Minnesota conferences forge network of families, faith and service
At the end of 2021, Nadia Milani Fifita and Hannah Batres became friends when their children joined the same swim class at the YMCA in Willmar, Minnesota. As their friendship grew, Batres shared with Fifita that she is a deeply spiritual person and she has been actively and consciously seeking to develop that spirituality for the past year and a half.
“I always felt like I was missing something from a lot of my life,” says Batres. Nadia shared that she is a member of the Baha’i Faith and one of its quotes. “It just really resonated with me,” says Batres. “After that, we became close very quickly and she has a great memory, and she would always share quotes from the Faith.”
As their friendship grew, Nadia shared the curriculum for Baha’i children’s classes offered by the training institute. This immediately attracted Batres. “We should offer this to our school system!” she says. “They need to adopt this curriculum so that ALL of the children of Willmar can benefit from it.”
When Fifita suggested that they start a small children’s class together in the neighborhood — as the nucleus of a larger vision coming into reality — Batres offered her own home as the venue. The class started that Monday.
At the end of March 2022, Willmar, Minnesota hosted a Baha’i community conference and Batres attended with her three children. She spent the full hour and a half of the lunch break in deep conversation with the representative of the Regional Baha’i Council. The two of them quickly forged a friendship.
“I just felt so accepted and so loved,” says Batres.
Batres says she was moved by her experience at the conference and the conversations that took place there — conversations all centered around the betterment of the world. She says that she couldn’t help but share her experience with her neighbor, John Rodriguez.
A few days later, Fifita was visiting Batres when Rodriguez came over. Although it was their first meeting, Fifita explains how it was clear he was receptive to hearing more about the Baha’i Faith.
Fifita mentioned that she would soon be attending the Baha’i conference in Northern Minnesota to assist with the children’s class program and invited Rodriguez and Batres to come along with her. Yes!
The next day he, his 13-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son packed into Batres’ minivan with her and her three children and set off for the 3½-hour drive to Sugar Lake Lodge in Cohasset, Minnesota.
“It was so beautiful,” says Batres. “I just felt like everyone’s energy there matched mine. I felt like we were just one big family. When you’re in a setting like that where everyone is accepted, your creativity and your ideas come to life.”
After three immersive days, they presented the conference-goers with their plans to establish a junior youth spiritual empowerment group for kids 11-15 in Wilmar, to create a weekly space for devotions and reflecting on neighborhood efforts, and to start up study circles using the courses of the training institute.
The next week brought a reflection gathering back in Wilmar.
“Because of how embedded she has been in the Baha’i community for the past two months and all of the conversations we have had which have included discussion of Baha’i principles,” says Fifita, “Hannah was easily able to contribute to the consultations and share the many insights that she has from her rich experience.”
Towards the end of the meeting, consultation shifted to plans for the upcoming Holy Day and the election of the Wilmar Local Spiritual Assembly. Fifita explained the election of this nine-person council which guides the Baha’i community to Batres.
Although anyone from any background is welcome to participate in the majority of the activities of the Baha’i community, participating in an election and serving on an Assembly are special privileges and responsibilities reserved for those who are registered Baha’is.So Batres was not eligible to vote.
“I then added that if at any time she felt that she was a Baha’i and wished her life to be guided by the teaching of Baha’u’llah, she would be more than welcome to formally become a member of the Faith,” Fifita said.
“I already see myself as a Baha’i,” Batres said. “I am ready to become a member now!”
Fifita helped Batres register herself and her three children and joyfully shared the news with the Willmar Baha’i community. “This news was met with much rejoicing, lots of hugs, happy tears and expressions of ‘welcome home!'” Fifita says.
Fifita says the process that led Batres to recognize her belief in Baha’u’llah and feel drawn to confirm that recognition through formal enrollment in the Faith is reflected perfectly in these words of the Universal House of Justice from their 30 December 2021 – To the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors:
“It is evident that the pattern of activity unfolding at the grassroots opens up a variety of settings in which receptive souls—sometimes whole families or peer groups—can take part in meaningful conversations which awaken interest in the vision of the Faith and the Person of Bahá’u’lláh. Over time, many such souls begin to identify themselves with the Bahá’í community, especially as they gain the confidence to participate in community life through service. Of course, the community welcomes any degree of association that a person would like to maintain, great or small. Yet to recognize Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation of God and accept the privileges and responsibilities that are uniquely associated with membership in the Bahá’í community is a singular moment in a person’s spiritual development, quite distinct from regular involvement in Bahá’í activities or voicing support for Bahá’í principles. Experience has shown that the environment created by community-building endeavors in a locality enables anyone who wishes to take this step to do so with relative ease. Wherever these endeavors are under way, it is important for the friends to remain mindful that the doors of the Faith are wide open and to give encouragement to those who stand at the threshold. “
“The journey has just begun,” shares Fifita, “but the vista ahead is full of light and love, growth and beautiful transformation — for Hannah, her children, our neighborhood and potentially our whole community. Ya Baha’u’l-Abha.”