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(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.
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!
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.
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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.
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.)
(Thailand, 2 October 2010)
A report shared on the Thai mailing list that demonstrates understanding of the need for the core activities to be integrated, which would involve invitation of contacts made in one such activity (e.g. with children’s classes, inviting the parents) to another of the core activities (e.g. study circles or devotional meetings). Home visits would here provide the link between the various components of the system (the institute process) as a whole.
One may note the degree of focus and coordination achieved among the participants in the expansion phase through the formulation of a clear and realistic strategy for the group’s efforts, as stated in line two. A valuable learning on how to introduce Ruhi book 1 (giving a taster) to potential participants is also to be found. Any better?!
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Cycle 6: Expansion Phase
A mighty spiritual army of 3 teams joined in the expansion phase of the Chiang Mai cluster. The strategy was to teach and invite the parents of children’s class children to join study circles.
One team went to visit one parent and invited her for Book 1. A team member said: “We have totally changed our method of inviting people to study circles. We actually go ahead and do the first chapter with them on the first visit. We discuss 4-5 quotations with them but don’t do the writing part. Its just to get them in touch with the Writings. We have had a 90% success rate! Almost everyone wants to continue the courses without hesitation. Then we go back and do it completely on the next visit once the study circle has formally started. We now also explain the purpose of the institute courses that its not only for deepening and spiritual empowerment but also a training to increase our capacities to serve others in the neighborhood.”
Teaching in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The CIC [Cluster Institute Coordinator] said: “Now our challenge is to commit the tutor for this new group with a potential of 4 participants including the tutor. Many tutors already have a study circle and some are also children’s class teachers or junior youth animators. But we will manage with additional sacrifice!”
One CGC [Cluster Growth Committee] member said: “Chiang Mai is launching its IPG [Intensive Program of Growth] in Ridvan of 2011. Therefore we need more human recourses to be able to launch our IPG with full force as we want the IPG to keep on going strongly. Our focus is on teaching and inviting people to arise and serve with us. The Training Institute will play a major role, so that’s why we are teaching and inviting parents of the children’s class children to join study circles”.
Another team went to share prayers and discuss the children’s class courses with another parent that had never been visited before. The parent said he had actually gone to enquire about the children’s class from other parents at the Mooban center. He said: “They told me it was good and I believe them. We support our child to join in good things”.
Earlier on, another parent had acknowledged that her son was more peaceful, more hardworking with his homework, and helped his parents. She said: “We have seen positive developments in him and support his continuation in the class”.
The next challenge for the cluster is getting the parents involved in the community building process through the institute courses and their service components.
After the teaching day was over, a member in one of the teams said: “People are so receptive to the principles of the Faith, I can’t believe it! You just have to go out and open your mouth. Is there anything easier than that??”
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A programme of growth
Invariably, opportunities afforded by the personal circumstances of the believers initially involved—or perhaps a single homefront pioneer—to enter into meaningful and distinctive conversation with local residents dictate how the process of growth begins in a cluster. A study circle made up of a few friends or colleagues, a class offered for several neighbourhood children, a group formed for junior youth during after-school hours, a devotional gathering hosted for family and friends—any one of these can serve as a stimulus to growth. What happens next follows no predetermined course…. But…the outcome must be the same. Within every cluster, the level of cohesion achieved among the core activities must be such that, in their totality, a nascent programme for the sustained expansion and consolidation of the Faith can be perceived. That is to say, in whatever combination and however small in number, devotional gatherings, children’s classes and junior youth groups are being maintained by those progressing through the sequence of institute courses and committed to the vision of individual and collective transformation they foster. This initial flow of human resources into the field of systematic action marks the first of several milestones in a process of sustainable growth.
(The Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010, par. 4)
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(Emphasis added. – The editor) (Report and photo used with permission of the author.)
(Haifa, January 2010)
Messages – reminders – relevant to us all in our paths of service, although addressed to Baha’i youth attending a UK conference, from our Supreme Body. Could it really be this simple: Renewed dedication to the process of learning-through-action, then commitment to engage in one or more of the core activities? Let’s try it, and find out!
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7 January 2010
The hundreds of pledges made to establish or assist with core activities is vivid testimony to the spirit of dedication which permeated that gathering. The friends may be assured of the prayers of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines that Baha’u’llah may guide and confirm their every step taken in selfless service to His Cause.
With loving Baha’i greetings,
Department of the Secretariat
1 January 2010
To the Friends Gathered at the Youth Conference in the United Kingdom
(…) The need for you to apply yourselves to service in two capacities in particular–as teachers of children’s classes and as animators of junior youth groups–has never been more apparent. Countless parents yearn for the means of developing their children’s spiritual faculties that would lay within them the foundations of a principled and upright character. And surely every young person will flourish in a programme that helps to form a strong moral identity in the critical years of early adolescence and empowers participants to contribute to the well-being of society. Beyond these specific fields of activity, you must not refrain from acquainting your peers with the potent, the compelling, the world-embracing mission with which you are charged. Which of them would not feel their spirits enriched for contemplating how, through the application of those far-reaching principles enunciated by Baha’u’llah, the regeneration of the world can be accomplished and its perplexing crises resolved? Which of them would not be raised to a new consciousness of humanity’s capacity to “carry forward an ever-advancing civilization” by combining their energies with yours and bending them towards this noble aim?
The Universal House of Justice
Read the full messages here.
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Dancing youth express their energy in Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash)
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Photo copyright Baha’i International Community. View here.
(US – FL & MA, February)
Some key insights regarding the establishment of children’s classes that were shared at reflection meetings in Pensacola (“Emerald Coast”) and Boston (A-stage) clusters, respectively.
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From a report in the Emerald Coast cluster’s newsletter:
The friends [were encouraged] to describe the core activities consistent with the language used by the Universal House of Justice about their purpose and nature:
How to describe the core activities
We are building a spiritual community and we need you! The Bahá’í Faith is a world religion whose purpose is to unite all races and peoples into One Universal Cause, One Common Faith.
For inviting families to children’s classes:
Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world and their need for spiritual education, we’re working to involve more and more children in children’s classes to serve as centers of attraction for them and to strengthen the roots of Faith in society.
From the reflection meeting
A “demonstration children’s class”, was performed where all the participants could watch an actual class being conducted. Each portion of a children’s class (prayer & memorization, song, story, coloring, and game) was presented by one or more of the friends in a class setting. It included
- the initial gathering
- setting the children down (with need of reverence)
- sharing of prayers
- how to help the children memorize short quotes and prayers
- the process of teaching patience and sharing when passing out colors
- instilling the theme for that day with the picture to color
- the game (always a hit)
The performance by the teachers made it seem easy for the viewers to follow their example.
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Report from the Boston cluster’s reflection meeting:
What we’ve learned
- Many classes are facing burnout from having only one teacher. In addition to new classes we need support for the existing ones
- We may need to visit people who have gone through Book 3 previously and are not active and try to engage them in our classes that are already set up
- Having prospective teachers at established sites helps them to learn how to conduct a class and also lends more support to the existing class
- It may help existing classes to also look in the neighborhoods for prospective co-teachers (providing opportunity to teach as well)
- Try as much as possible to interact with parents to build vision…. this may take multiple visits so do not be discouraged
- Potential ways to start a class:
- Start small in a neighborhood and allow the kids to bring their friends
- Try to conduct classes in an open space because kids will be curious/interested in finding out
- Initiate with Baha’i children. If you can capture their interest then they will be more apt to reach out to their friends/neighbors and bring seekers
- When starting new classes a lot of emphasis has to be put in finding teachers that don’t have to travel far to get to the site (reduces burnout)
- Understanding how to have control over kids also reduces burnout
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Leading a song during a children’s class, Jenjarom, Malaysia.
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Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abhá Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory.
It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God’s abounding grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All-Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world.
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections Sec. 106
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Classes for the spiritual education of children and junior youth serve to strengthen the roots of the Faith in the local population… Whatever the nature of the cluster, it is imperative to pay close attention to children and junior youth everywhere. Concern for the moral and spiritual education of young people is asserting itself forcefully on the consciousness of humanity, and no attempt at community building can afford to ignore it.
– The Universal House of Justice, 27 December 2005
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(From reports, adapted from the teaching blog http://teaching.bahai.us/2010/02/newsletter-coordination-describing-core.html, and from an email circular received from the Boston Area Teaching Committee.) (Image is copyright Bahá’í World Centre – view here.)
(US, AZ, 14 November)
This report from an Arizona B-stage cluster provides some central insights about how to motivate the friends in service and build trust and rapport with a target population. It also underscores the merit of immediately offering seekers and declarants consolidation activities they can contribute to.
● Because we are holding study circles, children’s classes, home visits and devotional meetings at the same time every week in one neighborhood, the residents now know they can expect us to be there at that time. It has also helped the believers to participate in a collective effort based on unity of vision.
● Attentive consultation with the residents allowed us to understand that a key need of the community is an English class. So weekly afternoon English classes are being held and are well attended.
● In meeting the challenge to assist all members in the cluster to find their niche in the Five Year Plan, we have learned to focus on the guidance. This helps everyone understand that teaching can occur in a variety of venues.
The new believers and family members are quickly involved in the core activities:
★ Another couple enthusiastically declared their Faith during Anna’s presentation after hearing of the sacrifice and suffering of the Blessed Beauty. They immediately requested study sessions to learn more of their new Faith.
★ Three other young people declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh after hearing Anna’s presentation. Two of them immediately began studying Book 1 with their teacher. Another member of the family has been studying the Faith and always seeks us out when we are visiting the neighborhood. He is participating in a Book 1 study circle each week as well.
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Abdu’l-Bahá returning to his home on Haparsim Street in Haifa
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Thousands upon thousands, embracing the diversity of the entire human family, are engaged in systematic study of the Creative Word in an environment that is at once serious and uplifting… As they call on one another in their homes and pay visits to families, friends and acquaintances, they enter into purposeful discussion on themes of spiritual import, deepen their knowledge of the Faith, share Baha’u’llah’s message, and welcome increasing numbers to join them in a mighty spiritual enterprise. Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world and their need for spiritual education, they extend their efforts widely to involve ever-growing contingents of participants in classes that become centres of attraction for the young and strengthen the roots of the Faith in society. They assist junior youth to navigate through a crucial stage of their lives and to become empowered to direct their energies toward the advancement of civilization.
– The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2008
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(Excerpted and adapted from the teaching blog, report from an individual believer in West Valley, AZ (B) http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/11/building-trust-in-west-valley.html ) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
(US, VA, 23 July)
This is a remarkable report that illustrates how the confirmations from on High will shower upon whoever arises to carry out Bahá’u’lláh’s weighty ordinance to teach the children of the world. Specifically, it is about learning to apply the guidance given to us by the Universal House of Justice in the form of the Ruhi Institute course (Book 3) ‘Teaching Children’s Classes’.
With prayer, a group of teachers try to start a children’s class and one forms almost spontaneously! The openness of the families and the enthusiasm of the students are truly delightful.
While the door-to-door teaching was going on, two adults, four youth, and two children gathered at a small park on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. They set up picnic blankets in the shade under a tree and asked Baha’u’llah to send some children. Immediately, three boys approached the teachers and were invited to attend the children’s class. It turns out the mother of one of the boys had declared her belief in Bahá’u’lláh a couple months ago! They were very excited, so two Baha’i youth accompanied them to their homes, explained what the children’s classes were, and the parents and care-givers happily agreed to sign permission slips.
A few moments later, the teachers noticed some children in the front yard of a near-by home. Two Baha’i youth approached the mother, showed them the invitation to the children’s classes in Spanish, and received permission for her three children to join the class. Ten minutes later, the woman’s sister brought her two daughters to the class as well. So, within 15 minutes, there was a class of 8 children, all eagerly sitting on the picnic blankets ready for the class.
The teachers used the lessons from Ruhi Book 3 and taught the children a prayer, some songs, and a quotation by Baha’u’llah about unity. They ended the lessons with cooperative games and coloring. Two mothers stood nearby and enjoyed listening to the lesson and encouraging their children to participate. One mother rushed to her home in the middle of the lesson and came back with a pitcher of juice and some cups so all the children could have something to drink.
On Saturday, the children were asked to memorize the quotation by the next day. Sure enough, on Sunday, five children were completely prepared to share the quotation they had ALL memorized. All eight children who attended on Saturday came rushing back to the class the next day, ready for more, and all the children were invited to attend future classes as well. The children ranged in ages from 4 years to 10 years old, and they were all brilliant stars!
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Children and their teacher in Colombia
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Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess. Through a word proceeding out of the mouth of God he was called into being; by one word more he was guided to recognize the Source of his education; by yet another word his station and destiny were safeguarded. The Great Being saith: Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom…
– Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 259-60
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(From an update from the Intensive Program of Growth in the A-stage Loudon County, VA cluster) (http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/07/another-gem-from-loudoun-county-va.html) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
(US, Northeast, July 2008 )
The following is a list of possible avenues of service (though by no means exhaustive) that we ALL can consider carrying out in our lives (or better: make habits of). In this way we will fulfill directly the purpose of our creation, according to Bahá’u’lláh, “to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization”:
- Setting up time to speak with friends and give them parts or all of Anna’s Presentation
- Reaching out to neighbors and inviting them to dinner and discussion about the Faith with prayers
- Starting a neighborhood children’s class
- Sharing and discussing a prayer with a friend or co-worker
- Hanging out in coffee shops and starting conversations with people about the Faith and religion
The means to carry out each of these vital services have (potentially) been given us through group study of the Ruhi institute books, notably Books one, two, three and six. In applying the knowledge gained through such studies, assistance is meant to be at hand for the participants in the form of a tutor who has completed the prescribed practices (as in the avenues above) himself, and who should be ready to support and walk together with us in taking our initial steps along these paths. Ultimately, through persistent and courages practice, we should become able to sustain these activities on our own initiative. The House of Justice wrote in 2005:
A discernible outcome of the emphasis on capacity building has been a steady increase in the exercise of individual initiative… Endeavours are pursued in a humble posture of learning within the framework defined by the Plan.
(Universal House of Justice, 27 December 2005, my emphasis)
And in this year’s Ridvan message we read:
In previous messages we have referred to the impetus that the institute process imparts to the exercise of initiative by the individual believer. The friends in every continent are engaged in study of the Writings for the explicit purpose of learning to apply the teachings to the growth of the Faith. Remarkable numbers are now shouldering responsibility for the spiritual vitality of their communities; energetically, they are carrying out those acts of service befitting a healthy pattern of growth. As they have persevered in the field of service to the Cause, maintaining a humble posture of learning, their courage and wisdom, zeal and acuity, fervour and circumspection, determination and trust in God have combined all the more to reinforce one another.
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2008, my emphasis)
“A humble posture of learning” is one of the recurring themes in the House’s messages of late. Can you name others?
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Resting places of The Purest Branch (Mirzá Mihdí) and Navváb, the wife of Bahá’u’lláh, in the Monument Gardens on Mount Carmel
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In truth, the hearts of men are edified through the power of the tongue, even as houses and cities are built up by the hand and other means. We have assigned to every end a means for its accomplishment; avail yourselves thereof, and place your trust and confidence in God, the Omniscient, the All-Wise.
– Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, §160
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(Suggestions given by an Area Teaching Committee (ATC) in the Northeast for those not participating in the door-to-door teaching campaign of the Expansion Phase of their Intensive Program of Growth, adapted and expanded) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
(US, NV, 2 June)
Here is an inspiring story of a believer who arose with a teaching partner to teach a children’s class, and how they were confirmed in their service:
I have been teaching children’s classes since the beginning of the last cycle. It’s been three months now and each time I go to the neighborhood the same thing happens: the second I set foot on the property all the children from my class start to gather around and want to know what’s going on! Most of the kids in the class are not Bahá’ís. So, I decided to do two things today. First, to talk to the families of the children about the Bahá’í Faith, and second, to have the children in my class introduce me to new families who may want to send their kids to the class. With that, we went out.
As the children in our class gathered around we asked them if they wanted more of their friends to help us. They all gladly agreed! All of the doors were now open to us as the children guided us to every building and insisted that we not miss any of their friends! I was delighted to see that already these children had friends of every background. I was further delighted to see an eight year old Spanish speaker in my class insist on going with us to every house. He even spoke to all the families that I wouldn’t have been able to reach. We were even going to doors where people had previously indicated they were not interested in hearing about the Faith. My prayer partner looked at me and asked ‘Do you think we should go to these homes?’ Before I could reply the children started knocking on the doors. For the next hour and half we visited eight homes with wonderful results. ALL of them wanted their children to attend the class. Just like that our class tripled in size!
(Report from the Area Teaching Committee in the Southern Nevada “A” stage cluster)
As we read in “Anna’s presentation”, one of the laws of the Faith is the education of children. In the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
(Bahá’í World Faith, p. 398-399)
The following letter written on behalf of the Guardian will inspire any would-be teacher to arise to carry out this vital service (just think of the children in your family or neighborhood!):
Today the need is so great on the part of humanity to hear of the Divine Message, that the believers must plunge into the work, wherever and however they can, heedless of their own shortcomings, but ever heedful of the crying need of their fellow-men to hear of the teachings in their darkest hour of travail.
Hand of the Cause of God Rahmatu’lláh Muhájir with children
Blessed is that teacher who shall arise to instruct the children…
– Bahá’u’lláh, BE #25
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(http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/06/day-5-of-southern-nevada-s-expansion.html) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
Regular core activities and training in Anna’s presentation lay a foundation for successful teaching efforts
(US, CA, 1 May)
The following report from a recently launched intensive program of growth shows how core activities nourish the teaching efforts of the believers:
Today is day number one for door-to-door teaching at one apartment complex where one of the friends has been teaching a children’s class for over a year. There are about 200 adults and children in this complex, and more than 30 are already part of the community of interest.
This evening two of the friends started teaching. They knocked on one door of a home where family members are already participating in study circles and children’s classes. During this visit, three people declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh.
For certain, a new spirit is permeating this cluster. Friends are calling and asking to receive training on delivering Anna’s presentation more effectively; young adults have recently called and asked to consult on how to be more outward looking and how to use Anna’s presentation, and the Local Assemblies are quickly and nimbly responding to the Plan and to collaboration.
(Report from the Santa Clara County West “A” stage cluster)