Friday, October 29, 2010

Rising Receptivity to His Cause

The Universal House of Justice has referred to mankind’s heightening awareness of the spiritual impulse that animates human life: “One clearly sees an increasing receptivity to His all-pervasive and resplendent Spirit.” (9 January 2001)

Evidence of such receptivity comes to us in the form of a steady stream of stories from all over the country, like this one from in the Southeast region about a new believer whose journey began as an atheist, and who later came to believe “there’s something greater”:

I spoke with ____ (who is 19 years old) for about 30 minutes. He was an atheist but was feeling that there's something greater. He looked into Hinduism and Buddhism, and came across the Bahá’í Faith online. He was particularly drawn to the concepts of the equality of men and women and universal education. We covered the first few sections of Anna's presentation. He asked about the afterlife, and if Bahá’ís have a similar view of the "judgment day" as Christians. I'm going to e-mail him with some resources and local contacts.

Here is an account in the South Central region, shared by a college student raised atheist, who is now a new believer on her spiritual journey:

I was looking for a religion to call my own. My mom, who is not Bahá’í herself but knows Bahá’ís, recommended this religion to me. I looked in to it, and… principles like the independent search for truth and the harmony of science and religion, these are the things that appealed to me. I was raised an atheist and most recently I have been a Unitarian Universalist. I now believe that I have found religion and theology. I officially converted to the Bahá’í Faith…. I hope to grow closer to God as I continue my spiritual journey.

A young man in the Northeast region recently joined the Faith after having studied on his own, with encouragement from his spiritual adviser -- a Catholic priest.  His story is told by a Bahá’í who recognized his sincerity and his desire to be an active member in the community:

He has been studying the Faith for a year on his own; he made a trip to visit the Bahá’í Temple in Wilmette and was "wowed" as he put it.  And after much soul searching and consultation with his spiritual adviser (a Catholic priest who has encouraged him in his search) he has declared his faith in Bahá'u'lláh.  He accepts Bahá'u'lláh without reservation.  He acknowledges he has a lot to learn and was very excited about joining Ruhi study circles to study with a small group.  He is a teacher in a Catholic private school where the faculty includes adherents to all the major religions. I found [him] to be sincere and very much wanting to become an active Bahá’í.

Regarding this new believer in the Central region, “the more she read, the more she wanted”:

Five years ago, _____ explained, she didn't know there were people who believed as she did.  When Googling, she came across the Bahá’í Faith.  As she first read about it, she was bewildered.  She had been looking for a religion for more than 2 years.  The more she read, the more she wanted to be part of the unity.  She was drawn to the Prophets, each being recognized unlike the religions she had come in contact with through her life.  Born & raised a Methodist, living in a [predominately] Catholic town, knowing Hindus and having a best friend who was Muslim, [she] realized all these religions only recognized one Messenger of God.  [She] is excited about Pilgrimage and beginning Book 1, [and she] already explained the Bahá’í Faith to a World Religion professor at _____ University where she attends.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Establishing Ties of Friendship on College Campuses

In an A-stage cluster within the Southwest region, the expansion phase of their latest growth cycle included conversations about community building with students on two local college campuses.

Today teams went to form bonds of friendship with students at _____ College. The concept of ‘community building’ was shared, and [we engaged in conversation] about ways that could improve the community in their own neighborhood.

Almost all that were approached were invited to join a study circle that will be held on campus. Amazing conversations happened! There is such a diversity of students at ______ College that it is like a beautiful garden!

On each succeeding day [of the expansion phase], more students were interested and expressed their desire to participate in a study circle that will be launched on October 25 at [the] College! It is so rewarding to find such purposeful youth who have hope that they can change their community and want to make a difference in the lives of the junior youth!

“Even the most modest estimates suggest that there are now tens of thousands who participate in periodic campaigns to establish ties of friendship, on the basis of shared understanding, with those previously regarded as strangers.” (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Vitality of the Training Institute

In April the Universal House of Justice wrote that “primary responsibility for the development of human resources in a region or country rests with the training institute.”

Having participated in a training session hosted by the Magdalene Carney Bahá’í Institute, the Children’s Classes Coordinator of the Baton Rouge, LA cluster (A-stage) returned home inspired to pursue new goals:

A family gathering was organized to ask for parental involvement and input into the classes. The parents suggested that we have more diversity of children in the classes.

It was requested that children’s class schedules be available for all the teachers, parents, and the community three months in advance, and that a list of substitute teachers be developed.

Visits were made to LSAs in the cluster to share the learning gained from teaching children’s classes, as well as the plans for an upcoming Bahá’í summer camp, and the types of support needed.  LSA funding support was received.

To assist with children’s classes, new resources were actively sought.  One parent was found from the Community of Interest (who is currently studying Book 3, and also helps out with the Bahá’í summer camp).  She has been able to invite other children to this summer camp, as she lives in the neighborhood and the neighbors trust her.  This parent and her Book 3 tutor have being doing home visits to attract more children to the classes.

Concrete, practical, and useful developments -- thanks to inspirational training.

“To ensure that the proper measure of vitality is pulsating through this system should continue to be the object of intense learning in every country over the course of the next twelve months.” (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Using Different Language to Describe Devotional Gatherings

“Responding to the inmost longing of every heart to commune with its Maker,” said the Universal House of Justice in its 2008 Ridvan Message, in a passage describing the activities of the Bahá’ís around the world, “they carry out acts of collective worship in diverse settings, uniting with others in prayer, awakening spiritual susceptibilities, and shaping a pattern of life distinguished for its devotional character.”

A believer from the South Central region who has been holding a regular devotional gathering explains how her choice of language has shifted in more recent attempts to describe these gatherings to friends and neighbors.  This shift in language, she explains in the below note to some collaborators, is due to experience that has been gained in communities that are reporting increases in the core activities.

Now: I'm inviting everyone to a get-together; and each time has a theme.  (Before: I was calling it a 'devotional'.)

Now: The purpose is to strengthen the neighborhood by focusing on friendship and unity; we have opportunities at the get-together to talk about common spiritual interests, like 'gratitude' or 'being fearless' or ‘friendship'.  Also, we read from uplifting poems, quotations, and have music.  (Before: to pray together; it kinda of felt like 'church'.)

Now:  The vision is that additional folks in our neighborhood will arise to offer a weekly or monthly devotional.  They may just do it, or they may like to have training how.  The course called Reflections on the Life of the Spirit provides the training.  I'd like to start one in Oct. or Nov. on a Friday if there is interest.  I probably will not announce this at the get-togethers, but will talk with guests one-on-one.  (Before:  I'll provide everything: refreshments, music, quotes, home.  Even though I wanted folks to play music, bring quotes, etc., it was still mostly ME being in the center.  I believe it's important that no one person is in the center, that the spirit is in the center, and our love for each other.)

Now: Focus on additional activities and service projects to bring neighbors together for the good of our families, each other, the neighborhood, and the environment.  Like the Junior Youth empowerment program.  I'm going to see if there is interest in being of service with:  Creek clean-up, erosion prevention of the creek, water catchment for the neighbors who live here, plus input and ideas and involvement from everyone will be welcome.  (Before: monthly devotional only, a stand-alone activity.)

Thank you for collaborating and accompanying me.  I look forward to continuing to learn, incorporating the learning, and seeing you very soon.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Achieving a Dynamic Coherence Between the Material and Spiritual

“Once human resources in a cluster are in sufficient abundance, and the pattern of growth firmly established,” wrote the Universal House of Justice in its 2010 Ridvan Message, “the community’s engagement with society can, and indeed must, increase.”  How?  The same paragraph provides two avenues, namely the “interconnected, mutually reinforcing” concepts of social action and public discourse.

A great example of social action comes to us from Bahá’ís in Springdale, Arkansas (A-stage), who organized a "Steps to College Success" presentation which was attended by approximately twenty Marshallese* youth and eight adults.

All were very attentive and learned many concrete steps to take for high school preparation for college. They also studied two quotations from our sacred writings which pertain to the spiritual significance of both work and education. It was inspiring to see so many young Marshallese students so enthusiastic and serious about their future possibilities. After the meeting many expressed their gratitude and appreciation.

We truly have gems in our Marshallese youth, and their dreams for professions in the fields of nursing, teaching, police work, heart surgery, and piloting airplanes are very much alive. It is the work of all of us in the cluster to support these dreams with concrete help, with filling out college and financial aid and scholarship applications, and with offering tutoring for the more difficult college prep math and science courses these students will take. They know that we are their resources, and that they can call on those Bahá’ís who have been to college to help them navigate the system.

Most appropriately conceived in terms of a spectrum, social action can range from fairly informal efforts of limited duration undertaken by individuals or small groups of friends to programmes of social and economic development with a high level of complexity and sophistication implemented by Bahá’í-inspired organizations.  Irrespective of its scope and scale, all social action seeks to apply the teachings and principles of the Faith to improve some aspect of the social or economic life of a population, however modestly.  Such endeavors are distinguished, then, by their stated purpose to promote the material well-being of the population, in addition to its spiritual welfare.  That the world civilization now on humanity’s horizon must achieve a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual requirements of life is central to the Bahá’í teachings.  Clearly this ideal has profound implications for the nature of any social action pursued by Bahá’ís, whatever its scope and range of influence.  (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

*According to an article in the Daily Headlines page of the University of Arkansas (, the Marshall Islands has a population of about 60,000 -- and there are several thousand Marshallese people living in northwest Arkansas, most heavily concentrated in Springdale.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Going the Extra Mile to Respond

Many people first contact the Bahá’í Faith through the Seeker Response system (online at, or via the 800-22-UNITE phone number).  An ongoing challenge in responding to the needs of these seekers is finding local friends who will commit to following up, no matter the sacrifice.

The following story, as told by two Bahá’ís from the Central region who recently visited with a seeker, illustrates how they responded quickly and with love.  In addition, because their Regional Council has encouraged home visits as a part of the response process, this husband and wife teaching team drove for over an hour to visit with this seeker in his home.  It is interesting to read what the seeker thought of the Bahá’ís as a result.

We started by asking him what had led him to contact the Baha'is.  He's a Missouri Synod Lutheran, Viet Nam vet, and very open and receptive seeker.  He had already begun looking through the web sites in the e-mail that was sent to him in response to his request for information.  We went through much of Anna's conversation, up to the laws section.  We explained study circles and devotional meetings, and we said a prayer with him.  We left him with a small prayer book and a copy of the Hidden Words.  He said he felt like he had a lot to digest, and will let us know when he wants more.  We will continue to be in contact with him, following up on elements of our conversation as appropriate.

One noteworthy piece of information, related to the seeker response system:  He was very intrigued about the quickness of the responses he's received, saying that we must be VERY organized.  And he was very impressed that we would drive all that way to see him with no expectations or assumptions, instead of simply talking on the phone, or relying on email.  It is amazing to think that there are incredibly open and receptive souls like this all over!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Welcoming Others into the Work of the Cause

Every soul should be made to feel welcome to join with the Bahá’í community “in contributing to the betterment of society,” says the Universal House of Justice, “commencing a path of service to humanity”.  The core team of New York City (A-stage) recently reported the following lesson:

Drawing others into the work of the Cause is essential to sustainability.  When once stable resources are no longer available, we are learning to see this as an opportunity for others who have been on the outskirts of an activity to step in.  A children’s class in ____ recently lost a teacher, and this provided an opportunity for a Bahá’í and a few seekers to step in to keep the class going.  That change in resource availability, if paired with accompaniment, training, and encouragement, can be transformed into a wonderful opportunity for others to arise and serve.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When Study and Service Are Carried Out Concurrently

That the Bahá’í world has succeeded in developing a culture which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service -- supporting one another and advancing together, respectful of the knowledge that each one possesses at any given moment and avoiding the tendency to divide the believers into categories such as deepened and uninformed -- is an accomplishment of enormous proportions.  And therein lie the dynamics of an irrepressible movement. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

The Area Teaching Committee of California’s Monterey County cluster (A-stage) reports this story about a recent on-line declarant.

“J.” is in the US Navy and is currently stationed at _____. Following news of his on-line declaration and confirmation, the institute process was initiated with some twists due to local conditions. Since the [military base] is closed to civilians, home visits were not possible, so “J.” had home visits at the home of some nearby Bahá’ís. Bonds of friendship quickly developed through these home visits. “J.” showed great interest in advancing his knowledge of the Bahá’í Faith, so within a couple of weeks, he was enrolled in a Ruhi Book 1 course. Layers of accompaniment occurred throughout the course of study. The woman serving as tutor had recently completed Book 7, and this was her first experience as a tutor. She was accompanied by [another student] who had completed the sequence of courses and initially served as co-tutor. So not only was “J.” developing his capacities, but the capacity of a new tutor was also strengthened. Prior to completing his study of Book 1, we started talking with “J.” about hosting a devotional gathering for [his colleagues on the military base]. By the end of Book 1, “J.” hosted his first devotional gathering, and invited twenty of his colleagues! The devotional was hosted at the home of the nearby Bahá’ís, and all of a sudden the [military base], which formerly seemed to be closed, was now perceived as part of the neighborhood.  Since then, “J.” has participated in home visits in the target neighborhood for the cluster's Intensive Program of Growth, and he is planning his second devotional gathering.

“J.” will be leaving in December for his new assignment. While we will miss him dearly, he will be prepared to serve no matter where he goes. Thanks to him, we have seen what can happen "when study and service are joined and carried out concurrently."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pioneering to a Neighborhood

The Area Teaching Committee of the Phoenix, AZ cluster (A-stage) recently shared the following:

Having a Bahá’í living in a neighbourhood who is willing to establish friendships with the neighbours, and start a process of community building via the core activities, can be a highly rewarding asset.  We are witnessing this in several neighbourhoods.

New York City (A-stage) is talking about the same thing:

Once we identify a receptive population and neighbourhood — and specifically an apartment building or block in a neighbourhood — we have learned to focus our human resources to amplify the strengths and abilities of home front pioneers and teachers on the ground. Having capable souls living in these buildings is essential, and to these key resources we have invited skilled teachers/tutors to commit three-to-five hours per week to lift the level of activity and learn about spiritual community building in these micro-settings.

In Waukesha, WI (A-stage) a believer who left one locality to pioneer to a neighborhood in a different locality communicated with her Regional Council about the benefits:

…We can see already what a difference it makes to the people in the neighborhood that I am living here. Our main focus has been to establish children's classes, and then have other core activities spin off from that. Our Area Teaching Committee had chosen this neighborhood for attention a little more than two years ago during an expansion phase of an early IPG cycle. We found it to be receptive, and had children's classes during the summer of 2008. We had continued to find receptivity during successive cycles, but without a permanent place in the community it was hard to get a foothold. I have been here for just over two months, and we have confirmation after confirmation that we're on the right track. Our children's class is growing, as are our relationships with parents.

This calls to mind the emphasis placed by the Universal House of Justice on pioneering in this Plan:

Equally important will be the support lent to a cluster through an influx of pioneers. The desire to pioneer arises naturally from deep within the heart of the individual believer as a response to the Divine summons. Whosoever forsakes his or her home for the purpose of teaching the Cause joins the ranks of those noble souls whose achievements down the decades have illumined the annals of Bahá’í pioneering. We cherish the hope that many will be moved to render this meritorious service during the next Plan, whether on the home front or in the international field -- an act that, in itself, attracts untold blessings... Priority should be given to settling short-term and long-term pioneers in those clusters that are the focus of systematic attention, whether as a means of reinforcing endeavours to lay the groundwork for accelerated growth or stabilizing cycles of activity under way. (27 December 2005)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Academic Skills Improved by Baha'i Junior Youth Group Curriculum

“Only the capacity of the Bahá’í community limits the extent of its response to the demand for the programme by schools and civic groups.”  Thus wrote the Universal House of Justice, in its 2010 Ridvan Message, about the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program (JYSEP), which is producing noteworthy results around the world.  Stories locally are emerging about the different ways in which this program is bringing out latent capacity in participants, such as how young people who engage in the JYSEP gain new perspectives that, in turn, enable them to contribute to the improvement of society.

One of the aims of this program is to assist participants to enhance their powers of expression.  The Area Teaching Committee of Amarillo, TX (A-stage) shares the following:

Students of a local JYSEP animator informed her that reading the material and answering the questions from their JYSEP book helped their comprehension and testing skills when they took their TAKS test (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, mandatory state-wide standardized testing for grade school students).

It seems that in this program the academic skills and the spiritual insights advance together.  When the school authorities hear about this, you can bet the capacity of the Bahá’í community will be further tested!

Monday, October 4, 2010

At Unit Convention: New believers bring tears to the eyes

A couple from Vermont, newly enrolled in the Faith, showed up at Unit Convention and contributed to the beautiful devotions by singing duets.  It brought tears to the eyes of those present, and the couple received a warm and loving welcome.  Their presence enriched the Convention and they left with many new friends, contacts, and invitations to events.  The husband later sent this note to one of the Bahá’ís:

“____ and I talked last night and again today about how welcome we both felt yesterday.  It was truly an amazing experience.  The entire day was so special, meeting new people, being able to share music, observing how Bahá’ís get business done.  All with NO clergy.  As a former United Methodist Pastor, that was totally incredible.  We are so new, excited, anxious, and so many more emotions.  We received three books and two CD's from our dear friend ______, a Bahá’í, who lives out in ________, NY.  Her note said that these were the first of our Bahá’í library.”