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(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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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.
(US, CA, 5 December)
From this short report may be gleaned virtually all the key concepts and methods that our beloved Supreme Body is directing us to learn about in the current stage of the unfoldment of the Divine Plan of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Let us make befitting use of these precious lessons, which serve to draw us nearer to our hearts’ Desire!
This story from Coachella Valley, CA (C-stage cluster) is full of gems. A group of believers, small in number but totally committed to teaching, accompanied by their friends from neighboring clusters, rose up to engage in a collective teaching effort. They tasted the joy of teaching and are steadily gaining in knowledge and experience. They are learning how to present the Message directly and respectfully. One particularly thought-provoking insight is highlighted in red below.
I am so pleased to report success in our mini teaching effort. We had approximately 12 people from our cluster participating, and joined by the cluster institute coordinator, Auxiliary Board member, and two members of the area teaching committee…
We have gained a lot of insights from our experiences. Here are some:
Our purpose in collective teaching is to find receptive, waiting souls and invite them to recognize Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for this Day.
Wisdom requires refraining from trying to convince, arguing about philosophical points or dogma, and avoiding engaging in contention or dispute.
As we work together as teaching teams, our skills and capacities improve markedly with each new interaction.
When we are presenting the Bahá’í Faith to someone, we need to encourage them to see themselves as having the capacities to help build the unity of the human family, and empower them to arise and serve.
As we invite people to join the Faith, we have the opportunity to encourage them to participate in the processes of growth by entering the institute process and engaging in the core activities. We need to be committed to accompany them in this process.
So now, our own cluster’s collective understanding has grown:
We realize that there are pure souls waiting for us. Visiting a receptive neighborhood is a very effective way to find them.
We can gain people’s confidence through our own sincerity and purity of motive, and speaking to them from the heart in a respectful and dignified way.
“Careful” teaching does not mean slowly over a long period of time! Anna’s presentation IS a careful, well-thought-out, effective approach!
We must not lose sight of the institute process when we get engaged in exciting and fruitful teaching efforts. In other words, we need everyone to continue moving through the Ruhi courses, so we have more resources to carry out the work. An integral part of the institute process is the practice and service components.
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Fountain and benches in the Ridván Garden, ‘Akká
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Behold the portals which Bahá’u’lláh hath opened before you! Consider how exalted and lofty is the station you are destined to attain; how unique the favors with which you have been endowed. Should we become intoxicated with this cup, the sovereignty of this globe of earth will become lower in our estimation than children’s play. Should they place in the arena the crown of the government of the whole world, and invite each one of us to accept it, undoubtedly we shall not condescend, and shall refuse to accept it.
To attain to this supreme station is, however, dependent on the realization of certain conditions:
The first condition is firmness in the Covenant of God …
The second condition: Fellowship and love amongst the believers…
The third condition: Teachers must continually travel to all parts of the continent, nay, rather, to all parts of the world, but they must travel like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá…
The aim is this: The intention of the teacher must be pure, his heart independent, his spirit attracted, his thought at peace, his resolution firm, his magnanimity exalted and in the love of God a shining torch. Should he become as such, his sanctified breath will even affect the rock; otherwise there will be no result whatsoever. As long as a soul is not perfected, how can he efface the defects of others? Unless he is detached from aught else save God, how can he teach severance to others?
In short, O ye believers of God! Endeavor ye, so that you may take hold of every means in the promulgation of the religion of God and the diffusion of the fragrances of God.
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 50-54
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(Excerpted and adapted from the teaching blog http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/12/learning-from-each-new-interaction.html) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
(US, AZ, 3 September)
The Seeker Response system in place in the US for seekers who register their interest in the Faith on the internet or by telephone is increasingly leading to declarations. In one Arizona cluster five declarations in a single month have been seen by such contacts. These individuals were connected to a believer that lives nearby; one such believer here describes the steps she follows in contacting him/her:
An email is first sent, which reads:
On ___, you asked for more information from the U.S. Bahá’í Web site. I live near you, and I would love to talk with you about the Bahá’í Faith. I would also like to hear what attracted you to the Web site. I’m sure I could provide you with more information.
You could reply to this email, or you could just call me at home. My number is _____. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
She goes on to explain her practice:
Most generally I hear back from them within two days, and often immediately. I then either email back or call, inviting them to meet and asking them where they would feel most comfortable meeting. I ask this, particularly if it is a woman, so that we could meet in a public venue if they request. If you and they are both comfortable, you can offer your home. (Most are not comfortable with meeting in their own homes.) I generally ask if it is alright to invite another friend to accompany me. . . .
Since the majority of people are most comfortable meeting for the first time in a public place rather than a home, a coffee shop is a great venue. They have, in most cases arrived early. That allows them to get what they want and settle in before I arrive.
I first tell them a little about myself, and ask them to tell me a little about themselves. Generally I ask what they know about the Bahá’í Faith. I tell them I can offer them a brief presentation and begin Anna’s presentation. I do not stop for questions unless they request it, so I do not lose my train of thought. I try to read sideways but if there are two people I am reading upside down. Pictures help!
If they ask questions I answer them, being careful to remind them I am giving my interpretations and that as Bahá’ís we are obligated to investigate the truth for ourselves.
I try not to deviate much from the original language in Anna’s presentation. When we get to the laws I may interject that we are all striving to bring ourselves in line with the guidance and none of us is perfect. I always ask them to read at least a few of the quotes and the closing prayer. Then I ask if they believe Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation for today.
If they say yes, I tell them they are already a Bahá’í and ask if I can hug them and welcome them. I try to have a prayer book for them on that day.
I offer two quotes from Ruhi Book 1 and invite them to Feast and so on. I point out the importance of the Obligatory prayer. I generally follow up the same day in an email telling them how enjoyable it was for me to have met them and offer to meet again. That allows me to schedule a follow up visit the next week to introduce them to some of the Bahá’ís.
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Hand of the Cause Tarazu’llah Samandari with Gloria Faizi, New Era High School, Panchgani, India, 1967.
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O thou lamp who art enkindled with the fire of the Love of God!
Verily, I read thy recent letter which showed thy strong love, thy being ablaze with the fire of the love of thy Lord, the Mighty, the Praised, and the penetration of the Spirit of Truth in thy limbs, nerves, veins, arteries, bones, blood and flesh, until it hath taken the reins of power from thy hands and moveth thee as it willeth, causeth thee to speak in what it willeth and attracteth thee as it willeth. This is becoming of whatever heart is replenished with the spirit of the love of God. Thou shalt surely behold wondrous traces and shalt discover the signs of thy Mighty Lord.
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 716-7
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(Excerpted and adapted from the teaching blog, http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/09/exciting-breaking-news-seeker-response.html ) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
“Anna’s presentation” is found in Ruhi Book 6, Teaching the Cause, and consists of a comprehensive hypothetical narrative of how a Bahá’í named Anna explains the fundamental verities of the Faith to her friend Emilia.
How people are applying it:
People are using Anna’s presentation as a good option to support direct person-to-person teaching of the Bahá’í Faith in many settings: for example, firesides, individual encounters or “coffee shop” meetings, collective teaching campaigns, home visits or Holy Day events.
Many have memorized the presentation. Others use an outline and make the presentation conversationally. Still others use flip books with pictures to help give the presentation structure.
If presented in one session it can last 30-45 minutes. Depending on the responsiveness of the listener and time available, though, people also present one or two sections at a time over several sessions.
* God, our relationship with Him and His Manifestations; Bahá’u’lláh as the Promised One of all ages
* Unity as the primary aim of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings; the essential oneness of humanity and need to eliminate prejudice
* Story of Bahá’u’lláh; His suffering and endurance in the face of persecution; His Revelation and its influence on people’s hearts and minds
* Story of the Báb; His station as the “Gate” leading to the Promised Day of God; establishment of the spiritual and administrative World Center
* Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh; life and station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; station of the Guardian; establishment of the Universal House of Justice
* Laws and commandments as a sign of God’s love; a few examples of spiritual and social laws (emphasis in Ruhi Book 6 is on obligatory prayer, prohibitions against backbiting and intoxicants, and importance of education)
* Religion building a World Order: roles and benefits for the individual believer; roles and benefits for the community; roles of the institutions and benefits for society
Practices and attitudes:
* Frequent quotation from writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
* Respect for the hearer’s faith background
* Logical progression of the above concepts with few details conveyed immediately, to avoid overwhelming the seeker or inviting argument on specific points before the seeker understands the “big picture”; the underlying expectation is that the hearer will follow up afterward if interested
* Asking the hearer what he or she feels at certain intervals, and asking permission to continue
* Listening and being sensitive to the hearer’s state of receptivity
* Expressing the hope that the hearer will join the Bahá’í community
* Inviting the hearer at appropriate points to participate in core activities
* Finishing the presentation with a shared prayer and a gift of a small prayer book
Anna’s presentation in various formats:
Microsoft PowerPoint: ̀(with text and photos)
Microsoft Word: (text-only, no photos)
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‘Abdu’l-Bahá turned to the Blessed Beauty and prayed: ‘O Blessed Beauty, confirm me!’
“…in the city of Baghdad, I talked with a learned man, Mulla Hassan, some of whose relatives were believers. No matter how hard they tried to give him the Message, he would not accept it. Once, they brought him to my house when I was just getting up from my sleep and combing my hair. They said, ‘We have brought so-and-so here and we beg you to come and speak with him; perhaps, he will become a believer.’ I said, ‘Very well,’ and then I turned to the Blessed Beauty and prayed: ‘O Blessed Beauty, confirm me!’ Afterwards, I talked to him, and in the same hour he became a believer. He became exceedingly good and was so enkindled that, although he was of high rank, he used to go into the kitchen and cook things with his own hand to entertain the friends.”
(Talk by Abdu’l-Bahá in the Holy Land, translated by Dr. Zia Baghdadi: Star of the West, Vol. IX, No. 3, p. 36) (Found in Lights of Guidance, second part, ch. 4, no. 1981)
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(Excerpted and adapted from an article in The American Bahá’í online, 20 April 2008 ) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)