Office of Education and Schools
This year the National Spiritual Assembly asked the American Baha’i community to reflect frequently on the example set by ‘Abdu’l-Baha during His visit to America in 1912. The national permanent and seasonal Baha’i schools are striving to support those efforts.
Reports from the first few commemorative sessions show that young and old alike have been rediscovering the sacrifices of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, as well as His personal charm. They also have learned about His systematic methods for teaching and proclaiming the Faith.
Presenters and teachers are providing diverse activities that allow participants, particularly the young, to envision life in 1912 and gain a deep understanding of the hardships involved for ‘Abdu’l-Baha to make that historic journey.
For instance, at the Oklahoma Baha’i School winter session, Dec. 29–Jan. 1, youth facilitators Clay and Michelle Schiefelbein brought ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to life as they encouraged youths to study world conditions in 1912 as well as the timeline of His travels.
“We tried to bring His spirit to the youth to help them understand the depth and dynamic of the Man,” Clay Schiefelbein states.
Each youth was encouraged to take on the identity of an early Baha’i, researching that person’s life then wearing a tag inviting others to “Ask me about______.” Telling those stories breathed life into their study.
“I was Lua Getsinger,” reports Audrey Whalen of Macks Creek, Missouri. “I think compared to early believers, we don’t promote the Faith enough. What I learned inspired me to get the word out and share the Faith more. I plan to be more like Lua.”
Vivid experiences in Missouri
Junior youths at Florence Mayberry Baha’i School in Missouri, Feb. 17–19, also sought to envision life in 1912. Facilitators Mary Rowe and Rex Block helped them study vintage photos of the locations ‘Abdu’l-Baha visited, aided by a giant U.S. map. They then practiced stories told by ‘Abdu’l-Baha and lastly did some practice teaching.
Says Rowe, “We wanted them to understand what life was like in the early 20th century: that most roads were very dusty or muddy; that cars did not have sealed interiors; and trains were similar, belching black coal smoke that would seep into passenger cars. We wanted them to know the difficulties He endured to bring the Faith to America.”
The students also practiced ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s kindness by creating chocolate roses as gifts for friends.
In a last special moment, Block gave each participant a photo packet of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Sharing ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s assurance that reciting His tablet of visitation with “lowliness and fervor” would be like meeting Him face-to-face, he admittedly “wept” his way through that special tablet. And he wanted them to have a chance to feel the same emotions. “I don’t know if I accomplished that for them, but it worked for me!”
Younger childeren at Florence Mayberry also had a taste of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s journey when they entered a classroom with dress-up clothes and suitcases — and bandanas, which were essential when travel became dusty — and boarded a chair-train, where they were favored with stories of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.
They visited a tent, replete with Persian rug, where costumed storyteller Joyce Stohr appeared with a wagon to tell the group about Nettie Tobin’s cornerstone for the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette. “The children had such a good time,” says teacher Lynda Meltzer, “that they didn’t want to leave.”
Adults at the school had the bounty of presentations by Counselor Alison Milston and Auxiliary Board member Elizabeth Owens. But when asked what touched their hearts that weekend, it was seeing these young people so engrossed in their learning activities.
Enthusiasm at Louhelen
At Louhelen Baha’i School in Michigan, an adult program facilitated by Robert Stockman Feb. 3–5 not only provided facts of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s journey. It also considered how lessons from His travels could be applied to teaching, core activities and public discourse.
Stockman reports that enthusiastic participants delved at length into the topic of teaching like ‘Abdu’l-Baha. While some have felt they can repeat His talks and be effective, Stockman cautions, “His kindness, loving approach and listening are at least as important as the actual content of His talks.”
One Chicago participant learned “that ‘Abdu’l-Baha had a systematic approach to meeting with His audience; He focused on the neighborhood of His day. I found it relevant to what we are doing now. The class helped me figure out my role on a personal and collective level.”
The permanent and seasonal schools will be offering additional classes in the coming year such as:
- Wilmette Institute’s “‘Abdu’l-Baha, His Life and Ministry” beginning April 1.
- Louhelen’s family session: “‘Abdu’l-Baha and the Divine Plan,” March 23–25.
- Bosch’s weekend with Glenford Mitchell: “‘Abdu’l-Baha and America’s Spiritual Mission,” March 23–25.
- Bosch’s “The Distinguishing Features of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Discourses” with Hooper Dunbar, April 13–15.
Keep checking school websites for further additions throughout the year.