she was visibly touched. She then asked, “So, what church are you with?” She didn’t have time for a long presentation, but asked us to come back another time to share more.

The same thing happened at another house too. We met a woman and shared a prayer and she was in tears at the end. She, too, wanted us to return. I’ve been going back to her house and sharing Anna’s Presentation with her, answering questions as they come up. Already we are breaking down barriers and building friendship. We are getting to know each other and our personal circumstances. Where will this lead us, God only knows. But it is a bounty to be able to go out into the field and share this healing Message with those who want to hear it.

Truly it’s the Word of God that changes hearts. With the first lady, when we were able to return and had a conversation about the Faith, she said she would pray about it. We gave her a little prayer book to which she tenaciously clung. This process is not in our hands it’s in God’s. We must be patient. We must be obedient. And we must be of service.

I’ve learned so much through this process—and it’s mostly about reliance on God.

"We look forward to the day when each neighborhood experiences what we have been experiencing."

A new pattern of community life is emerging all over the planet, and is sprouting up in a significant way in many clusters in the United States. As the processes of growth and consolidation progress, many aspects of Bahá’í community life, previously carried out at a centralized location, are now being re-established at the neighborhood level. The friends are beginning to experience some of the joys and benefits of this new pattern. We are thus delighted to share an excerpt from a “Teaching Team Report” from Scottsdale, AZ (A) to a Local Spiritual Assembly in the cluster. The friends’ experience is that neighborhood-level gatherings can be intimate, empower new believers, and assist with teaching and consolidation. Note also the important role of the Local Assembly in supporting this learning process. Finally, this team’s report is being shared back to the Assembly and thus disseminating the insights gained on a wider scale.

Dear Local Spiritual Assembly, . . .

We are so pleased to share with you the accounts of our learning and growth in hosting neighborhood Feasts and Holy Days and report the results. As these events are more manageable in size we are better able to serve and meet the needs of the participants. For instance, the social portion of Feasts has taken on a whole new meaning and has become a time of intimate discussion and further deepening on the Writings amongst the friends. At the initial Feast, all who were present collectively engaged in discussing the afterlife during the social portion. One of the new believers was so excited about the Feasts that they inspired him to teach his friends about the Bahá’í Faith.

Most recently, the celebration of the Declaration of the Báb was a wonderful gathering; comprising prayers, a slide presentation, music, and a brief account of the life history of the Báb by one of the new believers. We noticed that members of our teaching team were all engaged throughout the event in teaching a seeker who attended and lovingly discussing the glory of the Faith with the new believers. As they were leaving the gathering, the new believers expressed how “exalted and inspired” they felt.

On behalf of our teaching team, we would like to thank you for the opportunity and the support you have given us. Without you none of this would have been possible. Neighborhood Feasts and Holy Day observances have lent themselves to consolidation and new declarations, have increased the unity of our teaching team, have helped us to better connect with the vision of the Universal House of Justice. We look forward to the day when each neighborhood experiences what we have been experiencing. Please keep us in your prayers and accept our heartfelt and sincere gratitude.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Indianapolis reaches out and moves ahead

Indianapolis, IN (A) has just started another cycle of its intensive program of growth. In this report, one of the believers shares some reflections from the most recent experiences of the friends. Note how the arts have been incorporated in various ways to the IPG. Accompaniment and other creative approaches are engaging a wider number of the friends in teaching. Particularly heartwarming is how an outward-looking orientation—such as showing Bahá’ís’ respect for other religions and starting core activities in a spirit of service to our neighbors—is engaging the Community of Interest, as well as helping the teachers to create new connections with the people they meet.

Advance planning for the latest IPG included a music workshop. Participation rather than performance was the key, with lots of percussion. We learned many songs which energized all ages at the meetings.

The use of a “Pledge Garden” (a poster of greenery with different colored flowers for core activities) was a fun way to collect statistics. A junior youth created the garden. . . .

Community of Interest participation helped us appreciate an outward orientation. Two spouses of Bahá’ís are studying Book 6. They attended the Cluster Reflection Meeting, and assisted with firesides as part of their Book 6 practice.

Our Intensive Program of Growth began Easter weekend. Three teams visited middle class neighborhoods near the Bahá’í Center. If someone responded to the invitation to learn about the Bahá’í Faith by saying, “I have my own church,” or something similar, the teachers shared one of the quotes of Bahá’u’lláh praising Christ, such as “Know thou that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God. . .” The response was usually positive and led to further conversation.

One neighbor, who had visited the Bahá’í Center, is busy with her children and a demanding job. She gratefully accepted the offer of a neighborhood children’s class, and within a week, her Bahá’í friend had started it.

After a fireside at which Anna’s conversation was shared, two neighbors of the Bahá’í host have now begun studying Book 1.

The following Saturday, Bahá'ís from Bloomington came to learn about direct teaching in neighborhoods. This accompaniment was helpful for all of us. The Indianapolis believers felt supported by the Bloomington friends’ enthusiasm, efforts, and prayers. Anna’s conversation was shared and two members of the Community of Interest asked for return visits. After teaching together, our Bloomington friends said they feel more confident about teaching in their cluster.

All in all, teachers are feeling more confident with each cycle.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Immediate and unstoppable enthusiasm for teaching

This story from the Southeast region just came across our desk and it is INCREDIBLE. Let me say that again: it is INCREDIBLE. First, you have a series of new believers, immediately and eagerly sharing the Message of Bahá’u’lláh with their friends as soon as they declare. Look at the chain of teaching: A teaches B who teaches C who teaches D who teaches E—all in a short period of time. See the sheer enthusiasm and joy of the new believers. And see how openly and simply they are sharing the Message and inviting their friends to become Bahá’ís (in a variety of venues). Most of all, this conveys the stories of people who have experienced the sweetness of teaching.

Earlier this year F took a bus to return to his hometown. The passenger sitting beside him began a conversation with him and introduced the Message of Bahá’u’lláh. By the end of their bus trip, F had recognized the significance of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. . . .

Shortly afterwards, F met J casually and started talking to him and shared the Message of Bahá’u’lláh. F makes friends easily and brought J to a fireside where J declared his Faith. Right away, J joined the local direct teaching project and he told a lady they were teaching about the reason why he became a Bahá’í. He shared that when he became a Muslim he did so because he was so attracted to prayer. When he heard about Bahá’u’lláh, it was a natural step for him. He told her that the “prayers are unlimited” and “the growth is unlimited”. The lady he was teaching declared as well. Her friend came into the room and she said to her friend: “I am going to join the Faith—would you like to?

F’s enthusiasm for teaching is not stopping. This past weekend he participated in a Black Men’s Gathering in the Triangle, NC cluster. He told the Bahá’ís and seekers there that we should “get bullhorns and tell everyone about Bahá’u’lláh”. He returned home and was on fire from the weekend’s spirited and uplifting gathering. He got together with his long-time friend, S, and started talking to him about the Faith. They went to a local fireside and F asked his friend, “So, is it time? Are you ready to become a Bahá’í?” S said that he needed to first get his life in order. F said, “No. The question is, do you believe that Bahá’u’lláh is the Messenger of God for today?” S said, “Yes, I do.” F’s response was, “Then you are already a Bahá’í.”

Yesterday, F was on the phone with the Auxiliary Board member who serves his cluster and told her, “I have S here with me and he is listening to us talk.” The Board member heard S’s enthusiastic “Alláh’u’Abhá!” She asked him, “So S, what are we going to do about this cluster? He responded, “We are going to teach the Faith to everyone in the cluster.”