Act and let that experience inform your next steps.
That’s what so many Baha’is are doing as they engage in meaningful and distinctive conversation with people they encounter.
Intentions become reality
Lisa Glines prayed to become more intentional in how she discusses her faith with others.
The Derwood, Maryland, Baha’i had just returned from a three-day training in North Carolina for cluster institute coordinators.
Glines’ son Nathan was profiled earlier this year in The American Baha’i for his efforts to build community in the Spiceberry neighborhood of nearby Gaithersburg.
Nathan Glines recently moved to Cary, North Carolina, to serve the Faith in a neighborhood there while also serving as a regional training institute coordinator. His mom was able to visit him on her trip.
“As a mom it was really so wonderful to see how that community has embraced him and is so grateful for his service,” says Lisa Glines.
Back to her story.
“From that three-day journey I just had this intention on my heart that I was really going to be as transparent as I could possibly be about Baha’u’llah and what I’m doing” to serve the Faith, she recalls.
“So [if someone] asked how was your weekend [in North Carolina] I wanted to really be able to tell them what kind of weekend I had.”
Glines also prayed that her professional and personal lives could intersect in some way. It’s tricky because, as a speech and language pathologist for a school district, she has to be careful when and how she discusses religion.
On a recent evening both prayers were answered.
She was visiting the families in the children’s class she teaches in Spiceberry and having such wonderful conversations that the 15 minutes she had allotted had stretched to two hours.
She would be late for her Local Spiritual Assembly meeting, but oh well.
“It was one of those evenings, balmy and everyone was out and so friendly,” says Glines. “I had 19 conversations, one right after another, with families in the neighborhood.
“We had been hoping and praying that we would be able to have a devotional. We have a devotional here in the neighborhood, but we really wanted one for Spanish-speaking families.
“I was really hoping to find someone who would host a Spanish devotional, and [one of the people she met] said, ‘You can do it in my house.’ And so I was just so grateful.”
Glines also secured the help of a Peruvian man to interpret for the devotionals. The bonus there was that he would be learning more about the Faith even as he rendered service.
Now, as Glines walked between buildings of the complex a car pulled up and a woman popped her head out to ask what Glines was doing in the neighborhood.
The woman seemed familiar, but Glines couldn’t recall her name or where they had met. She proceeded anyway to describe her home visits.
The woman responded quizzically — to Glines’s puzzlement as well.
Then it dawned she had met the woman in a professional capacity. To this woman, a home visit was something Glines did in her job aiding infants and toddlers.
Glines immediately resolved to invite the woman to the devotionals, something she would have shied away from in her “pre-intentional” days.
“You just never know where these conversations lead,” she reflects. “But I also trust that I was led to her. That’s always my prayer, that [God] lead me to whom He wants me to talk with.”
Food for body and soul
When a neighbor showed up with some homegrown vegetables and asked to tell her about Christianity and Jesus, Shohreh Taylor was quick to agree.
The Rancho Palos Verdes, California, Baha’i welcomed the neighbor in. Sure enough, over Persian tea the conversation came around to Taylor’s Iranian background and her faith.
The two quickly agreed to study one another’s religion together.
In one session Taylor offered a presentation on the Faith taken from Book 6 (Teaching the Baha’i Faith) of the Ruhi training sequence. In a follow-up they studied stories in the Bible.
“This brought about lots of similarities, discussions and different opinions,” she says.
Taylor says the two are studying Ruhi Book 1 (Reflections on the Life of the Spirit) together now.
“As I understand more about Christianity, more than ever I appreciate my faith and Baha’u'llah’s teaching and His message of unity and peace,” she reflects.
“My neighbor most likely won’t become a Baha’i, but she has learned about a beautiful religion and Baha’u'llah’s writings that are sweeping the world.”
Food has been central as Mioara Gram Roshan-Zamir, too, has shared the Baha’i teachings with acquaintances.
Roshan-Zamir, of Seabrook, Texas, invited several women for “a green smoothie, a vegan lunch and a lovely discussion on an uplifting topic from the Baha’i writings.”
“The approach has had great success,” she reports. “The ladies presented such a high interest to the point that they asked if they can bring their friends.
“Even more, one lady’s husband, who is a scientist at NASA, presented such a high interest to be part of the discussion. In addition they began to attend our devotional as time went by.”
The Roshan-Zamir family’s devotional gathering has attracted many such souls.
When interest from neighbors wasn’t high, they reached out to co-workers and others they met. Finally, a neighborhood family joined in.
Not so long after, a religiously diverse family — Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic — offered to host a study circle after being asked to participate in one.
A few other devotional attendees also expressed interest in the study circle.
“This is the way we started [a] Ruhi Book 1 [study circle] simultaneously with a children’s class for these families’ kids,” says Roshan-Zamir.
“My husband and I had to divide our forces: I decided to facilitate the study circle and my husband would coordinate the children’s class with the help of one of our Baha’i friends and our daughters, who enthusiastically have prepared the lessons.”
Other relationships have been forged, leading the Roshan-Zamirs to offer baby showers for their friends.
Recently the family invited one of their devotional regulars to go with them to the Houston Baha’i Center.
“At one point [on the ride there] our 6-year-old daughter asked me if Mark, our friend, is Baha’i. Although I was taken by surprise, I invited her to ask him directly.”
Their dialogue was priceless.
Anisa: “Mark, are you Baha’i?”
Mark, after a moment of silence: “Well, this is a good question. Am I Baha’i? No, I am not.”
Mark, after another moment of silence: “Well, because … I am a slow reader.”
Anisa: “Well, my grandfather is a slow reader, too, and he became Baha’i.”
At the next devotional, Mark waited after all people left and asked Roshan-Zamir’s husband and her to give him a moment.
“He took out of his pocket a Baha’i registration card — meticulously completed — and handed it to my husband,” she relates.
“He looked at Anisa and said, ‘This is because of you!’ The rest is history. He is currently in the process of finishing the Ruhi books.”
A welcome in reverse
There’s nothing like being a newcomer to put lots of people in your path.
Even before Karen and Dan Darling moved into Franklin, New Hampshire, they meandered the town’s annual Community Day events.
“We drove up with the intention of meeting people in our new community — and, boy, did we,” says Karen Darling.
“Heading home that night we told each other, ‘Baha’u’llah arranged for us to meet exactly the people we needed to.’”
Their first stop was the park, where booths of local organizations and businesses were set up.
“There we encountered Bob, with the Choose Franklin civic group,” says Darling. “We told him that we did in fact choose Franklin, were moving in next weekend and were interested in becoming part of the economically depressed town’s resurgence.
“Asking about our backgrounds, and learning that Dan was starting his own video production business, Bob said, ‘Oh, there’s someone you should meet, who worked in film in Los Angeles for years and is very involved in helping the community.’ Dan gave Bob his business card and we went on our way.”
Next was the neighborhood in which they’d soon be living.
“Being a gorgeous afternoon in May, neighbors were working in their yards; we introduced ourselves. The neighbors on one side, Seth and Becky, seemed especially friendly.
“We decided on the spot to ask if they could help us out. Two weeks after we moved in we were planning to be gone for two weeks to attend graduations, and we had two cats. They said they’d be happy to take care of our cats, as they often did for Becky’s parents.”
Capping off the day the Darlings took in a performance of the local community theatre troupe, that being an area of Dan’s interest and professional expertise.
They were joined by Carolyn Stoddard. Carolyn and her husband, Ron, are the only other Baha’is in town.
“Carolyn hurried us inside, anxious to introduce Dan to someone there, recounts Darling. ‘Leigh, here’s someone I want you to meet,’ said Carolyn.
“Leigh took the will-call receipt from Dan to collect our tickets. Seeing our names, he asked, ‘Were you at the park this afternoon? Bob said I should meet you.’
“We were almost late to the show as Leigh welcomed us to Franklin and suggested ways we could connect with people.”
From these encounters have come several friendships and many spiritual conversations, says Darling.
“Leigh is running for another term as state representative and is passionate about community building. He and his wife have talked about having us over for dinner soon; we’ve found it easy to enter into meaningful conversations with this couple.”
Seth faithfully fed the Darlings’ cats as asked. The day after their return, he came to the front door, a little distressed.
“He was anxious to return our key as he had just learned his grandfather in Florida was ill and they might need to leave on a moment’s notice to see him,” says Darling. “Then and there I asked Seth if I could say a prayer for his grandfather.
“After I recited the healing prayer, Seth responded, ‘I think I’ve heard that before. Where is it from?’
“We had a 20-minute conversation about the Faith. He was especially attracted to the oneness of religion and agreement of science with religion. ‘I’m kind of between beliefs right now. I’d like to study this,’ he said. I assured him that would be wonderful.”
Two days later Seth and Becky left for Florida and brought their goldfish for the Darlings to take care of, since they expected to be gone for two weeks.
“Caring for each other’s pets has been a point of connection.”
As the Darlings settled in, their Victorian-era home, well suited for large gatherings, became a focal point for Feasts and a weekly musical devotional gathering.
Dan Darling became involved with Choose Franklin, attended a City Council meeting, met with the director of the Opera House and voiced his willingness to serve on its board of directors. Together the Darlings attended a meeting of the Franklin Historical Society.
Around that time, she says, “Dan noticed that the same dozen people are actively involved in all these endeavors (Leigh foremost among them) and has enjoyed meeting like-minded folks in this way.”
From reading The Promulgation of Universal Peace, the Darlings knew how ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of Baha’i founder Baha’u’llah, presented the Bahá’í teachings, inviting people to investigate reality, often in home settings.
So, for them, a natural follow-up to all these contacts was to begin monthly dinner and discussion gatherings in the parlor of their home as a way to become acquainted with the interests and concerns of residents.
“We envision this leading to interest in the Faith and engagement in the core activities by some,” says Darling.
An open house was planned to “kick start” the gatherings, and the Darlings redoubled their efforts to meet people, often on their twice-daily walks starting out on a river trail and ending on neighborhood streets.
Invitations also were extended to other Baha’is in the cluster, many from Concord about 20 minutes away.
Among those who came was Seth, who voiced concern about challenges his stepchildren were having, giving the Darlings a chance to introduce the idea of the junior youth spiritual empowerment program.
By chance, a Baha’i family from a nearby community showed up the next night, having gotten the date wrong.
“They and their five children had expressed interest in starting both a junior youth group and children’s class, and several of their classmates live in Franklin,” says Darling.
“We had plenty of food left from the previous day’s meal, so we quickly heated leftovers and sat down all together for dinner. Their serendipitous error on the date allowed us to spend more time consulting about options for these core activities.”
What’s next for the Darlings?
“For one thing, return to the homes where we invited folks to the open house, letting them know that we’ve decided to host monthly dinner/discussions.
“And nurture our budding relationships with [contacts] and continue strengthening the budding Baha’i group of Franklin.”
That’s all. For now.
Flame of activity ignited
In Nancy Coker the Darlings would likely have an enthusiastic collaborator.
Only she lives in Williams, Arizona, where she is mulling with a teaching partner a range of activities designed to build community.
A meeting of her Local Spiritual Assembly with Auxiliary Board member Jason VanRijn ignited many of Coker’s ideas, and brainstorming afterward led to a plan for a series of home visits.
Among her other thoughts that will provide grist for consultation are:
- Prayer trees via Internet.
- Gatherings with “surprise” performance art such as songs and stories.
- An acknowledgement in all gatherings of virtues and how to honor them.
- Celebration of births with books of love and faith.
- Condolences and prayers to families grieving a loss.
- Participation in wider community events such as the arts crawl.
“I know this is work and it is sometimes such an addition to daily lives,” she told community members in an email, “but if we are not worth it who is? If we do not honor each other lovingly what example have we set forth?”
“I am willing to work toward this end with love and what energy I can give. Will you join me?”