Pioneering conference aids those who move — and those who don’t

April 21, 2020
Pioneering conference aids those who move — and those who don’t

EDITORS’ NOTE: Though this story reflects community life as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still being shared as an example of working creatively to apply the Baha’i teachings for people’s benefit.

Nearly everyone lives in a neighborhood, and vital to every neighborhood is the material and spiritual well-being of its residents.

So it’s natural that a three-state conference convened to attract and support homefront pioneers — Baha’is who move to serve a community — would prove beneficial even for people who are not in a position to relocate. 

The Feb. 14–16 gathering at Louhelen Baha’i School in Davison, Michigan, drew 70 attendees from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, says David Douglas, secretary of the elected Regional Baha’i Council of the Midwestern States.

The primary conference goals were “to support existing pioneers” and “inspire new pioneers” who can help expand Baha’i-initiated core activities of community building in 31 areas of the region. Thirty of the participants already serve as homefront pioneers and many others have international pioneering experience, says Douglas.

But there was a third goal: “build the capacity of participants to become an expanding nucleus of friends.” And that’s something to which any conference participant could aspire.

Young people in a Fort Wayne, Indiana, neighborhood are attracted to the junior youth spiritual empowerment program through drumming. Photo courtesy of Gayle Bevill-DaDa

‘A unified vision’

That includes Gayle Bevill-DaDa of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who says “attending the conference brought what had formerly been distinct parts” of a framework for individual and collective action toward greater capacity and service “into a cohesive whole — a full view, a unified vision.”

“Along with this vision came an ability to delineate a step-by-step plan to accomplish the end goal. We spent our three-hour drive home in reflection and consultation, which ultimately resulted in a concrete plan — already initiated.”

Bevill-DaDa explains, “Our motivation for attending the conference was to gain a clearer understanding of how we could begin to actively become an expanding nucleus that translates the teachings of Baha’u’llah into vibrant reality … in our own neighborhood.”

A neighborhood in Fort Wayne has been identified by the Spiritual Assembly, the local Baha’i governing council in the city, as a focus for community-building efforts, she says.

‘Unlocking potential’

A similar motivation inspired Bill Baker of West Lafayette, Indiana, to attend. Once there, he was delighted to discover that newly generated case studies about community development from Baha’is around the world would be studied.

Baha’is and friends in West Lafayette, Indiana, enjoy a brunch and a discussion on the topic of relationships. Photo courtesy of Bill Baker

“I think when we are flexible like that and pull in brand new materials, it really injects energy and excitement,” Baker reflects. “Pioneering is hard work and really we’re all doing it, whether we’ve just moved somewhere new or been in the same place for 30 years.”

The conference materials “were all about expanding the nucleus of friends who are actively working on community development, and unlocking potential so that people can become protagonists” in that process, says Baker.

The case studies, reflecting “a real wealth of genuine experiences, helped translate a theoretical vision into concrete plans that I can pursue here and now,” he says. “Throughout the conference my thoughts kept going back to my friends in my town and what would be a good next step for their involvement.”

‘Intentional in my actions’

Beth Love of Cadillac, Michigan, and Chad Moores of Richmond, Indiana, are newcomers to the Baha’i Faith. They arrived at the conference eager to soak up information to more knowledgeably share the teachings of Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith.

“I want to help spread our faith where I am and did not feel very well equipped to do so,” says Love, who became a Baha’i three years ago at age 72. 

She takes care of her 96-year-old mother, so moving as a pioneer is not in her immediate future. But what she can do, says Love, is “be much more deliberate in my faith.”

“Prior to attending, I did look for opportunities to share, but I was really not intentional in my actions,” she relates. “I invited people that I knew to join me in going to Baha’i events. I had even held a few devotionals in my home. In summary, what I was doing was very haphazard.

“What I learned when we studied about the nucleus was to think more about not only who to invite, but what setting and even the logistics of where the event might be held. Now I will definitely put more thought and planning into my actions.”

Love took away much more than that, however: “My heart grew to bursting, my spirit was fed continually and I met so many new friends. My cup overflows with the many blessings I received.”

‘Continues to reverberate’

Moores echoes the sentiment. “The educational and fellowship aspects of the conference were no doubt wonderful, but they couldn’t compare to the amazing spiritual presence. The beat of the drums with the songs of beautiful voices opened me to that deepening of spirit that makes you feel hollow as it sends your prayer. 

Midwest pioneering conference attendees at Louhelen Baha’i School listen to a presentation. Photo courtesy of Cam Herth

“The individual prayers even had a heightened feeling to them, with the spirit reverberating through me. It continues to reverberate,” he says, even during his preparations to reflect on opportunities for the year ahead during his first Baha’i 19-day Fast in March.

As a Baha’i of only three months, he marveled at “the amazing facilities of Louhelen” and “the absolute inclusion of all. Whether you were friends of 30 years or just met, all were met with open arms.”

And Moores is striving to bring that spirit to every interaction back home. “Since returning from the conference, we have made efforts to empower every Baha’i in our community, including extra steps to include those who are remote or homebound. 

“We have expanded our devotional gatherings as well as made steps to begin children’s classes,” he says. “Collaborating among ourselves, with collaborators in the community, and collaborating with other Baha’i [communities] is something we are working hard on to assist our small group.”

‘Link our efforts’

Aaron Twaddell of Mentor, Ohio, approached the conference from a quite different vantage point — that of a returned international pioneer. 

“We have been able to start a regular children’s class with our son and some Baha’i children scattered about in our cluster [of communities], and later adult and junior youth study has also emerged simultaneously from this core of friends,” he says.

But Twaddell felt the same need as other conference participants to “link our efforts with the larger context and goals” of community-building efforts worldwide and in his region “and how we might expand from our little circle” of protagonists to include neighbors involved in the core activities.

And when all was said and done, Twaddell was struck by the similarity of what homefront pioneers in the U.S. are experiencing to what is happening in other countries. 

Universally, he says, their efforts are aided by a focus on individual and collective spiritual development and by strategies ensuring mutual support and accompaniment. 

Twaddell also came away from the conference with an appreciation for the “wonderful fellowship with friends, some familiar and some new,” and for the volunteers who conducted a program for children in attendance — freeing him to attend the whole adult program.

‘Crucial work

All that left him eager to share what he learned with the Baha’is and friends back home — despite the uncertain landscape that has emerged during the coronavirus pandemic.

An eagerness voiced also by Bevill-DaDa in thanking the Regional Council “for giving us the opportunity of a deeper, clearer understanding of our role as protagonists in the expansion and community-building process; furthering the development of our capacities; and focusing our utmost attention to the crucial work that lies ahead.”

“With joy and excitement we look forward.”

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