Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Is it easier to teach in some clusters versus others?

At the moment, we are traveling the Midwest visiting family over the winter break. The "It's Winter" theory (in my Florida mind) has been proven true as it was something like minus eleven degrees when we arrived yesterday despite the fact that it was almost eighty degrees when we left home the day before.

The benefit of this too-cold-to-go-outside weather has been that we are spending hours in front of the fire with family discussing the post-conference state of our respective clusters. It is a blessing that my husband and I are both 2nd generation Baha'is and that the house is thus also full of young 3rd generation Baha'is.

In our consultations, it is apparent that no matter where Baha'is reside, the questions and issues are the same despite some regional differences. One question, in particular, gave me pause and seemed most appropriate for this blog...

"Is it easier to teach in your cluster?"

I wanted to leap up like one of those over-zealous know-it-all students, my hand waving in the air... "I know! I know!"

Well, truth is, I don't "know" but an idea popped into my head only because my blog happens to be called The Dual Challenge. It just so happens that part one of the dual challenge referred to by the Universal House of Justice is "...learning to identify receptive segments of society and share with responsive souls the message of the Faith..."

In addition, in the Ridvan 2008 message, the Universal House of Justice states that there is a "...relationship between the rise in receptivity to the Faith in all parts of the globe and the failings of the world's systems. That such receptivity will increase as the agonies of humanity deeping is certain."

Putting these pieces together, we come to realize two things:
  1. The supreme administrative body of the Faith is telling us that there is a rise in receptivity to the Faith in all parts of the globe; and 
  2. We only need to learn to identify these receptive segments. 
So, the answer to the question, "Is it easier to teach in your cluster?" is "No." 

Indeed, at this point in history, it is easier to teach in every cluster and receptivity is on the rise. The challenge is that, no matter in which cluster we reside, we need to learn to identify the people ready to hear.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Importance of Flexibility

After the Atlanta conference, we returned home with a list of volunteers ready to come to our cluster and help us with the teaching work. Then we, as were so many others, were tasked with immediately making plans and setting in motion actions that would take advantage of the enthusiasm generated by the series of 41 conferences.

Here’s where flexibility becomes vitally important. For our cluster, we had our Reflection Meeting scheduled for the end of January and our third practice IPG would be starting in February. Not wanting to lose our momentum, we decided to move the Reflection Meeting up to Friday, January 9 and start the expansion phase the next day.

Whoa!! Did we change our systematic plan?... No.
That’s the beauty of the Plan. It is possible to remain systematic while at the same time tailoring to the needs of our particular cluster.

Our cluster needs to generate excitement about collective endeavor and capitalize on the offers of service from the Baha’is willing to travel this way. Thus, the Reflection Meeting is a way to not only fold individuals into the activities of the Plan but also it is a way to generate enthusiasm.

Now my attention has been directed at trying to help generate enthusiasm for attending the reflection meeting as well as participating in the Plan, no matter how small the service!

By the way… Have you gotten the first two lines of Anna’s Presentation memorized and are you praying daily for teaching? The Week 2 challenge will be here very soon!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Why the first two lines of Anna's Presentation can be so useful...

Are you saying your daily teaching prayer? 
Have you memorized the first two lines of Anna's Presentation?

As an example of how even two lines of Anna's Presentation can be imminently helpful, here is a little bit about a recent moment where my husband and I attempted to answer the question, "What is the Baha'i Faith?" 

A few days ago, we were checking Solomon in at the hospital (Don't worry Vicki! He's fine!) for a quick outpatient wrist surgery. During the process, the man helping us asked if Solomon had a religious affiliation he wished to declare. Now here is where we, and many others like us, make the decision to either say Baha'i or skip it and timidly avoid having to tell someone about the Faith. As always, it is one of a million little choices we make each day leading us either to an opportunity to teach the Faith or an opportunity to brush it off as a not-so-important event. Here is where all our prayers for teaching are so vitally important because through them we are led to receptive souls and we are given the strength and confidence to open our mouths.

When the man asked Solomon about religious affiliation, he said with just a slight hesitation, "Baha'i." The man looked at him quizzically while Solomon spelled it and I cracked, "I'm sure it's in there." 

Lo and behold, he found it! But then, he asked what it was.

Oops... Another opportunity to either be bold or just reel back our words like some bit of information we didn't mean to let out. 

Here is where Anna's Presentation became the lifeline we didn't quite grab hold of. Our explanation of the Faith was something jumbled together with snippets on progressive revelation, a smattering of principles such as race unity and the addition of a long-winded description of the Faith's origins in Persia.

If I stop here in my description of what happened, it is possible to see that my husband and I were overlooking such an important and simple way to boldly proclaim the Faith. Instead, we were sticking with disparate bits of fact thrown together without thought and giving our hearer too many different tangents to mull over. Having grown up Baha'i, this has been our method for a long time.

Thankfully, the House of Justice is asking us to change our long-standing methods and learn from what has been tried and found to be successful. Anna's Presentation!

At the last minute, we pulled ourselves together and summarized; The Baha'i Faith is a world religion whose purpose is to unite all races and peoples in one universal Cause and one common Faith. Baha'is are the followers of Baha'u'llah, Who they believe is the Promised One of Ages.

Wow. We could have saved ourselves all those uncomfortable sentences trying to piece together an effective and simple presentation. Lesson learned! At least we saved it at the end!

I would love to hear similar stories. We have so much to learn about how to effectlively apply Anna's Presentation in various situations! 

Furthermore, Let's not forget the words of Shoghi Effendi as quoted in the Ridvan 2008 message, ...they must neighter "hesitate" nor "falter," neither "overstress" nor "whittle down" the truth which they champion.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Challenge of Neighborhood Children's Classes

Sustaining growth in cluster after cluster will depend on the qualities that distinguish your service to the peoples of the world. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2008)

It really was a beautiful day today; the sky was brilliant blue and the wind was cool. Actually, it was downright cold for Southwest Florida but as we three adults converged on the neighborhood community center, our thoughts turned to visions of how nice it would be inside and how quiet it was outside and how soon we would be conducting children's classes with a small group of very enthusiastic neighborhood children.

That's not exactly how it turned out. But when does it ever meet our immediate expectations? This is the beauty of the Faith of Baha'u'llah... We take what we're given and go with it! The mere act of service brings blessings.

It was a lovely day for children's classes. Three of us came from outside the neighborhood because the Baha'is who lived there moved recently leaving only a new declarant and her three young children. We checked the clubhouse only to find that the person who was supposed to unlock the door was nowhere to be found and the door was still locked. We went around and collected the children and returned to the community center. By the time we had six children, it became obvious that the picnic table was our only option.

Did I say it was cold for Florida? We were all quite chilled but the sun warmed us some as did knowing we were doing service. The kids were mostly game and we conducted classes as normally as possible. At some point, a large group of rowdy, older children came to play nearby. The distraction quotient was high as was the difficulty with one child who was loud and sometimes unruly. Despite these obstacles, the class was a success. The kids even wanted to sing a song and recite prayers they had memorized!

I was happy after classes and it occurred me that I should share what our cluster has learned in the past five months of IPG practice...

  1. Plan dates and times ahead. Having a central person keep a cluster calendar can be helpful. Pick a reasonable schedule for classes. For the time being, our cluster holds classes every other week in one neighborhood. As our resources multiply, we will be able to move to weekly classes and to other neighborhoods.
  2. Don't outstrip your human resources. We have been successful at scheduling children's class teachers and assistants at the Reflection meeting (planning three months at a time). We try to make sure no one feels overwhelmed and everyone feels that even if they can only commit once or twice, it is serving the Plan.
  3. Be aware of the specific needs of the neighborhood/classes. Because of disruption issues, we decided that we absolutely had to have three committed individuals for each class and that one of them must be a male. 

We have learned a lot through service in our cluster but we have so much more learning to do.

As for today’s classes, I am hopeful that the quality that distinguished our service was perseverance…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

First Steps

There is so much that could be discussed and deliberated when it comes to the Dual Challenge not the least of which is what the phrase even means. However, as time is pressing and a theoretical discussion is not the aim of this blog, I thought I would start by considering some very basic, immediate actions that would be an excellent start to meeting this challenge.

As a matter of fact, I am going to issue a weekly personal challenge to everyone as a way of formulating plans that can assist in achieving the aims of the current Five Year Plan.

  1. MEMORIZE THE FIRST TWO LINES OF ANNA'S PRESENTATION. This is an excellent way to have a quick answer handy when someone asks, "What is the Baha'i Faith?" Think about it as a way to make yourself more comfortable in bringing up the Faith while standing in line at the grocery store or telling the school secretary why your kids are absent because of a Holy Day... The Baha'i Faith is a world religion whose purpose is to unite all the races and peoples in one universal Cause and one common Faith. Baha'is are the followers of Baha'u'llah, Who they believe is the Promised One of all Ages. 
  2. PRAY EVERY DAY TO BE LED TO RECEPTIVE SOULS. Pick one prayer and one time of day to say that prayer. Ask Baha'u'llah to open the doors and then have the courage to open your mouth. Remember this quote by Shoghi Effendi... "The Baha'i teacher must be all confidence. Therein lies his strength and the secret of his success. Though single-handed, and no matter how great hte apathy of the people around you may be, you should have faith that the hosts of the Kingdom are on your side..."
These are two easy challenges for Week 1. Remember, you are building a personal plan of action. Want more to do? Get on it... But, if you are having trouble focusing on a few potent actions, start here. Learn these lines from Anna's Presentation and then boldly use them. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


In the wake of the regional conference in Atlanta (one of 41 world-wide conferences called for by the Universal House of Justice), I have become excited, awed and overwhelmed all at the same time. As I am surely not alone, I decided to start this blog as a way to verbalize the learning taking place here in Southwest Florida as well as clusters all around the world. 

Generally speaking, I envision that this blog will be read mostly by Baha'is. This means that while I will explain acronyms and other Baha'i-speak, I will not be explaining the larger concepts of the Faith. If you come across this blog and want to know more about the Baha'i Faith, please go to www.bahai.org.

As a Cluster Development Facilitator (CDF), I face many challenges but they are not unique in any way. The only thing that makes this designation daunting is that it comes with some necessary accountability (i.e. Someone... namely an Auxiliary Board member... will be asking me how it is going). Otherwise, my tasks are only formal manifestations of the work every Baha'i should be shouldering at this point in history.

I hope that this blog will be a place where some real interaction will occur and where we can share the learning taking place. Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged. I am hoping people will send me information via email (oeabel@comcast.net) so that I can include it as a blog entry. While not a true 'forum' per se, it can still be a very useful way to spread information.

So... After having attended one of the conferences to "celebrate achievements" and "deliberate on current exigencies" (see Universal House of Justice letter dated Oct 20, 2008), what did you learn?