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Milwaukee unity arch

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 11:47am

Stories about the Bab

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 3:46pm

This is a video made with the children of the Bahá’í Community in Scottsdale, AZ. It was played during the Birth of the Báb Celebration.

 

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Worldwide celebration of the bicentenary

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 5:37pm

The Baha’i World Celebrated the bicentenary of the Birth of the Bab. Starting on Monday at sunset in the Line Islands in Kiribati, lanched a global celebration, marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab, the Prophet-Herald of the Baha’i Faith.

Click here to revisit the live coverage of the festivities: https://bicentenary.bahai.org/the-bab/broadcasts/

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Youthful Báb/One Human Race

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 4:09pm

The song, “Youthful Báb/One Human Race” is a collaboration from individuals spanning the globe and stands as an example of the effort of love, prayer, meditation, consultation and belief in the capacity of everyone involved.

The project was started two years ago in Azerbaijan by Salahaddin Ayyubi. With the assistance of musicians from the band, the “New Era” they began to produce music in Russian, Azeri and Persian, and later in English. Sandy Simmons, a singer from Los Angeles, and her husband Tony St. James, who have a small recording studio, added their talents to the finished recording.

It is a showing of the beautiful work that can be created when people around the world work together as one human race.

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Growth of junior youth program felt within and far beyond Phoenix

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 8:55am

Bullhead City is an Arizona desert town near the southern tip of Nevada. Sunnyslope is a neighborhood in sprawling Phoenix.

Though they’re 200 miles apart, collaborative action is helping young people and their mentors in both locations draw energy from the overall growth of the Baha’i-initiated junior youth spiritual empowerment program in Phoenix. 

It’s a program that helps middle-schoolers strengthen their capacities through study, conversation, recreation and service projects — and also builds strengths in many of the “animators,” often older youths, who facilitate junior youth groups.  

Traveling and bringing the learning home 

Every two months or so, Bullhead City’s junior youth groups and animators make the long trek to the state capital to engage in community-building activities alongside their big-city peers. 

They’ve similarly joined with other Arizonans at the Bellemont Baha’i School, a conference center outside Flagstaff, and at the Native American Baha’i Institute [NABI] across the state on the Navajo Nation. 

During a training event on the Bellemont Baha’i School grounds near Flagstaff, junior youth group animators with varied levels of experience reflect together on how study and complimentary activities are going. Photo by Ebbie Wirick

Bullhead City is part of a cluster of communities covering an area larger than Maryland with no Baha’i institutions. Emily Ternes, a member of its Baha’i group, says it’s “marvelous” for young people from that small city to spend time “in the midst of the burgeoning spirit” of places where Baha’i activity involves many more people. 

But it can come at a cost for the local community, she adds. “Any weekend the handful of friends initiating the activities [in her area] are gone from our own cluster, there is no one to carry on our core activities [of community building] and we suffer a small setback such that the regularity and the momentum must again be rebuilt. 

“So we must balance the two spheres of action.”

During a training event on the Bellemont Baha’i School grounds near Flagstaff, a junior youth group animator, age 17, accompanies younger people in learning to observe reality attentively. Photo by Ebbie Wirick

Still, says Ternes, the impact of being with more-experienced junior youths and leaders from Phoenix and NABI outweighs the inconvenience for young people and adults alike.

She points to a Bullhead City youth, a graduate of the junior youth program, who had training there and in Phoenix and at NABI then gained community-building experience by offering two months’ service in the Sunnyslope neighborhood.

“One of the activities she attended [in Phoenix] was a family camp,” relates Ternes. In turn, this July she helped organize a family camp in her home city for families of junior youth group participants. As one result, the parents have become “protagonists of the junior youth program and will support the start of our first children’s class” with younger members of their families.

What’s more, the young woman has joined an effort “to try to attract a cadre of youths to go through the sequence of [training] courses to expand the ongoing junior youth program. Friends from the Phoenix Sunnyslope neighborhood hope to join us for a youth outreach” in two neighborhoods, Ternes says. 

Outreach and intensive learning about service 

Meantime, youths in Sunnyslope are starting additional junior youth groups where they live, says Ebbie Wirick, the Four Corners region’s junior youth coordinator.

An intensive summer of service saw about 10 young Sunnyslope residents spend countless hours meeting with neighborhood parents to explain the junior youth program and with neighborhood youths to gauge their interest in arising to mentor junior youths, she says.

A junior youth group in Phoenix’s Sunnyslope neighborhood focuses on study materials that will lead to conversation. Photo by Ebbie Wirick

They punctuated those many weeks of outreach with continued training for their service. Participation in a junior youth camp, which involved members of several groups in Arizona, helped them gain experience as animators.

For some, says Wirick, the amount of time they spent as animators during that camp was equal to that typically spent with a junior youth group during the rest of the year.

In such an intensive atmosphere there’s a need for “constant action, consultation and reflection,” she says. “The animators are hour to hour experimenting, learning and adjusting their approach.”

Just as important, the friendships forged during a camp “are really deep among a team of animators,” says Wirick. Thus when they return to their own clusters of communities, they have a vision of “advancing the program together as a team vs. [conducting] activities that are separate from each other.”

A similar transformation was seen in the junior youth-age campers, she says. Before, some were reticent to share a prayer or sing a song, for example. After a few days, they were “very eager to return to their neighborhood and host a devotional gathering,” one of the other core activities of community building, “or attend a devotional. They just fell in love with it.”

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Northeast strengthens skills in expanding prayer gatherings

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 8:13pm

Essentially, they’re planting seeds of a devotional spirit in more and more places. 

Mirroring similar efforts around the country, Baha’is and their friends in the nine Northeastern States have focused in recent months on doubling the number of devotional gatherings, to “uplift more hearts, give hope to more spirits, and create more bonds of true friendship,” in the words of Marie McNair, secretary of the elected Northeast Regional Baha’i Council.

As summer turned into fall, the region was closing in on its goal of 995 devotional gatherings meeting regularly.  

Whether in a home or a public location, each such gathering is a space open to people of all faiths where prayer and contemplation of scripture inspires service and community building. 

Regional Councils across the country embarked this year on systematic drives to strengthen the knowledge and skills of Baha’i individuals and communities, with the aim of expanding the numbers of devotional gatherings and of their participants by Oct. 29, the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab, herald of the Baha’i Faith. 

In the Northeast, some 425 devotionals had already sprouted up by January, when the Council serving those states launched its campaign. 

Reports were coming in from individuals and local Baha’i communities that a “sense of unity” was emerging as many rallied around that goal, says McNair. 

Baha’is “were becoming more experienced at inviting people to attend their devotions” and benefiting from the accompaniment of others with experience, she notes. “Levels of creativity astonished the Regional Council as the [Baha’is] came up with fascinating ways to have devotions with their families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and others.”

For example, a family began a devotional on the theme “Blessed is the Spot.” Each gathering was held in a locale that matched one in the popular Baha’i prayer: spot, house, place, city, etc. 

“They have with them copies of the [prayer and] invite people who happen to be in the same place to join in,” says McNair. “So far they have chosen locations for each part of the prayer, but finding a cave is the one that looks to be most challenging.”

A popular prayer revealed by Baha’u’llah:

Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain,
and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island,
and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified.

 

Significantly, alongside this increase in the devotional spirit permeating neighborhoods, other core activities of community building also grew, she notes.

Near a major university, fellow students were invited to a devotional, and soon those students were inviting others — to the point it was not unusual for 50 people to attend. 

After students talked about offering service, one began a second devotional, two have initiated a junior youth group and others are training to organize additional core activities. 

The goal of 995 regular devotional gatherings in the Northeast was set in January, as the Council consulted with several elected and appointed Baha’i institutions and agencies. Of the 425 gatherings already being held, the agencies found, “Some were large with many friends invited, while others were small, perhaps just one’s family or one friend with another friend,” notes McNair. “Some were hosted by friends of the Faith.”

Members of New York City-area Baha’i communities discuss the Northeast region’s campaign to increase devotional gatherings. Photo courtesy of Nader Anvari

The Council’s first step was to consult with other national or regional Baha’i institutions. Next came a video call with 75 people representing clusters of Baha’i communities across the Northeast. 

Then dozens of Spiritual Assemblies, governing councils for local Baha’i communities, were brought into the process to encourage each Baha’i community across the region to join in the campaign and “increase its devotional character,” says McNair.

In a total of nine locations, members of nearly every Assembly gathered to study, plan and take steps to implement the campaign. Council members met with members of some Assemblies or smaller groups who couldn’t attend the scheduled meetings. 

All these preparations helped develop “an understanding that the campaign was not really about numbers but, indeed, about a wonderful, transformative spirit spurring the region forward,” says McNair.

Nevertheless, by tracking the numbers they had a tangible roadmap toward the goal. First reports bumped the number of devotionals to 506. The next announced number was 698, followed by 718 and 748 and 807. In August the Regional Council announced that the Northeast was at 895 with only 100 remaining to reach the goal by October. 

“The result,” says McNair, “is that the region is witnessing dedication and unified action such that the Regional Council anticipates that the friends will not only win the goal but surpass it.”

 

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Cleveland reflection enriched by participation of Congolese families

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 8:10pm

Under the shade of an enormous tree, Baha’is in the Cleveland, Ohio, area met on Aug. 4 for what one participant called their “best cluster reflection meeting ever.”

Reflection meetings are held every three months to review Baha’i-initiated community-building efforts in a cluster of communities and make plans for the next three months.

Attendance at these gatherings in the Cleveland area had flagged in recent years, says Ron Frazer, a member of the appointed Area Teaching Committee that coordinates community-building activity.

But the August reflection drew more than 50 Baha’is, and the main reason was the participation of five Congolese Baha’i families. 

“Most of them have been in Cleveland for a few years, but we’ve struggled with communication since none of the adults have been proficient in English,” says Frazer.

In recent months Google Translate and Facebook Messenger have been used to exchange messages with the Congolese families in English, Swahili and French. 

Frazer says language continues to be a challenge, though, since the older adults who were born in the Congo speak French, Lingala and other languages while the children and youths who were born in refugee camps in Tanzania speak mostly Swahili.

The communication gap is quite frustrating for all concerned, says Frazer. “These families are dedicated Baha’is who had been accustomed to almost daily Baha’i activities in the camps. 

“While they haven’t criticized the rest of us, we’re pretty sure the American schedule of monthly Feasts and an occasional devotional meeting must seem a bit lackadaisical.”

So, while these families struggle to learn English, “the rest of us are struggling to accelerate our Baha’i lives to a point that matches the enthusiasm of our African friends,” says Frazer. 

“Very animated consultation” at the reflection meeting focused on urgently developing all the core activities of community building, he says, and devising a plan to share the teachings of Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, with neighbors of the Congolese. 

“It was completely in African languages, facilitated by Kyengye Elale, a youth from Akron who is quite proficient in English,” says Frazer. “He was able to keep the non-Africans aware of what was being discussed.”

An African Community-Building Conference this past summer at Louhelen Baha’i School in Davison, Michigan, counted among its participants a number of Congolese refugees living in the Cleveland area. Photo by David Smith

About three weeks after the reflection, three carloads of Cleveland-area Baha’is traveled to Louhelen, a Baha’i center of learning in Davison, Michigan, for the first African Community-Building Conference.

Sponsored by the National Spiritual Assembly, the elected Baha’i governing council for the United States, the conference attracted people representing seven equatorial African nations 

“The few conference attendees who were from a European background found themselves faced with challenges,” says Frazer. 

“First, how can we help these recent immigrants who, although they strongly desire to serve the Faith, are held back by a lack of fluent English, time or resources?” he reflects. “Secondly, how can we learn from them? How can we replace the ‘rugged individualism’ that we are taught as children in this country with a healthy sense of community?”

Indeed, building a healthy sense of community has been foremost in the minds of Cleveland-area Baha’is since the reflection meeting and the African conference.

One outcome “was the creation of a Facebook group and a WhatsApp group to facilitate communication among the African families and with the English-speaking Baha’is,” says Frazer. 

“The [teaching committee] posts messages and asks questions in both English and Swahili using Google Translate, which has been found to be effective if we reverse the translation, i.e. we translate English into Swahili then translate the Swahili back into English.”

The English must be continually tweaked “until the translation is correct in both directions,” he says — and those messages are posted in both languages only after the committee is satisfied with their accuracy. “Without the reversed translation, American and Baha’i idioms can create confused Swahili.” 

Beyond that, says Kyengye Elale, the reflection and conference have given the African Baha’is a “vision” of how to advance the process of community building as well as “courage” and inspiration to make it a reality.

Elale himself is “serving more in my community [Akron] by sharing … material that we learned at Louhelen.”

And he teamed with his father to invite six families from the greater community to a devotional gathering. Seven adults from those families came, says Elale, “and we did prayers and ate together.” 

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‘Enkindled our souls’: The story of a special phone call

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 3:38pm

Nekicia Luckett, a Baha’i in Portland, Oregon, recalls a special experience that resulted when she called a friend to share prayers.

At the last devotional gathering I held, which was usually myself and Joanna, Joanna was away traveling. I thought about how I could have a rich devotional that day. Should I say prayers alone? I could invite people.  

It was last minute when I phoned a friend, Uli. I knew he would be available at that time. First I asked him if he would be willing to share a prayer with me. He said, “Of course!” 

Then I asked if he would say a prayer from his heart. I did not want to impose the Baha’i Writings onto him, as we had never prayed together. 

He proceeded to share a beautiful message about how happy he was that we met and to have this experience. I acknowledged his heartfelt words, which sounded to me like a prayer from his heart. 

Afterward he told me that he actually thought for the prayer I would say something then he would repeat after me. His willingness to repeat a prayer opened the door for me to offer a Baha’i prayer for him to read.  

Because Uli has three children whom he loves very, very much and tells wonderful stories about them, and because I see him interacting positively and praising other children, I chose a prayer for children from ‘Abdu’l-Baha for Uli to read and I sent it to him [in a text message].

Uli read the first two lines. “O God! Educate these children. These children are the plants of Thine orchard, the flowers of Thy meadow …” Then he took a long pause. “… the roses of Thy garden …” Pause. 

Uli was quiet. Had the prayer touched him?  

Nekicia Luckett poses with her friend Uli.

… Let Thy rain fall upon them. Let the Sun of Reality shine upon them with Thy love. Let Thy breeze refresh them in order that they may be trained, grow and develop, and appear in the utmost beauty. Thou art the Giver. Thou art the Compassionate.

No words were exchanged for a while. As Uli reflected on the prayer, I praised God in a meditative state. 

Then I proceeded to share the prayer beginning “Create in me a pure heart, O my God …” I recited it slowly, as it was the first time Uli had heard this prayer.  

This telephone devotional had enkindled our souls. There was no need for more prayers. It was time to listen.  

Uli shared these words with me: “Something else just took over me. Some one. Some thing.” He also shared later: “Something very beautiful overcame me, took over. It was so — pure.” 

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Family is a key ingredient that keeps Rockwall activities cooking

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 3:27am

As a flurry of summer activities greatly enhanced the ability of young people and their mentors in Rockwall County, Texas, to improve lives and neighborhoods, a common denominator was the involvement of whole families — some for the first time.

“We were able to meet and engage 12 new families” through these activities, says Rockwall Baha’i Naomi de la Torre.

Families from a neighborhood come together for a family art devotional in Rockwall, Texas, during which they did canvas marbling art and said prayers for the betterment of mankind. Photo by Naomi de la Torre

Alongside local Baha’is, these friends of the Faith arose to help serve by hosting activities, teaching children’s classes, preparing meals, providing snacks and supplies, or assisting with cleaning, she says. 

In addition, “We had fruitful reflection spaces” following activities “where participants, children’s class teachers, animators [facilitators of junior youth groups] and family members attended and shared what was learned.”

Says de la Torre, “We discovered that many parents were surprised to see how much their children had learned and asked insightful questions about the Baha’i Faith and the community-building process.”

Nalasi Mendy gives a presentation on his home country of The Gambia during the “Embrace the World” camp in Rockwall, Texas. Photo by Naomi de la Torre

Most of these parents, she says, are now participating in weekly core activities of community building and are meeting regularly in their homes with their children’s teachers and animators.

In the four years since her family moved to Rockwall, de la Torre has seen activity grow to the point 250 people in the area are now involved.

She has lots of stories like the one about a parent who has been attending a women’s devotional gathering for several years and had just witnessed her children’s participation in a weeklong skill-building camp.

“This camp is a truly amazing ministry,” the mother shared. “I would like to learn more about how I can become involved.” 

Says de la Torre, “This same mom is now considering starting a junior youth group in her home, just a few blocks away.”

Another family that participated “is now attending weekly firesides about the Faith and eager to engage every member of their family in a core activity,” she says.

Junior youth group animators at the “Changing the World with Art” summer camp in Rockwall, Texas, design a mural on the floor with Baha’i writings about walking on a path toward social justice and world unity. Photo by Naomi de la Torre

Rockwall County Baha’is and friends conducted four camps over the summer — each with a theme and a purpose:

  • A camping trip for entire families of youths and junior youths to learn more about community building. Youth animators led the junior youths in study of texts aimed at building character and their ability to act as agents of positive change. 
  • A neighborhood camp on the theme “Changing the World with Art” that focused on using art as a form of social action. The 70 participants, ages 4–15, were too many for one home. So a neighbor who is engaged in core activities opened her home to host half of the camp. 
  • A camp at which 10 animators and children’s class teachers from the neighborhood studied Book 3, Teaching Children’s Classes, Grade 1, from the Ruhi training curriculum. A small junior youth camp held at the same time gave the older and younger teens an opportunity to create together a vision of walking a path of service.
  • A neighborhood camp on the theme “Embrace the World” that has now been held three times during school breaks. Its aim was to learn about the beauty and diversity of humankind through presentations given by neighbors on their cultural backgrounds.

“Not only does learning happen quickly within the context of an intensive camp space, but these new animators and children’s class teachers gain confidence and vision as they connect more deeply to the community-building process,” notes de la Torre.

As one animator told her, “Being an animator has changed my life. I am beyond grateful for this experience of community building and walking a path of service.”

It’s a perspective more and more families of these young people have begun to embrace as well.

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“The City of God”

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 5:17pm

The title is “The City of God”, named after the reference to the Shrine mentioned in the Tablet of Carmel. The artist, Daniel Hamidi Coleman, wanted to convey a sense of the surreal, something intangible when one enters the presence of the Holy Site, and the wonder that comes from entering into a place that is much more than our senses can tell us. Veils cover the entrance, symbolizing the many kinds of veils that come between us as we try to draw nearer to the Manifestations.

Calligraphy throughout the surface of the Shrine, written by, Saba Hamidi Coleman (the artist wife) mentions names of The Bab, as well as excerpts from His Tablets.

It is a mixed media drawing, initially created with ink and brush on bristol paper, and then combined with several layers of tusche washes and other hand-made textures, and combined together in Photoshop.

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Lakewood Honors the Bicentennial

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 5:06pm

Lakewood, CA celebrates the Bicentennial of the Birth of The Bab with Mayor and Vice Mayor and Council Member. All Three came to the celebration with a heartfelt and sincere expression of joy. They spoke very highly of the Baha’is and said that everyone should follow the principles of the Baha’i Faith, and pointed to the Poster with 12 principles.

Every guest decorated the children’s class poster banner by attaching a flower, which was taken to the banner to the park for a children’s class about The Bab. A chant of “O God, My God, My Beloved, My heart’s desire” was called out while the friends in the city of Cerritos, CA planted a Tree in the Heritage Park to Honor the Bicentennial of the Birth of The Bab.

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Celebrating Progressive Revelation

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 4:38pm

A celebration held on October 26th in Saint Paris, Ohio. Guests were offered an opportunity to work on a Manifestation timeline, make prayer cards, assemble a flower from various designs, colors, and shapes and place it in “God’s Garden”, learn about the life of the Báb, and “search” for a “gem” as the Letters of the Living searched for the Báb.

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Celebrating Bicentenary with Diversity

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 3:12pm

A neighborhood celebrates Birth of the Bab in Austin, TX hosted by Misha and Nick Blaise. Community friends of the family from Boyscouts and Spanish-speaking neighbors originally from Mexico.

Catholic friends offered their house for the event, and Baha’i family served dinner and hired a mariachi.

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Idaho initiative helps youths explore paths of service

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 3:04pm

For some years, Baha’is and friends in western Idaho have systematically built relationships and  created spaces in people’s homes for prayer and spiritual education.  

These efforts intensified starting a few months ago in two Treasure Valley neighborhoods. As a result, significantly more people were involved in that enterprise as summer turned to fall. 

Much of this growth came from carrying out a detailed plan to involve many more youths and young adults in starting and conducting these activities, aimed at giving neighborhood residents opportunities to play their part in building community. 

At the same time the young people — most from the Boise area, with one from the Nez Perce Reservation — gained capacities for elevating conversations and building community in their own lives.  

Young adults Wyatt Morgano of Caldwell and Yasaman Parthor of Boise spearheaded the youth initiative, says Barbara Whitbeck, secretary of the committee that coordinates Baha’i-initiated community building in the two-county Treasure Valley area.

“Prior to the summer starting, Wyatt and Yasaman spent their time working diligently talking to youths they already knew, creating goals we wanted to reach over the summer and a schedule for the next few months and daily schedules,” relates Whitbeck. 

“They planned for the youths to spend every day together doing things such as studying, deepening on the Word of God, service, fun activities, and outreach.”

Activity builds vision, which nourishes activity 

Whitbeck says the intensity and diversity of activity was designed to help young people identify paths of service going forward.

Youths coming into the process were able to experience all of the core activities of community building — children’s classes, junior youth groups, study circles and devotional gatherings. And that, she says, “was really good for building vision.” 

A camp for junior youth groups in the Treasure Valley area of Idaho includes lots of outdoor activities to complement the study and conversation. Photo courtesy of the Learning Desk

“It helped them see the different paths of service and how they fit into the process. Over time, once they saw these avenues, they got to decide what capacity they wanted to serve in.”

The youths also gathered regularly to reflect on their service. At one such gathering, parents were given an overview of what lay ahead for their sons and daughters.

“It was amazing to get the whole family involved,” says Parthor. “Not only did it hold the youths accountable for being a part of this movement, but also the parents found ways to become a part of the process by either starting their own devotional, providing rides for the youths, opening up their homes for gatherings, and meals when needed.”

In early June the youths participated in a junior youth camp as role models for middle-schoolers. They followed up immediately through an outreach campaign in Boise’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood. 

“They learned how to have conversations about the Faith and the [training] institute process,” says Whitbeck. The training institute is a sequence of courses to prepare people to conduct service activities. “They also got to see how we build bonds of friendship with new people in a neighborhood.”

The Mt. Vernon neighborhood is home to a Baha’i family from the Congo, among many immigrants and refugees. Results of the summer’s activity there include an English class and a children’s spiritual education class, both held regularly. A junior youth group is being organized.

Looks like a few people didn’t get the “get silly” memo when this group photo of a junior youth Ecological Camp/service project was taken in Caldwell, Idaho. Photo courtesy of the Learning Desk

With those activities established, the youths turned their focus a few miles west to the Farmway Acres neighborhood in Caldwell, where community-building activities already had momentum. It took some time, but the youth team was “persistent and fearless” in forming friendships with young neighborhood residents that have lasted since, Whitbeck notes.  

In both neighborhoods, the youth team continued to visit and assist children’s classes and junior youth groups as the summer went on. They even joined a junior youth group in volunteering at an animal shelter.

Two-week youth camp 

But soon it was time for the youths’ own camp, and in the run-up they visited the homes of peers to enlist their participation. 

Parthor describes the youth camp as “two weeks of intense study and field work.”

The first week was a sleep-over camp in suburban Eagle. Daytimes were devoted to study of Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, Book 1 in the Ruhi training curriculum. 

The “field work” at night centered on service practices the book prescribes, says Parthor: “The participants learned to plan and host their own devotional and how to study a prayer with someone.”

Group activities included art, sports, games and music. “Being together every day for a week really brought us closer as a group,” she says. “We learned that the best friendships and strongest bonds come from service and studying the Word of God together.”

Friendships are made and strengthened at a junior youth camp in the Boise, Idaho, area. Photo by Barbara Whitbeck

The second week, campers stayed in their own homes and met each day in Garden City. Each one chose to study Ruhi Book 3, Teaching Children’s Classes, Grade 1, or Book 5, Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth. Evenings were devoted to observing children’s classes or junior youth groups, often depending on the path of service they were studying. 

One expectation was that the young people would talk with their families about their summer’s activity and learning. This might lead to entire families increasing their involvement in community-building activity this fall and beyond.

They can look back at their own development as well. “We built stronger bonds of friendship and deepened our understanding of working in specific fields of service,” says Parthor.

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A spark for conversation: Participants reflect on race amity program

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 3:03pm

After more than a year’s consultation, reflection and testing, a fledgling program on “Walking Together on a Path Toward Race Amity” was introduced in May through September at three Baha’i retreat centers and more than 20 weekend seasonal schools nationwide.

Put together by a multiethnic task force of the National Spiritual Assembly, the national Baha’i governing council, the study materials include excerpts from Baha’i guidance. Two brief case studies, one looking at the impact of racism on families and the other examining a conflict in a junior youth group, are followed by questions for discussion. 

Presentation at the 2019 Heartland Baha’i Summer School in Urbana, Illinois. Photo by Adrian McKee

Where possible, smaller study groups include two or more generations within families or neighborhoods. They practice conversations such as they might have on visits to each other’s homes. A number of those groups have started putting together action plans on the spot — to work beyond racial and ethnic barriers as they expand circles of friends that pray, converse, study and build capacities together. 

Did this first phase of the program increase the number and quality of conversations about the real-world implications of race, the teachings of Baha’u’llah on unity and justice, and how those issues can be addressed in community-building activity?  

Planners, facilitators and collaborators in several of those sessions agree: it’s a start, and a lot more can be learned. 

Continuing study and action

And that learning will largely come through direct experience, including further study and action, according to the national Office of Education and Schools, which oversees the task force developing and implementing the curriculum.

Some discussion groups caught a strong spark. “I saw it with my own eyes in a very powerful way,” says Cynthia Barnes-Slater, who facilitated groups both at Bosch Baha’i School in California and at Green Lake Baha’i School in Wisconsin. She worked with groups of adults, youths and junior youths who focused on the guidance and managed to offer some strong opinions respectfully. And they pledged to follow up in their own neighborhoods.

The two case studies, she says, were “really good for stimulating meaningful conversation,” especially in the context of recent guidance from the National Assembly and the Universal House of Justice, the global Baha’i governing council. 

The materials were most effective, she acknowledges, among people already involved with junior youth groups, children’s classes or other elements of the Baha’i community’s educational process. 

Phyllis Unterschuetz, who facilitated discussion in this program at Green Acre Baha’i School in Maine, agrees. “The folks who are engaged [in the process in their own communities] are able to say, ‘I can see this happening in my junior youth group’ or ‘I see how this could happen in my study circle.’ And their reflections about the scenarios are much more concrete.” 

Some people, she notes, had a hard time seeing relevance or realism in the case-study stories. But many eventually saw the stories for what they are: “a vehicle to get us to the place where we can have a practical conversation. … What if this was actually the situation? What would we do?”  

Power of conversation, urgency of involving the young

Members of a small group share thoughts at the 2019 Tennessee Baha’i Summer School. Photo courtesy of Andrew Lefton

In Tennessee, enthusiasm for the summer school’s conversations went public through a Sept. 2 article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press

The article quoted attendees on the power of diverse gatherings with elevated conversations, the reasons people may shy away from such conversations, and the urgency of involving young people. 

One friend of the Faith, who said gentrification of minority neighborhoods is a prime concern of his, said his spirituality drew him to the school, and he shares with the Baha’is at least one element of confidence: “I feel that no matter what, people are going to come together. No matter what.” 

In some cases, the learning seemed “more theoretical than experiential,” in the words of Dru Hanich, a local planner for the John H. Wilcott Summer School, which serves Montana and nearby states. While she was aware of fruitful discussion in a group that had American Indian and white participants, she found her own and other less-diverse groups were challenged — not only in drawing a concrete vision from the case studies, but also in establishing a dialogue between the “graying” and younger generations. 

Still, “we did discuss making sure we were aware of people of different backgrounds, being friendly to them and being aware of our own assumptions,” she notes.

After the Indiana Baha’i School, a survey showed junior youth participants “were overwhelmingly pleased to be included with their own family members” and “really appreciated being listened to by adults,” according to Peggy Lemmey Borell, who helped oversee the program there. Still, some junior youths said those adults could have followed up with them more attentively, which she says is “a new learning curve for parents.”  

One facilitator in Indiana, Bob Schneeweis, said that at the school he and his wife, Adina, talked with a family from their hometown of Troy, Michigan, about reviving a devotional gathering focused on race issues that they had held in past years. “We hope, in fact, that we might even be able to bring some of the materials on race and the family into this devotional space,” he says.

Always an eye toward oneness

Ymasumac Marañon-Davis, who represented the task force at several summer schools, says the central theme in developing the program and its materials is “always keeping an eye toward oneness.” To continue encouraging this posture toward oneness, facilitators were trained using a 2018 compilation of guidance from the Universal House of Justice on race and community building. 

Facilitators and coordinator of the race amity program at John H. Wilcott Baha’i Summer School in Montana. Photo courtesy of Pam Wolfe

Facilitators aimed to create an environment of using that guidance to answer questions, rather than having to become “experts.” That, she says, was aimed at promoting a spirit of continued learning, a posture of “How do I engage in a conversation about racial prejudice while walking toward oneness?” And it makes the guidance, rather than anyone’s personal advice, the main influence in shaping language and behavior when interracial challenges arise.

What’s next, then? Systematic follow-up is in the works in selected areas, as families and neighborhood groups will have opportunities to study further and reflect on their experiences.

From there an aim is to learn about not only about deepening and elevating conversations among themselves, but also about engaging with groups outside the Baha’i Faith. With current public discourse on race highly fragmented, Marañon-Davis asks, “how do we move away from a language of disintegration to a language of integration toward a language of oneness — even if we’re not there right now?”

This is part of a coherent process that includes plans that participants are making, either during the sessions or following up on their own.

Already, Barnes-Slater has been sharing materials from this curriculum with friends elsewhere. The experience has helped strengthen her commitment to working for racial empowerment and justice through this process of building community. 

And she’s elated to have found groups who want to keep learning, through study and action, “how the [Baha’i] teachings relate to the world we live in right now. … This is really a grassroots effort. It’s going to have to be heart to heart.” 

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Consultation with youths whips up storm of action so camp can take place

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 2:48pm

It was understandable there weren’t many advance sign-ups for a four-day regional capacity-building camp for young people to be held in Covington, Georgia, over Labor Day weekend. Hurricane Dorian was imminent, and no one knew where it would make landfall or how devastating its impact would be. 

The camp was designed to bring together young people from Georgia, South Carolina and Florida and strengthen their ability to foster community building where they live. But as Labor Day neared, few people had registered to participate, facilitate the camp’s sessions or provide service to keep it humming. 

Then, as the storm began to turn away from a direct hit on those states, a different kind of storm took over: the power of consultation. A team of Baha’is and friends “shared the situation” with youths in the region who had participated in previous camps and were learning in study circles how to initiate and sustain the core activities of community building.

Youths at a camp in Covington, Georgia, over Labor Day weekend gather in a devotional circle. Photo by Lisa Flynn

“It was suggested we say prayers, and immediately the youths began collaborating to visit those who had not yet registered for the camp,” according to team members. 

Junior youths enjoy getting out in the water at a summer camp in Covington, Georgia. Photo by Khadijih Gore

Explains Nabil Kleinhenz, who serves as secretary of the elected Regional Baha’i Council for the Southeastern States, that kind of youth outreach to friends “has been the primary mode of expanding the nucleus” of people engaged in the community-building process the past six months. 

The youths’ “friendship and their understanding of the purpose of the [training] institute process and the vision for the camps motivated them to make sure that their [friends’] families were visited and they got registered,” he says. 

“By the next day we had 39 confirmed youths and facilitators from neighborhoods in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida participating in the camp beginning that evening.” And phone calls streamed in confirming transportation for participants. 

The lesson team members take from this process? “When we turned the consultation over to the youth, they took ownership for the camp happening.” 

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Orange tree is a living reminder of the Bab

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 2:48pm

Every May, Baha’is commemorate the anniversary of the night in 1844 that marks the beginning of the Baha’i Faith. 

On that night, Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad, who became known as the Bab (“the Gate” in Arabic), declared that the time for new revelation from God had arrived. He said the world should prepare for “Him whom God shall make manifest,” God’s Messenger Who would unite all the peoples of the world in one family. Baha’is now know this Messenger to be Baha’u’llah.  

The historic house in Iran in which the Bab’s declaration took place was destroyed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in 1979. But a living treasure from the house remains in the United States, at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, in the form of an orange tree. In the spirit of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab, observed Oct. 29, 2019, here is the story of that tree.

In the late 1960s La Verne Rhode, a Baha’i from Tucson, Arizona, visited the House of the Bab in Shiraz, in southern Iran. She collected some seeds from an orange tree growing there. After her return to the United States, she planted the seeds in five separate containers, and each seed grew into a sapling. One of these young trees was given to George Adams, in Nashua, New Hampshire.

An orange tree from a seed brought from the house of the Bab in Iran grows inside the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by Christopher Vodden

In 1980 Adams presented the tree as a gift to the National Spiritual Assembly, the elected governing council of the Baha’is of the United States. He asked that it be placed in the Auditorium of the Baha’i House of Worship, and this gift was gratefully accepted. Ernest Lopez, who was the superintendent of grounds at the Temple, made arrangements to have the tree shipped from New Hampshire.

When it arrived, Lopez replanted the tree in a larger pot and sheltered it in a nearby greenhouse to allow it to adjust to the move. Horticulturist Tom Klitzkie then took over its care and the tree was moved to the Auditorium, where it stayed for the next 20 years.

By 2000, though, the tree was distressed and dropping leaves. By then the House of Worship staff had contracted with a plant care company whose employees did not know the tree’s history or significance, and they simply removed it from the Auditorium. The branches were pruned off and the potted trunk was left for trash. 

Scott Conrad, project manager for restoration work happening at the Temple, found the abandoned tree. Conrad, a native of California, recognized the forlorn plant as an orange tree and surmised it to be the one from the House of the Bab.

The tree was rescued and moved into an office in one of the service buildings. There, with the tender loving care of Pat Armbruster, who was also working on the Temple restoration, the tree was revived, and by fall 2008 its branches reached the office ceiling. The tree was returned to the House of Worship with a plaque that identified it as the treasure that it was.

The orange tree bore fruit during its early years in the Auditorium, but did not do so during later years while it was under stress. Then, in late in 2010, four oranges appeared. In summer 2011, the tree bore more than 20 oranges, all of which matured into a full rich orange color. These were harvested and made into jars of marmalade that were shared as special gifts. Fragrant blossoms and a crop of oranges have appeared every year since.

A plaque marks this special tree at the Baha’i House of Worship. Photo by Christopher Vodden

“Sometimes visitors ask us if they can have one of the oranges,” says Christopher Vodden, director of the Activities Office at the Baha’i House of Worship. Such requests mostly come from people who have been on pilgrimage to the Baha’i holy places in and near Haifa, Israel, and have been given oranges from the abundant trees in that area. “We prefer to leave the oranges on the tree because they are so pretty,” says Vodden.

Baha’i Lisa Haese Smith, a musician now living in Australia, used to visit the House of Worship regularly. She noticed the orange tree growing there and says she was inspired by its “noble, sweet and humble presence.”

“I imagined the courtyard garden of the House of the Bab; the fragrance and the beauty of that place,” she wrote in liner notes for a CD of her piano music. “An orange tree diffuses its beauty, fragrance and fruit across time and place; from a courtyard garden in Persia to the Baha’i Temple on the shores of Lake Michigan; evocative and inspiring songs of Journeys and Places.”

“I wanted to write a piece of music that somehow captured that place and that time, and the story of how the orange tree had come to be standing half way across the world in the House of Worship in America.”  

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Bonfire Devotions

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 2:33pm

Salahuddin family hosted pizza & bonfire with optional donations to the food pantry in Skokie & local community, invited neighbors.

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