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(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.)
The following article is adapted from an address given by Dr. Vahid Saberi to a recent conference in Victoria, Australia.
The task of transforming the human race begins with transforming ourselves.
The Four Year Plan, Twelve Month Plan and the last and the current Five Year Plans are nothing more than instruments to achieve this great goal. The power to achieve this rests with us individuals.
Bahá’u’lláh deliberately left the assignment of transforming the human race to countless ordinary, unassuming people like us. Look at the first disciples of Jesus; they were just fishermen, but they took on the world and changed it utterly.
We are now called upon to do the same, but on a far more momentous scale.
He has entrusted us to begin by transforming ourselves.
Consider the plight of the world; never, at any other time in history, have so many people been so materially prosperous, and at the same time, so spiritually lost. Never has there been so much despondency, depression, dysfunction, loss of purpose and fear. Why is this happening?
We know that the “…world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order….revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System.”
Shoghi Effendi has told us that only Bahá’ís “….know full well whence it comes, and what it will ultimately lead to [and that] they clearly recognize its genesis, are aware of its direction, acknowledge its necessity ….” And it is cleansing the world. Gripped in the clutches of this tempest, humanity, even while it is bewildered, continues painfully to move towards peace and unity.
That turmoil will continue because humanity has not yet turned away from Godlessness. That is why Shoghi Effendi told us that “…all humanity is disturbed and suffering and confused; we cannot expect to not be disturbed and not to suffer – but we don’t have to be confused.”
We know that the only panacea of the world’s ills is the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, which is why …. “The believers must rest assured that having the Faith, they have everything”.
That is why we must act. Through taking ownership of our personal suffering and spiritual development, we can learn to be more compassionate and concerned for others, until “confidence and assurance, hope and optimism are our prerogative”.
But how do we measure our efforts?
Shoghi Effendi clearly states that ….. “The successful carrying out of our various Plans is the greatest sign we can give of our faith and inner assurance, and the best way we can help our fellow-men out of their confusion and difficulties.”
Bahá’u’lláh Himself took on humanity’s turmoil when He was imprisoned in the “Siayh-Chal”. In this grim place of utter darkness reserved only for the most degraded of criminals; amidst foul stench, deprived of food and drink, rest and sleep, with a huge chain galling his neck, Bahá’u’lláh experienced a moment of intense illumination which revealed His task to be the Manifestation of this unprecedented Age of Fulfilment. In the Black Pit, God promised Bahá’u’lláh that “Ere Long shall the Lord send forth and reveal the treasures of the earth, men who shall give Thee victory by Thyself and by They name …”
So, how can we be silent? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’’ reminded us of this responsibility when He wrote: “Why then are ye quenched, why silent, why leaden and dull? Ye must shine forth like the lightning, and rise up a clamouring like unto the great sea. Like a candle must ye shed your light, and even as the soft breezes of God must ye blow across the world … know ye the value of this chance, ere it slip from your hands.”
In reality, the time we give to serve the Faith matters above all else. As many aspects of society continue to break down and the surrounding community begins to disintegrate, Bahá’ís must respond by building a genuinely loving, compassionate and inclusive community.
Gradually, we can learn to purify our motives, live prayerfully, strive to understand and do only what is right, and work together in love and harmony. Our victories over ourselves must be demonstrated through how we work and consult together, both with each other and with those around us.
Above all, we must enthusiastically involve ourselves in the implementation of the Five Year Plan. We must implement the core activities, which are nothing more or less than creative opportunities to teach.
They are about opening the hearts to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s message, They are about listening intently, like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did. They are about using Bahá’u’lláh’s Words, rather than our own, to teach.
They are about learning to be responsive to the needs of seekers. They are about gaining new skills and personal resources.
Above all, they are about making teaching the dominating passion of our lives.
So, my task and yours are crystal clear; take the next step whatever it is. Those who have completed Book 1can move onto Book 2. Those who have completed Book 7 can become tutors. And once your cluster achieves an “intensive programme of growth”, the heartbeat of each of the core activities begins to quicken.
When starting a fire, you fan a tiny spark. Then, carefully shielding it, you softly blow until it is ready to burst into flame. More time and purposeful effort is needed to bring that flame to a fire and ensure it becomes a blazing inferno. This is how the intensive programme of growth works. It starts slowly and then organically grows and intensifies.
So, let us not neglect our task. Let us not lose our chance. If we neglect our role, we have no right to call ourselves Bahá’ís.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá has added: “Soon will our handful of days, our vanishing life, be gone, and we shall pass, empty handed into the hollow that is dug for those who speak no more.” There is no need to be overwhelmed when we can: “Be confident in Bahá’u’lláh’s help. His Spirit will help you, and will feed your soul with that spiritual sustenance whereby you will be able to overcome the obstacles which seem to so hopelessly beset your path”.
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Sharing the Teachings, Cidade de Bahia, Brazil
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The Blessed Perfection, in a clear text, hath promised us in the Book: “Verily I behold you from the Horizon of Abha and will make victorious whomsoever will arise in the service of my cause with the hosts of the Supreme Concourse and the cohorts of the favored angels!” Praise be to God! that this victory and confirmation became visible and manifest and hath shone forth from the horizon of the world like unto the sun. Therefore, O ye friends of God! Show ye forth an earnest endeavor and display ye a resolute effort, so that ye may become assisted in the adoration of the Ancient Beauty and the Manifest Light; to be the cause of spreading the light of the Sun of Truth; to infuse into the dead, antiquated body of the world a new spirit; to cast in the fields of the hearts pure seeds; to arise in the service of the Cause; to speak with eloquent tongues; to become candles of guidance in the assemblage of the world; to become shining stars in the horizon of the existent being; to become merciful birds in the rose-garden of oneness; to sing the melodies of realities and significances; to spend every breath of your lives in the most great Cause; and to devote the period of your existence to the service of this conspicuous Light; so that in the end ye may be freed from loss and failure and attain to the inexhaustible treasury of the Kingdom. For the life on man is wholly subject to danger and impermanency. A person cannot put his assurance even in one moment’s continuity. Notwithstanding this, the nations of the world, deceived by the mirage of superstition, imagine themselves secure in the heavenly way.
Alas! Alas! Former communities in bygone ages entertained the same perishing thoughts; but by one of those periodical fluctuations they were all hidden under the ground and afflicted with deprivation and loss, except those souls who had become pure evanescence and had arisen with great self-abnegation in the path of God. Such souls shine forth as brilliant stars from the Horizon of the Ancient Glory, and the results which emanated from their lives in succeeding ages and cycles are the proofs of this statement. Therefore, do ye not rest, neither day nor night; seek ye not for composure; talk ye of the mystery of servitude, and seek ye the path of thralldom; so that through the promised confirmations ye may become assisted from the Kingdom of Oneness.
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, 566-7
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(Article reprinted from “The Australian Bahá’í, March 2008”) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community, view it in the gallery 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, NV, 6 June)
This Nevada “A” stage cluster reports how many new believers are arising to participate in teaching the Faith as a result of consolidation activities, particularly starting study circles.
Many teaching and consolidation teams have been following up with seekers and new believers by sharing Anna’s presentation and beginning Ruhi Book 1 study circles. The new believers benefit so much from saying prayers together and connecting with the Word of God. Starting a Ruhi study circle immediately after a soul’s declaration has been shown to be vital to the consolidation effort. This past weekend, the teaching and consolidation teams started at least three Ruhi Book 1 study circles with seekers and newly enrolled Bahá’ís. Here is an account of one of them:
More good news: Six Bahá’ís who enrolled in the last cycle came forward and taught the Faith! These friends not only shared Anna’s presentation, but also helped bring new souls into the Cause. Of all the victories won in this cluster, this is perhaps the most outstanding.
The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh
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O CHILDREN OF MEN!
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(Adapted from a report from the Area Teaching Committee of the Southern Nevada cluster) (http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/06/update-from-southern-nevada-which-has.html) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
New believer: “I tell them who Baha’u’llah is”
(US, DC, 17 May)
Here is a prime example of the practice and outcome of consolidation reported about a new believer that truly speaks for itself:
C__ embraced the Faith during the expansion phase, and at the same time enrolled her young son. Right away she was invited to begin to study. Within a week of accepting Baha’u’llah, she had been visited twice and was studying Book 1 (Reflections on the Life of the Spirit), and has been doing so regularly since then. She is now in the middle of the second unit of the book, and understands that this is a sequence of courses, and she is excited about moving through the sequence and carrying out the practices.
When she completed the first unit, the tutors (who also were the teachers who presented Anna’s presentation to her during the expansion) gave her a gift of the Hidden Words. She was thrilled with the book, holding it carefully in her hands, saying how it is “so beautiful on the cover and what’s inside”. She understood that the practice of the first unit was to read from this book or from some of the Baha’i writings every morning and evening. And when she came the next week to study again (and join her tutors for dinner at their home), she had obviously gone beyond her personal reading and had begun to share the Writings with others.’
Over dinner, we asked her if she might want to share some thoughts with the cluster about her experience over the past weeks. She talked about how during the last week “friends have asked about Baha’u’llah, and I tell them who Baha’u’llah is. I have shared prayers with friends and co-workers. One friend commented how nice the Hidden Words are. One of my friends had a difficult day and had a problem, a test, with another coworker and I shared with her ‘when a thought of war comes, replace it with a stronger thought of peace’ and my friend really liked that.”
She also talked about how she is using the Baha’i Writings now rather than making up her own prayers. She said, “I’ve always been in the habit of saying my own prayers, short prayers that I make up, now I am beginning to develop the habit of saying these prayers from Baha’u’llah.”
She has begun to teach the Faith – arising immediately to share with others the Message she has embraced. She told us, “I’ve told several peple about the Bahai Faith and people seemed interested.” Also she said that some family members have asked, “Who is Baha’u’ll’ah, who is this person?”, showing a little bit of reluctance about the “new religion” she had accepted and begun to promote. She said that when they spoke to her like that, she told them that, “The Baha’i Faith is about love, it’s about unity, it’s about the oneness of all religions.” And with this response “…they calm down, they even begin to get interested.” She has a plan to share Anna’s presentation with one person who has expressed interest, and, together with her tutors, is thinking about other people she can present the Faith to during the next few weeks.
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The most important thing is to polish the mirrors of hearts in order that they may become illumined and receptive of the divine light. One heart may possess the capacity of the polished mirror; another be covered and obscured by the dust and dross of this world… Therefore our duty lies in seeking to polish the mirrors of our hearts in order that we shall become reflectors of that light and recipients of the divine bounties which may be fully revealed through them.
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá BWF 218
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(Report from the “A” stage Washington DC cluster) (http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/05/following-stories-from-atc-of.html)(Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)
A taste of the ‘sweetness of teaching’ at a permanent school
(US, MA, 1 May)
One woman, Faye, determined to ground herself spiritually after the joyous news of her first pregnancy. She looked at the course offerings at Green Acre Bahá’í School, and was excited to discover a course on “Teaching is the Greatest Gift.”
Faye was impressed with the patience and finesse of the presenter, Bruce, as she watched him allow everyone to voice their concerns and then led them back to the answers found in the presentation materials.
At the weekend’s outset, she and fellow classmates reconnected with their love of Bahá’u’lláh by reflecting together on their personal “first moments,” when they recognized Him.
Building on this rekindled love, and as each day passed, the group found their devotions growing in length and intensity as they turned to the Concourse for inspiration.
With their new understanding, the group turned to action.
Studying from Ruhi Book 6, Teaching the Cause, she found herself thinking, “Anna’s Presentation! How could I be so behind? Why hadn’t I already done Book 6?!”
Her excitement continued to build as she and her fellow classmates found a model of direct teaching they felt comfortable using and then completed personal action pledges.
Faye’s story did not end with her good-byes at Green Acre. As she reported to the Office of Education and Schools, she returned home, “inspired” and with “a renewed spirit, one full of kinetic energy ready to serve.”
“Despite the exhaustion from days full of study and late nights talking quietly with my new Bahá’í friends,” she wrote, “the moment I arrived home I hopped onto my computer and started to take action on the commitments I had made.
“By the time I was done, I had invited someone to start a teaching team, set in motion a fireside, contacted a friend for a home visit, and started planting seeds for children’s classes!”
(The American Bahá’í, By: Office of Education and Schools)