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(US-Central, 12 June)
The following story highlights the truism that “Bahá’í teaching” comprises the rightly directed endeavor of the individual believer within the pale of God’s consummate Grace, and his consequent spiritual progress as a result of the promised confirmations from on High!
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All of us have our set of experiences that shape our view of what teaching is… We may not have seen much interest or receptivity from the people we have encountered over the years. And yet, we still want to respond to the Five Year Plan. We take on responsibilities, maybe participating in an institute course. We step up and do something we may not feel ready to do. And we find out we CAN teach directly, and that we WILL meet people who are interested. Here are the reflections of an individual believer from the Central region, recounting some of her experiences from before and during her cluster’s new intensive program of growth.
In reflecting about what I have learned in the process of getting ready for and going through our first Intensive Program of Growth, I am in awe by the amount of subtle points that I have learned.
After declaring as a Bahá’í in 1982 I was very excited to share my new Faith with all my friends and family. Unfortunately, none of them were very interested. I’ve never stopped trying to share the Message with others, but my experiences over the years made me become more cautious and less open about sharing what was in my heart. . . .
When it was announced at Ridván 2008 that we were to embark on an IPG before Ridván 2009, I thought we should be ‘ready’ to do whatever was needed. To that end, our Bahá’í Group set a goal of finishing our study of the Ruhi Books, which we did.
Back in November 2008, I received a call from our Auxiliary Board member to see if I would serve as the cluster institute coordinator. I agreed to take it on, saying that I’d probably only able to do it part time.
I started with organizing refresher courses of the Ruhi materials with the community in December and January. In February, a “test teaching weekend” was scheduled. I was nervous. I was apprehensive. I was not believing that someone (us) could visit a home and find people who would embrace the Faith based on one presentation—given my 27 years of disappointment. But I prepared, and prayed, and went. We had someone “experienced” lead the way. Our presenter was confident and open about what we were out in the field doing. She openly asked people who opened their door if they wanted to hear a presentation about the Bahá’í Faith. While we didn’t have so many takers, what it did for me was show me that it was OK to directly ask people if they wanted to hear about the Baha’i Faith. It really bolstered my courage and made it straightforward. I was heartened.
When it came time for our IPG launch, I was teamed up with our Auxiliary Board member. I thought he should be the presenter since he had more “experience,” but he said, “No, you go ahead and do it. I’ll be the prayer partner.” I thought, “Well, here goes…” When we visited the first home, a Spanish lady answered the door. I introduced who was on our team and said that we were in the neighborhood today. I also told her that I was wondering if she would like to hear the spiritual message of the Bahá’í Faith. She was busy and turned us away. We visited the next home, and were told to come back another time. Sometimes wasn’t an adult home.
Finally, we came to a house where the person who was home stated that they “had their church”. I then asked if I could share a prayer, to which she said, “Yes.” So I began saying the “Refresh and gladden my spirit” prayer. She listened intently as I prayed out loud. By the end of the prayer, she was visibly touched. She then asked, “So, what church are you with?” She didn’t have time for a long presentation, but asked us to come back another time to share more.
The same thing happened at another house too. We met a woman and shared a prayer and she was in tears at the end. She, too, wanted us to return. I’ve been going back to her house and sharing Anna’s Presentation with her, answering questions as they come up. Already we are breaking down barriers and building friendship. We are getting to know each other and our personal circumstances. Where will this lead us, God only knows. But it is a bounty to be able to go out into the field and share this healing Message with those who want to hear it.
Truly it’s the Word of God that changes hearts. With the first lady, when we were able to return and had a conversation about the Faith, she said she would pray about it. We gave her a little prayer book to which she tenaciously clung. This process is not in our hands it’s in God’s. We must be patient. We must be obedient. And we must be of service.
I’ve learned so much through this process—and it’s mostly about reliance on God.
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Interior view of the prison cell where Bahá’u’lláh was first confined in ‘Akká, Israel.
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Say: This is the Day of meritorious deeds, did ye but know it. This is the Day of the glorification of God and of the exposition of His Word, could ye but perceive it. Abandon the things current amongst men and hold fast unto that which God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting, hath enjoined upon you. The day is fast approaching when all the treasures of the earth shall be of no profit to you. Unto this beareth witness the Lord of Names, He Who proclaimeth: Verily, no God is there besides Him, the Sovereign Truth, the Knower of things unseen.
– Bahá’u’lláh, TB, p. 232
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(Excerpted and adapted from the teaching blog http://teaching.bahai.us/2009/06/it-is-bounty-to-be-able-to-share.html) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community, view here)
Invitation to prayer, service to community, children as teachers, the effects of prayer, lessons learned
(US, MA, April)
The following is an exciting and discerning report from the first cycle of this”A” stage cluster in the northeast:
Over the last three weekends, 25 friends in the South Middlesex cluster have valiantly and joyfully arisen to share the news of Baha’u’llah throughout the cluster. Through personal teaching, home visits and door to door teaching, these friends have introduced hundreds of people in this cluster to the Faith of Baha’u’llah in the last two weeks. 145 souls have accepted the invitation to investigate the Faith and have asked for teachers to come back and visit with them to share with them more about these Glad Tidings. One eighty-two year “young” luminous soul, who we met this past weekend, became the first during this IPG to accept the message of Baha’u’llah and declare herself as His handmaiden.
* One team went out in their neighborhood in Marlborough. They found a Brazilian lady across the street from their home who invited them inside. Initially, the team invited them to prayers at their home, but finding the friend to be very receptive and interested in learning more, pulled out Anna’s presentation and began offering it. Not blinking at the sight of “a flipchart being pulled out of nowhere”, she listened with an open heart to the presentation. At page 22, her friend arrived–she had apparently been scheduled to leave for another meeting. She repeatedly begged the teaching team to remember where they were in the presentation so they could learn more… The team promised to return the next day.
* A third team went to the home of a seeker whose children are in children’s classes in Lexington. This family took them throughout the neighborhood and introduced them to all of their neighbors. The Bahá’í “Peacemaker kids-group” decided to return to the neighborhood to help some of the older residents and one disabled woman with their yards as a service. The spirit of love and community that was created was unimaginable–and people naturally began to ask more about the Faith. Three teachers returned to share Anna’s presentation with the original seekers and were met with an incredible receptivity…
* We had a children’s cluster meeting at the same time as our adult cluster meeting and the children created their own personal teaching plans for who they would like to teach. A five year old decided that he was going to share the Faith with his babysitter. Well, the next week his father learned that their nanny was in fact interested in learning more and decided to invite her to a fireside in Lexington the following weekend. She came and was incredibly attracted to the Faith. She has decided to investigate the Faith further and is coming to her first study circle tonight!
* the power of prayer – this has turned out to be the most important teaching tool we have. There are countless stories of teams that were struggling about where to go, prayed, and then immediately found the receptive soul. This is first and foremost a spiritual process. One team was not meeting success and decided to pray in the stairwell. As they were finishing, a young man approached the mailboxes in front of them wearing a big “19” on their shirt. His name was Israel and after listening to Anna’s presentation, he has become one of the seekers who is interested in learning more.
* we cannot find receptive souls if we do not prepare ourselves for the possibility and arise to teach them. The number of people we have taught in the last two weeks is far greater than the number we have taught in probably the last several years combined. During these teaching days, more and more people have arisen in this path. The unity and love they have created in their relationships is truly palpable. By the end of this expansion phase, one in six people in this cluster had taken part in this process, most people multiple times.
* we have learned that in certain neighborhoods, door to door teaching is a very effective way to share the Faith in our cluster. In Framingham, we learned that one-in-four to one-in-six people who answered their doors, depending on the neighborhood, were interested in hearing more about the Faith and readily gave their contact information–and the rest were in general incredibly polite, and often wished us well. In neighborhoods where the friends had formed some bonds of friendship already, the reception was of course far friendlier.
* we learned the great value of starting with Anna’s presentation and sticking to it, whether it is during home visits or in the door to door setting. We have built enormous capacity in this cluster to do this and have learned in the field that this is one of the most effective ways to quickly develop a truly spiritual conversation and to share the fundamental verities of the Faith. We are finding that we have a much better sense very quickly whether someone is truly interested in learning more.
* we learned the importance of inviting people to accept the Faith. Our task is to offer the Faith as if it were a “jewel to a king.” This means we have to offer it completely (and not just say, “I’ll bring the jewel back for you to see next time!”). This past weekend, we found a Catholic woman, Rose, and her mother, Viola, who received Anna’s presentation with great interest. The mother kept nodding and reading the sacred word with great wonder. At the end of the presentation, they prayed and were invited to consider in their hearts whether this was the Spirit of Truth and whether they would like to join the Baha’i Faith. Rose immediately said she would need to investigate further, but Viola, after looking at her askance a couple of times, said well, I would like to fill out one of those cards and become a Baha’i.” She then turned to her daughter and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to take one of these cards and at least hold on to it?” We assured her that it was OK for her daughter to take her time to investigate and that we would return to share more about the Faith with both of them. They both gladly accepted this invitation.
It is between each soul and Baha’u’llah when they will accept the Faith. Our job is merely to offer the invitation to the Divine Garden.
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The Baha’i House of Worship in Sydney, Australia.
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O My beloved friends! You are the bearers of the name of God in this Day…. You are the lowly, of whom God has thus spoken in His Book: “And We desire to show favour to those who were brought low in the land, and to make them spiritual leaders among men, and to make them Our heirs.” You have been called to this station; you will attain to it, only if you arise to trample beneath your feet every earthly desire, and endeavour to become those “honoured servants of His who speak not till He hath spoken, and who do His bidding”.… Heed not your weaknesses and frailty; fix your gaze upon the invincible power of the Lord, your God, the Almighty…. Arise in His name, put your trust wholly in Him, and be assured of ultimate victory.
The Báb, quoted in Century of Light, p. 53
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(Report from the the expansion phase of So. Middlesex County (MA) cluster, taken from a report from expansion phases in the northeast distributed by the Regional Baha’i Council of the Northeastern States by e-mail 19 May 2008 ) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
Reflection into action in a “B” stage cluster
(US, SC, 6 June)
Here is a report of a reflection gathering, which is an important element in teaching campaigns. The friends made use of this event to plan activities and prepare themselves for sharing the message of Bahá’u’lláh with their neighbors:
The first part of the meeting consisted of a review of relevant statistics related directly to the growth and activity of the Faith in the cluster. The participating friends were able to visualize the status of the cluster and carry out a healthy examination of strengths to build on and weaknesses to address. For example, it was noted that we have succeeded in firmly establishing three regular devotional gatherings, three Bahá’í children’s classes, and one junior youth group. In addition, at the time of reporting, there were a total of eight study circles in progress around the cluster. At the same time, our review of the statistics made it clear that there is significant room for advancement in the area of multiplying these activities.
The next portion of the meeting was an open discussion about where we are going. A friend shared experiences and insights from experience with another advanced cluster, and spoke to us about the dedication and commitment that is required from individuals and communities to shoulder the responsibilities of intensive growth, the need to go beyond the barriers of comfort, to step into new arenas of service. She also spoke of the joys of collective service and the bonds of love and friendship that are built as believers in a community work together to teach the Cause to the peoples of the world.
We later divided into five teams of two. We examined a map of the neighborhood and assigned routes to take. We prayed and requested the confirmations of the Holy Spirit. Equipped with copies of Anna’s presentation, neighborhood visit charts, prayer cards and invitations, we hit the streets.
We knocked on approximately 60 doors, and spoke to people in 32 homes. Everyone we spoke to was courteous and friendly. Nine households were open to receiving a subsequent visit. Two individuals were happy to hear an in depth presentation of the Faith.
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Upper Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb
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By nature is meant those inherent properties and necessary relations derived from the realities of things. And these realities of things, though in the utmost diversity, are yet intimately connected one with the other. For these diverse realities an all-unifying agency is needed that shall link them all one to the other. For instance, the various organs and members, the parts and elements, that constitute the body of man, though at variance, are yet all connected one with the other by that all-unifying agency known as the human soul, that causeth them to function in perfect harmony and with absolute regularity, thus making the continuation of life possible…
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablet to August Forel p 13
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(Adapted from a posting at teaching.bahai.us reporting from Upstate Foothills, SC cluster: http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/06/reflection-gatherings-are-important.html) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
Connecting hearts and souls
(US, DC, 9 June)
Here are three highly inspiring stories of teaching encounters by experienced teachers in teams in this “A” stage cluster. They clearly illustrate the working of unseen spiritual forces that are released when the believers unitedly arise for the triumph of the Cause of the Bahá’u’lláh!
We arrived at this house last. I personally was praying to Bahá’u’lláh that I not be distracted the bit of hunger and fatigue I was feeling. As soon as we knocked on the door, a man and his two children appeared. His radiance dispelled any thoughts I had about sleep or food.
He greeted us warmly, stepped out to the porch and his next question was, “So what is this Bahá’í Faith anyways?” My teaching partner began the presentation and there was a flow of warmth and camaraderie between the two men. I began to pray, imagining that ‘Abdu’l-Baha was standing between the two men with his hand on both of their hearts serving as a conduit for Bahá’u’lláh’s love.
As we proceeded with the presentation, he agreed with many of the concepts introduced, saying that he always knew there was one religion, one human family, and one God. He seemed visibly touched by the picture of Bahá’u’lláh’s chains and when asked if he thought Bahá’u’lláh was one of the mirrors he said, “If Christ is a mirror then Bahá’u’lláh is too.”
We talked about getting back together soon. We were impressed with his compassion. We all embraced and departed.
A second story:
Our teaching team came across one person. We proceeded to present the presentation to him and he seemed rather engaged, really looking over the pictures and listening intently to the quotes. We made it through the section about the life of Bahá’u’lláh and asked if he thought Bahá’u’lláh might be one of these Manifestations sent to guide us. He nodded yes and we asked if he would like to join us in our mission to unify mankind and he said yes.
So we continued with more on the history of the Faith and some further principles. After hearing more about the life of Bahá’u’lláh and some further teachings, he suddenly had a look of intensity and started to look around for the declaration card. He really wanted to sign it. It was as though his soul was recognizing the truth before it—as though it had been waiting for this—and he was suddenly very intent about signing the card. He clearly understood the significance of this act and it was a moving event to witness. It conveyed to us that the soul is so aware of what is happening and is always ready to recognize it’s Creator.
We gave this man the Gift of Prayers and said the Obligatory prayer with him before moving on in our teaching. A few porches down we had another long adventure—this time with my teaching partner doing the presentation. From the porch I could see the gentleman that had just embraced the Cause. The entire 30 minutes that we were engaging with the next group, he was reading the Gift of Prayer with all of its prayers and Writings; he never put the book down.
And a third:
We were standing outside a lovely home, and a kind man came down the stairs in response to the bell ring. We introduced ourselves and shared with him that we are Bahá’ís and would like to share with him about the Bahá’í [Faith]. He invited us into his home and said that he was feeding his wife who was a little ill. Together we held hands and shared the short healing prayer by Bahá’u’lláh, and he shared his own prayer as well.
We asked if we could share the presentation and they agreed, so we started sharing Anna’s presentation, and as each page went by and each beautiful quote was read, he was agreeing more and more.
We asked him if he believed that Bahá’u’lláh was one of the Manifestations from God, one of these perfect mirrors that we had spoken of earlier, and he said yes. It was a wonderful conversation and spiritual moment. We asked if we could finish the presentation with them and both of them said “yes!”. At the end of the presentation, both he and his wife declared.
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Monument of the Greatest Holy Leaf
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The ordinances of God have been sent down from the heaven of His most august Revelation. All must diligently observe them. Man’s supreme distinction, his real advancement, his final victory, have always depended, and will continue to depend, upon them. Whoso keepeth the commandments of God shall attain everlasting felicity.
A twofold obligation resteth upon him who hath recognized the Day Spring of the Unity of God, and acknowledged the truth of Him Who is the Manifestation of His oneness. The first is steadfastness in His love, such steadfastness that neither the clamor of the enemy nor the claims of the idle pretender can deter him from cleaving unto Him Who is the Eternal Truth, a steadfastness that taketh no account of them whatever. The second is strict observance of the laws He hath prescribed—laws which He hath always ordained, and will continue to ordain, unto men, and through which the truth may be distinguished and separated from falsehood.
– Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, CXXXIII
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(Adapted from a posting at teaching.bahai.us: http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/06/here-are-three-recent-stories-of.html) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
(US, NYC, 16 April)
Reported from the first weekend of New York City cluster’s expansion phase:
…perhaps the greatest “success” was the incredible spirit of unity and love that was cultivated among the friends who participated in the teaching efforts… Over 500 doors were knocked on, and, over the course of only three days, 20 souls entered the Cause of God. And this is only the beginning!
Before going out to teach, the teams prayed fervently that Bahá’u’lláh would guide them to souls who were ready to receive the message.
Of a certainty, guidance was given: While sharing the Faith with a young man in a Washington Heights park, the teacher discovered that she had taught the faith to the man’s father in Ecuador several decades ago! Another teaching team approached a security guard of a high-rise building, requesting permission to enter.
It turned out that the security guard had been a Bahá’í in the Dominican Republic in the 1980’s, but after migrating to the States, had lost touch with the community, and had no idea that there were Bahá’ís in New York City, let alone in his very neighborhood.
On Saturday a team visited a Jamaican family in Brooklyn. The mother was interested but asked if they’d come back Sunday. On Sunday the mother wasn’t home but the team gave the presentation to the father and his 8 year old son. Both enrolled. Last night, the team returned and the mother and two daughters enrolled. Now we have a whole family that has stepped into the Cause. They are so happy and excited. The two older children sat and listened to the entire presentation and asked if they could be Baha’is. The son had a friend visiting who kept asking if he was ready to play a video game but the son said “Not right now. I’m learning about God.”
(From a report shared by the Regional Bahá’í Council of the Northeastern States after NYC’s launch of Cycle 12 of their Intensive Program of Growth. Used with the Council’s permission.)
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O Lord! Grant Thine infinite bestowals, and let the light of Thy guidance shine.
—‘Abdu’l-Bahá, BP 100
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Some reflections on the teaching method used in an Intensive Program of Growth by an experienced teacher
I have also learned, and I think this is one of the main lessons being learned in IPG/direct teaching campaigns worldwide, that when receptive souls are invited into the Cause based on just having experienced a “spark” of the conflagration which Baha’u’llah has ignited, they come in–and they come from all backgrounds and temperaments. They matriculate into the worldwide university of the Faith, and then begin the learning process once they are in.
The presentations we are using are carefully designed to enable us to be the channels of the Holy Spirit which produce this “spark”, and always includes an invitation to join our faith community (or, if they indicate they are not quite ready to declare, they are invited to join our core activities as a seeker). The core activities are designed to help fan this spark into a flame. In effect, we have been given permission to go out and invite most everyone into the Faith in this manner. (The only proviso being that the Core agencies will turn on and off the number of new enrollments based on the ability of the community to absorb them).
Through Richard Hoff’s and others’ training I have realized that we can all be trained to be better and more effective channels of the Holy Spirit, in this regard, and that one result of that increased effectiveness is the ability to ask the “question” [of whether a person is willing to join] in a simple and loving manner addressed to the heart, which rarely, if ever, offends anyone. In fact, I have found, that my sometimes inability to invite receptive souls into the Faith has everything to do with my own hang-ups and little to do with the seeker’s readiness or lack thereof. Even though I am fairly experienced at doing this direct teaching and inviting I still often get “stage fright” (which means my ego gets in the way and the Holy Spirit goes away–at least temporarily).
Just last week, door to door teaching in a small Texas town, three times I judged or rationalized that seekers whom I was teaching were “not ready”, and I was about to leave them with an invitation to a future visit or activity, until each one of the seekers (really the Holy Spirit working through their souls) clobbered me with signs that they were indeed ready and needed to be asked–so I did, and they did (declared). Part of it is in the presentation of the question, and this is where training comes in.
(used with the author’s kind permission)
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Baha’u’llah and the Master have both urged us repeatedly to disregard
our own handicaps and lay our whole reliance upon God. He will come to
our help if we only arise and become an active channel for God’s
grace. Do you think it is the teachers who make converts and change
human hearts? No, surely not. They are only pure souls who take the
first step, and then let the spirit of Baha’u’llah move them and make
use of them…
Shoghi Effendi will surely pray for your success if you should arise
and start to teach. In fact the mere act of arising will win for you
God’s help and blessings.
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)
(Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)