(US – South, August 2011)

One of various informed perspectives on the process of stimulating growth in clusters at early stages of their development.

* * * * * *

What, first and foremost, would you like to tell the Baha’is in these clusters?

Aniela Costello, cluster development coordinator, South Central States:

It’s really important for this Council to say, “Yes, there are hurt feelings out there. Yes, you felt left out. We hear you.” We hear from many of the emerging clusters, “Where were you?” But there are pockets within our advanced clusters, too, that felt left out, didn’t know where they belonged. And so now with this magnificent letter [of Dec. 28] we can go back and grab all hands. Study the paragraph on beginning steps that can be taken. If a cluster can read its reality that way and apply the learning and really give the friends wide latitude, accompany them to find their way — not our way, their way — then you have something that is sustainable, dynamic, organic, idiosyncratic, alive to the vision. It’s been my experience that the Baha’is are clamoring to find their place in the Plan. And when you have that kind of enthusiasm, you can build this ark that we’re building. How does one raise up the neighborhoods? In the last Plan we were so mechanical. But we learned so much. We raised up confident teachers who can have a meaningful and distinctive conversation unlike any other conversation these dear souls are having. And now we have this freedom because we learned how to ride a bike and now we can take [the training wheels] off. We can take this learning not just to the rest of the cluster and quickly raise up confident teachers, because they don’t have to make the same mistakes we made, but now to the emerging clusters we can take them. Only now with the freedom, these believers are able to use their own sensibilities.

* * * * * *

Finding joy in the learning process: reflection meeting in Kigali
* * * * * *

In reiterating here much of what we have stated on previous occasions, we hope to have impressed upon you how readily the movement of a population, inspired by the purpose and principles of the Cause, can be nurtured, when not made the object of extraneous complications. We have no illusion that the path traced out so summarily above is devoid of difficulty. Progress is achieved through the dialectic of crisis and victory, and setbacks are inevitable. A drop in participation, a disruption in the cycles of activity, a momentary breach in the bonds of unity—these are among the myriad challenges that may have to be met. Not infrequently the rise in human resources, or the ability to mobilize them, will fall short of the demands of rapid expansion. Yet the imposition of formulas on the process will not result in a pattern of growth characterized by the desired equilibrium. Temporary imbalances in the progress of different activities are intrinsic to the process, and they can be adjusted over time, if dealt with patiently. Scaling back one activity that is flourishing, on the basis of theoretical conceptions of how balanced growth can be achieved, often proves counterproductive. While the friends in a cluster might well benefit from the experience of those who have already established the necessary pattern of action, it is only through continued action, reflection and consultation on their part that they will learn to read their own reality, see their own possibilities, make use of their own resources, and respond to the exigencies of large-scale expansion and consolidation to come.

– The Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010 message, § 10 

* * * * * *

(Source: http://www.bahai.us/2011/08/16/the-plan-and-emerging-clusters-as-regional-councils-see-it/)

(Photo copyright the Baha’i International Community. Click here to view source.)

Two reports from the latest number of Reflections on Growth from the International Teaching Centre.

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Strengthening the Training Institute: The Importance of Gatherings for Reflection

In its message of Ridván 2010, the Universal House of Justice called upon the believers and institutions to strengthen the institute process, the instrument critical to realizing the potential of local populations to create the “dynamics of an irrepressible movement.” …

In this issue, friends from different parts of the world share their experiences of consultation, action, and reflection at the institute seminars…. The stories illustrate how well-organized reflection can contribute to the strengthening of the institute process, “an instrument of limitless potentialities.”

*

United States

At one seminar I learned so much about creating an environment conducive to reflection. The facilitators of the seminar modeled how to create such an atmosphere.

We, the participants, had many questions, but the facilitators always put the questions to the group and they let us explore the answers; hence, it was a collective learning rather than a “sage on the stage approach.” I also learned that facilitators provided a definite answer when necessary. So when I came back to my cluster, I followed this example by hosting a tutor gathering without any agenda—“just an opportunity for reflection.” We seated the tutors in a circle and started with study of the guidance and reflection questions on the challenges and successes of tutoring. I tried very hard to restrain myself from talking and answering questions, as it used to be my custom to talk too much and provide all the answers. I always reminded myself how the facilitators modeled and created a setting for reflection.

The gathering went very well, and the participants learned from one another’s experiences and approaches. Plans were devised for how to increase more study circles. At the end of the gathering, I asked the tutors for feedback and one participant said: “This is one of the best tutor gatherings I have ever come to. I really felt like we did a lot of reflection and I learned a lot.”

*

Zambia

A participant in the tutor gatherings…explains…how she felt more capable of creating the environment envisioned in the institute courses.

I attended a two-weekend tutor gathering where we reflected on how to tutor Book 1 and practiced facilitating the book together. We went through the book, identified themes, looked through some of the questions that invite discussion, and consulted on how we handle such situations…. Great emphasis was placed on putting into action what the participants learned, such as praying, reading the Writings, and of course serving.

Another important aspect of the study circle was the practice component. We went out to visit Bahá’í friends to share a prayer. The visit was great. The task was divided into three parts: introduction, discussion of what prayer is, and sharing the prayer itself. It went so well that there was an exchange of ideas between the participants and the Bahá’ís we visited. It was so natural that other prayers and passages from the Writings were shared and recited….

* * * * * *

A tutor training for the Ruhi Institute in New Zealand, 2002

* * * * * *

In the system of distance education that has now been established in country after country—the principal elements of which include the study circle, the tutor and the curriculum of the Ruhi Institute—the worldwide Bahá’í community has acquired the capacity to enable thousands, nay millions, to study the writings in small groups with the explicit purpose of translating the Bahá’í teachings into reality, carrying the work of the Faith forward into its next stage: sustained large-scale expansion and consolidation.

Let no one fail to appreciate the possibilities thus created. Passivity is bred by the forces of society today. A desire to be entertained is nurtured from childhood, with increasing efficiency, cultivating generations willing to be led by whoever proves skilful at appealing to superficial emotions. Even in many educational systems students are treated as though they were receptacles designed to receive information. 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.

– The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2010 message, §  9-10

* * * * * *

(Source: “Reflections on Growth”, the International Teaching Centre, Number 27, September 2011. Link to the document in PDF-format: xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/14277181/344443263/name/Reflections) (Photo source is here, copyright of the Baha’i International Community).

(US – IN, June 2010)

Thoughtful, seeking people exist in every community, we are assured of by the beloved Guardian and the Universal House of Justice. This story shows how they were found through the persistent efforts of one of the friends in an Indiana town neighborhood, using one of the core activities as a meeting point.

* * * * * *

3 adults and 4 children in my neighborhood enrolled into our Beloved Cause!

Weekly devotions proved to work better on Thursday afternoons; and it is through these devotions that the enrollments occurred. By being exposed to the Word of God at these devotions and through the [prayer] book, “Healing the Soul” that they took home, a married couple in my neighborhood responded with earnest and asked me to please teach them more about Baha’u’llah. So, the following week, I went through Anna’s presentation. They were so overwhelmed that they called a close friend of theirs to come and hear the presentation because this friend had been something of a spiritual mentor for them. He came and listened and said, “This is the truth. This is what I have been preparing you for.” They stayed a total of 6 hours; and left with books…

The following week they were both very excited and said that they believed in Baha’u’llah, but still had some residual doubts resulting from their continued attachment to some of the teachings in Islam. After this gathering, I started daily home visits with the friend (spiritual mentor). My thought was that he might be the one to guide them. At one point during the first home visit, I was inspired to share with him the fact that an entire world community existed that shared these ideals. He was not alone (as he thought). He did not seem to respond to this, but the following day he said that he had been thinking about this and told me that he knew in his heart that there had to be such a community, but he didn’t know where they were, and he never thought he would be blessed enough to see the day.

The following day, he arrived first at the devotions and said that he and his friends knew that they had found the truth and were overwhelmed by the joy they felt. When the married couple entered a few minutes later, the husband said, “I have been guided my whole life to this point. I cannot deny this truth. My heart knows this is true. Where do I sign?” I went to get three enrollment cards, and all three enrolled. The four children will also be enrolled as soon as I sit down with the mom to get this done.

This overwhelming experience of the past couple of months is proof beyond any words that anyone could tell me that by following the guidance of our Supreme Institutions, we will have the success that we long for in our hearts.

There is still much work to be done, and more fruit to gather. Hopefully I will write with more joyous news as the weeks and months unfold.

* * * * * *


Experiencing the devotional attitude: Bahá’ís on pilgrimage enter the Shrine of the Báb

* * * * * *

Where a training institute is well established and constantly functioning, three core activities–study circles, devotional meetings, and children’s classes–have multiplied with relative ease. Indeed, the participation of seekers in these activities, at the invitation of their Bahá’í friends, has lent a new dimension to their purposes, consequently effecting new enrolments… These core activities, which at the outset were devised principally to benefit the believers themselves, are naturally becoming portals for entry by troops. By combining study circles, devotional meetings and children’s classes within the framework of clusters, a model of coherence in lines of action has been put in place and is already producing welcome results…

– The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2002 message, § 4

*

Wherever an intensive programme of growth is established, let the friends… not lose sight of the remarkable receptivity they found—nay, the sense of eager expectation that awaited them—as they gained confidence in their ability to interact with people of all walks of life and converse with them about the Person of Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation. Let them hold fast to the conviction that a direct presentation of the Faith, when carried out at a sufficient level of depth and reinforced by a sound approach to consolidation, can bring enduring results…

– The Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010 message, § 15

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                                                                                      .

(Adapted from a report on the US Teaching blog: http://teaching.bahai.us/2010/08/3-adults-and-4-children-in-my.html. Emphasis added.) (Photo copyright of the Bahá’í International Community – for source, click here.)

(UK, 15 August)

A poignant letter from the NSA of the UK regarding the special opportunity for sharing the Message that the recent manifestation of social unrest in the country has opened up to the believers.

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                                                                .

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom
nsa@bahai.org.uk

                                        15 August 2011

To the Baha’is in the United Kingdom and their friends

Dearly loved friends,

With the events of recent days in the cities and streets of England, the National Spiritual Assembly wishes to join with each and every one of you in reflecting on this further manifestation of a breakdown in the social order.  The scenes witnessed have caused profound distress for countless souls of every background, no matter what their age, gender, ethnicity or faith.  The loss of life, the innumerable injuries, the utter disregard of human values, the violence, theft and destruction visited on the property and livelihoods of fellow citizens are shocking, not only in that they are taking place in a country that is regarded as a standard bearer of “development” and “civilisation”, but also in that they represent the degradation of the nobility of man; a nobility that defines man’s humanity and enables it to describe itself as the highest creation of God.

What we are seeing on the streets is the outcome of a society that has, in essence, rejected its spiritual reality, and this is just one of the symptoms from the resulting disease. Religion is no longer seen as the potent force that it is; instead it has been supplanted by false gods, such as materialism, which claim the hearts and minds of people.  But, Baha’u’llah warns “[s]hould the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue…”  There are many other symptoms of such a diseased society including, Shoghi Effendi tells us, “the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism, of lawlessness, of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising tide of divorce; the degeneracy of art and music, the infection of literature, and the corruption of the press …”

When such situations arise, society looks for someone to blame; it refuses to see the cause, but rather dwells on the symptoms.  Those who strive to understand the Revelation of Baha’u’llah and to apply it to their lives and their communities can take this opportunity to engage in distinctive and meaningful spiritual conversations in every social space where they engage, in a manner that throws light upon the root cause of the nightmare that terrorized so many streets of our cities.  As Baha’is we can discern the cause of this affliction.  “What ‘oppression’ is more grievous”, Baha’u’llah asks, “than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it?”

It is to the Universal House of Justice, which is described by the Guardian as “a House which posterity will regard as the last refuge of a tottering civilization”, that we must turn if we are to understand the pressing needs of our times and how to apply the healing remedy that is contained within the Revelation.  In its Ridvan message of this year, it was encouraging to read that “the Baha’i community worldwide has consciously absorbed in a few months what it needs to propel it into a confident start to the coming decade”.  It was also reassuring to understand that we can see the constructive processes that are associated with the Faith of Baha’u’llah “… in the outpouring of feeling, especially from the young, that springs from a longing to contribute to societal development.  It is a bounty accorded to the followers of the Ancient Beauty”, the House of Justice continues, “that this longing, which wells up inexorably from the human spirit in every land, is able to find such eloquent expression in the work of the Baha’i community…”

We must remain attentive and resolute, conscious of how and where to direct our energies, focussed on principle, avoiding the tendency to be partisan, striving to be distinguished in our contributions, engaging with all and empowering others to make their contribution to the betterment of the world and to the processes of profound spiritual and social transformation that are necessary for the building of a new civilization.

Society is witnessing the destruction of communities.  Our study circles, devotional gatherings, children’s classes and junior-youth activities, by contrast, are activities that build communities.  At this time, we can do no better than to revisit Book 2 of the Ruhi Institute, which helps us to develop the skills and capacity to share the insights we gain from the Writings and view the occurrences of the world through the light of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. A revisiting of Unit 3 of Book 2 would undoubtedly serve as an aid to each of us, alone or in small groups, to practice our skills and prepare more confidently for meaningful and distinctive dialogue.

At this most special time in human history, we are reminded of Abdu’l-Baha, our Exemplar, our Master, and beseech the Almighty to make Him our instinctive guide in our teaching efforts:

“To all without distinction – officials, scientists, workers, children, parents, exiles, activists, clerics, sceptics – He imparted love, wisdom, comfort, whatever the particular need.  Uncompromising in defence of the truth, yet infinitely gentle in manner, He brought the universal divine principles to bear on the exigencies of the age…While elevating their souls, He challenged their assumptions, reoriented their perspectives, expanded their consciousness, and focused their energies.”

With loving greetings,

National Spiritual Assembly

Patrick O’Mara
Secretary

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(Emphasis has been added. Shared through the UK Baha’i news email service. Disclaimer: Messages posted on the list are for the information and, where appropriate, action by the Baha’is in the United Kingdom. Other subscribers should be guided by their own Baha’i institutions.)

(Map source: http://europa.eu/abc/maps/members/uk_en.htm)

Hear this enlightening explanation of the purpose of teaching – from 26:15 minutes – in the recording of a talk given by former member of the Universal House of Justice and renowned author Mr. Adib Taherzadeh, at a conference in Alaska in the mid-80s.

Measures for letting study of the letters of the House of Justice take centre stage in the deliberations at the cluster level. Also, the virtue of drawing connections between ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s lifework and the community’s present endeavors.
                                                                                                                           .

Keeping Things in Perspective

                                                                                                                           .
A report from an American believer of her trip to Colombia that focuses on the observation of how some cluster agencies (the institute coordinators and the Area Teaching Committee) in that country are keeping the spiritual nature of their enterprise in mind.
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The following extract demonstrates how these agencies have made it a set practice to put the guidance of the Universal House of Justice at the forefront.
                                                                                                                           .
[A Cluster] Planning Meeting started with prayers and then study and reflection on the guidance of the Universal House of Justice with the Auxiliary Board member.  They focused on the recent letter from the House of Justice about Abdul-Baha’s visit to America, linking their work in the cluster to a continuation of what Abdu’l-Baha put in motion many years ago. They don’t hurry this portion but really focus to comprehend at a deep level and recharge themselves spiritually. … This focus happens with every planning meeting they have.
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The report notes that the individual members of the cluster agencies… consciously remind themselves to see beyond numbers and “be concerned with the mystical and spiritual nature of this enterprise”. This understanding helps them to “move from crisis to victories”.
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The friends understand that being systematic implies a need for coherence and that all lines of action have to be integrated. The following simple example was offered to illustrate this point.
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A nucleus of 4 workers had the job to lay pipes in an area – the first person needed to measure the land where the pipe would go – the next person dug up the dirt – the 3rd person was to lay the pipe but didn’t show up and the 4th person put back the dirt so no one would get hurt – People observed this process and said it didn’t make any sense.
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Sometimes some of our lines of action do well but others do not and we then lack cohesiveness and integration; therefore it lacks the necessary systematic character and may not make sense.
                                                                                                                           .
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'Abdu'l-Bahá speaking in Wilmette, IL after hosting the simple ceremony inaugurating the building of the Mother Temple of the West, on 1 May 1912. "The Temple is built", He had prophetically stated as He laid the foundation stone in place.

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This challenge [of effecting a significant advance in the process of entry by troops] can be met through persistent effort patiently pursued. Entry by troops is a possibility well within the grasp of our community. Unremitting faith, prayer, the promptings of the soul, Divine assistance — these are among the essentials of progress in any Bahá’í undertaking. But also of vital importance to bringing about entry by troops is a realistic approach, systematic action. There are no shortcuts. Systematization ensures consistency of lines of action based on well-conceived plans. In a general sense, it implies an orderliness of approach in all that pertains to Bahá’í service, whether in teaching or administration, in individual or collective endeavour. While allowing for individual initiative and spontaneity, it suggests the need to be clear-headed, methodical, efficient, constant, balanced and harmonious. Systematization is a necessary mode of functioning animated by the urgency to act.

– The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 1998 message, § 10

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(Adapted from a report on the US Teaching blog: http://teaching.bahai.us/2011/03/observations-from-colombia-part-one.html. Emphasis added.) (Photo source: http://www.bahai-biblio.org/centre-photo/gens/abdul-baha/abd-amerique/wilmette/abdawi~07m~abd-wilmette.htm)

Reflections on the teaching act worthy of meditation and experimentation/ implementation – excerpts from Adib Taherzadeh’s work ‘The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh’.

Teaching the Cause

In his teaching work a Bahá’í presents the Message of Bahá’u’lláh as one would offer a gift to a king. Since his primary object in teaching is not to increase numbers, but rather to bring a soul to its God, he ought to approach his fellow men with feelings of love and humility, and above all take to them the transforming power of Bahá’u’lláh and nothing of himself. Indeed, if he tries to project himself, by impressing upon the listener his knowledge and accomplishments, and aims to establish the ascendancy of his arguments while teaching the Faith, then the power of Bahá’u’lláh cannot reach him.

Success in teaching depends on one’s ability and readiness to draw from the power of Bahá’u’lláh. There is no alternative. If the believer does not open the way for Bahá’u’lláh through his love for Him, by his life and by teaching His Cause with devotion, His confirmations and assistance cannot reach him, and he will fail in his service to Him. Those who rank foremost among Bahá’í teachers were always conscious of the presence of Bahá’u’lláh at every stage of their teaching activities. It was because of the consciousness of His presence that they were enabled to approach with genuine love and humility those who were seeking the truth, attracting them with the warmth of their faith and the creative power of their words. It was this consciousness which enabled them to radiate the glory of the new-born Faith of God, to demonstrate its truth, to promote its interests, to withstand the onslaught of its enemies and to win imperishable victories for their Lord.

Bahá’u’lláh often counselled His followers how to teach the Faith. For example, He directed Hájí Muhammad-Táhir-i-Málmírí, when he was leaving His presence, to engage in teaching the Cause in his native city of Yazd and gave him some instructions as to how to teach. Foremost among these instructions was to pray for the seeker and urge him also to pray so that the confirmations of God might reach him and open his eyes to the truth of the Cause. Another counsel was to begin teaching with the account of the history of the religions of the past and their Founders, similar to the accounts given in the Kitáb-i-Íqán. This would enable the enquirer to get an insight into his own religion that he might recognize the truth and the reality of the Founder of his own Faith. When this stage was reached, the individual would be ready to appreciate and understand the Cause of God for this day.

To cite another example: there is a Tablet from Bahá’u’lláh in which Fáris (the Christian Syrian who embraced the Faith in Alexandria) is exhorted to teach with wisdom. He counsels him not to disclose to people everything about the Cause at first, but rather to teach them little by little until they are ready to absorb more. He likens this process to feeding infants who need to be given a little milk at a time until they grow in strength and are able to digest other food. This exhortation of Bahá’u’lláh is the basis of teaching the Cause of God. The principles involved are very similar to those which a schoolteacher employs in teaching his pupils little by little and in accordance with their capacity. Before teaching the Cause to any person, it is important to know his background and capacity. The most successful teachers are those who after familiarizing themselves with the beliefs and ideas of an individual, reveal the truths of the Faith gradually to him, but what little they impart is the correct remedy and is so potent as to influence and stimulate the soul and enable it to take a step forward and become ready to absorb more.

Hájí Mírzá Haydar-‘Alí, the celebrated Bahá’í teacher to whose outstanding services we have already referred, has left to posterity the following account of one of his memorable interviews with Bahá’u’lláh in ‘Akká, in the course of which He spoke these words about teaching the Cause of God:

The way to teach is to have a pleasing disposition and to deal with people in a spirit of loving-kindness. One must acknowledge whatever the other person says, even if it is vain imaginings, beliefs which are the result of blind imitation, or absurd talk. One should avoid in engaging in arguments or adducing proofs which bring out stubbornness and contention in the other person. This is because he finds himself defeated, and this will lead to his becoming more veiled from the truth and will add to his waywardness.

The right way is to acknowledge the other person’s statements and then present him with the alternative point of view and invite him to examine it to see whether it is true or false. Of course, when it is presented to him with courtesy, affection and loving-kindness, he will hear and will not be thinking in terms of defence, to find answers and look for proofs. He will acknowledge and admit the points. When the person realizes that the purpose behind discussions is not wrangling or the winning of arguments, but rather to convey the truth and to reveal human qualities and divine perfections, he will of course show fairness. His inner eyes and ears and heart will open and, through the grace of God, he will become a new creation and will possess new eyes and new ears.

Bahá’u’lláh spoke a great deal about the evils of controversial argument and aiming to become a winner in discussion. He then said, ‘The Most Great Branch* will listen to any absurd talk with such attentiveness that the person concerned believes that He is deriving enlightenment from him. However, little by little, and in a way that the person cannot realize, He bestows upon him a new vision and a new understanding.’

The talks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the West provide the best example of wisdom in teaching. He addressed audiences who were almost alien to the history and genesis of the Faith and unfamiliar with the claims and the station of its Founder. Yet He disclosed to them with simplicity and brevity only those essential truths which they were capable of understanding and which constituted the first stepping-stones for their eventual recognition of the stupendous Message of Bahá’u’lláh. He clearly avoided at that early stage any elaboration on the many implications of the station of Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation as well as the unfoldment of His laws and His World Order in the future. Instead, He bestowed upon every one who had the capacity a measure of His all-embracing love, which animated and sustained those few who embraced the Faith in the West.

* * * * * *

‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaking at Plymouth Congregational Church, Chicago, 5 May 1912

. .

* * * * * *

At the inception of the Bahá’í community’s first global Plan, Shoghi Effendi described in compelling language the successive stages by which the divine light had been kindled in the Siyah-Qal, clothed in the lamp of revelation in Baghdad, spread to countries in Asia and Africa even as it shone with added brilliancy in Adrianople and later in ‘Akka, projected across the seas to the remaining continents, and by which it would be progressively diffused over the states and dependencies of the world. The final part of this process he characterized as the “penetration of that light into all the remaining territories of the globe”, referring to it as “the stage at which the light of God’s triumphant Faith shining in all its power and glory will have suffused and enveloped the entire planet.” Though that goal is far from being fulfilled, the light already blazes intensely in many a region. In some countries it shines in every cluster. In the land where that inextinguishable light was first ignited, it burns bright despite those who would snuff it out. In diverse nations it achieves a steady glow across whole neighbourhoods and villages, as candle after candle in heart after heart is lighted by the Hand of Providence; it illuminates thoughtful conversation at every level of human interaction; it casts its beams upon a myriad initiatives taken to promote the well-being of a people. And in every instance it radiates from a faithful believer, a vibrant community, a loving Spiritual Assembly-each a beacon of light against the gloom.

We pray earnestly at the Sacred Threshold that each one of you, bearers of the undying flame, may be surrounded by the potent confirmations of Bahá’u’lláh as you convey to others the spark of faith.

– The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2011 message, §§ 6-7

* * * * * *

(Source: Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, vol. 3, p. 333-336. Online: http://www.peyman.info/cl/Baha%27i/Others/ROB/V3/p322-342Ch15.html. Emphasis added)

(Photo sources: http://www.bahai-biblio.org/centre-photo/gens/abdul-baha/abd-amerique/chicago/abdach~10m~abd-chicago.htmhttp://www.bahai-biblio.org/centre-photo/gens/abdul-baha/abd-amerique/chicago/abdach~11m~abd-chicago.htm#centrer ) (A transcript of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk delivered at the Plymouth Congregational Church is available here: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PUP/pup-40.html)

(US – NC, 1 March)

How the efforts of a non-Bahá’í to teach the Faith elicited an unexpected response from a hearer. serving to demonstrate the unique blessings attached to this sacred act.

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A Gift to my Mentor

[S]omething amazing happened this evening at the last talk–-in my Intro to World Religions class–-that made this whole month [of immersion into the Baha’i way of life] worth the effort.

My Baha’i Mentor is the only Baha’i that we know of within many, many miles. She is a diaspora all to herself. In fact, I have been her sole Baha’i companion for the whole month. She lit up when I arrived every week at her home for Study Circle, ready to share the wisdom of her faith. We laughed over tea and delved into the teachings of Baha’u’llah. I could tell [that she was] missing [the company of her fellow believers] every time we visited the Baha’i community in “Triangle” one and half hours north of us; the way she interacted with her Baha’i [friends], it was like a family reunion with gatherings too rare for comfort.

I wanted to do something for her to repay her for the kindness and dedication she showed for me and Project Conversion. I wanted to give her a Baha’i community of her own.

But this is near to impossible. How can a non-Baha’i (though my Baha’i friends call me otherwise) help someone come–or at least become interested–in the faith? Turns out, all I have to do is teach. The message does the rest.

So tonight, as I finished giving my last talk about the Baha’i Faith in the last hours of the last days of the month, I showed the class the Baha’i Declaration Card and a registration card asking for more information about the faith. One woman approached me and asked to fill out the card, and if possible, to speak to my Mentor. I was floored. This was the spark I was looking for. The spark that could become a new Baha’i. She filled out the card and I will personally hand it to my Mentor tomorrow afternoon. I called my Mentor about what had happened and I could feel the joy flowing off her voice. Not because she might get the chance to “convert” someone, but because she gets the chance to share her faith.

So, looks like I have been the best Baha’i I can be to the end….

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Andrew Bowen of Project Conversion

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Wherever an intensive programme of growth is established, let the friends spare no effort to increase the level of participation…. Let them not lose sight of the remarkable receptivity they found—nay, the sense of eager expectation that awaited them—as they gained confidence in their ability to interact with people of all walks of life and converse with them about the Person of Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation. Let them hold fast to the conviction that a direct presentation of the Faith, when carried out at a sufficient level of depth and reinforced by a sound approach to consolidation, can bring enduring results.

– The Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010, § 15

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Andrew Bowen, a non-Bahá’í writer and editor, is the initiator of Project Conversion: Twelve Months of Spiritual Promiscuity.” Over the course of a year, he is immersing himself in one religion per month with the help of spiritual mentors of that religion. In February it was the turn of the Bahá’í Faith.

(Source: http://projectconversion.com/?p=529. Photo and biography of Andrew Bowen available here: http://projectconversion.com/?page_id=18)

(Pacific – Tonga, February 2011)

A refreshing report from a devoted pioneer in the Pacific — filling her schedule with service: Taking the initiative to fill gaps she recognizes at the school at which she serves; spending evenings doing home- and deepening visits; and dedicating weekends to childrens’ classes and junior youth groups!

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NEWS FROM TONGA

So, I arrived last Tuesday night and went straight to a devotional in the house next to us – and of course I had to sing…talk about throwing yourself in so quickly! We got settled in that night and then went to the Ocean of Light school the next day. It’s a primary and high school and it’s run by Bahá’ís but it’s for non-Bahá’ís too.

I’m currently working in the Library in the school because it’s still pretty bare at the minute! Books are being donated all the time, so I’m helping categorize and shelve them…

I realised very quickly that there is like NO music whatsoever in the school… there was nothing structured for them. So I talked to the Director of the school and got his permission to start a choir! So basically at the minute, I’m just trying to find songs to teach them and working out different parts and harmonies, hopefully it will sound as good as it does in my head.

Also, after school some days there is a dance workshop so I’m helping out there! It’s a lot of fun and the kids are learning the steps really quickly.

 

A Tongan traditional dance, Tau’olunga

 

Most days after school, we will go round the neighbourhood and home visit. At the minute we’re really working with a girl, like sharing quotes about the youth and what the youth can do to better the world and she’s bringing some of her friends to a devotional this weekend, so people around here seem to be really receptive and enthusiastic about the Faith. We’re having an event almost every evening, like devotionals and firesides and then children’s classes and junior youth groups at the weekend.

The children’s class I’m teaching has about 15-20 kids in it so it’s always entertaining! Also, we’re helping to improve their English in the classes, so we’re using games like ‘Simon says’ and singing songs like ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ which are fun at the same time.

I’ve been here a week and have done so much already. I’ll keep you updated on what’s happening next!

C.G.

 

The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 176 islands, 52 of which are inhabited. The total population is only 102,000. In 2004 there were 29 local Spiritual Assemblies and 5% of the population is Bahá’í. The Bahá’í Faith was first established in Tonga in the 1950s. The National Spiritual Assembly of Tonga was established in 1976.

The first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tonga, 1976

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O servant of Bahá!

Music is regarded as a praiseworthy science at the Threshold of the Almighty, so that thou mayest chant verses at large gatherings and congregations in a most wondrous melody and raise such hymns of praise at the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar to enrapture the Concourse on High. By virtue of this, consider how much the art of music is admired and praised. Try, if thou canst, to use spiritual melodies, songs and tunes, and to bring the earthly music into harmony with the celestial melody. Then thou wilt notice what a great influence music hath and what heavenly joy and life it conferreth. Strike up such a melody and tune as to cause the nightingales of divine mysteries to be filled with joy and ecstasy.

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I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paintbrush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple.


– `Abdu’l-Bahá, Importance of Arts, #11, 12

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(Report is from the Northern Ireland Baha’i newsletter “CommuNIqué”, issue 154 – 1 March 2011, used with the author’s kind permission.) (Photos are copyright Bahá’í International Community, view here and here.)

(US – DC, 2009)

Some interesting points from Ann Boyles’ presentation, “To build in the world of things a safe home for the children of men,” given at the 2009 Conference of the Association for Baha’i Studies (ABS). Read the full notes (PDF-file) here (audio file available here).

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A couple of examples of recent evolution in our discourse… (cultural ways of talking and thinking about things) [in the context of the change in culture that the Baha’i world is presently undergoing:]

◆ who we are and how we talk about ourselves, both within the Bahá’í community and in the wider community; Bahá’ís participating in the framework for action will often describe themselves in terms of service (e.g. a teacher of a class for the spiritual education of children)—expressed in a language of humility while at the same time conveying confidence in the framework for action and safeguarding the majesty of Bahá’u’lláh. We talk about ourselves as part of the community in a neighbourhood, not as outsiders—as people who are also affected by the environment but who have transcended it to some extent.

Discoursing

◆ how we speak about the Bahá’í Faith, emphasizing that this is “the changeless faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future”—focusing on the oneness of religion, which suggests indivisibility, in contrast to the unity of religions, which suggests multiplicity. Avoiding the tendency to see ourselves as just another religion among many

◆ how we speak about the core activities: as a paradigm of empowerment, which belongs to the entire community, in which we can partner in developing skills that will lead to the betterment of the world

◆ how we talk about teaching (avoiding the creation of 2 languages, one for seekers and the other for the community)

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PROMOTING INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE

An accent on teaching in clusters at a formative stage can consist not only of direct, individual teaching but also of small, collective efforts, which experience shows can propel the process of growth and advance the cluster in an accelerated manner. Granted, the friends may need to be cautioned not to outstrip their human resources, but the development of a culture of teaching, supported by ongoing training, will be the surest path to a successful intensive program of growth. Moreover, when the believers taste the sweetness of the teaching experience, it sustains their enthusiasm. … the friends are often not easily mobilized once they have completed institute courses because there are no demands placed upon them as would be the case if there were an influx of new believers. When there is growth, the believers arise to serve and mobilization is realized.

– Letter from the International Teaching Centre, September 30, 2007. Click here to view.

In their presentation of the message of Bahá’u’lláh and the exposition of its verities, they have taken to heart the words of Shoghi Effendi that they must neither “hesitate” nor “falter”, neither “overstress” nor “whittle down” the truth which they champion. Neither are they “fanatical” nor “excessively liberal”. Through their constancy in teaching, they have increased their ability to determine whether the receptivity of their listener requires them to be “wary” or “bold”, to “act swiftly” or to “mark time”, to be “direct” or “indirect” in the methods they employ. ….

– The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2008 message

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(Photo © Jeff Greenberg/age fotostock/Imagestate, accessed here)

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