Thursday, October 29, 2009

Great Lakes Naval Station devotions

Devotional gatherings are being established all over the country in all kinds of places. Here is a report about a particularly unique venue: a naval boot camp! For over a decade, a regular devotional meeting has been conducted at the Recruit Training Center of the Great Lakes Naval Station in the Waukegan, IL (*C) cluster. Through the dedicated efforts of several local believers, this core activity is now reaching and benefiting a receptive (and mobile) population. One of the current organizers provides a description of this initiative.

Dear B,

A group of us gives devotions for the recruit side of the base every Sunday from 9:15 to 10:15 and in the process also teaches the Faith. This was started by a sailor in or around 1996 (he is now living in another part of the country, I think), and the devotions have continued ever since. There are 4 of us, each from a different community in the Waukegan and Corinne True (Wilmette) clusters, who currently rotate our presence for the weekly devotions. Two of us have been doing this for years and the other 2 are more recent. We are unique among the religious leaders who lead the various religious services at the base in that we have diversity of gender and race among our representatives. The fact that 2 of us have also been in the military service themselves is also helpful. One of the cluster’s Local Spiritual Assemblies currently sponsors the devotions by purchasing the prayer books. . . .

The recruits who participate in the devotions are at the Great Lakes Naval Station for only 7 short weeks. During those 7 weeks they cannot watch TV, use email, or leave the base. Every hour of the week—except one on Sunday—is planned for them. In their orientation, they receive an overview of the various religious services available at the base, and that is where they hear about us. We do not know what is said about the Bahá’ís, although it appears to be accurate.

The people who attend the devotions range from the merely curious who are trying to avoid an hour of other duty to seekers to Bahá’ís who are new to the Navy. The number of attendees varies from week to week from 1 to 11. The recruits are able to take limited amounts of literature as it must fit in a tiny drawer. We take down the names of the attendees to pray for them in the subsequent week.

We tend to start with a welcome, ask their first names (which they have not heard for a while as only last names are used in the service) and we all offer prayers. Most keep the Gift of Prayer books that we offer. We also take down the names of the attendees to pray for them in the subsequent week.

We often ask the recruits what brings them to our devotions and find the recruits who have come a second time or more are our best teachers. We share all or most of Anna's presentation, depending on the questions that are asked and time allowed. If the attendees like what they hear, they bring friends and more questions the next time. Since everyone is on the base for only 7 weeks, it is rare for us to see someone for 3 or more times, so that has an impact on teaching. We had a few declarations between December and May, but none others since that time.

From a personal perspective—and I believe each of us would also agree—this path of service is one of the most vital and uplifting that I do. For example, last week there were 6 recruits who came to the devotional gathering, 3 returnees and 3 new. Most have enough time left in their training to come back to be with us again. For one of the attendees, this was her last week there, but she took information and expressed interest in learning more. Another was diagnosed with cancer during a health exam, so he was getting a health related discharge to go treat that. He was very interested and welcomed the healing prayers that were said for him. One gains great admiration for these young men and women, many of whom have grown up poor, but who are rising to defend justice and who are serving this country.


Is this not what we have been praying for?

With awe, we share with you this story from Phoenix, AZ (A). In less than 2 years since the friends there launched their IPG, they have been through 7 incredible cycles. What follows is a report of the expansion phase activities of a teaching team, the “Lean on Me Team”, composed entirely of new believers. Just read it. You will cry with happiness.

Dearest Friends,

Today Bahá’u’lláh showered His blessings upon the Bahá’í community. What an honor and joy it was to witness!

First, let me remind you that during the cluster reflection meeting, the “Lean on Me Team”, the first teaching team composed entirely of members from the receptive neighborhood, was formed. And now, they have acted! . . .

They began the expansion phase by hosting a devotional gathering last week, inviting their friends and neighbors.

Today was even greater! In collaboration with the other teams serving in this neighborhood, a fireside and a “Family Day” took place, as well as a devotional hosted by one of the new believers!

There were so many joyous successes today.

One seeker, __, who is the neighbor of a Bahá’í couple and who first attended a devotional in their home during the last cycle, attended one again last week. I, a new believer himself, met __ there and invited her to the "Lean on Me Team" devotional scheduled for the following day. She attended! M and I, both new believers and members of the teaching team, then invited her to their upcoming Fireside. She attended that too. And at the fireside, THEY SHARED ANNA’S CONVERSATION WITH HER. And . . . Yes, she declared!

Next, there was Family Day, which all the teams supported in an effort to build a unified community. It was filled with music, games, hula hooping, meeting new friends and building new bridges.

Finally, the day ended with a devotional at C's! For many months she has tried to host one but it has not worked out for various reasons. But now she was finally able to organize one, and 2 members of the community of interest attended tonight. She was so excited that she was talking about which co-workers she will invite next time.

I am in awe. I can not express the joy and excitement I feel. Is this not what we have been praying for? It will be two years in December since our IPG was launched. Imagine where we will be next year?

Your area teaching committee

"My son cried when it was time to leave"

Different populations in the community have different needs. So when we arise to be of service to them, we strive to adapt our activities to meet their needs. Given the literally unquenchable thirst for children’s classes throughout the country, it’s not surprising that this core activity has multiplied and blossomed in cluster after cluster. But what about that energetic and rambunctious population known as toddlers? Well, the friends in the Corinne True (Wilmette), IL (A) cluster have done some creative thinking and come up with a unique take on another core activity (the devotional meeting), which they have named Pray and Play. Here’s a description of the first event; they’re clearly onto something!

A new family devotional gathering has started in a neighboring community in our cluster, which I attended yesterday.

It is called Pray and Play, and was held at the home of a new grandmother. This gathering was designed specifically for families with toddlers. While older children can attend children’s classes, toddlers are too young for this activity, so Pray and Play was created for them. . . .

Five toddlers, ranging from 1 to 3 attended. This first time around they were all Bahá’ís, but friends will also be invited to future gatherings.

We began by the host leading the group in a few songs and prayers. Then the children decorated a “prayer wand”, which was a rolled-up newspaper covered in shiny aluminum foil. They pasted the “O God, guide me” prayer on the wand and tied on ribbons. Even my son, who was the youngest, was able to participate, putting stickers on the prayer, followed each time by saying, "Yay" and clapping his hands.

At the end of the class, the doorbell rang. It was an Area Teaching Committee member who had come to support this new activity by helping with the clean-up!

Then the children started getting rowdy—chasing each other around, so we moved outdoors where there was a hill in the host's backyard. The children ran so fast, it was hard to take even one photo of them. My son cried when it was time to go home.

Attending this event also inspired me to finally put in action a desire I'd had to start a similar gathering. So I will be hosting a similar Pray and Play meeting every month, beginning in two weeks. I am able to meet so many parents of small children, so I think it will be pretty easy to find people from the wider community to invite as well.

Less than 150 feet from the Baha'i center

Every time I see updates from Savannah, GA (A), I am struck by how the friends, with loving persistence and dedication, nurture the new believers and solidify their friendships with them. This most recent report really illustrates how finding a balance among their activities over time is an evolving and organic process: now we need to focus more on consolidation activities, and then later, we realize, now we need to focus more on teaching. This story is also a wonderful example of linking teaching efforts with a Bahá’í center—in this case they carried out direct teaching literally right next door to their Bahá’í center, with amazing results.

Hello dear friends:

After a rush of growth, we have been working to keep up with all the learning that follows, and we have been grappling for some time now with the dynamics of expansion and consolidation. In reaction to this challenge of responding to our consolidation realities, we reduced our amount of collective teaching a great deal. But for this latest cycle we decided that we needed to return to a greater effort to do direct collective teaching.

Let me share a few things with you. . . .

First, we found that just gathering to go out into the neighborhood seemed to attract Bahá’ís we hadn't seen for some time and this gave us a chance to refresh our relationships with them. Then as we were starting the visits, one of our most active junior youth said that he want to be registered as a Bahá’í. When we went to his house to see if his mother was comfortable with his registering we found that she has a very important relationship with one of our teaching team members. So he stayed and talked with her while the rest of us continued to walk the neighborhood. He later brought the junior youth’s completed registration card and a big smile back with him.

Then on Saturday we went to the house of a man who lives approximately 150 feet from the Baha'i Center. When we knocked on the door he opened it with a joyful smile and bright eyes and welcomed us with, “Hey, I have been looking for you guys.” Turns out that this man had been somewhat introduced to the Faith in another city over a decade ago. He was looking for us, but for some reason we couldn’t connect with him—until we made an effort to find souls to tell about Bahá’u’lláh. We visited him twice on Saturday and shared Anna's presentation. He declared his Faith in Bahá’u’lláh that afternoon. The very next day was our Unit Convention, and both the new junior youth and this adult believer of less than 24 hours were present until the very end of it.

These 2 events were the result of very modest efforts on our part. Both enrollments happened within one block of our Center. What miracles await us if we truly follow the Guidance and really do the Plan. Might this trickle of enrollments become a steady stream? Please keep these new community members, their families and the rest of us in your prayers.



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Patience and Accompaniment

A growing number of individuals are investigating the Faith and declaring their belief in Bahá’u’lláh online. Each of their journeys to the Faith is unique. Some connect with the community almost immediately, others make take longer. Whatever their path, the local friends are there to accompany them and nurture them on their journey. And the Seeker Response System regional specialists are there to assist the local believers and build their capacity to reach out to and connect with new declarants. Here is an ongoing conversation between one of the regional specialists and a local believer in a *C-stage cluster in Texas that demonstrates the love, patience and sensitivity of the friends in responding to a youth who declared his Faith online. Working together, they have nurtured the new believer into the community and into a path of service.

Email 1: Local Bahá’í to online registrant

Dear __,

I'm hoping I dialed the right number (xxx-xxx-xxx) when I left a message for you earlier today! My name is J and I'm a Bahá’í from __. I'm so glad to hear about your interest in the Bahá’í Faith and especially about your recent declaration. How exciting! I spoke to A and she told me she'd been in contact with you. The websites she recommended are awesome. You'll really enjoy reading all the wonderful information on these sites. . . .

I was inspired by what you wrote, especially the part that said, "We are all one and need to live like it." The Bahá’í Faith truly does contain the healing message for today's world. You know, there are several options for learning more about the Faith: talking to another Bahá’í by phone or in person, by email, reading Bahá’í writings or joining a group to study the Bahá’í writings. In __ we currently hold study groups on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings. We'd like to invite you to join us. We'd also like to extend an invitation to your family and friends to attend as well. If you'd prefer, we can arrange to visit with you in your home to study and discuss the Bahá’í Faith. Let us know what works best for you.

If you don't mind, please contact me to let me know you didn't have a problem receiving this. You can either e-mail me or call xxx-xxx-xxx. I'm really looking forward to hearing from you!


Email 2: Seeker Response System regional specialist to local Bahá’í:

Dear J

How awesome!

That was warm and friendly and encouraging. Don’t worry that he hasn’t responded to you yet. We never know. One other new declarant didn't respond to 5 emails, and 2 phone calls. After 3 months he explained he was extremely shy and it was difficult to talk on the phone, AND that the Faith was helping this this area and all areas of his life! It was good that you mentioned the study circles, and inviting him, friends and family to events, and I'm especially excited to see that you offered to go to his home.

If he doesn’t attend the events tomorrow or on the weekend, I highly recommend you emailing him and saying: "I'd love to stop by to say Hello and introduce myself in person. Does ____________ (maybe Tues) or _____________ (Thurs) work around 8pm?"

He's 'hot' so to speak with this new spiritual surge of joining the Faith. This is a huge, significant step. Also, you or you and a buddy can stop by and show him and his family, in person, that you are friendly, kind, and willing

God bless you,


Email 3: Local Bahá’í to Regional Specialist:

Dear A,

Thought you'd like to know that __ called me this afternoon—not once but twice. I spoke with him and invited him to meet with us. He agreed and said he'd come over to our house Wednesday evening. I also invited him to bring his parents along. He called me later from a bookstore and wanted to know if I could suggest a book for him to read. I suggested he ask someone there specifically for books about Bahá’í Faith. We look forward to meeting him. Thank you for your continued support and prayers.

Best wishes


Email 4: Update from local Bahá’í to Regional Specialist

Dear A,

Alláh’u’Abhá! I wanted to give you an update about how things are going with our new Bahá’í. __ just attended his first 19 Day Feast in our community. What a blessing! He has been attending our Wednesday night study circle regularly. We've started Ruhi Book 1 with him. A Bahá’í youth from our area said she noticed that __ used a quote from Book 1 on his personal Web page. __ is extremely interested in attending meetings and learning more about the Faith. This past Wednesday he showed us his prayer beads that he had ordered and just received. We gave him some other books. He also inquired about the Conference that is going to be held in January and shows real interest in wanting to attend.

We've continued to inquire about his family especially his Mom. She supports him in his journey with the Bahá’í Faith and she has been looking over Bahá’í information as well. Please continue to offer prayers for the development of his soul and for his dear family.


Email 5: Regional Specialist to local Bahá’í

Dearest J,

What a gift! __ is a gift to his community, and to you and I am receiving the gift of hearing about his continued confirmation. I will certainly continue to pray for him, and the community. It is very evident that you are nurturing this dear soul very effectively.

A person can quickly enroll in the Faith, but it sometimes takes hours, and weeks and months and years of their time and friends' time to become deepened and to become a resource with skills to be involved in the Five Year Plan.

Since he is actively teaching, you might suggest to him that he and the youth offer a fireside, and you could help host it. Perhaps he and the youth could use Anna's presentation. The two of them could invite their friends so that it would be peer to peer. The topic could be, "The best thing that ever happened to me" or "Even though there is hopelessness in our world, I now have boundless hope, and I want you to know why." Or, they may like the idea of you presenting it.

One other thing that may appeal to __, is to mention right away the practice of Book 1, to host an on-going devotional. He could begin to host this in his home (or a friend's) before completing the book. Evidence from around the country shows that introducing Book 1 participants to the expectation of their involvement and encouraging them to begin hosting a devotional proves very fruitful. You know these things, I am just repeating them as I feel energized from your note.

Thank you again, for letting me know how things are going!

With love,


Apartment residents, manager, all receptive to core activities

When your “neighborhood” is an apartment complex, receptivity comes in more than one form. In this story from Grand Junction, CO (B), teaching teams visited homes and offered children’s classes and study circles (again, see how the core activities can coherently work together). They found not only were the residents of the apartment complex very open to the idea, but also the apartment manager as well!

Prior to initiating the teaching effort in a receptive neighborhood, a teaching team approached the management of an apartment complex about the intentions of the Bahá’ís in the community. The team shared that the Bahá’ís would like to provide neighborhood children's classes which focused on virtues and spiritual education. In addition, they would be offering classes for adults in the community. As it turned out, management was so excited by the prospect that they willingly offered to print invitations to be shared with the community! What a great experience that I hope can be replicated in other areas.

Want a children's class? Start your own!

Okay, here’s a question for all you parents out there: How many of you are still trying to find a children’s class that your sons and daughters can attend? (Wow! Look at all those hands raised.) Okay, what’s one way to find a children’s class? In this story from Bellevue, WA (A), one believer’s answer was simple: She started one herself! She teamed up with another friend, they visited people in her apartment complex, and offered both children’s classes and study circles, and found (surprise, surprise), high receptivity (note how the children beg their Mom to allow them to go). One very interesting point in this report is how effective it is to approach our immediate neighbors (i.e., less than 1 minute away). They also explain the purpose of the classes in an intriguing and beautiful way.

Hi D,

This is from last Saturday. A friend and I went and visited her neighbors in her apartment complex. She wanted to start a childrens class for her son, so we started with her neighbors. . . .

Best regards,


We began the day by visiting our immediate neighbors. At first we were a little nervous and anxious about how we would be welcomed because we had tried to start a children's class a few months ago by passing out flyers but there wasn't much of a response. We decided to start talking with those who lived close to us. As we began one of the first people we met was a lady who had two children. We explained that we are Bahá’ís (who live less than a minute away) and that we would like to start a children's class because we believe in the inherent capacity of each child. When the children heard about the class, they asked (begged) their mom to let them go. We then talked a little more about the Faith, just until they had to leave for an appointment. We will be following up with her.

In the next five minutes, we had another very nice conversation with our Vietnamese neighbor and her son. Again, we explained the latent potential in every child (and person) and how this gem must be polished. In addition, we mentioned that there are two other children who have already expressed some interest in the class. She subsequently accepted to be notified when the class begins and seemed extremely happy to have such guests that care about the true progress of her son. Also, after visiting her we found a copy of the direct presentation about the Faith in Vietnamese that we ultimately would like to share with her.

We continued meeting others for the next hour or so. There were so many (5-6) others that were interested in either the children's class and/or the course “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit,” that we decided to stop finding new people so that we could take care of the ones we met. Not only were we surprised at the number of people who were open to having an exchange of ideas but maybe a little shocked at how receptive people are to participating, supporting, and working with others to create a spiritual community. We also realized our thinking was completely backwards. Before, we thought that finding interested people would be the hard part and consolidation would be easy. This is not the case with our neighbors. Keep us in your prayers!