By Lynn Star
Although I have not been able to attend many gatherings in my area, have financial difficulties, have a husband whose health issues require me to be close and take care of him, and have my own complex health issues to deal with, I have not allowed this to prevent me from doing something for the Bahá’í Plan set forth by the Universal House of Justice (Plan). I have and still want to do my part to help the Faith grow. In general, my participation has been through prayer and teaching the Faith. I pray for the Institutions on a daily basis and have worked steadily to improve the quality of my prayers.
Other Bahá’í Challenges:
I was having difficulty trying to figure out what role I could play in my local community especially when I couldn’t figure out what goals my community was working on to take part in the Plan and how the community was reaching out to the outer community. Furthermore, I had a hard time connecting my heart to Baha’u’llah and felt that how I had previously participated in the Bahá’í community was keeping me back from doing service in the outer community and living my life “purpose.” It was hard for me to figure out what connections I could make or services I could perform in the outer community that would increase my number of contacts that could be receptive to the Bahá’í message. I decided to pursue finding the things which I felt passionate about that could be related to service and teaching. I also longed for that community where you could strongly feel the “Bahá’í love.”
I also wanted to learn how to “teach the Cause,” and was happy to learn from Bahá’ís who were long-time teachers. I had some internet friends and long-term friends I have known over the years that were wonderful friends and lovely mentors. One source of mentorship was an e-mail group whose focus was on teaching and dealing with challenges to teaching. I started having a dialog with this group about how I could teach the Faith and what I believed my challenges to teaching were.
Making Contact with A Strong Teaching Mentor:
There was a Bahá’í who lived [in another state in the United States]. [I live on the West coast and she lives on the East coast] who had been reading my e-mail group posts and sent me a message stating that she would like to start a regular internet/telephone exchange. In the process of starting this exchange, she kept talking about her teaching plan and Ruhi Book 6. I didn’t know what she was talking about and felt I must have missed something in my original Book 6 training. So, I asked her to give me a Book 6 refresher over the phone. Furthermore, she was a bona fide tutor, having taken the full “sequence.” I wanted to pursue Ruhi at my own speed and to not be a slave to time constraints demanded by participants in a study circle. I had also made a vow to myself to only participate in a Ruhi study circle that would be more concerned about the content of the course than following any specific agenda or time frame. Happily my mentor felt the same way. Another reason for working together was that we had similar recovery issues and belonged to some of the same 12-step programs. We both wanted close contact with a Bahá’í in Recovery which had been hard for both of us to find.
Ruhi 6 Telephone Study Circle:
It was a delight to learn about aspects of teaching that were new to me. My mentor taught me how to formulate my own Teaching Plan and we worked together on developing it. We also found practices from the Ruhi 6 book that I could do to enhance my teaching. Central to my plan was focusing on developing Bahá’í activities and teaching with my husband, who has not attended Bahá’í gatherings for several years for some very understandable reasons. He was not just some “immature” Bahá’í who could, on his own, “get his act together” and independently start attending things. To implement my goal, I started having family devotions with my husband. This consisted of very simple quotes and prayers I had memorized which we said just before going to bed. Over the course of only a month or so, we started doing more things together than we had in years. Our communications also started improving. We started to share more friendships together and are continuing to improve ourselves and our relationship. I felt that my success in accomplishing this initial goal was stunning. Like my mentor said, I started to achieve my goal by “taking baby steps,” and every little step forward kept adding up.
Then, in order to complete my practices for Book 6, I needed to figure out what teaching project I wanted to do. Since I was mostly at home, and unable to leave my husband for extended periods of time, I decided to utilize the internet and Facebook in order to teach the Faith. I joined a Facebook Bahá’í Group that was interested in working for social change through posting Bahá’í Teachings and ideas on Facebook. This grew into an individual initiative of Facebook Teaching. For her project, my teaching team partner focused on her marriage, family devotions, and getting to know her neighbours. She also joined a writers’ group in order to enlarge her circle of contacts.
When we completed the Ruhi 6 book, we didn’t want to stop our weekly phone calls, so we decided to become a teaching team and use consultation as our guide for working together. We read about consultation, agreed on the basic operating principles, and used them.
Our Teaching Team Becomes Established:
We have now been telephoning each other, on a weekly basis, for over a year. When one of us has to change her schedule, we contact each other and set an alternative time to meet. Initially, we read the guidance about teaching teams and although we lived across a continent from one another, figured out how we could support and accompany one another. If one of us has an important event coming up, the other will pray for her, often at the time the event was taking place. In this process, we have become very close friends and love one another. We are now true Bahá’í sisters and are connected for life, and on into the next world. She tells me that I have shown her how to be a true friend. She has taught me how to be organized and systematic in my planning. We regularly report about our teaching plans, review and modify them as needed.
Results of our Teaching Efforts:
All kinds of wonderful things have and are happening as a result of our teaching efforts. My teaching mentor/partner’s teaching activities: She lives in a group that had not been functioning for over 10 years. We prayed and consulted about the situation. She made several attempts to contact members of her group and we continued to pray about the situation. There were times when it felt like her group would never function again. Just recently, 3 of the members of her group are starting to attend things. Their bonds of friendship are strengthening, and they are starting to meet regularly as a bona fide Bahá’í group. Like me, she has been homebound with a husband who has health issues. She never had much success having Bahá’í events in her home until we started to work together as a teaching team. Her husband’s illness has presented her with many challenges which we have consulted about. These challenges have never stopped her from teaching and doing individual initiatives as her contribution to the Plan. Just recently she joined a Ruhi 6 study circle which is now meeting at her house. The group is coming together and forming lasting bonds of friendship. Her non-Bahá’í husband takes regular walks with her in the neighborhood. They have met some neighbors and invited them to their home. She wants to do a small development project in her neighborhood. At first she thought it would be about nutrition, and she studied nutrition and went to a nutritionist to improve her eating habits. In listening to what her neighbors had to say, she discovered that they were interested in having activities for their children. Her Bahá’í area of expertise has not been in the area of children’s or youth education and we consulted about how she could meet this challenge. We discussed how she could play a supportive role for any children’s initiatives, helping provide a location for the classes, inform people of the classes, and handle all other logistical details. At her request, she and I have just started studying Book 7. Her area’s Ruhi institution knows about it and approves of our doing this refresher together since I have gone through Book 7 and have experience in teaching children and junior youth.
My Facebook Teaching:
I have made many new friends on Facebook. Many are my husband’s professional colleagues. They all know that I am interested in social change and that I am a Bahá’í. They read posts I initiate about the problems different groups in the world are having (such as women being sexually abused in India, or women being shot for teaching girls in Pakistan). I also post inspiring quotes and participate in discussing the “discourses of society.” On occasion, I will post a discourse about a problem and have a Bahá’í quote which speaks to the issue at hand. My husband has even made posts about upcoming holy days or things he believes, as a Bahá’í. Since he and I don’t have children or many living relatives, it is hard to post about family life, when there isn’t much of an active family life. However, we both share posts about our cat. I share a lot of cute cat posts I get from various places on Facebook and relate them to things my cat has done. I also search out different kinds of artists on Facebook and will post a picture of their work, along with some commentary. This adds variety to my rather newsy page, contributing to my image as an accessible, real person. Furthermore, we are starting to meet more frequently, socially, with my husband’s professional colleagues. We have had dinner with 3 wonderful colleagues and interacted with their families. Recently we went to a Superbowl party with some of these colleagues. In my Facebook interactions, have befriended all kinds of people from around the world who are interested in bringing about social change. Some are Bahá’ís and some are the kind of people who are Bahá’ís but don’t know it. I am beginning to affiliate with like-minded groups who want to help improve society, which has been encouraged by the House. Some are on Facebook and some are in the outer community. One of my favorite groups is Safe World for Women. The founder of that group, seemingly out of the blue, asked me to be her Facebook friend. Safe World for Women helps women all over the world. They focus on issues and stay out of party politics. Their mission is to uplift the status of women and end poverty. They have field workers who educate women, at risk to their own lives, in places like Pakistan, India, and some of the African nations. In the last week I made a commitment to increase my activity with Safe World for Women and posted some discussion responses and a few blogs about various women’s issues. This led to five members of Safe World for Women befriending me, and strengthening bonds of friendship with my initial contacts.
My next steps are to blog regularly about issues in the United States. I am committed to raising awareness that women in the United States suffer from some of the same problems as do women in other parts of the world. I also want to increase my involvement in community work in the United States, but realize that I need more training in how to do this. I have been consulting about this with my teaching team mentor/partner. Last week, my husband and I visited Chico State University so that he could attend someone’s defence of her Master’s Thesis. I came along for the ride and to socialize with his friends. I had a telephone meeting with my teaching partner and saw a sign posted on the building where my husband’s professor friends work. It was about a department on Multicultural and Gender Studies. I visited their office which was closed, but read their bulletin boards. The department has a women’s studies program and internships with groups that do community service. I am very impressed with what the Department is doing and have investigated it on the internet. I also have investigated what [another state college] has to offer in this area, and they have a women’s studies department with a similar program. I will also be investigating art and design departments to gain additional training in art and fashion design, with a long-term goal to help people in the inner city make artistic and clothing items for sale, without a large capital outlay for supplies. I plan to continue my blogging for Safe World for Women and do one community-based project near where I live. In this way I can build up volunteer experience, get recommendations for[state college] Women’s studies program(s) where I can get a second BA degree, and continue to teach the Faith through participating with like-minded groups.
My other area of teaching/expertise has been in the arts. I have been working on improving my art over the last year or so and developing my art is also part of my teaching plan. I want to go into business for myself, producing mixed media pieces, some as decorative objects, and some that carry an inspirational message. I also am interested in decorating and “upcycling’ clothing. I work largely in colored pencil and have done some watercolor, mixed media and cloth painting pieces. I would like to combine my art experience with my community service work and hopefully can help form or participate in a collective of artists/craftspeople. It would be great if I could work with low income women in such an endeavor, and help them uplift themselves. This would enable them to stay close at home while generating income. Such endeavors have worked well in South America, Africa and the Appalachian mountains of the United States.
I also want to start a Facebook page called Sacramento County Women for Change. It will be an individual endeavor at first and will highlight problems and things people can do to improve the lives of women in the Sacramento, California area. Hopefully other people will join with me and start a project which will be inspired and initiated by the group.
On the local front:
I have started a Ruhi Book 6 refresher with a Bahá’í friend, [clf], who lives in my area. We are also a teaching team. We love it when we study together and are trying to be constituent in holding our class. My friend has decided to improve her gardening skills and has joined a community garden. She is enlarging her circle of contacts, and would like to start a small, sustainable, income generating garden. She is being educated about how we are custodians of the environment. In our community, we can make life better just by understanding that we have the power to change ourselves in the community, in our own backyards. This leads to better meals and health. She wants to share her gardening knowledge with other people, hopefully in the inner city and with children. She wants to teach them that they can grow things to share within their community. They can even grow plants in pots (e.g. tomatoes) or flowers to enjoy and share. This will empower them – they will know that they can change their circumstances and be less dependent on the government or low-paying jobs. She also told me that you can make your own garden beautiful and you don’t have to be wealthy to do this. In this way, you can turn an ugly neighborhood into a beautiful one. Regarding my goals, she mentioned that I might want to look at recycled art or refuse art on the internet. This might lead into ways for people to create items for a low cost that could be sold or used to beautify one’s surroundings. We are also teaching her sister about the Bahá’í Faith. I have become good friends with this sister. She does not want religion forced on her, so we are careful in how we discuss the Faith. My friend, this sister, and I have a lot in common. My husband also enjoys interacting with them.
New Project: Teaching Biological Family:
Last, but not least, my biological family has been added to my circle of contacts. I have been estranged from my family for over 20 years, but have maintained contact with my sister’s husband. Through a coincidental string of events, I was able to offer to do flowers for my sister’s memorial service (she passed away in October of November 2012). I also volunteered to create a Memorial Book for her. As these projects neared completion, I renewed a friendship with my sister’s daughter that had been sundered during my years of estrangement. I also made friends with some of my sister’s friends and a few relatives. My sister’s devoted husband, who kept her at home and took care of her during a painful and devastating illness is closer than ever to Dwight and me. We invited him to a dinner where my husband received a professional award and he was happy to come. This is an amazing development given that my family is severely dysfunctional, and remains in denial about a serious problem of incest. I believe that none of these developments would have taken place if I had not been on a Bahá’í teaching team.
My Approach to Teaching:
On a final note, my teaching skill has been in the area of indirect teaching. However, I introduce Bahá’í quotes in conversations as they become relevant to the topic at hand. My mission as a teacher is to befriend my contacts and love them as a sister. If they are interested in the Faith, I address their interest. I plan to patiently teach until they can become confirmed believers whose Faith will be very strong. I leave the matter of whether or not they will become Bahá’ís up to them, Baha’u’llah, and God. I remind myself that I don’t “make Bahá’ís” or “bring them into the Faith.” Only God can do that. I am there to help God whenever I can. I think this sort of attitude is essential for any teaching endeavor to be successful. Just the other day, one of my Facebook contacts expressed interest in learning more about the Faith. I offered to answer any questions and facilitate a Ruhi one book study with her over the phone. I will step up the visits I make to her Facebook page, which has a lot of information about care giving. I plan to then share items to my Facebook page that may be of interest to my other Facebook contacts.
I appreciate your taking the time to read this report and request prayers for the success of our team in teaching, strengthening our marriage and family life, the financial means to keep teaching and serving society, creating community, strengthening bonds of friendship, and helping improve society.
My prayers for my Assembly, cluster, area, and region will continue.