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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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Andrew Bowen of Project Conversion

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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.

(Source: http://projectconversion.com/?p=529. Photo and biography of Andrew Bowen available here: http://projectconversion.com/?page_id=18)

(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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“It is a bounty to be able to share the Message with those who want to hear it.”

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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Cell4-460

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!

 

Lessons learned:  

 

* 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.

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)

(United Kingdom, 27 May)

“…by sticking to the path of learning that has been set,
by remaining obedient to the Will of the Universal House of Justice…
answers [to the many and varied challenges ahead] will come.”

This report is from the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom after their spirited national Convention:

Some 270 friends, including 84 delegates, attended National Convention from 24-26 May. Inspired by the Ridvan and 13 May messages of the Universal House of Justice…the delegates consulted on the exciting possibilities that now lie ahead for accelerating the teaching work and the progress of clusters.

Drawing on the learning about the intensive programmes of growth so beautifully and vividly captured in [the publication] “Attaining the Dynamics of Growth: Glimpses from five continents”, prepared by the International Teaching Centre [which can now be downloaded from the US website or purchased], delegates came forward to share their experiences and offer reflections on themes at the heart of the Five Year Plan — expansion, consolidation, reflection, planning and administration, and the acceleration of learning. The consultations were mature, focused and greatly enriched by the delegates’ own experiences of the teaching work, particularly in the field of direct, collective teaching…

…a most moving devotional for the believers in the Cradle of the Faith [was held], whose example of courage, fortitude and selfless obedience to the Universal House of Justice stirred Convention to its very depths…

Excellent children’s and junior youth and youth programmes ran concurrently with the main Convention programme, and Convention received a most impressive and spirited presentation from the youth in attendance…

The near future will, of course, bring its many and varied challenges and these will need to be addressed with faith, consecration and courage. Many of these dominated the proceedings at Convention:

What do we have to do to raise the number of effective teachers and teaching teams?

How do we involve more believers in the teaching work? How do we create a sense of movement and purpose in those less developed “B” and “C” clusters?

How can we transform a much higher proportion of our existing trained resources into active, audacious and tenacious teachers of the Cause?

How can we accelerate the learning about growth and transfer the relevant learning to clusters at a formative stage of development?

How do we work with receptive populations?

It is clear that it may take some time before we have the answers to these and other questions. What is equally clear, however, is that by sticking to the path of learning that has been set, by remaining obedient to the Will of the Universal House of Justice, those answers will come.

— National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom

‘Abdu’l-Bahá toured Europe for three months in 1911 and visited a second time in 1913. He is shown here at Clifton Guest House, Bristol, United Kingdom, in September 1911.

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We are striving with heart and soul, resting neither day nor night, seeking not a moment’s ease, to make this world of man the mirror of the unity of God. Then how much more must the beloved of the Lord reflect that unity? And this cherished hope, this yearning wish of ours will be visibly fulfilled only on the day when the true friends of God arise to carry out the Teachings of the Abhá Beauty—may my life be a ransom for His lovers!

One amongst His Teachings is this, that love and good faith must so dominate the human heart that men will regard the stranger as a familiar friend, the malefactor as one of their own, the alien even as a loved one, the enemy as a companion dear and close. Who killeth them, him will they call a bestower of life; who turneth away from them, him will they regard as turning towards them; who denieth their message, him will they consider as one acknowledging its truth. The meaning is that they must treat all humankind even as they treat their sympathizers, their fellow-believers, their loved ones and familiar friends.

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá SWA 84
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(From “UK BAHA’I NEWS EMAIL SERVICE”)
(Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community)

(From US, Virginia:)

Saturday afternoon – our most successful results to date!

We went out into an interested neighborhood with three teams of teachers (7 Bahai friends) and Baha’u’llah guided us to several souls who invited us into their home to hear the presentation. We invited the friends [probably those approached – A.] to share a prayer with us when they did not have time to hear the presentation, and this was very positive.

Monday – A new Bahá’í!

We welcomed our newest member into the Bahai Faith this evening following dinner and Anna’s presentation. She is 21 years old and an undergraduate student. Hip Hip Hooray!

We’ve learned that inviting our friends to come to our home to have dinner and hear a presentation about the Faith is well received! We follow up the presentation with a clear and direct invitation to become of member of this beloved community.

http://teaching.bahai.us/2008/04/south-hampton-roads-menh-b-cluster.html

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