Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Matching the seekers with local friends

When seekers reach out to the Bahá’í community, we hope that our reaching back can be done as soon as possible.  But swift response is just part of the picture.  Ideally the friends try to “match” the seeker with a Bahá’í who is able to effectively connect with him or her due to background, interests, relevant skills learned through the institute process, etc.  And a great example comes from a report from an A-stage cluster in the Northeast region.  And it’s also a wonderful story of an interfaith endeavor.
It all starts with the original request made by seeker through the public Web site  His comment was, “I am a Chaplain Intern trying to reach a local Bahá’í Faith group in our county.  Our chaplain group would like to learn about the Bahá’í Faith and attend a Bahá’í Faith service.  Thank you for your help with this pursuit.” . . .

The regional seeker response specialist then mobilized local resources, who organized a combination devotional meeting and fireside.  She notes:  “M is my seeker contact for this cluster and she arranged for H to host the devotional gathering/fireside.”
The hosts then reported back on the meeting.
Here is my little report on yesterday's gathering.
First, we had the devotions:
We welcomed the 7 chaplain interns at the door and they were so grateful that we were opening our home. We had invited R and P as well.  We all went around and once more introduced ourselves. I thanked everyone for coming and expressed how wonderful it was that they were interested in serving Bahá’ís in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice care, etc.
We then explained the purpose and meaning of the devotional, our "service".  It was emphasized that this was just one way of doing a devotional and there were many other ways of doing one.  Two baskets were passed around, one had shorter quotations and the other had longer passages.  The group was told they could "pass" if they didn't want to read something, but everyone participated.  A music selection was played and everyone read their passage and we ended with another musical piece, the healing prayer.  Although our guests were from a Christian background, all but one of them selected passages from the Bahá’í Writings for their reading.  Our guests read so beautifully and with such feeling and understanding, it was a real joy.
R and P shared their recent experience of R's stay in the hospital and how the visit of a lay person deeply affected R and the process of healing.  This one individual had stopped by to see R.  When the visitor asked R what Bahá’í was, R found the strength to respond and had a long and loving talk with this gentleman.  R shared how by listening and being present, the visiting lay person helped give him new energy and joy.  He also read a favorite prayer of R's out loud for R.  P confirmed that after that visit, she was more open to letting others visit R.  The group was extremely interested in the experiences R and P shared, confirming for them how being present for someone and being an active listener can assist someone in such a situation.  They asked how Bahá’ís would like to be served and we agreed that the reading of prayers and writings would be much appreciated by all Bahá’ís.
Then the gathering became a fireside:
After the devotion we decided to show "The Light of Unity" DVD because it gives an overview of the Faith.  Again, it was so well received and our guests enjoyed the clarity of the vision of unity that was presented.  We had further discussion on several topics.  Finally, we went back into the kitchen for some more refreshments and socialized a bit more.  I had a special feeling from one of the guests, and as we continued to talk, she said "sign me up" - we plan on following up with her and meeting her sometime soon.  The original contact person stayed on longer and spoke at length with R
Both the chaplains indicated that they would like to bring future interns back to have the same introduction.  One offered some helpful tips to us as a community.  He suggested that we can call pastoral care units in hospitals when we know a community member is there so they can be visited.  He also suggested sending materials to the hospital pastoral care unit so they have these on file.  Perhaps we can discuss this further and do something throughout the Cluster.
It was such a blessing to have this opportunity to serve in this way.
The regional specialist reflects on some of the reasons for the success of this encounter:
This is a perfect example of the superb follow up provided by the area teaching committee secretary for the cluster, and her devoted coworkers.
The story also shows how important it can be when planning these kinds of events to selectively invite just a few Bahá’ís who have their own personal stories that relate to the interests of the guests (in this case R and P shared their experience with being visited in the hospital, which was an interest of the chaplain intern visitors), and how being open to moving seamlessly into a second part of the activity can reap wonderful results.  Also wonderful was to see how future plans were made on the spot to meet with this newly enkindled soul.

Monday, March 29, 2010

He was impressed at the grassroots approach of the Faith

This story about the efforts of the Bahá’ís at Maryville College (in the Knoxville, TN (A) cluster) will definitely inspire you.  If you ever wondered what a very small but very committed group of youth can do, just read on!  They found a receptive population (international students), have oriented their approach to the wider campus community by explicitly inviting them to participate in community service (i.e., some work with us to start core activities), and are well on their way to officially registering their first Bahá’í Campus Association.  Strong support from the cluster core team and a nearby Local Spiritual Assembly have just added to the momentum.  Now they have a full set of core activities in which seekers are actively participating or even running.
Each year in August, Maryville College has a “Church and College Picnic” to welcome incoming freshman.  The friends organized to have a Bahá’í booth as one of the booths at this picnic, staffed by the Bahá’í students (currently there are 4 on campus) and core team members, as well as a 15-year old who had just participated in the Project Badi summer teaching effort. . . .

A month prior to the event, the core team consulted with the Bahá’ís on campus about what items to have at the booth.  One of the youth had this brilliant idea:  Instead of having a sign-up sheet for people to sign up for information about the Bahá’í Faith, we instead had a community service sign-up sheet that said:  “If you are interested in doing community service projects, please write your contact information here and the Bahá’í club on campus will be in touch with you.”  The response was the greatest we had in years!
We also had numerous chances to directly share the Message at the booth—at some point, 3 of us were sharing Anna’s conversation simultaneously!
2 freshman who visited the booth had already researched the Faith and wrote a report about it in their high school (a pleasant surprise!).  Most of the upperclassmen that we talked to were already familiar with the Faith, which is an indication that the 4 Bahá’ís on campus are actively teaching their friends.  These upperclassmen had a lot of respect for the Faith and the Maryville College youths.
So we learned that involvement in community service projects is an idea that many young people on campus wholeheartedly embrace.  The participation of younger youths who had just finished being in Project Badi added to the spirit as they are on fire with enthusiasm.
Now, while there are active Bahá’ís at Maryville College, there has never actually been a Bahá’í Campus Association there.  So the 4 youths, assisted by the cluster institute coordinator and other community members consulted about how to register the club at the college.  We identified a possible advisor for the club, who was the head of the college’s Center for Strong Communities.  He asked us what the Bahá’í club would do, and we answered, “Service projects such as devotional gatherings, junior youth groups, neighborhood children’s classes and study circles.”  He was impressed at the grassroots approach of the Faith and agreed to be the club’s advisor.  He also informed the Bahá’ís of a second event that they could host a Bahá’í booth, an event for the campus religious clubs.  At this booth, we again had a sign-up sheet for community service projects.
At the next Nineteen Day Feast, the children’s class coordinator stressed that we should try to start neighborhood children’s classes and junior youth groups right away before the cold weather comes.
The beginning of the semester is a very important time to start core activities, as well as for the Bahá’ís to reach out to students, as freshmen are still identifying which clubs they want to be involved with.  As soon as all the Bahá’ís on campus knew their schedules, they immediately figured out what days they could come together to teach a neighborhood children’s class or organize a junior youth group.
The cluster institute coordinator supported the youth behind the scenes in all of these activities, including help them obtain materials for the booth.  The core team does not direct the college youth, but lovingly encourages them and supports them in their efforts.
So, after getting a list of names of interested people from both booth (and by word of mouth), the Maryville College youths communicated with all these seekers through mass emails.  They presented Book 1 (and the rest of the Ruhi sequence) as a way to train college students for service, as well as to learn about spirituality.  Regular weekly times were set up for a Book 1 study circle, a junior youth group, and a children’s class.  The study circle has 11 seekers.  There’s also a monthly devotional gathering scheduled.
6 seekers were interested in helping out with the neighborhood children’s classes and are helping out with this class, which is 10 minutes away from campus.  The Bahá’ís on campus help out by providing transportation for these students, most of whom are international students.  These seekers have been very important human resources for all the efforts.  2 of these students have also taken Book 5 and are now animating a junior youth group, accompanied by the Bahá’ís on campus.
The monthly devotional meeting continues, hosted by those students that have completed Book 1.
The core team members meet with the Maryville College youth on a monthly basis to consult and encourage them.  As Maryville does not have a Local Spiritual Assembly, the core team supports the college youth wholeheartedly.  The Auxiliary Board member is very supportive, the area teaching committee helped cover the cost of the Ruhi Books and booth materials, and a neighboring Local Spiritual Assembly has stepped in to be the club’s official sponsor.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Growth is fueled by the new believers who entered the institute process"

In an intensive program of growth, you want to look at not just what happens within a cycle, but also what happens from cycle to cycle.  Berkeley-Charleston, SC (A) has seen a lot of recent progress, as this report from the cluster’s area teaching committee shows:  more systematic home visits, devotional meetings, etc.  But the most significant fruit has come from one particular effort:  engaging new believers in the institute process.
The Area Teaching Committee believes this cycle witnessed the blossoming of the trees that were planted in previous cycles.  One of the clearest lessons to appear, as we reflect on this cycle, is that the impetus for growth is being fueled by the new believers who entered the institute process.  It is these friends who are bringing their friends and relatives to the devotional gatherings.  It is these friends who are starting devotional gatherings in their own homes.  It is these same friends who are enrolling in Ruhi Book after Ruhi Book. . . .

Another plant, that is taking firm root in this cluster, is that of systematic home visits.  With every intention of being systematic and consistent, we have often lacked the consistency.  The Cluster now has two friends who are committed to going out every week to visit specified friends.
The Area Teaching Committee also sponsored a workshop based on the sections of Ruhi Book 2 that focused on the various aspects of home visits.  8 friends attended.
Further, this cycle witnessed the emergence of a new volunteer who rose up to help with home visits.  We are extremely grateful.
Devotional gatherings in the cluster are becoming a magnet for newer believers, older believers, and seekers.  We are encouraged that these are becoming a strong pillars in the structure of the cluster.

Genuine 24-7 caring

This absolutely delightful story of a junior youth group comes from San Francisco-San Mateo, CA (A).  In between all the various meals there are many crucial lessons.  I was particularly struck by how genuinely the animators cared and connected with the junior youth in their group—and did so 24-7.  The bonds of friendship developed naturally with the family, and this came about from the attitude of pure and detached service on the part of the animators.  Look also at how the sharing of the Faith occurred naturally, woven into the conversation, as well as the vision of who we are and what we are trying to do.
I wanted to share this story about a reverse home visit with the parents of junior youth and how it came about:
A junior youth group has been meeting in this neighborhood for 6 weeks now.  Through conversations with the junior youth, it became evident that all of them were wanting help with their math classes.  One of the animators volunteered to help each of them with their math homework so he set up appointments with three of them. . . .

One afternoon he came to the home of one of the junior youth.  They studied for about an hour and a half, and then the mother offered him dinner, though she hadn't prepared it yet.  The animator profusely thanked her but, indicating that he had to go, said that there would be other opportunities.  One hour later, the junior youth showed up at the animator's home with a delicious plate of food.  The animator was scheduled to meet with him again the following day in the morning.  Once again, he was greeted with more food, this time for breakfast.  Another hour or so of tutoring took place along with some really nice conversation with the mother about their lives.  At this time, moved by the instant friendship that had developed, the animator invited the mother and her family over for dinner the following evening.  She agreed.
The next evening, the mother showed up beautifully dressed with her all her children.  Both animators of the group and 2 other Bahá’í friends also attended.  Over dinner the mother and her 3 children shared stories about their lives from Mexico and here in the United States.  After dinner, we then divided into groups:  One animator sat with the mother in the living room, the other animator worked with the junior youth on the computer, another one of the friends read a story to one of the younger children, and the last friend did the dishes.
The animator then shared some quotations from Walking the Straight Path with the mother and the first quotation in Unit 2 of Book 5.  She was very open to all of the concepts of the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program and fully agreed with the methodology for spiritual empowerment.  She encouraged the animator to make a presentation at the local middle school and a nearby community center to invite more junior youth to participate.
At this point, the animator mentioned he and other Bahá’ís do this service because they really want to see the junior youth develop spiritual and material excellence and for their talents and capacities to be brought out and enhanced.  The mother had never heard of the Bahá’í Faith so she asked, inquisitively, what it was.  The animator shared the very beginning of Anna's conversation in Spanish.  The conversation continued and the mother asked if she could read through the whole booklet.  She did so for about 15 minutes and then asked the animator to make a copy of 3 sheets from the presentation so that she could post them in her home for her family to see:  The Eternal Covenant of God, the quote of “When a though of war comes oppose it by a stronger thought of peace”, and the “Refresh and gladden my spirit” prayer.
The night ended with the animator coming over to their home for another half hour to make sure that all the math homework was complete and ready to be turned in the next day.  The mother and her family felt immensely grateful.
Reflections:  The genuine interest in seeing junior youth succeed in their material education led to increased opportunities for the animator to build a relationship of trust and friendship with the parents of the junior youth.  Visiting with the parents of junior youth to further explain the nature of the program helps to create really solid supporters for the group and its vision.  A dinner where friends from the neighborhood can be casually invited opens the door for increased bonds of love and friendship, a necessary element for teaching the Faith and for a soul to continue on its path towards Bahá’u’lláh.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The friendship was constant and unconditional

This story from an A-stage cluster in the Northeast region shows the importance and power of true friendship.  Note also the role that home visits played in the process.  It’s interesting that when the seeker declared, rather than the Bahá’ís running around to get a registration card, they invited him to go online!
T and S have been friends for over 20 years, and S has been a Bahá’í for several years now.  Both are committed to personal and spiritual development and transformation.  T would get together from time to time with a local Bahá’í couple.  They would visit each other’s homes.  So over the past year, T would call his Bahá’í contacts increasingly often and ask more and more detailed questions.  He was given a copy of “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era” to read. . . .

Last month, T called up his Bahá’í friends and said he was ready to become a Bahá’í.  They gave him the information about where he could declare his Faith online at the U.S. Bahá’í Web site.  He did so, and shortly after, the area teaching committee was calling him to verify all the details.  T then attended a fireside at the home of his friends where a film was shown about the Bahá’í World Center in Haifa, and he was able to see the worldwide reach of the Faith.
At that gathering, T explained his attraction to the Faith.  For him, he felt his upbringing had influenced him to be very critical of himself and others.  However, with the Bahá’ís, he always felt differently, and was profoundly moved to realize that over the years their friendship had been constant and unconditional.  Everyone in the room was moved.

Rotary contacts SRS for speaker

A Rotary club wanted a Bahá’í speaker to come give a presentation to its chapter about the Bahá’í House of Worship.  So what did they do?  They contacted the Seeker Response System via the public Website at!  The regional response coordinator then reached out to friends in the area to give the presentation.  Look at how the connections were then built!
Dear A,
Two separate meetings were held with the Rotary Club on successive weeks.  At the first, B gave a presentation about the restoration of the House of Worship, and at the next, K have an introductory presentation on the history of the Temple and the principles of the Faith.  G attended both presentations and is now known to the club members as a local Bahá’í.  The presentations were well received, and G is considering joining Rotary in order to keep up the contacts.
Thanks for sharing this opportunity.

Radio station following local seeker Web site on Twitter

Spring is here, and new flowers are sprouting up everywhere you look.  Another thing that is sprouting up are local Bahá’í community Web sites.  The Portland/Vancouver metro area’s site (covering several clusters) is one example.  It invites seekers to participate in core activities (described in the language of the Ridvan 2008 message), as well as has a multitude of links to other sites, videos, etc.  Very engaging!  And they are learning all the time, as described by one of the friends:
Dear Friends,
The Portland Metro seeker Website ( is gaining momentum.  We recently found that a local radio station is following us on Twitter (  I think what we are finding is that the more local content we put on this site, the more attention we receive.  So drop us a line and let us know what is happening in your neighborhood.  What’s new with your study circle?  What types of service projects are you engaged in?  What are you learning?  What are the youth in your community up to?  We’d love to hear from you!

Raising the level of the discourse in Scottsdale

One recent endeavor of Bahá’ís all over the world is to raise the level of our discourse with our friends and neighbors (remember the last unit of Ruhi Book 2?).  And so an exciting process is playing out in cluster after cluster, a sweet example of which comes from Scottsdale, AZ (A):  elevated discourse on spiritual topics helps a teaching team discover like-minded individuals in the community, accompaniment to a “hands on” core activity experience, followed by an invitation to become an active contributor to community building through participation in the training institute!
We have been trying various methods to engage in devotionals and study circles with our friends and neighbors in our gated community.  With the help of our teaching team we have started a regular activity of engaging our local neighborhood and community on topics of spiritual import.  To our pleasant surprise, during one of these conversations a neighbor expressed the desire to volunteer and be involved in children’s classes. . . .

So soon after this, one of the teaching team members arranged for this lady to visit some Bahá’í neighborhood children’s classes in the cluster to witness words in action.  While she was visiting the class and observing the process, one of the local friends discussed how the Bahá’í world community, with its identity to serve humanity, is engaged in helping build communities founded on spiritual principles.
This greatly impressed her, and after the visit she accepted an invitation to join a Ruhi Book 1 study circle (and Ruhi 3 after that) so she could participate in the process and help with children’s classes.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The friends took ownership of the teaching activities

When everybody pitches in and does their share, all those drops add up to an ocean.  This is certainly true in Pasco-Hernando, FL (A) where the friends have just finished another expansion phase of their intensive program of growth.  The widespread personal initiative and ownership of the efforts are reflected in the wonderful results.

The expansion phase of the 4th cycle of the IPG witnessed one of the most energized periods in our cluster.  It started with an afternoon of collective teaching, as well as visiting homes to invite people to a devotional gathering. . . .

The expansion phase has been filled with firesides and devotional meetings throughout the cluster.  The majority of the friends took ownership of teaching activities by personally inviting seekers and members of the community of interest to the activities.
Some highlights:
11 firesides held
7 devotional meetings held
3 neighborhood children’s classes
2 junior youth groups
20 believers from the cluster involved in collective direct teaching
42 seekers and members of the community of interest participated in firesides and core activities
Systematic follow-up plans are made by individual teachers for each seeker.  Additional firesides and devotional meetings will be continued during the consolidation phase.

"My house is your house, what can I do to help you?"

What does it mean to “raise up a protagonist”?  How are core activities “the foundation of a new civilization”?  In fact it’s not so complicated.  Here is a beautiful story from Newport Beach, CA (A) that literally speaks for itself.  In this case, a parent sees the value of children’s classes and their positive influence on their child, and THAT is what drives their involvement.  And the Bahá’ís’ explanation of our goals is just as simple and crystal-clear:  To make a better world.
We had a great day today.  The “Moms class” continued inside T's house.  The hardship of the rain brought us a bounty as N, the mother of one of the children in the children’s class, extended her gracious offer from last week and hosted the children's class in her home.  The class went well, and afterward N said her son watches through the window for us to arrive each week.  She said the children's class had so much positive impact on her son that she wants to do anything she can to help us.  She told us, "My house is your house, what can I do to help you?"  She then asked why we are doing this.  We explained that we are trying to make a better world by teaching spiritual education to children.  One of the teachers then went on to give her some information from Anna's conversation.  She cut up fruit for the children and made us feel welcome.  It was a wonderful experience I wish you all could have felt.  It was confirmation that all the work, all the teaching efforts, all the institute courses, practices and core activities can be rewarding for those who have not yet had the bounty of hearing the words of Bahá’u’lláh.  There are opportunities to make a difference in the lives of many receptive souls.

Monday, March 1, 2010

This neighborhood has taught us how to be more open

Some people homefront pioneer to another cluster, but some of the believers also homefront pioneer WITHIN their cluster to a receptive neighborhood!  In the past we have posted truly inspiring stories about “Bahá’í villages” in other parts of the country, and this story from Washington, DC (A) is equally delightful.  Why did these Bahá’ís move to a particular neighborhood?  Because they fell in love with it and with the people who lived there.  Their new home has become the center of a growing pattern of activity that form the building blocks of a new spiritual community.  But most of all, you can see their joy at how their homefront pioneering has brought them the chance to make friendships with people they otherwise might never have met.
In the Spring of 2009, one neighborhood in DC was the focus of collective teaching.  One of the believers was touched by the warm and friendly nature of the residents.  He and his wife fell in love with the neighborhood as they connected with the residents and shared Bahá’u’lláh’s Message.  The decision to homefront pioneer within their own cluster to this neighborhood came easily. . . .

Since their move, the couple continues to make friendly connections with neighbors and they strive to have meaningful conversations with them on spiritual matters.  They formed a neighborhood children’s class and continue to maintain it with the assistance of others including a seeker who has been deeply moved by this involvement in the classes.
Their home is open to the systematic study of the institute courses, is a base for weekly children’s classes, and serves as a base during expansion phase direct collective teaching projects.  They have hosted a neighborhood 19 Day Feast in their home and organize regular home visits in which members of the cluster gather at their home to pray and then go visit neighbors and friends.  In addition, they are working towards establishing a junior youth group.
They share their thoughts:
The opportunity for service is as incredible as we could ever have hoped for.  The community is warm and friendly and always eager to invite us over when they hear we are new to the neighborhood.
The obvious benefit has been the joy that has come from being able to befriend so many people, people from different cultural backgrounds that we otherwise would have never gotten to know.
One night we spent two hours at the home of one of our new neighbors.  When one of his children saw us, he seemed surprised that we were there.  We then had a great discussion about the oneness of humanity, and this father was so pleased that we were now friends.
In fact, the community we now live in has taught us how to be more open about expressing our love for humanity to strangers and people we hardly know—here it’s commonplace.