Monday, November 30, 2009

Studying the Word of God by phone

A vibrant and loving Bahá’í community life means more than just gathering for events. It means reaching out to the other believers—both recently declared and longtime—to nurture and empower them, whatever their situation. We have posted a number of stories on the blog about affirming a believer’s declaration over the phone. Here is a beautiful example of another type of “phone meeting”: two believers studying the Word of God together over the phone, systematically for 3 years. It has enhanced unity as well as assisted them to teach the Faith!

It is hard being alone—that is for sure. Here is something I am doing that maybe you can too. It all started 3 years ago. There is a believer in a nearby town who is wheelchair confined. So I started calling her every night at 7 pm and began reading to her, starting with one Bahá’í book. 3 years later here we are still reading almost every night. We usually read for a half an hour but sometimes more or less than that. We have gone through so many books. It's a great way to end the day and we both can discuss the Writings.

This believer has grown so much more courageous from this. While previously timid, she now mentions and teaches the faith every chance she gets. I will be calling her at 12:30 AM for the anniversary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and we will observe this Holy Day over the phone. It keeps us both from being lonely and helps us both to deepen. It has been a very joyful experience.

Regional Council stimulates and encourages systematic grassroots seeker response

The national Seeker Response system involves the dedicated efforts of friends at the national, regional, and local levels working together to respond to souls that reach out to the Bahá’í community remotely, sometimes just for more information, and sometimes as new believers by declaring online. About a month ago, all of the Seeker Response “regional specialists” and members of the Regional Bahá’í Councils came together for an intense weekend conference, requested by the National Spiritual Assembly and hosted by the National Teaching Office at the Bahá’í National Center, to share experiences, identify best practices, and consult on how to make the system more effective. This gathering stimulated and inspired everyone involved.

A few weeks later, a Regional Bahá’í Council convened its own “mini-conference” for several clusters in a major metropolitan area in its region. Specifically invited to come were members of Local Spiritual Assemblies and Area Teaching Committees—one of the key goals was to build the capacity of Local Assemblies and Area Teaching Committees to collaborate and coordinate their efforts to respond to seekers, enroll new believers, and connect new believers to local friends and core activities. Each cluster consulted on how it could enhance its grassroots response to seekers and new believers. One particularly inspiring example is one cluster: it is at the C-stage of development, large in size, and has small groups of believers scattered across the cluster. Few in number, the believers have mobilized (and organized) themselves so they can more systematically respond to those individuals who reach out to the Bahá’í community. Here is a report from the regional specialist to a member of their respective Regional Bahá’í Council: . . .

Dear P,

I just had a delightful conversation with __ about the seekers and one registrant in the __ cluster. We reviewed the status of every seeker that was included on the list that was part of their materials for the conference.

First she said that all 3 of the friends from that cluster who attended the conference thought it was very valuable and that they learned a lot.

D, who lives in one side of the cluster, is willing to help follow-up with seekers via email or letter. __ has identified a couple of seekers that she thinks D can start with.

In the past week, a seeker from another side of the cluster contacted the Bahá’ís. __ is going to contact O, a Bahá'í in that area and ask if she is willing to be in touch with this new seeker and others who live in the western part of the cluster.

M and his wife have moved to the southern part of the cluster. They have started core activities and have had a recent declaration. Just a week ago, a seeker from their town contacted the Bahá’ís.

__ intends to enlist others in the cluster to help her follow-up with seekers. I suggested that she might want to keep in touch with the Auxiliary Board member about what she is doing. __ volunteered the idea that it might be good for all of the believers in the cluster who are helping with Seeker Response to periodically meet in person or by phone to collaborate on their initiatives.

I was very encouraged by my conversation.

Loving Bahá'i regards,


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Completely decentralized Holy Day celebration in Phoenix

As growth progresses in clusters, it is only natural that more and more aspects of community life will begin decentralizing down to the neighborhood level. Already many large communities have neighborhood Feasts. So this report from Phoenix, AZ (A) is quite intriguing. Although Phoenix, like many large urban communities, has a Bahá’í center, the friends decided to try something different: They would have a completely decentralized Holy Day celebration. This letter from the Local Spiritual Assembly to the Phoenix Bahá’í community both describes how this approach worked and lovingly encourages the friends onto further action.

Dearly loved friends:

Last night the Feast and Anniversaries Task Force shared with us the exciting news of first decentralized Holy Day celebration around Phoenix. Over 150 friends attended the dozen or more events, celebrating the Birth of the Báb. The Local Spiritual Assembly is overjoyed by this news. The number of friends attending this Holy Day was much higher than we have ever had at the Bahá’í Center. Indeed a milestone for our cluster. . . .

With another Holy Day coming up next week, Birth of Bahá’u’lláh on November 12, it is our ardent hope that each team has planned a celebration fit for this glorious occasion. If you are not part of a team, please consider planning your own celebration, inviting family, friends and neighbors to your home. The Assembly would love to hear of new teams forming.

Please accept the Assembly’s heartfelt gratitude and prayers for the success of your upcoming celebrations.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Spiritual Assembly of Phoenix

"I was looking for this for 10 years"

This brief report from a regional seeker response specialist about his conversation with a new believer highlights there are so many ways in which people can hear about the Faith and reach out to the Bahá’ís. And once they do, the local friends and the core activities play a key role both before and after their declaration.

I spoke with __ today, and she was very enthusiastic about the Faith. She first heard about the Bahá’í Faith when it was mentioned on a television interview by Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, while he was in Mexico.

So __ looked up the Bahá’ís in the Yellow Pages and found a listing. She is in contact with several local believers, attends devotional gatherings held at a library, has completed Ruhi Book 1 and is part way through Book 2.

She stated, “I was looking for this for 10 years, something promoted peace and unity in the world. The more I study the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the more I feel Bahá’u’lláh’s presence.”

New believer registers self and children online

Almost every day, individuals are taking the opportunity to declare their belief in Bahá’u’lláh online at the public Web site The following story of an online declaration has several elements that are worthy of reflection. First, this individual had been previously studying the Faith several years ago, and her interest was reactivated by a home visit from a teaching team. Second, she wanted to register her children in the Faith as well, and this was also accomplished online. (Repeat that: you can register your children in the Faith online!) Third, friends at the national, regional and cluster levels worked together to ensure that her enrollment—and her children’s enrollment—was completed in a smooth and timely manner. The following emails tell the story.

Email 1 to regional seeker response specialist:

Dear J,

Congratulations on another online declaration in your region!

Two questions: Do you know if this new believer has attended any core activities? If so, you can record this in the SRS database. . . .

Second, you mentioned that __ wants to register her children. Do you mean that she wants to register them as Bahá'ís, or simply register them for a children's class? They can of course be registered online, just as she did for herself. She should note in the comments section of the form that she is the parent of the child, for each registration.



Email 2 from the regional seeker response specialist:

Dear L and A

This is exciting!

I’m copying this message to the area teaching committee secretary, who has been __’s teacher. I know __ attended a few gatherings a while back. A, could you shed some light on if they were core activities?

Also, in speaking with A yesterday, he indicated that __ had provided him with all the info for her children for them to be registered as Bahá’ís. I took him online to see if we could figure out how to do the registration there, but couldn't remember where we indicated the parental intentions.

So now, with the information L has provided, A can go to the site I showed you at and enter in each child. Then write in the comments section that 1) you're submitting it on behalf of __, 2) include the text of __’s email requesting that her children be registered.

The Local Spiritual Assembly secretary also got back to me indicating that she thought she finalized __’s enrollment through eMembership, but there seems to be a little hiccup in the process.

I hope this helps and we can see it through to completion over the next day or so.



Email 3 from the area teaching committee secretary:

Hi J,

I just finished registering __’s children. I added in the comments section the email request from __. Please let me know if this suffices or if I need to do anything else.

The gatherings that __ previously attended were children’s classes and devotionals, and I think also a fireside. This took place 3-4 years ago. Then during a recent IPG, a teaching team happened to go to her home and she was immediately responsive. Ya-Bahá’u’l-Abha!

Many thanks,


Email 4 from the regional specialist:

Thank you, A!

I got the registrations and they look good. I just need to insert __’s Bahá’í ID number, once I get it. I’ll check with the Local Spiritual Assembly secretary and then we’ll get it finalized promptly.

Great work!


A perfect storm of teaching in Rio Grande Valley

This is a breathtaking report from Rio Grande Valley, TX (B). A small group of friends had studied Ruhi Book 6, Teaching the Cause. They wanted to put into practice the skills and knowledge they had learned, and decided to do so by organizing a collective, direct teaching effort! And what an effort this was. It wasn’t just a discrete, one-time, “Let’s get the practice component out of the way” thing. Instead, it was a full-out, systematically planned endeavor with all the ingredients for success—reliance on prayer, local believers on teaching teams accompanied by visiting resource persons, adequate number of Spanish speakers, direct sharing of the Faith with interested individuals and families, immediate follow-up with new believers, strong involvement of a Local Spiritual Assembly, loving mobilization of the local community. It became a “perfect storm” of growth. (“Preparation and experience led to the desire for more preparation and experience.”) And what radiant new friends were made, new believers eager and enthusiastic to immediately start serving the Faith and participate in core activities.

Dear Valley Collaborators: Allah'u'Abha!

A joyful group of Bahá’u’lláh's loved ones participated in this weekend's unprecedented Book 6 practice intensive project. The Concourse on High joined these friends in the services they offered up for the good pleasure of Bahá’u’lláh, for how could we have succeeded unless assisted with the Breath of the Holy Spirit, and showered with His confirmations which alone could change gnats into eagles, drops of water into rivers and seas, and atoms into lights and suns? So it is with gratitude, awe, and joy that we share the following results, asking for your continued prayers and support in embracing these new members of the Rio Grande Valley Bahá’í Family: . . .

A local Bahá’í, accompanied by a visiting resource person, visited R and shared a conversation in Spanish about the Faith. R told them that she had prayed to God that morning for help. She received Bahá’u’lláh’s message with tears.

P had his first contact Saturday with a visiting resource person accompanied by a local Bahá’í. He declared the next day when another teaching team visited again and shared Anna's conversation with him. He had travelled out of town for work but returned to the Valley when he found it too lonely. We visited him at his place of work on Monday.

J had her first contact on Saturday with a team of two local Bahá’ís who spoke with her in Spanish. She asked them to return on Sunday when her husband could participate as well. A slightly different team returned the next day to share Anna's conversation in Spanish. J and her husband listened to intently and declared, registering their 3 children as well.

L was taught by two local Bahá’ís who, accompanied by a visiting resource person, were trying out for the very first time sharing a direct presentation of the Faith. She declared upon its conclusion. She expressed her desire to "volunteer for the Bahá’í Faith." She asked us to visit a few days later to be ready to receive the Baha'is and start to serve.

V, his fiancé and daughter had been visited a couple of months ago by a team of local Bahá’ís who shared Anna’s conversation with them in Spanish. They then became hard to reach consistently until a couple of days ago. They explained that V had had a trip out of town, which had interrupted the flow of communications with the Bahá’ís. They were glad to see us, glad to enroll, and anxious to start attending Bahá’í functions.

Success of the project was due to the following:

Valuable input and support from the Local Spiritual Assembly of McAllen, which shaped much of the program.

Back-to-back teaching days with 2 teaching shifts each day allowed for a total of 8 hours of teaching effort with an average of 4 teams at any given time.

2 visiting resource people were mixed and matched with the rest of us to maximize our learning from their experience. This learning was reflected in the comments in the debriefing sessions. One person said he had learned more about his religion in these two days than in the ten or so years he has been a Bahá’í.

Food hospitality generously provided by 6 households allowed us keep on task with spirits up.

Preparation and experience led to the desire for more preparation and experience

Above all, prayers ardently offered by those present as well as many not present, were answered.

Next Steps:

Take all new believers through the series of deepening themes from Ruhi Book 2 as quickly as maintaining a spiritual and friendly atmosphere permits.

In the process learn their availability for and interest in Reflections of the Life of the Spirit study circles.

Form these study circles as soon as possible.

Coordinate further consolidation with the Local Spiritual Assembly.

We have at this point 5 households with newly declared Bahá’ís, plus 12 additional households who have responded positively and given us phone numbers. Please stay tuned for updates in the steps and directions we will be taking.

Many thanks and much love,


After this exhilarating and successful teaching effort, the friends immediately began mobilizing the local community for follow-up:

Allah'u'Abha Friends in McAllen, Mission, and Edinburg!

Our new Bahá’ís will be getting to know us as we share and explore the Book 2 deepening themes with them in their homes. This will soon lead to study circles and children's classes for them.

We invite each of you to join in accompanying them as they start to walk from the spark of faith they declared with to the undying fire at the heart of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. The best way to do this will be to match one of their original teachers with other members of the community and have them meet as many people as their time schedule permits.

I will be calling many of you to see if you will be able to join us in this joyous effort, and if you call or email me first, so much the easier for me. One way or another please let me know if you would like to serve in this process, and your time availability, etc.

Many thanks and much love,


And then they shared the initial and promising results of the consolidation efforts so far.

Allah'u'Abha Valley Collaborators!

We wish to share the joy that our initial baby steps in consolidation are bringing. Tonight was the first night we actually met with some of our new declarants.

Both new believers that we visited volunteered without being asked that they had started saying the Short Obligatory Prayer each day, as well as others from their prayer books.

Both showed radiant happiness during our visit. Heart to heart friendships were clearly in the making.

Both look forward to next steps. J asked us to call Saturday so we can make plans for a children's class and deepening theme. We also shared the first deepening theme with R, who found it very engaging.

These meetings so much exceeded our expectations. We have so much to look forward to learning in this new stage.

Many thanks and much love,


Mobilizing youth for priority clusters

All the regions in the country are focusing their attention on several clusters that are scheduled to advance to the A-stage and launch intensive programs of growth. It’s a big push that will take lots of dedicated human resources. The Regional Bahá’í Council for the Northeastern states has identified a rich pool of human resources—Bahá’í youth—and an upcoming opportunity—school vacations, and has immediately acted on this opportunity by systematically mobilizing youth throughout the region. The Council reports:

The Regional Council sent the message below today to everyone on our email list, including all cluster agencies, Local Assemblies and registered groups. Another message will be sent early next week to the cluster agencies in all clusters asking them to personally contact each high school and college age youth in their cluster to encourage and help them take part in this initiative. . . .

Here is the text of the announcement:

YOUTH! What are you up to during winter and spring breaks?

Why not help clusters advance!

The Regional Bahá’í Council of the Northeastern States offers a special invitation to high school and college-age youth to serve in goal clusters during your winter and spring breaks. We need you to serve for a weekend, a week, a month or more to tutor study circles, teach children’s classes, serve as animators of junior youth groups, or do direct teaching.

You will help at least 10 northeast clusters advance to launch an intensive program of growth by Ridván 2010. Short-term pioneers of any age are also needed in these and other clusters.

“In the forefront of this spiritual adventure are the Bahá’í youth. Taking advantage of their relatively greater freedom and energy, they demonstrate their effectiveness as teachers of children’s classes, serve as institute tutors, stimulate study of the Writings among their peers and provide convincing examples of the inner resources released by the devotional life.”

The Universal House of Justice, December 21, 2003, To the Bahá’í Youth of the Northeastern States

Be assured of our prayers for your happiness in service to the Cause.

Regional Bahá’í Council of the Northeastern States

Milwaukee keeps moving forward

Here is brief update from Milwaukee, WI (B), where the friends continue to make progress on several fronts. Also check out on the slideshow several photos from their successful teaching booth at the Indian Summer Festival, a widely-attended annual Native American event in the area. Finally, the cluster is poised for future growth with a newly established area teaching committee.

There are now 6 regularly held Devotional Meetings in the cluster (taking place in localities all throughout the cluster)!

7 New Believers enrolled this cycle

25 believers involved in Teaching Activities this cycle

3 Study Circles happening, with 15 participants

3 Children's Classes

The new Area Teaching Committee is eager to assist the friends in enhancing and systematizing their teaching work, creating a collective vision, and continuing an ongoing process of consultation, action and reflection in 3-month cycles of activity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

People are eager for more assignments!

Of all the exciting news in this wonderful report from Waukesha, WI (A), perhaps the most exciting is the sense that the cluster is growing steadily stronger with each cycle of its intensive program of growth. The cluster has community members united and eager to serve. It has an abundance of core activities. And the friends are building their capacity to welcome in new believers, who in turn re-invigorate the community life.

Let us begin with an excerpt of a report of how the intensive program of growth is progressing. Particularly noteworthy is the spirit of unity, focused consultation on how to improve the expansion and consolidation phases, and the enthusiasm of the friends to get increasingly involved.

We hosted a mini-reflection meeting mid-cycle for many reasons: to keep the level of participation high, to get feedback and to let the friends share in the excitement of the recently concluded expansion phase and give the friends an opportunity to help with the consolidation phase. 12 people attended the meeting and several others wanted to, but were either ill or working that day. . . .

The spirit was warm and enthusiastic. The consultation was constructive and resulted in recommendations for the core team. The community asked the core team to delegate and direct the community members to do the follow-up work—people are eager for more assignments! They suggested we consider having a meeting with the community immediately after the next expansion phase so that everyone can reflect and get involved in the consolidation work sooner. It really was a wonderful meeting of hearts and spirits, and a confirmation that the community is growing stronger with each cycle.

We will make certain we keep the friends well informed and personally call the friends and invite them to help in both the expansion and consolidation phase.

All of this joyful activity has led to new enrolments. A friend shares this movingl story of a recent declaration:

One dear soul, who recently declared, has been in Book 1, 2 and 4. He met recently with his tutors since he had some burning questions that he didn’t want to ask during a study circle. His questions were answered by reading excerpts of Bahá’u’lláh’s and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Writings. His spiritual state was indescribable as he declared his belief in Bahá’u’lláh. Tears of joy filled our eyes as he read the prayer on his registration card: “I bear witness, O my God, that Thou has created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. . . .” After he declared he said he couldn’t wait to announce to his study circle the wonderful news. He said each soul in his study circle played a huge role in his decision to join. He loves them all and is eternally grateful to them.

This wonderful story is a confirmation of how important everyone is in the process of consolidation and confirmation. The study circle serves as a womb. Each person in the circle is as an artery providing life-giving care.

Experiences such as this have led to several insights about core activities and consolidation:

From the feedback we are getting it is clear study circles are having a profound effect on old and new believers. Believers who have been Bahá’ís for a long time are saying they are learning a lot and, for the first time in many years, are bonding with their fellow Bahá’ís. They said, in the past, they hardly ever interacted with their fellow believers. New Believers say they love the structure Ruhi courses give to learning.

Our entire community is excited over the new faces that we see at Feasts, devotional gatherings and children’s classes; these new faces inspire and re-ignite the flame of Faith in our older members since they can relate to how wonderful they felt when they declared.

Consolidation is a continual effort. We have found that it is more effective if the original teacher of the new believer gradually widens the circle of Bahá’ís that the individual knows. If it is done little by little it is more meaningful for the new believer.

Neighborhood children’s classes continue to be an amazing draw for parents and children. We continually hear that parents of young children want classes for them.

So we will continue to look for more people willing to host devotional meetings, children’s classes and study circles.

eMembership completes the process

Here is a brief story of someone who reached out to the Bahá’ís through the public Web site and was followed up with by the local friends. Once again you can see seekers’ enthusiasm for core activities and meeting Bahá’ís near them. One very important detail: His enrollment was speeded up by the Local Spiritual Assembly using the eMembership tool to complete the process.

Dear All,

__ contacted the Bahá’ís via the Web site. He is a youth in an A-stage cluster. We have this excellent account of his declaration from the area teaching committee secretary:

I have been emailing back and forth with __, but we finally met up at a coffee shop this evening. He has read A LOT about the Faith online and knew about the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, the Universal House of Justice and many of the principles of the Faith. He just wanted to meet some of the community, attend some of the local events and join a study circle. This evening he declared his belief that Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God for this age. He will be joining us for the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh celebration tomorrow at my home.

The Local Spiritual Assembly secretary completed the enrollment via eMembership.

Loving Bahá’í greetings,


Empowering new and old friends in Springdale

The friends in Springdale, AR (B) have been teaching up a storm. There is so much to celebrate in this recent cluster report, both in terms of the learning that has been gained and the results that have been achieved. The friends are working with a receptive population, empowering old and new believers alike through the institute process, and engaging Local Spiritual Assemblies and Bahá’ís on campus. Two important areas of growth are their children’s classes and home visits.

Enrollments: 3 new Bahá’ís this cycle, 9 so far this year.

Friends arising to serve: 17 participants in a recent teaching project in Springdale, 26 homes visited, 17 return visits requested. . . .

Empowerment of new believers: 2 believers have finished studying Book 1 and will start Book 2. One of them will host the next Feast, as well as begin receiving home visits. Another believer has started Book 1, received a home visit, will give a fireside with 2 other believers next Friday, and will cook for a Holy Day celebration.

Empowerment of veteran believers: Around 5 friends shared Anna’s presentation for the first time during the direct teaching project. Around 15 Bahá’ís have taken training for and/or grasped the importance of the Book 2 deepening themes and their use in home visits. Several friends in a number of communities have carried out their first ever home visits, and additional believers are ready and making plans to do their own home visits.

Empowerment of Local Spiritual Assemblies: A member of the Regional Bahá’í Council visited the cluster and conducted a training for Local Spiritual Assemblies about the Institute process—right before Unit Convention. The training reviewed the skills and acts of service tied to each Ruhi book.

Children’s classes: 4 classes are active and continuing, and 1 new one has started this cycle. 2 of these are composed entirely of children from the wider community.

University Bahá’í club: It is formed and active and will have a regular devotional gathering, as well as firesides every other week.

Insights about receptive population: The main receptive population in this cluster is the Marshallese community. Most want to study the Ruhi Books and listen to the deepening themes in Marshallese. So we need to raise the number of Marshallese tutors and individuals who can make home visits.

There are already 2 confirmed Marshallese tutors, and another 2 just need to complete Book 7 to finish the sequence. Several Marshallese friends also learned the first part of the first deepening theme. They found it very useful. They like the idea of giving this theme in Marshallese, but request a non-Marshallese Bahá’í to accompany them to pray and answer questions if needed. So there is an opportunity for more of the non-Marshallese friends to work together and bond with the Marshallese through accompaniment.

To raise more Marshallese resources to carry out home visits, we will go theme by theme, practicing each one in the field before moving on to the next one.

A junior youth group celebrates Diwali

Check out the most recent photos on our slideshow! You will see a junior youth group from Santa Clara County West, CA (A). The friends there have found the Nepalese community to be a receptive population and a number of children’s classes and junior youth groups have formed. These photos show a junior youth group celebrating the Diwali holiday, as well as their completion of study of the book “Breezes of Confirmation”.

Nepalese youth have also participated in intensive institute courses, an initiative that was supported by Bahá’í students from a nearby university and held at Bosch Bahá’í School. So everyone is working together in joy!

"He wanted someone to call him immediately, and there you were"

This is a story of accompaniment, encouragement and trust. Like thousands of other individuals, a seeker reaches out to the Bahá’ís via the 800-22UNITE phone line. The regional seeker response specialist speaks with him. Then he is connected to local Bahá’ís. This is something that happens all the time all over the country. What is so compelling in this particular case is illustrated in the comments of the regional specialist: “He said he would like an invitation, and that is when I called you.” At this point, the seeker was requesting the local Bahá’ís to reach out to him—and they did, immediately. And the regional specialist knew she could trust the local friends to do so. She encouraged them by giving them the responsibility, and further encouraged them by praising their efforts. And now their cluster has not 1 but 2 new Bahá’ís. Here are the emails that give the highlights:

First, the local Bahá’ís report back to the regional specialist about their meeting with the seeker, who declared with his friend:

Just wanted to update you on our meeting with __ this morning. We shared a conversation like Anna with him and his friend who accompanied him. Both declared instantly. Our population has increased by 2. . . .

Thanks for your prayers.

E and G

The regional specialist’s response is one of love and encouragement, as well as a reminder of the importance of dedicated friends at the local level who can respond quickly and warmly to a seeker:

Dear E and G,

I am so excited and happy for you and your dear community and __’s community. This is the way it is suppose to work. I knew from the moment I spoke with __ that he had a pure heart and was totally receptive to the faith. We talked for almost an hour and he wanted to know where he could go and I said, "I know the perfect couple. They host devotions and classes in their home and center.” He said he would like an invitation. That is when I called you. And what wonderful response from the two of you! You invited him immediately and he came with his friend. How exciting that you reached their hearts and they responded with their declaration. I also will try to call him and congratulate him and his friend.

If you can follow up by getting your membership person to register them online, this will save much time and they will be processed very quickly.

God was guiding his steps. He had gone to the interfaith meeting and heard a Bahá’í speak. He then got the 800-22UNITE number off one of the pieces of literature that he picked up on a table. He called it, and the National Center gave him my 800 number to call on Friday. I answered the phone and talked with him for an hour listening to his incredible journey and responding to his many questions. I told him about the two of you and what are the odds you would be home the moment I called. He wanted someone to call him immediately and there you were, calling __ and inviting him to the Sunday event and here he is . . . a new believer.

I am so grateful for all of you and your blessed work,

Your friend,


And this encouragement further inspires the friends and gives them increased confidence to continue with their teaching efforts.

Dearest S,

Your narrative is not only enlightening but stimulating and inspirational. You always make us thirst for teaching. We know, without doubt, that we are nothing but tools in the pathway of His loved ones, the hollow instrument through which the melodious sound is blown to awaken hungry souls. Thanks for your connecting us to seekers. It is our ardent desire to teach with our limited capacity and ability to anybody ready to hear about our dear Faith, anytime, anywhere and at a hair-breadth opportunity. All that we need are your constant prayers for us to stand firm and be ready for all the challenges that teaching the Faith entails. We will always share the joy with you.

E and G

Monday, November 23, 2009

"The reason we bring our kids is because we trust you"

This story of a neighborhood children’s class in the Gwinnett-North Fulton, GA (A) cluster that started two years ago among a receptive population is nothing short of truly stunning. The systematic dedication of the organizers (after false starts and even opposition) is amazing, the level of enthusiasm of both the children and parents is equally amazing, but NOWHERE near as amazing as the capacities that have been unlocked in the children. Read on: you are in for a treat, and you are looking at the future of humanity.

It was two years ago when we started our first neighborhood children classes in Gwinnett County, Georgia. After days of visiting homes and handing out flyers in cold weather in a subdivision where we had a host for the classes, we were not successful. A couple months later, we decided to try again. Deep down we knew that often when we are unable to accomplish the goals of the Plan, it is because we are not using the right key to open up the hearts. This time with the help of a 5 year-old child and his mother from the wider community, as well as a Web site for the class, we went about starting our new class. This time we managed to reach a larger audience than before as the Web site became a silent promoter. Word of mouth and building trust between the teachers and the parents made it possible to grow every month. . . .

Now, two years later, with much Divine assistance, we have a strong children class and a junior youth group that is a work in progress in a previously quiet neighborhood. The continuity of our class is due to the loving hospitality of a Bahá’í family. Most of the 13 participants in the class are children of immigrants from China.

Every week we gather together. The children compete with each other in memorizing Bahá’í quotations and reciting them in class. Children enjoy singing prayers also. They are encouraged to take the quotations home, practice them during the week, and in the process share them with their parents too. We have discussed the topic of the soul with the children. They are very thoughtful and asked us questions such as: Is everyone’s soul the same? Do animals also have a soul? After we die does our soul return in another body? And (coming from a child who was playing under the table but listening to the whole conversation), How do we feed our soul and how do we know when our soul is hungry?

Because the children share with their parents what they have learned in each class, this has created an opportunity for the parents to be aware of our lesson plans and also to be an active participant in their children’s spiritual journey. It also opens the door for us to teach the Faith. For example, last year we were approached by one of the Chinese mothers who asked, “What does ‘O Son of Spirit’ mean? Does it refer to Christ?” So we then were able to talk about the Bahá’í Faith and Bahá’u’lláh.

Today, the mothers of these children, who are mostly educated Chinese immigrants, are partners with us in making sure these classes are sustained and attended regularly. They have repeatedly encouraged us to expand our neighborhood children classes to other neighborhoods and even beyond! Two of the mothers have asked us personally for meetings in which we could walk together on a spiritual journey!

Our neighborhood children classes have also had its share of crisis and challenges. But the classes have continued. Last week we were discussing the topic of Wisdom in class. After reading a story and some discussion, we posed the question of “How can we gain wisdom?” to the class. All of a sudden one of the children said, “From Trust in God.”

Given that majority of the children attending our neighborhood children classes are Chinese, therefore, it has required us to be extra sensitive to the children’s upbringing and cultural beliefs. Chinese parents and their children are quite interested in learning new things as long as this learning is structured, has a purpose, and results can be assessed by parents at home. Parents have over the past few months communicated to us instances such as the following:

One day, our son told me two of his friends were arguing and saying bad words to each other. He then told them, "If someone said bad words to you, you should not say bad words to him." I think he learned this from Children's class. He also knows the power of prayer. Recently he often woke up during night and cried very hard because of having bad dreams. I told him to give a prayer before falling asleep; sometimes I did this with him. He became better.

In another instance, a Chinese mother shared with us how her son’s behavior at home has improved.

Here are some other emails we have received from the parents:

Your smile always shines in my heart. As you indicated at one of our meetings, human virtues penetrated by God's glory make us feel life is so livable and beautiful. I do believe love is a power and is powerful. It is also miraculously proliferative. The love endowed upon me enables me to love. Your love toward children and people may not be reflected back to you immediately but it becomes seeds that will proliferate later in their life.


The most important thing I learned is that in order to expand our knowledge about God, we have to be detached from whatever we have gained in spiritual pursuit. My understanding is, we have to empty the vessel first to have it filled with new fresh water. If we refuse to investigate new facts, and close door to new knowledge, we would not make progress in knowing God better day by day. God is the eternal and unlimited one. Nobody can claim that he/she has reached ultimate truth and stop right there. Keeping a humble heart and a curious mind is what we need throughout our life. (After attending few study circles, this Chinese mother and her son have declared their Faith in Bahá’u’lláh.)

Our parents have tried hard to recruit other children for our class. They have asked us to print out flyers so that they can share them with their friends and co-workers. But as one of the mothers reminded us, “The reason we bring our kids is because we trust you.” This has indeed been the key to the success of our neighborhood children classes. Now, after almost 2 years we have a close relationship with these Chinese families and are in touch with them outside class as well.

After about 2 years it is heartwarming to see the level of enthusiasm with which our young Chinese children come to class every week, and witness the sadness with which they say goodbye to each other and us as it is time to go home. Children’s keenness to learn the Words of Bahá’u’lláh has become a source of joy for us as we hear them practice their prayers with each other while we are not in the room. Prayers, persistence, and patience in the eye of severe challenges faced so far have enabled us to reach a neighborhood that has demonstrated receptivity among the parents and their children.

E and B

Firesides and COI: a winning combination

This article from the cluster newsletter of Phoenix, AZ (A) describes a new approach being tried out by some of the teaching teams there: a focus on firesides with their community of interest. There are several things that caught my eye. First, they are operating in a systematic, learning mode, regularly reviewing their activities and experiences, and making adjustments as they reflect and consult. This allows them to identify any “gaps” or areas where they could shift more of their effort and energy. Second, they are motivated by a desire to make the expansion phase of their intensive program of growth truly, well, “intense”. Third, the members are united in supporting each other. Oh, and the approach itself of firesides with COI is very interesting and seems to be working very well!

One of the teaching teams asked themselves during the planning phase, How can we make sure we have intensity of action during the forthcoming expansion phase? So they reviewed their regular schedule of activities. They saw they had weekly Ruhi Book 1 study circles with seekers, a monthly devotional gathering, and a few home visits. But the teaching team realized none of the team members had any firesides going on in their personal lives. . . .

So, for that expansion phase, they decided they would focus on inviting their community of interest, friends and seekers to firesides and thus have intensity in their teaching work. The team members each invited participants in the study circles and devotional gathering to firesides. They decided they would keep their firesides intimate—just with them and their close friends. This has resulted in 3 new firesides a week. Go team!

The team members also decided that when one person is holding a fireside, the other team members will be praying for them in their homes, thereby supporting each other. In addition, in order to capture the learning while trying this approach to teaching, the team regularly draws on the power of prayer, reflects, shares and consults on their collective experiences. They then revise their plans as needed, and continue to step into the field of action as called for by our beloved Universal House of Justice.

They were so eager they contacted us 3 times in 1 day

When someone declares their belief in Bahá’u’lláh, it is wonderful when the local Bahá’ís can reach out to the new believer as quickly as possible and nurture their newly-found Faith. A growing number of individuals are registering their Faith online. Though many may have never before met another Bahá’í, many of them are very eager to connect with other Bahá’ís right away. In this following story, the situation was made a little more complex because the new believer moved across the country shortly after their declaration. Nevertheless, the friends worked together—at the national, regional and local levels—to respond quickly, and the result was a successful welcome!

In this first email message, the regional seeker response specialist is informed of a new believer who had declared online and moved across the country a short while later:

Dear __,

This email is being forwarded to you as regional specialist for seeker response and online registration.

Here is the email contact for __, who has moved to your region but has not yet provided any new phone or residential address information. __ declared online several weeks ago. The regional specialist for her old community has noted: . . .

__ was so eager to declare she contacted us 3 times in 1 day, once at the 800-22UNITE phone line and twice on the Web site . . . I spoke at length with __. She believes that Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God for this day, understands intuitively about progressive revelation, has been reading online extensively about the Central Figures and the Bahá’í laws, and agrees to live by them. She requested immediate Bahá’í local contacts and wants to study in a Ruhi study circle ASAP.

We can forward her record to you. Please assist this new and motivated new believer in getting connected to her local community.

With warmest regards,


The regional specialist later provided an update about how the local friends in the believers new residence quickly and warmly reached out to her:

Thought you might like to know that __ has been contacted by the local members in her new cluster. I received this today:

__ and I talked yesterday. We will pick her up and take her and her daughter to the devotional gathering on Saturday evening. We will talk about starting a Ruhi Book 1 study circle that evening. We will also see if she wants us to start a children’s class with her daughter and their friends.

I also wrote to __ asking for her new address and explained that she can update it herself using the “MyPage”. Hopefully that will be soon completed one way or another. She is in a cluster without a cluster institute coordinator, but we have a wonderful Bahá’í who helps us with seekers and transfers.

Loving greetings,


"I have to get over it."

Growth is exciting, but also scary and uncomfortable. As clusters advance and more and more people join the Faith, all aspects of our individual and community Bahá’í lives—all of our patterns of doing things and thinking about things—will be transformed. And not just once, but again and again. So the teaching work not only requires us to build our various skills and capacities (e.g., how to teach directly, how to organize a successful children’s class, etc.), but also a mental flexibility to enable us to respond and adapt to an ever-evolving situation. And of course it is challenging! But all of us can take the leap of faith, so to speak. Here is a beautiful, humble, frank and loving letter from an individual believer from Emerald Coast, FL (B) to all the friends in the cluster, describing a recent “Aha!” moment; it truly captures the road we are all travelling down.

Dear Friends,

The Emerald Coast Cluster is just a short time away from being designated an "A cluster." We've been preparing for this since 2001 and there have already been many changes in our community life. But the changes between now and 2021 will be much greater than those so far experienced. Our beloved Master ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that everything in nature either grows or withers; there is no constancy in nature. With Bahá'u'lláh's aid, each of us, and our communities, will grow in many ways in order to embrace the hundreds of people who will enroll in the next dozen years. . . .

Today I was meditating on the phrase, A Culture of Learning. I had the surprising thought that nothing I believed to be “true” was absolutely true—it was just my ephemeral understanding and it would change over time:

My understanding of Bahá'u'lláh's station is not 100% accurate—it is an approximation that will improve over time.

My concept of an ideal Bahá'í community is not true—it will also improve over time.

My relationship to the Bahá'í community is not perfect—it will grow over time.

This uncertainty is uncomfortable; as an older person, I want things to stay the same and to match my understanding. I want life to be predictable. I don't want to learn new things; I want my old knowledge to be sufficient.

I have to get over it.

The Buddha said that all human suffering comes from our grasping at ephemeral existence. Imagine a man standing in a river attempting to grasp the water and prevent it from flowing.

The Blessed Beauty says:

The true seeker hunteth naught but the object of his quest, and the lover hath no desire save union with his beloved. Nor shall the seeker reach his goal unless he sacrifice all things. That is, whatever he hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught, that he may enter the realm of the spirit, which is the City of God.

(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 6)

It is the duty of every seeker to bestir himself and strive to attain the shores of this ocean, so that he may, in proportion to the eagerness of his search and the efforts he hath exerted, partake of such benefits as have been preordained by God's irrevocable and hidden Tablets.

(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, p. 326)

Dear Friends, we are being transformed, our communities are being transformed, and—through our communities—the world will be transformed. But we don't know what that ultimate world will look like, nor do we know what the ideal Bahá'í community will look like. All of that is still downstream. If we are to participate in the transformation—as positive forces—then we have to “set our understanding at naught” and embrace the culture of learning.



Awakening souls in the shadow of the Tetons

No matter how remote one’s location or smallness of numbers, the friends are galvanizing themselves to reach out to their friends, families and neighbors and teach. Here is a story of an earnest teaching endeavor in Driggs, ID (C). This teaching effort was initiated by a recently-declared believer, and engaged the support of the friends both near and far and even farther. The public talk is going to be followed up by efforts to engage the participants in core activities.

On a Sunday in Fall, friends gathered from far and wide—from over 100 miles away in some cases—to support the efforts of the 2 Bahá’ís in the tiny resort town of Driggs, ID. The purpose of the gathering of the friends was the public talk about the fundamental verities of the Faith given by a member of the Regional Bahá’í Council. This event was initiated by a new Bahá’í of eight months who arranged for the speaker, posted flyers around town, advertised in town newspapers, invited family and friends to the event and arranged for the meeting space. . . .

In addition to the 18 Bahá’ís who were in attendance, 6 adults and 2 children from the wider community were present. 2 spouses of Bahá’ís attended. We were also pleasantly surprised to meet another Bahá’í, previously unbeknownst to us, who has been living in the area for many years.

Of the seekers who attended the meeting, there was a young couple with 2 children who provided contact information for further meetings. The wife had first heard of the Faith in another country and brought her family to the event after receiving a flyer—which was given to her by a local believer who knew of her interest in the Faith. Another of the attendees was a woman who has been studying the Faith for nearly a year.

Our hope and prayer is that through loving follow-up, the interest of these new contacts can be further stimulated through their involvement in core activities.

Using one's work to teach

These two brief stories from Star Valley, WY (a remote locality in a huge C-stage cluster) are intriguing for a number of reasons. First, the friends here found a creative way to teach the Faith specific to their situation: In the store that they own, they display a number of Bahá’í prayers that visitors can take for free, as well as other pamphlets, and when questions and conversations on the Faith open up naturally, they then step in to teach. Second, it also shows the power of deeds to transform hearts and stimulate interest in the Faith. Both stories involve visitors to the town who came the store.

One afternoon, two women came into our store in Star Valley. One of them started reading literature on the Faith that is displayed in the store. I told her she was welcome to take it; she then said, “Explain this religion to me.” So we spoke for 30 minutes. She said this is what people like me and the rest of the planet need. She intends to look up the Bahá’ís in her home city, and also come see us on her next visit to Star Valley.

Yesterday another woman came into the store. We have displayed the Tablet that begins with “Be generous in prosperity” that people can take for free. This woman was holding the Tablet, and she explained that she had recently lost her husband. A Bahá’í had made the coffin, and the care he had taken, and the kindness he showed her and her children, had impressed her. However, he had never explained what the Faith was. She now wanted some information to take back to her family so they could understand what motivated this individual to be the way he was. She took a copy of The Bahá’ís magazine, the “Be generous in prosperity” tablet, and the morning prayer (also displayed in the store). We shared a prayer together for her departed husband.

Native American teaching effort has preparation then immediate practice and service

Annual intensive teaching projects are an important part of the teaching landscape. They bring together enthusiastic souls, some with tons of experience in the field, and others with a desire to get their feet wet. Participants build their capacity for service, first through (often very intensive) preparation via study of the training institute course, and second through direct action in the field. Often such a project will have a special focus. The Northwest region’s Native American Institute Training (NAIT) exemplifies all the above elements, and much more. We are delighted to share excerpts of a couple of reports on the most recent NAIT, which this year was carried out in the Yakima, WA (A) cluster. Native American believers were key planners and participants in this effort. The learning and enthusiasm generated were both substantial.

First report:

Dear D,

It is with joy that I send these notes to share with the Regional Bahá’í Council on the Native American Institute Training (NAIT) this year. Our goal was to have a project that took some of the previous participants of NAIT into the field to gain more direct experience with service. We chose a housing complex in a part of the cluster that has already sustained children’s classes. This allowed us to design a project that would enhance what the friends have been doing rather than beginning a new activity that the cluster might not be able to sustain. . . .

We chose a 2-pronged approach: a day camp for the children who have been coming to the children’s classes, and visits with the parents and other residents interested in learning more about the Faith. The first day of the project, we prepared for both with a Book 3 and Book 6 refresher for the participants. The next two days, everyone put into practice the skills they gained from the refreshers in the day camp and teaching project. The final day was devoted to a group reflection.

Two individuals enrolled in the Faith: a youth and a junior youth. A Book 1 study circle was scheduled for them.

With loving greetings,


Second report:

Dear L

Please convey to the Regional Council the sincere gratitude and appreciation of all the participants in this service project. All of us felt that it was an amazing opportunity, a wonderful learning experience, and a chance of a lifetime to be able to serve our Blessed Beauty this way. We cannot thank you enough for this opportunity.

We had participants from several clusters from all over the Northwest. It was communicated to everyone coming here that they needed to be prepared to serve in any way that was needed.

It was fantastic to take the training directly to the field. It was an “IIPG”—Indian Intensive Program of Growth. It was also a culture of learning because everyone was expected to practice what they had learned the very next day.

Here are some of the points from the reflection meeting we had at the end:

Everyone feels we should definitely repeat this effort next year.

We should encourage more participation from friends in the Yakima cluster, as well as those who participated in last year’s NAIT in Brighton Creek. Everyone can have a part to play—offering service as kitchen help, being prayer partners during visits to homes, etc. It is particularly important for friends from cluster to be on teaching teams since they will be the ones doing follow up.

Having one-day refresher courses beforehand is great. Jumping right into the practice is very helpful—you feel more prepared.

Take into account schedules of residents when planning teaching activities and events (i.e., don’t clash with Pow Wows, berry-picking and fishing seasons, come during the middle of the week, etc.).

In terms of the children’s classes, there is a visible increase in the number of children who want to join children’s classes. The kids here are also growing up and can become the next batch of youth working with the kids here. It seemed to be a winning combination to have the junior youth leading the children’s classes. However, it is also important to have 1 or 2 adults helping out, as many of the children were pretty hyper and the adults can reinforce discipline.

In terms of the teaching teams at the housing complex, people were friendly and polite, and there were no antagonistic responses at all.

Make sure teaching teams show diversity—Persians, Hispanics, etc. People respond to this. In our interactions we need to emphasize that Bahá’ís appreciate and want culture in our devotions. So we should note that in the devotional gatherings there will be drumming, storytelling, etc. Singing is also a great attractor.

We have to remember that the spiritual duty of a teacher is to keep in touch with a new believer personally. There is a special bond with the teacher that should never be taken for granted.

Next year it will be helpful to have a Book 2 refresher course for the participants, since many of the people they will be visiting will already have heard something about the Faith, and so they can share the deepening themes with them.

Best regards,


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"I would like to clone her"

When an individual contacts the Bahá’í community via the 800-22UNITE phone line or the public Web site, the Seeker Response System regional specialist works with local believers to quickly respond to the seeker’s interest and connect them to Bahá’ís and core activities near them, according to their interest. The regional specialist, through accompaniment and encouragement, builds the capacity of the friends at the cluster level to more systematically respond to seeker inquiries. And in some clusters, this capacity is showing itself in beautiful and practical ways. Here is a report from a regional specialist about a B-stage cluster in the Northeast region, sharing a wonderful example of systematic follow-up.

I thought you might enjoy reading this wonderful invitation sent by my seeker contact for the __ cluster (she is also the area teaching committee secretary). This is the kind of follow through I try to encourage in all the clusters in the Northeast, and __ is exemplary in this regard. She not only invites the seekers to activities, she also lets all the communities know that the seekers have been invited and urges them to stay current on reporting their events to her, as well as watching for seeker contacts. I would like to clone her. . . .

Loving regards,


Sample email from seeker contact to all the Bahá’ís in her cluster:

Dear Friends--

Below is a letter that I sent out to seekers in __ from the national Seeker Response system.

I also sent out an invitation for these seekers to participate in one of the "Reflections on the Life of the Spirit" courses that is starting.

If your personal or your community's meetings—devotionals, Holy Day celebrations, firesides, etc.—is not on this list, it is because I do not yet have information about the event that you are hosting. Please send me the news about any activities that you are hosting so that I can be sure to include it on this regular (monthly) mailing.

with love,


Sample email from seeker contact to seeker:

Dear __

On behalf of the Bahá’ís of __, I would like to cordially invite you to attend our upcoming devotional meetings and Holy Day celebrations (listed below). Bahá’í meetings and celebrations are open to people of all backgrounds and Faiths, and there is no cost to participate.

As you may be aware, a fundamental teaching of the Bahá’í Faith is that each soul must freely and independently investigate the Truth for himself or herself. The purpose of all Bahá’í meetings is to contribute to the spiritual upliftment of the individual and of society. Bahá’í are not permitted to proselytize or to put any pressure on others to change their beliefs. Please be assured that you can attend any or all of these meetings without any expectations of "conversion" or even of continuing participation.

If you would like more information and/or would like to attend, please contact the person who is hosting the meeting. Please do not hesitate to contact me as well with your concerns and questions.

With warm regards,


for the Bahá’ís of __

(Followed by list of events)