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