Friday, April 30, 2010

Teaching teams use variety of approaches

The third story from the recent expansion phase of New York City (A) is all about teaching teams and shows there are a variety of approaches that teams can take to teach the Faith.  Home visits, direct teaching, core activities, and of course lots of prayers—everything leads to making closer connections with our neighbors and community of interest.
We formed 3 teams of 2 and 3 people and visited the parents in the building whose children are participating in the weekly children’s class held there.  The response of the parents we visited was enthusiastic, and the children can’t wait to remind their parents of the next class. . . .

After the home visits, we gathered together to reflect, and then decided to pay a visit to one of our contacts, who lives in the building and has an office just around the block.  We went to his office and he was pleasantly surprised from this group visit and was most enthusiastic.  He quickly invited us in.  A family member was visiting him, who was also very enthusiastic and asked to be given an introduction to the Bahá’í Faith.  So one of the teaching team members shared a direct presentation.  It was a good meeting and we can’t wait to be back.
That evening, there was a devotional gathering at the home of one of the teaching team members.  One of the seekers present read the prayers avidly and said, “These prayers are so beautiful—I just want to keep reading them!”
The next day, we focused our outreach on our Spanish-speaking contacts.
Another teaching team took the following approach both days of the weekend:  They gathered together to say lots of prayers and then set up a table on the street to directly teach interested passerby.  This was followed by a devotional gathering in the evening for interested seekers to attend.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Engaging classmates with the vision of junior youth empowerment

Here is the second teaching story from the latest cycle of the intensive program of growth in New York City (A), this one focusing on a university campus!  The Bahá’ís are engaging their classmates by sharing the vision of the junior youth spiritual empowerment program—and directly inviting their active participation.  And that’s not all!  The core activities, the habit of engaging in spiritual conversations, and the institute process are all creating an exciting atmosphere.
One teaching team consisting of four youth studying at one of the universities here has been saying daily the teaching prayer for the Northeast states and the prayer for New York to attract divine confirmations in a spirit of unity.  They have been sharing with friends and classmates the significance of a junior youth empowerment program, explaining that it helps junior youth navigate through a crucial period of their lives and provides a space for junior youth to explore and develop their moral, language and cognitive capacities, within a group context of study, discussion and service.  The teaching team has been inviting their friends to help them start a junior youth group and also to participate with them in a Book 5 training to provide them with the practical and spiritual capacities to animate a junior youth group.  The team has also been inviting friends and classmates to join a Book 1 study circle. . . .

One teaching team member decided to reach out to a student who had previously contacted the university’s Bahá’í Club this year and expressed interest, but had not yet attended any events.  The team member had realized the seeker lived in her same building, and the seeker responded enthusiastically to an informal, informational meeting in the team member's dorm room.  They were joined by another very receptive seeker, and all three talked very naturally for 2 hours, discussing the seeker's questions about devotional gatherings, youth year of service, and all going over a children's class lesson from Book 3 (including a story from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life!).  All members seemed very pleased to have taken the time to meet and really connect to one another's hearts through conversation elevated by Baha'i teachings.

The Local Assemblies are adopting the goals of the cluster as their own

This report from Fairfax County, VA (A) is so inspiring because it shows empowerment that is occurring at both the level of the individual believer and at the level of local institutions.  Increasing numbers of friends are arising to serve—and being accompanied to do so, the various agencies and institutions are working ever more closely together, and their intensive program of growth is revving up its momentum!
The cluster arises to serve when the friends are asked and feel accountable for the cluster.  This helps in learning the new culture and strengthens the cluster identity.
Engagement in the goals of the Five Year Plan increased the attendance at the reflection gathering. . . .

As a result of consultation at the reflection gathering, there has been increased collaboration between the cluster agencies and the Local Spiritual Assemblies.  The Local Assemblies have now adopted the goals of the cluster as their own and are engaging there community members.
The service component of the study circles is very powerful and we see the effects when we do them.
The friends can become more prepared for a core activity they are starting if they visit an ongoing core activity.
We found it very helpful to have “devotional firesides” each day of the expansion phase.

Core activities helping establish "spiritual village"

It’s no surprise:  core activities are the foundation of growth.  The trick is, how do you multiply and sustain them?  Every cluster faces this question, and the friends everywhere are engaged in on-the-ground learning and gaining insights specific to their communities.  This recent report from Eugene-Lane County, OR (A) contains some intriguing insights on getting core activities firmly established.
Our first receptive neighborhood continues to be very much so.  A new Grade 2 children’s class (using the lessons from Ruhi Book 3A) is just starting up, so we now have 3 children’s classes in this neighborhood.  It will soon evolve into a junior youth group, and we have an ongoing devotional gathering as well.  This neighborhood shows great promise in becoming a “spiritual village”, and resources will be directed that way.  We will try to increase attendance in children’s classes as assess interest in other core activities by making home visits to families.  One of the children’s mothers has already expressed interest in a Ruhi Book 1 study circle.  We will also try to build community connections between the teaching teams and neighborhood families through a community garden project. . . .

Core activities have now been started at the local community college, first by a devotional gathering and then by a study circle.  The college shows promise in becoming another area with a nexus of activities.
We have learned that some of the keys to success in starting core activities are:
Being flexible
Having resources ready to take advantage of opportunities as soon as they arise
Not continuing to dwell too long on efforts that are not bearing fruit
These insights are helping us in both the expansion and consolidation phases.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"I am soooooo glad to be a Baha'i"

The network of regional level seeker response coordinators help connect seekers and new believers with Bahá’ís that live near them.  As a growing number of individuals are coming to the Bahá’í community through these channels, the friends are approaching consolidation more and more systematically.  For example, one regional coordinator has tried a number of ways to check back with seekers and online registrants and see what core activities they are involved in and how they are finding the local community life.  Here are some excerpts of the questions and answers between the regional coordinator and one new believer:
Q: Regarding continuous learning about the Bahá'í Faith.
A: I have gone to travel teach, and have Bahá’ís come to my home to sing and learn Bahá’í songs.  I am teaching a Sunday school class at my local Bahá’í center. . . .

Q: Are there any changes that you have made in your life because you are a Bahá'í?
A: I have began to be more prayerful, memorizing prayers in English and in my native tongue, I have visited many local Bahá’ís and have had socials, firesides, deepenings, devotionals both at friends' homes and at my home.  I have been more understanding of my family members, less irritable and more patient.  I have given up alcohol, strong/bad language and have tried to curb my tendency to gossip or backbite.  I feel happier and less anxious about life and my situation.  I sing all day with the blessed assurance of Bahá’u’lláh in my life!
Q: Since I've made the decision to join, my feelings about Bahá'í are:
A: A strong conviction that I have made the right decision.  I have found my true family and have come home and am surrounded by people who understand, accept, encourage and support me. I am soooooooooooooo glad to be a Bahá’í!
Q: If you have other questions or comments, please note them here:
A. I need more information regarding the process of electing my Local Spiritual Assembly.
I sincerely have never met a kinder more sincere group of people than the Bahá’ís.

Welcoming in a new believer through home visit

Every day, searching souls reach out to the Bahá’í community through channels such as the public Web site or the 800-22UNITE phone line.  That is just the first step in a process of nurturing and welcoming.  And that is where follow-up by the local friends is vital.  Here is a lovely story from Chicago, IL (A) where two of the friends made a home visit to a new believer who had initially connected with the Bahá’ís through the Seeker Response system.
Dear Friends, Allah'u'Abha!
I am writing to share about the home visit that S and I had with __.
We visited him at his apartment.  He graciously received us and shared a lot about his life history as well as the journey towards the Faith.  He stated that he realized that after reading the Bahá’í Prayers, the very same neighbors that he was previously indifferent towards started to look wonderful to him. . . .

S had kindly brought three different books to give to him as a gift, and he was really happy to receive them.
He shared that he had mailed in his declaration card.  I was not sure as were he was along the path of affirmation. Therefore, I shared with him an overview of the Central Figures of the faith, Shoghi Effendi, the Universal House of Justice and the need for obeying the Bahá’í laws as we learn about them.
I offered him the opportunity to ask questions.  He said that he had only one, and that was when the bookstore was open—he expressed interest in going to the House of Worship.
Yesterday, I got a call from some other Bahá’ís who are in a Ruhi Book 2 study circle with S and me.  They had heard the story of __ and graciously offered to take him to the House of Worship.  They have already made plans to pick him up and take him for one of the Sunday devotional services.  I had the bounty of talking to __ again yesterday to confirm that arrangement.  He also shared that he had received his membership card and that he was really happy about it.  He said that I had never been a member of any religion before.
I told him about the 19 Day Feast and that one is coming up next week (now that he has his membership card).  He would like to come and meet other Bahá’ís.

The classes have really nurtured a Baha'i identity

The Universal House of Justice in its Ridvan 2008 message to the Bahá’ís of the world has expressed the hope that Bahá’í children’s classes can become “centres of attraction for the young” and “strengthen the roots of the Faith in society.”  And in neighborhood after neighborhood around the country, that is exactly what is happening.  Here is one example from Scottsdale, AZ (A) of a child that has developed a Bahá’í identity as a natural result of their participation in the class.
The following is a story that our friends shared with us at our study circle in a receptive neighborhood.
There is a children’s class in that same neighborhood.  The mother of one of the girls in the class had recently given birth, so one of the new Bahá’ís went to visit this mother.  During the conversation with the parents, this girl made it clear to everyone that she considered herself a Bahá’í.  The children’s classes have really attracted the hearts and affected the character of the children and have nurtured them to build a Bahá’í identity.

She has many questions about the Five Year Plan

This is a touching story of a relatively new believer in a remote location who earnestly wanted to be involved in the Five Year Plan.  She reached out through the regional level seeker response coordinator, who is working to connect her to the friends.  Here is her note to the Auxiliary Board members serving the area.
Dear Friends,
This morning I was honored with a call from M, a believer in a C-cluster in our region.  M became a Bahá'í a few years ago, but has been isolated most of the time since then.  She was inspired by the recent letter from the Regional Bahá'í Council in which the friends were asked to support the intensive program of growth clusters and to say the prayer for the Central States daily.  M has been saying the prayer and she wants to know how she can help.  I encouraged her to call or write to you.  She has many questions about the Five Year Plan.

Purely by searching the Web

Technology is truly widening the network of our community of interest.  Here is yet another reminder that there are a number of souls that are reaching out to us, who already believers before they even meet another Bahá’í.  This story is shared by a regional level seeker response coordinator:
L learned about the Faith purely by searching the Web.  He has not yet met a Bahá’í, although the Auxiliary Board member has written to him.  L was especially impressed by Bahá’u’lláh's teachings on oneness and about the history of the Faith.  He understands that there are social laws that must be followed.  He has already downloaded a copy of the Bahá’í calendar from the internet and says he is trying to "live by it".  I will send him one of the books of Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"We are going very local"

The first of several stories about New York City (A), where the latest intensive program of growth has not only involved earnest and systematic outreach, it has also applied some of the latest learning.  The last paragraph is priceless and overrules any summary I could write here.
Dear friends,
As we go into the last two days of the Expansion Phase over the weekend, let us share some of the stories about the teaching work that have been happening throughout our cluster this week.  What courage and love and unity and generosity of spirit we see in the teaching teams!  Let us all pray for one another and for receptive hearts as we endeavor to make this a weekend of intense teaching! . . .

In one neighborhood, we got together on Saturday morning to eat and pray together.  We then broke off into 3 teaching teams and went to the 3 apartment buildings that we are focusing on.  We had developed plans for each of these 3 buildings earlier that week.
In one building, the believers (and one seeker too!) studied some of the messages of the Universal House of Justice.  Then they went to visit every single apartment in the building to invite everyone to a pot-luck dinner, as well as the regular devotional gathering held in that building.
In another building, in which there is a junior youth group, the team made home visits to all of the parents of the junior youth.
In the third building, the believers did some role-playing to practice how they would engage their neighbors.  They then visited every apartment and explained the process of community building, including the ongoing children’s class, junior youth group, and devotional gathering—and then invited them to be a part of it!  Later, the junior youth group at this building baked cookies and gave them to their neighbors to show loving-kindness, and thus met more neighbors in the path of service.  A new person joined the junior youth group, and a new neighbor came to the devotional and asked a bajillion questions about the Faith!
Our strategy is this:  we are going very local, reaching out to our neighbors to create community through the core activities and skills from the Ruhi sequence (yay home visits!), and developing relationships that naturally lead to direct teaching and engagement with the core activities!  We have been identifying potential human resources in the 3 buildings who we can invite to serve with us and go through some or all of the Ruhi sequence.  We have a LOT to do for the consolidation phase, and we are meeting every other Sunday to deepen on The Advent of Divine Justice, reflect and plan, and then hold our core activities!  Yay yay!  Ya-Baha'u'l-Abha!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Online registrant teaches another online registrant

It finally had to happen.  A growing number of people are taking opportunity of the option to declare one’s belief in Bahá’u’lláh online at the public Web site at  And so, here is another story of a young person who registered as a Bahá’í online.  What is particularly exciting is that he was taught the Faith by someone else who had also declared online a short time ago!  And so the process of growth continues, now aided by technology!
First the regional seeker response specialist contacted the local believers and the nearest Local Spiritual Assembly:
Dear Friends,
W.R. is a youth in __ who declared online tonight!  I hope to contact him tomorrow and go through an overview of the Faith to affirm his declaration, per the Regional Bahá’í Council’s process for online registrations in our region. . . .

After I speak with him, I’ll send you the data, information, and suggestions for next steps.  In the meantime, please say prayers for this process.
One of the local friends then remembered something:
Isn’t this the second youth we have had in the area declare online?  Is he connected in any way to the first?
Another local friend confirmed there WAS a connection:
We had the bounty of having W.R. in our home last night.  He is a close friend of __ (our amazing young friend) and was introduced to the Faith by him.  They have had many discussions about the Faith, and W.R. has also conducted his own search.  He is a wonderful young man and has obviously been attracted by the magnetic spirit of __’s love for the Faith.  Several of us were present there.
We truly appreciate the love, prayers and support being offered.