Almost ninety years ago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá revealed the Tablets of the Divine Plan, a plan “divine in origin,” the “grand design for the spiritual conquest of the planet,” which holds within it “the seeds of the world’s spiritual revival and ultimate redemption.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá presented in “graphic” language and “definite terms” guidance that originated with the Báb and was reinforced by Bahá’u’lláh for the expansion and consolidation of the Faith throughout the world, ultimately leading to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The Divine Plan unfolds through a series of stages—first under the direction of Shoghi Effendi and then the Universal House of Justice—that will stretch “as far as the fringes” of the Golden Age.
To initiate the systematic implementation of the Divine Plan, Shoghi Effendi directed Bahá’í communities to formulate national plans of action, beginning with the first Seven Year Plan in North America in 1937. Country after country gradually reached the point where each could adopt its own plan. This led to the international collaboration of six nations in the African Campaign of 1951–1953 and, eventually, to the first global plan, the Ten Year Crusade, which began in 1953 and involved the combined efforts of the existing twelve National Spiritual Assemblies. As a result of these plans, the Faith spread to villages, towns, cities, and provinces within countries and throughout the world, raising the number of Local Spiritual Assemblies and strengthening the foundations of the Administrative Order. The size and diversity of the membership of the community greatly increased, particularly through the emergence in Uganda, Indonesia, and other countries of the process of entry by troops—where people began to enter the Faith not merely as a steady flow of fresh recruits, but by hundreds, thousands, and eventually, tens of thousands.
Shoghi Effendi foresaw “the launching of world-wide enterprises destined to be embarked upon, in future epochs…by the Universal House of Justice, that will symbolize the unity and co-ordinate and unify the activities of these National Assemblies.” After the end of the Ten Year Crusade, the plans conducted under the direction of the House of Justice maintained the objectives of spreading the Faith to new areas and establishing local and national institutions, while gradually adding new objectives to diversify and strengthen the capacities of the Bahá’í world. The Nine Year Plan (1964–1973) included the objectives of a vast expansion in membership and universal participation by individuals in the life of the Cause. The Five Year Plan (1974–1979) gave particular attention to developing Local Assemblies and activities of Bahá’í community life, such as regular observance of the Feast and Holy Days. The Seven Year Plan (1979–1986) underscored the importance of involvement in the affairs of society and introduced the pursuit of projects of social and economic development. Bringing together seven major objectives for the progress of the Bahá’í world, the Six Year Plan (1986–1992) instituted a procedure whereby national plans were formulated in consultation between the Counsellors and National Assemblies, while the Three Year Plan (1993–1996) called for three developments that would contribute to the seven objectives, that is, enhancing the vitality of the faith of the individual believer, developing human resources, and fostering the proper functioning of institutions.
Over this period of some three decades, the process of entry by troops that began during the ministry of Shoghi Effendi continued to gather momentum in other countries. Many had tens of thousands of new believers; a few surpassed one hundred thousand, while the Indian community grew by hundreds of thousands to some two million. Such rapid growth, however, often carried out by a relatively small core of dedicated believers, could not be matched by a pattern of consolidation that would adequately deepen such vast numbers, educate their children, raise institutions, and lay the foundations of community life. Although large-scale expansion was initiated in country after country, it could not be sustained. The challenge was not simply to place emphasis on activities for consolidation, which, alone, would lead to an inward-looking orientation and the potential stagnation of the Bahá’í community. Rather, what was needed was a capacity to maintain the balance between expansion and consolidation in a pattern of systematic action over time.
This broad historical sketch provides the backdrop for the decade from 1996 to 2006 that is the focus of the present book. Beginning with the Four Year Plan (1996–2000), the Universal House of Justice set the Bahá’í world on an unprecedented course of action. “The next four years will represent an extraordinary period in the history of our Faith, a turning point of epochal magnitude,” it stated. “This Plan acquires a special place in the scheme of Bahá’í and world history.” “[T]he Bahá’í community is engaged in an immense historical process that is entering a critical stage.” The Plan had but a single aim of “accelerating the process of entry by troops,” which the House of Justice described as “a necessity at this stage in the progress of the Cause and in the state of human society.” The designated protagonists of this effort—the individual, the community, and the institutions—were charged with demonstrating “more tangibly than ever before their capacity and willingness to embrace masses of new adherents, to effect the spiritual and administrative transformation of thousands upon thousands, and, above all, to multiply the army of knowledgeable, consecrated teachers of a Faith whose emergence from obscurity must be registered on the consciousness of countless multitudes throughout the earth.”
What began in 1996 as an imperative need became, by 2006, a dawning reality. Over the course of the decade that opened with the Four Year Plan, and included both the Twelve Month Plan (2000–2001) and the Five Year Plan (2001–2006), the capacity to promote the process of entry by troops had been distinctly enhanced. In setting the ten-year period in perspective, the Universal House of Justice offered a vision of possibilities for the future. “The elements required for a concerted effort to infuse the diverse regions of the world with the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation,” it wrote, “have crystallized into a framework for action that now needs only to be exploited.” The Bahá’í world stands poised to make an unprecedented, systematic advance in the process of entry by troops during the series of Plans unfolding over the next fifteen years until the year 2021, the end of the first century of the Formative Age.
This book traces the evolution of thought in the Bahá’í world over the critical last decade. While it provides insights into many aspects of the Faith, there are two observations of particular significance that can be drawn from its pages. One concerns the nature of the process of the growth itself. That human resources are required at different levels of capacity to sustain progress, that these human resources must be prepared through formal programs of training, that they are to be deployed in accordance with plans of action focused on geographic areas of a manageable size—these are some of the distinguishing features of the pattern of growth that has emerged in the past ten years. A rich description of its dynamics and the means for promoting it, one that employs phrases such as “two essential movements,” “stages of development,” “cycles of activity,” unfolds in the book. What is striking is the pace at which such a high degree of understanding on the subject was achieved among Bahá’ís everywhere. “Never before,” the House of Justice noted, “have the means for establishing a pattern of activity that places equal emphasis on the twin processes of expansion and consolidation been better understood.”
A second observation, inseparable from the first, relates to the shift in culture that occurred during the period under review. The collective acknowledgement that there were no easy formulas for accelerating the process of entry by troops and the willingness to adopt a posture characterized by learning opened the way for so many rapid advances to be made in such a relatively short span of time. A mode of operation in which the friends study the guidance, consult on the best alternatives before them, step into the field of action, and reflect on their experience to improve their understanding and adjust their efforts became pervasive. It is this culture of learning that is, perhaps, the most noteworthy development of the decade, for it will ensure that the Bahá’í community can continually adapt its actions to the organic needs of the Faith and to the circumstances of an ever-changing society.
The book is divided into three parts. Part I includes a selection of thirty-eight messages from the Universal House of Justice covering the period from 26 December 1995 to Riḍván 2006. Part II consists of a document dated 29 October 2005 prepared by an ad hoc committee for a workshop presented as part of the Serving the Divine Plan Program at the Bahá’í World Centre. This section, which explores themes related to the current series of global Plans, provides helpful commentary but, apart from the copious extracts taken from letters written by or on behalf of the Guardian and the House of Justice, should not be considered a statement of authoritative guidance. Part III contains a number of well-familiar documents that systematize the learning of national communities in their efforts to advance the process of entry by troops; the first was prepared for and approved by the House of Justice, while the next three were written at its request by the International Teaching Centre. We hope that this compilation of messages and documents will serve as a valuable resource, outlining the essential concepts that will inform future activities for the expansion and consolidation of the Faith worldwide.