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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)
(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, WA, 28 July)
The following article-series hopes to share relevant points of learning gleaned from collective teaching efforts worldwide. Here is from a C-stage cluster (sure to advance very soon considering their dedicated efforts!):
Learnings, tips, insights gleaned:
· Try to ascertain what the person’s needs are and then address those. Maybe they need to empty themselves first. Choose parts of the presentation that seem needed.
· Don’t be afraid.
· The person who makes eye contact with the seeker should do the presentation, while the other team member prays.
· Have at least one female on the team. A team of two guys could seem threatening to women who answer the door.
· Age diversity is good in a team.
· A follow-up fireside can be focused on something from “Anna’s Presentation”.
· When the door opens, what do you say? Basically give the introduction to Anna’s Presentation. “We are Baha’is, followers of Baha’u’llah, members of the Baha’i Faith, a new religion whose purpose is to unite all the people of the world in one common purpose, one universal Faith.”
· Don’t make a big deal of saying your name. Say your name and shake hands.
· Give CONCEPTS not facts. These are most important.
· For home visits give the “Gift of Prayers”, or other printed prayers.
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November 1998, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Bahá’í Faith in France, when more than 2,000 people came from some 50 countries to celebrate.
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Problems arise where followers of one of the world’s faiths prove unable to distinguish between its eternal and transitory features, and attempt to impose on society rules of behaviour that have long since accomplished their purpose. The principle is fundamental to an understanding of religion’s social role: “The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be 38 the same as that which a subsequent age may require”, Bahá’u’lláh points out. “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”
– The Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith, p. 37-8
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(From an update about the direct teaching effort in the C-stage Spokane, WA cluster, http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/07/here-is-update-about-direct-teaching.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)