Friday, November 30, 2012

"I Am Whole Now"

Here is the beautiful story of two brand new believers from Texasa husband and wife who embraced the Faith within the same month, but followed their own spiritual journey and conducted their own independent investigation. The wife was the first to declare. She recalls:
When I was 15, I moved in with a relative because of the poverty and abuse I had experienced. I was searching for something to heal me, and I found Christianity—the faith of this relative. Now I'm almost 21, and I don't think Christianity fits my beliefs any longer. So I started searching again.
Earlier this week, my husband told me about a religion that one of his high school teachers had been a member of, called Bahá'í. He told me what little he could remember, but I felt it was exactly what I was searching for. I decided to do some research on it, and found the Bahá'í website where I requested that someone call me with more information. Then, that very same day, someone contacted me! It was like God meant for this to happen. But the day she contacted me was a really bad day—I had just been fired from my job—and I couldn't handle talking to anyone; I barely spoke to my husband that night. So yesterday afternoon she called me back and we discussed the Bahá'í religion.
As soon as she started talking I felt myself changing. When she had finished, I felt like a new person, like a hole in my heart that had been there for so many years had been filled. I joined immediately. I knew that this was what I was searching for.
I woke up this morning feeling like a new person! I won't go back to having that hole in my heart again. I can't put into words how this has made me feel—amazing, ecstatic, loved—all those words do not explain it. I am whole now.
Nineteen days later, there was more joyous news: her husband, who had originally told her about the Faith, also declared! Here is how he described his spiritual transformation:
Since I became Bahá'í, I've have more of a peace about myself. I love it! I decided that Bahá'í is true from researching it through independent investigation. It was all purely logical.
This is a definite transformation for me spiritually for me because I was Christian for so long, and that's one of the major "mutually exclusive" religions since it denies other faiths. Going from a religion like that to one so open as Bahá'í was a significant change, although not a difficult one for me. I always held the belief that all religions were based around a universal truth, but I could never find a religion that actually expressed that, and I was too scared to change my religion due to familial pressures. I tried to change my interpretation of Christianity to suit my beliefs, but it never really worked.
My very first encounter with Bahá'í was during my senior year in high school. My history/psychology teacher told us about her Bahá'í faith, but she never delved too deeply into it. This is understandable of course, as she probably would have been fired very quickly for doing so in a public school system. So I thought, "That's cool," and never really researched it until recently. Once I did, it just made logical sense, plain and simple.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Spirit of a Pioneer

Faith in the capacity of every individual who shows a desire to serve will prove essential to the efforts of those who are to elicit from the believers wholehearted participation in the Plan. Unqualified love free of paternalism will be indispensable if they are to help turn hesitation into courage born of trust in God and transform a yearning for excitement into a commitment to long-term action. — Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010
This is the story of a Bahá’í youth and how he became active in the Bahá’í community through embarking on a year of service:
I grew up in a Bahá’í family in Los Angeles, with both my parents dedicated to the Cause. After graduating high school and seeking direction in my life, I decided to serve a year in my father’s home country of El Salvador. Before I knew it, I was in a different country, living with an aunt whom I had never met before.
All I knew was that I wanted to serve the Five Year Plan, of which I had only a vague understanding. My only experience with core activities had been to briefly assist with children’s classes and being a prayer partner. But with the loving support and example of the Bahá'í community of El Salvador, I was nurtured into completing the main sequence of the Ruhi Institute. During the same period my capacity slowly started to grow in a spiritual sense, since I was not accustomed to really serving wholeheartedly and enduring so many trials in order to accomplish activities that didn’t always appeal to me at first.
As a result of making an honest effort in striving to understand that the Writings and service go hand in hand, God confirmed me with an understanding of the process in which we are engaged as a community, an understanding that continues to guide my life today. When I think about my year of service, it was one of the happiest periods of my life. Being given so many opportunities to serve, in capacities I would never have imagined, deeply affected my thinking about service. It wasn't something I was giving, but rather something that was necessary for the community to grow. The community was always by my side and always served alongside me. Serving also provided me with opportunities to learn from situations I was unfamiliar with. Through constant effort—especially teaching, the four core activities, and prayer—I was able to understand my place in the Five Year Plan and return home with a desire to continue serving my own community with the same spirit of a pioneer. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Crisis and Victory

In a prayer for youth, 'Abdu'l-Bahá supplicates:
O Lord! Strengthen these fragile seedlings that each one may become a fruitful tree, verdant and flourishing. Render these souls victorious through the potency of Thy celestial hosts, that they may be able to crush the forces of error and ignorance and to unfurl the standard of fellowship and guidance amidst the people; that they may, even as the reviving breaths of the spring, refresh and quicken the trees of human souls and like unto vernal showers make the meads of that region green and fertile.
Those who have studied Ruhi Book 4 know that the lives of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh provide us with an important object lesson: that the Cause of God advances through a series of crises and victories. It “moves from crisis to victory to crisis to victory, and no power on earth is capable of stopping its onward march.” The same principle holds true on a smaller scale at the level of individual core activities, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program. The following story tells of a junior youth group in crisis, and how a personal tragedy helped the group turn that crisis into victory.
Today our junior youth group experienced a breeze of confirmation. Over the past few weeks, our group has been struggling with disunity, and today, we finally began to overcome that barrier. We started with a prayer; we had never done this before, but since the junior youth had not been getting along lately, I figured it would set a good tone. Afterwards, we decided to update our group “pact” with a new set of guidelines that all of the junior youth came up with together, including some new members. We emphasized that these guidelines were important to prevent future problems that could contribute to the disunity our group was currently facing.
After revising the pact, we went to play soccer. As we were walking, Jack called me over from across the street. Jack is the stepfather of one of our former group members, Jeremy, who moved away about a month ago. His mom, Melony, had lost both of her legs to cancer four years ago, and she had sent Jeremy to live with his dad because it was time for him to have a full time male role model. Today, I learned from Jack that Melony knew she did not have long to live, and wanted Jeremy to be settled in with his father by the time she was gone. Melony lost her life to cancer just a few days ago.
I had never seen Jack so speechless. He could not express any words to me, so he sent me inside his home to talk with Connie, Melony’s best friend of 17 years. Connie sketched out the last moments of Melony’s life. She expressed Melony’s last wishes, which were to have her body cremated and her ashes given to her two sons so they could scatter them in the ocean together. At this point, I realized that Connie and Jack were not only mourning the death of Melony, but were also worried because they were $225 short in paying for her funeral expenses.
What happened next was beautiful. I got to share prayers with them. We said a prayer for the departed, and I assured them that God would take care of this problem. Then my co-animator arrived and also shared prayers with them. I asked them for permission to share this news with the rest of the group and they agreed. I joined the group on the soccer field and informed them of their neighborhood’s loss. They wanted to know if Jeremy was okay, and how they could help. I told them about the funeral expenses, and they immediately wanted to do something. This became our next service project.
After offering condolences, the group fanned out into the neighborhood in teams of two, and in a span of just an hour we collected over $150. We presented this money to Jeremy’s family, and this is when I realized how empowered the group had become today. Connie and Jack expressed their thanks in such a way that the junior youth truly felt the significance of what they had accomplished. They recognized the purpose of their group; that it is the core of the neighborhood, and that it is strong enough to put aside personal differences in times of need. They showed encouragement, love, generosity, and kindness to a family during a difficult time.
What was perhaps most empowering was that race barriers were dissolved today. Jeremy’s family is African American, while the rest of the group members are Hispanic. The junior youth have been hesitant to invite their African American neighbors to join. When we talked about reaching out to them two weeks ago, they expressed that they were not wanted in the African American community across the street, and they had no reason to go there. But today, thanks to Melony’s sacrifice, our junior youth group was given a reason to bridge these race barriers and to unify as a group to work toward one common goal. A boy, who had dropped out of the group about a month ago but was playing soccer with us, took ownership of the service project and led the group in helping Melony’s family.
We had so many touching moments. One of the youth shared a story of one of the men who donated money. The man said he was going to spend the money on beer, but because he knows Jeremy’s family is in need and because of how much he loves his own mom, he decided to donate the money instead. When this story was shared with the family, Connie was overcome with how special a sacrifice that man had made.
These breezes of confirmation solidified our group today and empowered these junior youth to experience firsthand that they can make a difference in their neighborhood and in the world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Ready Soul

In Memorials of the Faithful, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells the moving story of a man named Hájí ‘Abdu’r-Raḥím-i-Yazdí, whom He described as “a precious soul, from his earliest years virtuous and God-fearing, and known among the people as a holy man, peerless in observing his religious duties, mindful as to his acts.” The Master continued:
His strong religious faith was an indisputable fact. He served and worshiped God by day and night, was sound, mild, compassionate, a loyal friend.
Because he was fully prepared, at the very moment when he heard the summons from the Supreme Horizon—heard the drumbeats of “Am I not your Lord?”—he instantly cried out, “Yea, verily!” With his whole being, he became enamored of the splendors shed by the Light of the World. Openly and boldly he began to confirm his family and friends.
The following story from a Bahá’í in Colorado Springs illustrates how some people are “fully prepared” to accept Bahá’u’lláh and are moved to declare their Faith very quickly after hearing His blessed name, and arise to serve Him:
Two Sundays ago, hardly anyone showed up for Sunday Devotions at the Bahá’í Center, and only three of us were there when Robert (Bob) walked in and said, “I’m here to attend your service!” He had been filling gas at the Shamrock station across the street when he noticed the Bahá’í Center sign for devotions, and decided to walk in.
After the devotional meeting, Bob stayed to listen to the usual introduction to the Faith followed by a brief discussion, and we answered his questions to the best of our ability. Bob is from Florida, and was in Colorado Springs on business. He said he had been searching for a while after giving up on his Baptist church, and it was in a Unitarian church where he heard about the Bahá’í Faith for the first time. Bob was very touched by what he heard during our discussion and asked, “What are you doing to get your wonderful message across to the world? It all just makes so much sense!” We answered, “We’re really trying our best; we’re even going door to door!” We gave him a standard welcome package containing an introductory CD.
Last Sunday Bob came back to the Center and said he had gone through all the materials thoroughly. This time he met more Bahá’ís and seemed even more impressed with the Faith.
Tonight, my husband and I invited him to dinner, and had a wonderful time with him. In the course of our visit I mentioned casually that when he goes home he should look up the Bahá’ís in his town and keep in touch with them. He surprised us by saying, “Oh! I didn’t tell you! I went online and registered as a Bahá’í! I looked up the Bahá’ís back in Florida, contacted them, and one of them welcomed me. It was so nice, and we made arrangements for me to meet them upon my return home.” Bob explained that after his last visit to the Bahá’í Center, he went online from his hotel room, further investigated the Faith, and  declared exactly nine days after hearing about Bahá’u’lláh! And he’s going home in two weeks to teach the Faith to his wife and seven year-old son!
Ya Bahá’u’l-Abhá!

No Time to Lose

This story is about Jerry, a lifelong seeker of truth who registered online with only his street address as contact information. Although those who register online receive a series of letters in the mail, Jerry’s contact information was immediately forwarded to the Area Teaching Committee — also known as the ATC, the team that arranges for systematic visits to the homes of believers or friends — with the suggestion that a home visit might be appropriate.

The beloved Guardian Shoghi Effendi urged the friends not to lose a moment’s time in arising to teach the Cause:
There is no time to lose. There is no room left for vacillation. Multitudes hunger for the Bread of Life. The stage is set. The firm and irrevocable Promise is given. God's own Plan has been set in motion. It is gathering momentum with every passing day. The powers of heaven and earth mysteriously assist in its execution. Such an opportunity is irreplaceable. Let the doubter arise and himself verify the truth of such assertions. To try, to persevere, is to insure ultimate and complete victory.
Being well familiar with this memorization quote from Ruhi Book 4 and not wanting to let the opportunity pass, the Area Teaching Committee members made plans to visit Jerry that very same day. This is what they reported:
We met Jerry on the sidewalk down the street from his house. He seemed quite happy to see us, and said he was just on his way to find the Bahá’í Center or to go to the library to pick up some Bahá’í books so he could study the Faith from his own vantage point.
We learned that Jerry grew up Lutheran but soon began feeling that there was more, and he spent most of his adult life searching. The horrendous shooting at the Sikh Temple [in Oak Creek, Wisconsin] prompted him to look up the Sikh faith and learn more about it, but while he agreed with most of the Sikh beliefs, there were other things he didn't agree with. Jerry explained that he used to live in Chicago and his work in Evanston would routinely take him past the Bahá’í National Center, but he never went inside to ask about the Faith. However, now his curiosity had peaked and yesterday he submitted his address on the website so he could learn more. Although extremely cordial, Jerry mentioned that before he had any face to face conversations about the Faith, he would first like to read some books so that he would know what questions to ask.
Since Jerry was just on his way to find Bahá’í books, we mentioned that the Bahá’í Center has a lending library. He agreed to accompany us to the Bahá’í Center where we hand-picked a small stack of books that might suit his desire to find an intimate connection with the Goal of his desire. Jerry selected a few books and seemed pleased to have something to take home and read. Along the way we asked him if there was any way we could be of service. He said he would be moving soon and could use some help driving a few things to his new place when the time came. Since one of us has a minivan, we offered to help and decided this would be a great time to get together and talk about the books he borrowed.
Let us all surround his peaceful soul with prayer and deep feelings of love, he really is a wonderful soul! And thanks for getting this to us right away. The quick response was a key factor in the success of our visit!
Postscript: In addition to the importance of quickly responding to an individual’s expressed desire for knowledge, this story also mentions that it was the Sikh Temple shooting that reinvigorated Jerry’s search for truth. This certainly causes one to reflect on the Guardian’s statement that the “opportunities which the turmoil of the present age presents, with all the sorrows which it evokes, the fears which it excites, the disillusionment which it produces, the perplexities which it creates, the indignation which it arouses, the revolt which it provokes, the grievances it engenders, the spirit of restless search which it awakens,” must be used for “enlisting fresh recruits in the ever-swelling army of His followers.” (The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 48)

Monday, November 19, 2012

"I want you to register me. I am a Bahá’í."

Graduates of Ruhi Book 6 may remember the following quotation excerpted from The Advent of Divine Justice, in which the beloved Guardian outlined several duties of the Bahá’í teacher:
Let him consider the degree of his hearer’s receptivity, and decide for himself the suitability of either the direct or indirect method of teaching, whereby he can impress upon the seeker the vital importance of the Divine Message, and persuade him to throw in his lot with those who have already embraced it. Let him remember the example set by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and His constant admonition to shower such kindness upon the seeker, and exemplify to such a degree the spirit of the teachings he hopes to instill into him, that the recipient will be spontaneously impelled to identify himself with the Cause embodying such teachings. Let him refrain, at the outset, from insisting on such laws and observances as might impose too severe a strain on the seeker’s newly awakened faith, and endeavor to nurse him, patiently, tactfully, and yet determinedly, into full maturity, and aid him to proclaim his unqualified acceptance of whatever has been ordained by Bahá’u’lláh.
The following story from a Bahá’í teacher illustrates the importance of considering a seeker’s receptivity, and then practicing patience, tact, and determination to confirm that soul in the Cause.
Carrie first heard about the Faith from a Persian immigrant in the Dallas/Ft. Worth (Texas) area in the mid 1970s. In June of this year (2012) she registered as a Bahá’í online, as did her son in Amarillo. A day or so after she declared, we spoke about the Faith, but for some time after that we only texted. One night I texted her around 9 pm, intending to ask her about a Bahá’í gathering she attended a few weeks earlier. And she called me!
She said she enjoyed the Bahá’í gathering, and that she had also gone to another gathering at a young couple’s home. She said that “you felt like you were growing” and that “it was like an oasis.” She appreciated the readings of the various world religions. Carrie is Jewish, and she thought it was pretty special that when it was her turn to read, the selection was a Jewish prayer.
But then Carrie said, “I am still Jewish.” My heart sank. I decided I would pray, and ask Martha Root, Lua Getzinger and some friends who have passed on for help. I imagined their souls circling above us. Carrie shared that she had recently celebrated Yom Kippur. It is the one day each year that all the doors and windows of Heaven are open. She also explained that Rosh Hashanah is the New Year, and that “you progress into the Throne Room.” It sounded like a big deal, but I had never heard of that. I felt helpless. What could I say? I just said, “It sounds beautiful,” because it did.
Carrie’s son Ben declared in Amarillo around the same time Carrie did. This summer they visited the Bahá’í House of Worship together, where she bought them matching prayer books. She keeps hers in her bag and it is always with her, and she likes that physical aspect of it. She also likes the physical aspect of the Star of David. When she visits patients in her nursing work, she opens her bag to get her tablet, and she sees her prayer book. It comforts her, and she knows that her deeds have an effect on those she serves. But she said, “if you believe in Bahá’u’lláh you have to agree with the teachings of all the religions. I don’t know if I can do that.” I felt a panic, but decided to stay silent. My heart sank again.
One of Carrie’s patients is in the home of a Vietnamese couple. The wife is Catholic and the husband is Buddhist. When Carrie visited them she noticed an altar with a Buddhist figure and incense burning, but in their home were also Catholic symbols. The husband said that in their family there are many religions. ”But when we get together,” he told Carrie, “We accept one another.” I could hear the peace and contentment in Carrie’s voice as she related this experience. What he said made perfect sense. It was soothing to her. It was “the way.” It was beautiful.
We had spent well over an hour talking, and it was late. I wanted to take a chance and see if she was moving towards Bahá’u’lláh or taking a step back. I wondered if she was sorting out all these religions. So the question that came out was, “Carrie, do you think the Bahá’í Faith is the organization, the religion that the world needs to unite us all?” She paused. “Yes, I do.” That gave me the confidence to ask her about how she had requested to be registered as a Bahá’í three months earlier, but then later told me she was still Jewish.
Her reply seemed random, but was profound. “My son received his Bahá’í ID card so quickly.” I asked, “Are you wondering why you have not received one after all this time?” She chuckled. I took a deep breath and said, “Well, when he registered, and I called him back, it was clear that he had read about the Faith, believed in it and wanted to be registered. When I called you, we talked for a bit, you shared your belief in Bahá’u’lláh, but then said you were Jewish. I’m not a pushy person, so I decided to just continue to talk with you. I’ll do what you want me to, if you want to register or not.” There was a pause. Then she said, “I want you to register me. I am a Bahá’í.”
Overjoyed, I shared that I wanted to sing a prayer that Bahá’u’lláh revealed while in prison, “God is sufficient unto Me.” She hummed along in a few places! It turns out that when she was at the House of Worship this summer, this was playing in the book store.
With Carrie, the spiritual signs and connections just never end. Thank you, Concourse on High!