Turning Point


– 43 –

Learning to Maintain Focus

For a twenty-five year period, from 1996 to 2021, the Bahá’í world will focus its attention on one single aim, that is, “on advancing the process of entry by troops and on its systematic acceleration.”[1] First introduced in the message dated 26 December 1995 to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, this aim has required believers and their institutions to exercise a higher degree of discipline in their individual and collective activities than previously called for. “There will be challenges to face, difficulties to overcome and adjustments to be made,”[2] the Universal House of Justice cautioned one National Spiritual Assembly at the beginning of the Four Year Plan in 1996. What would be important, the House of Justice indicated, was for the institutions and the believers to set out towards the realization of this aim in a “spirit of unity.”[3]

Maintaining focus has proven to be one of the greatest challenges to individuals and institutions in this regard. A letter written to the National Assembly of Kenya explained,

To help large numbers of believers go through a sequence of courses is a formidable task, involving systematic work with an increasing number of tutors, the establishment of study circles, and measures for monitoring the progress of the participants. The friends in charge of the process need to have clarity of vision and should be allowed to carry out their mission without distraction. To assign to the institute such tasks as visiting communities and helping Local Spiritual Assemblies in their functioning would only lead to confusion.[4]

The House of Justice advised one National Assembly in 1998 that

… the time has come for attention to be focused on the task of raising up human resources for the work of the Faith from among the believers in the [Dananè] region itself. If this implies that for some time the geographic expansion of the Faith through the opening of new localities has to come to a halt, it is entirely understandable. It would also be acceptable for the rate of expansion—that is, the number of fresh recruits—to drop dramatically for a period as a balanced process of expansion and consolidation is allowed to gather momentum. What is needed at this stage is to gradually expand the institute’s coverage so that the many capable friends in the region can have access to a systematic program of training aimed at enhancing their capacity to perform the tasks that an accelerated process of growth demands.

Herein now lies the priority not only for Dananè, but for other regions of the country as well. A constant barrage of new activities and projects in the region, no matter how well-intentioned, will only distract attention away from this all-important task. An endless stream of invitations to individuals from other countries to participate in projects that are not well rooted in the community itself is counterproductive.[5]

These passages suggest that having an aim implies understanding that certain activities take precedence over others and that certain steps must precede others. “At various stages in the evolution of the Faith,” a letter to an individual has indicated, “certain activities that assist with the pressing needs of the development of the Bahá’í community may receive emphasis in a particular global plan. The institute process is one such example and is concerned with raising up the needed human resources for this stage in the growth of the Faith.”[6] It is clear, then, that not all activities have the same importance at a given stage of development. Some activities, while perhaps suitable at a later stage, will only serve as distractions at the present one. Such activities may divert human and financial resources away from pressing tasks and impede progress. One of the requisites of having an aim is to maintain a “clear vision of the steps”[7] that must be taken at each stage in order to reach it.

It took time, of course, for the friends to arrive at such an understanding. First it was necessary for them to realize that certain kinds of activities undertaken during previous Plans would not contribute to their aim. In the following passage National Assemblies in Southeast Asia were advised early in the Four Year Plan against implementing a large-scale collaborative effort:

The Universal House of Justice does not wish to discourage you in your endeavors. Nor should you feel that the efforts of those communities with more resources at their disposal to assist their sister communities are not appreciated. Yet there is so much to be achieved in each one of your countries, if the central aim of the Four Year Plan is to be realized, that you should be wary of introducing any extraneous regional projects, losing thereby focus on the execution of national plans.[8]

The friends and the institutions also came to realize they should guard against making their work overly complex:

What is most important in Belarus at this stage is to develop a national institute program, which initially need not be complex, and to have a group of trained teachers who offer courses on a regular basis in different localities throughout the country.[9]

They began to see that “there is little need for lengthy and frequent consultations to set direction and devise and rethink fundamental plans”[10] and that they should avoid “excessive emphasis on the perfection of methods.”[11] It became clear to them that “to train scores of facilitators in how to conduct the first few courses, so that they [could] offer them in the villages and towns throughout the country” was a formidable task that would “require tremendous focus and concentration.”[12]

And as Bahá’ís devoted increasing attention to establishing training institutes for the development of human resources, they gradually understood that this step had implications for how they arranged their priorities, addressed other needs, and allocated resources:

In the area of human resource development the most pressing need in Australia now is for the extension of institute programs across the entire country, as stated in our letter of 2 December 1998. The accomplishment of this vital objective will require a substantial expenditure of the limited resources available to you, as well as a concentration of effort. The Bahá’í Centers of Learning in each State will need to be strengthened and a sustained endeavor carried out, in collaboration with the Counsellors and the Auxiliary Board members, to encourage the rank and file of the Australian Bahá’í community to participate in institute programs. The challenge before you is that of transforming the culture of the Bahá’í community to one of continual learning together with application of the Bahá’í teachings in activities designed to advance the interests of the Faith.

Giving priority to meeting this need does not mean that other initiatives which meet special needs or interests should be neglected. However, it does mean that the growth of such ventures should be restricted to such a degree as not to require an appreciable expenditure of the funds of the Faith.[13]

The friends also came to understand that even the most well-intentioned proposals could cause them to lose focus:

You seek guidance on the advisability of your distributing a deepening program to all Regional Bahá’í Councils for use by the friends, especially newly enrolled believers, in small groups or individually. It is, of course, important for deepening courses and study classes to flourish in local communities everywhere, and your desire to facilitate the multiplication of such activities is appreciated. Nonetheless, what you are suggesting would, in essence, constitute a national program that could distract the friends from the institute process and ultimately undermine the hard-earned progress that your community has achieved in recent years in that process.[14]

As appreciation for the work of the training institute grew, the friends eventually realized that it could not be used to address every need if it was to fulfill its purpose:

The House of Justice appreciates that there is a pressing need to continue to raise the awareness of the Bahá’í community concerning the significance of the Law of Ḥuqúqu’lláh. However, as you know, training institutes have been established as a means of developing human resources for the expansion and consolidation of the Faith. Naturally, the Law of Ḥuqúqu’lláh will have an appropriate place in a sequence of courses offered by an institute, as will the whole question of supporting the funds of the Faith. But to involve the training institutes in a specific endeavor to educate the friends in this Law would be a diversion from their main task. The Universal House of Justice feels that other means should be used for this purpose, for example, deepening sessions, seminars and occasional workshops.[15]

It also became clear with time that the work of the training institute could not accommodate every individual initiative:

The House of Justice appreciates the sentiments of devotion and dedication that animate the messages from Mrs.…and her daughter. Regarding the introduction and guidelines for “story circles,” in general, the House of Justice has no comment to make about the approach promoted by Mrs.…for sharing stories. However, as various institutes around the world, including the one serving…, strive to establish the concept of study circles, care should be taken to avoid attaching too many extraneous elements to it. The potential for complication is especially evident in this case where the “story circle” is intended to evolve into a study circle.[16]

And, most important, the friends learned that focus would require perseverance:

By focusing the friends’ attention on only two goals over the past year, you were able to make considerable advances in the establishment of ongoing training courses in both Yap and Palau, although in terms of the numerical growth of your community progress was negligible. Yet, you should not be discouraged. In the planning and execution of any set of activities, it is important to make sure that expectations are not raised unreasonably high. In the case of your institute program, those who have participated will have completed only the first course or two. If, as you say in your annual report, the results have been a firm acceptance of Bahá’í identity and heightened enthusiasm for service, then you should be heartened by your achievements.

It is therefore imperative that you continue to vigorously pursue your plans to establish a training institute in each island group. Every effort should be made to expand the system for the delivery of courses so that more and more friends are able to enter your institute program. You should also make sure that many advance far enough along in the program to study courses directly designed to increase their capacity to teach and to guide new souls to Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation.[17]

As the Five Year Plan opened, the question of deploying human resources in the context of clusters assumed prominence. “Concentrated and sustained attention”[18] was now focused on two movements. The concept of setting priorities was well understood by then, and most national communities soon identified two or three clusters “on which to focus special attention.”[19] The House of Justice referred to the prioritization of clusters in its Riḍván 2004 message:

National Assemblies, while attending to the needs of all the clusters in their countries, have learned the value of concentrating special attention on certain priority clusters that show high promise, encouraging and developing them until the human resources they have raised up through the training institutes enable them to become centers of rapid, sustained growth.[20]

During this period National Assemblies were better able to distinguish activities that would contribute to the aim of the Plan from those which should be taken up at a later stage. It was in this light that the National Assembly of the Russian Federation was commended for its decision to forgo the implementation of a program related to social and economic development on a national scale:

The House of Justice noted with interest that the modules of the “My Home” program, prepared by the now defunct European Family Life Task Force, were well received by the believers and their friends in Russia. It is understood that, based on the recommendations of the Counsellors, a decision was made to suspend the implementation of this program, so that the limited human resources in your stronger clusters could pay adequate attention to the requirements of systematic expansion and consolidation. You should rest assured that your decision is well in keeping with the oft-repeated guidance of the House of Justice regarding the need to focus on the priorities of the Plan. The welcome acceleration of activities in several clusters in recent months, leading to the launching of two intensive programs of growth in Moscow and Ulan-Ude, is a clear vindication of your approach. As your communities expand and capacities increase, the institutions will be in a better position to assess the nature of social and economic development projects that need to be introduced.[21]

National Assemblies were helped to see how other types of activities related to the work of expansion and consolidation, on which the generality of the friends have been focused. For example, one Assembly was advised that

The work of external affairs represents a very specialized field of service and is most commonly performed by a small group of believers in a national community. There is no reason to see it in competition with the activities of the generality of the friends for the expansion and consolidation of the Faith, vying, for example, for the human resources engaged in the teaching work and the institute process. It is suggested that you review the enclosed statement and, on that basis, adopt one or two lines of action that can be carried out by a small corps of believers with capacity in this area. As your experience increases over time, you can gradually expand the range of your endeavors in the field of external affairs.[22]

In this way, National Assemblies in Europe were counseled that the external affairs work “makes no widespread demand on the community, nor does it detract from, but is an essential contribution to, the processes of the Five Year Plan.”[23] In addition to external affairs, the House of Justice would indicate that activities in other areas should be conducted within the context of the Plans. A letter written on its behalf acknowledging receipt of several reports on a conference of “young Bahá’ís interested in serious study of the Writings”[24] suggested the following:

There certainly is great value in the initiative taken by individuals to engage in scholarly study of the Writings for its own sake; however, a greater value accrues to both the individual and the community when the motive for such study is prompted by a desire to serve the aim of the Plan in progress and, consequently, if relevant activities, such as the recent conference, are designed within the context of the Plan.[25]

In some instances, even the question of the purchase of properties should be addressed with the aim of the Plan in mind:

The House of Justice appreciates the desire of the friends to have a suitably located Bahá’í Center and recognizes the need for a reception center to serve both the friends in the metropolitan area and visitors from abroad. It feels, however, that the purchase of a building would not be appropriate at this juncture. Beside any financial considerations, the dispersed pattern of activity in the intensive program of growth now unfolding in London will undoubtedly influence future perceptions of the type of facilities required.[26]

There is clearly an increasing awareness among the friends of the need to maintain focus on the aim of advancing the process of entry by troops. They are beginning to see that the most effective way to pursue this aim is within the framework of the global Plans of the Faith. It is worth remembering in this regard how tenuous such focus can be and how easily it is lost. The following was recently written to one National Assembly:

… the plans for the teaching project adopted by the Spiritual Assembly appear to revert to a teaching mode that was used in the past and which proved not to be a sustainable approach to expansion and consolidation. Therefore, the House of Justice urges you to immediately consult with the Counsellors about finding ways to recast the project to bring it more closely into conformity with the priorities of the Five Year Plan.[27]

Of course, since the outset of the Four Year Plan there have been believers, some with the noblest of intentions, who have preferred to focus on other pursuits. In this regard it seems that the House of Justice has been anxious that they not feel compelled to do otherwise. One individual who wrote to the House of Justice to raise concerns about the format and content of study circles was offered the following in reply:

It is natural that any given educational program would not appeal to everyone, and clearly participating in the courses of an institute is not a requirement to be fulfilled by all believers. In no way, then, should those who do not wish to take part feel that they are disobeying the directives of the Universal House of Justice. It does ask, however, that everyone, even those not involved, support the institute process and not impede its steady progress.[28]

Another individual who expressed discomfort about the multiplication of core activities received this reply:

You indicate that, despite your personal disapproval of the materials being used by institutes in…, you feel under an obligation to continue focusing your efforts on the core activities of the present Plan. The House of Justice believes that, given your views, there is no reason for you to feel such an obligation, and you are advised to determine, in the privacy of your own conscience, those ways in which you can most effectively serve the advancement of the Cause.[29]

Oftentimes the reason given for not wanting to participate in the core activities is a feeling that the focus of the Bahá’í world is giving rise to uniformity. This concern has been addressed in letters written on behalf of the House of Justice such as the following:

The House of Justice feels that you need to consider this issue in the larger context of the development of the training institute as an element essential to the growth of the Faith, beginning with the Four Year Plan. Given the nature of this agency and the purpose defined for it by the House of Justice, it goes without saying that the emerging training institutes around the world would choose a sequence of courses and offer them to the friends in the territories they respectively serve. To have a large number of believers engaged in the study of these courses, far from a sign of uniformity, is part of the natural dynamics of a successful educational program. That at this point in the development of the Bahá’í community a significant percentage of the training institutes worldwide have opted to initiate their activities with a set of materials that has proven itself effective over many years of experience is a welcome phenomenon.

… the House of Justice feels that it would be beneficial for you to separate in your mind the training institute process, so intimately connected with the promotion of large-scale expansion and consolidation, from the many deepening classes, workshops and summer school courses that form a fundamental part of Bahá’í community life. Their number and diversity actually seem to be on the rise as a result of the institute process. Indeed, you will be reassured to know that, as the believers gain confidence in their capacity to serve through the institute process, a much richer expression of the diverse talents of the friends is beginning to appear in the Bahá’í world—a richness that bodes well for the future progress of the Cause.[30]

Clearly, the unity of thought and action that results from maintaining focus is not to be confused with uniformity. The framework of the Five Year Plan—“a Plan designed to fit the requirements of these times”[31]—provides ample room for the exercise of individual initiative as well as collective action. Within this framework the friends are encouraged to carry out activities “aimed at advancing the process of entry by troops.”[32] Each individual believer must decide for him or herself how to participate in this global enterprise. What is important is that his or her endeavors not go so far “beyond what the House of Justice had in mind when writing of encouraging individual initiative”[33] that they shatter focus and disrupt the work of the Plan. In this sense, by learning to work within the framework of the global Plans the friends are coming to a better understanding of how to contribute to the greater good. “The spirit of the approach to systematic programs of growth,” a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice advised, “is that of believers working together effectively for the common good.”[34] And another letter to an individual believer offered the following guidance:

Ultimately, the choice fruits of one’s striving are manifested in selfless service to the Cause, surrendering all personal interests and desires for the things that pertain unto God, subordinating one’s will to the common good and ever mindful of the pitfall of attachment to one’s own service.[35]

And as institutions at all levels help the friends “to maintain a unity of vision”[36] and carry out individual and collective activities within the framework of the Plans, the believers are witnessing first hand what it means for their powers to be “multiplied in unified action”:[37]

It would simplify and unify the efforts of the entire community if the friends would earnestly strive to follow the few but essential guidelines given for the operation of the Five Year Plan. The House of Justice has no doubt whatever that such strivings would intensify the dynamics for achieving entry by troops on an ever-widening scale.[38]

– 44 –

Learning to Develop Human Resources for Expansion and Consolidation

In its Riḍván 2000 message, the Universal House of Justice stated that “the system of training institutes established throughout the world with great rapidity” qualified as “the single greatest legacy of the Four Year Plan” in the field of expansion and consolidation.[1] Several months earlier in its 26 November 1999 message to the Bahá’ís of the world, the House of Justice had described this achievement in the following terms:

The accomplishments during this period are encouraging indeed. An impressive network of training institutes on a scale but dimly imagined at the start of the Plan has been established throughout the world. These nascent centers of learning have made significant strides in developing formal programs and in putting into place effective systems for the delivery of courses. Reports indicate that the number of believers benefiting directly from training courses has climbed to nearly 100,000. Without question, the capacity of the worldwide community to develop its human resources has been distinctly enhanced.

The effects of this systematic approach to human resource development are making themselves felt in the lives of all three protagonists of the Plan—the individual believer, the institutions, and the local community. There has been an upsurge in teaching activities undertaken at the initiative of the individual. Spiritual Assemblies, Councils, and committees have grown in their ability to guide the believers in their individual and collective endeavors. And community life has flourished, even in localities long dormant, as new patterns of thought and behavior have emerged.[2]

In this light, the House of Justice made the following remarks at the outset of the Five Year Plan in 2001 regarding the effects of the institute on the individual, institutions, and community and its continued importance in the work of the Cause:

A searching analysis of the Four Year Plan recently prepared for us by the International Teaching Centre demonstrates that the training institute is effective not only in enhancing the powers of the individual, but also in vitalizing communities and institutions. The continued development of training institutes in the diverse countries and territories of the world, then, must be a central feature of the new Plan.[3]

The training institute has been defined by the House of Justice as an agency of the National Spiritual Assembly “charged with the task of developing human resources in all or part of country.”[4] A letter written on behalf of the House of Justice explained that the growth of the Faith depends on a systematic process of human resource development:

In its message of 26 December 1995 to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, the House of Justice clearly explained that occasional courses of instruction and the informal activities of community life, though important, had not proven sufficient as a means of human resource development. It indicated further that a systematic process for the development of human resources was essential to the sustained large-scale expansion of the Faith. To conceive and nurture an educational process of the magnitude envisioned by the Universal House of Justice is vastly different than thinking about one’s own interests, which is not to say that personal study and spiritual growth are not legitimate and natural concerns of the individual.[5]

Creating the capacity within each national community to establish and administer such an educational process required an enormous amount of effort and a high degree of discipline on the part of the institutions of the Faith during the Four Year Plan. The Spiritual Assembly of Thailand was counseled at the start of the Plan:

Those engaged in this area of service—whether as teachers, coordinators, or members of the institute’s board—will have to realize that there is much to be learned. How to offer the courses and how to attract the believers to them, which courses to offer at a central location and which ones to conduct in the towns and villages—these are among the many questions to which they will have to seek answers. They should never lose heart when difficulties appear, but should persevere in their endeavors, for only in this way will the institute acquire the capacity to develop the human resources of the Thai community.[6]

The methodology to be adopted in creating this capacity, the House of Justice advised, was one of action, reflection, and consultation. It encouraged the friends involved to approach their tasks with “an open attitude towards learning,” fully cognizant of the need to “make decisions” about the work of the institute, “to implement them, to reflect on the results, and to make adjustments in the light of experience”[7] “Through such an approach,” the House of Justice assured one National Assembly, “your institute will succeed in gradually increasing its capacity to develop the human resources”[8] of the community.

In this sense, in calling for the establishment of training institutes for the development of human resources, the House of Justice was also asking the Bahá’í world to learn what it means to work in a learning mode. And as the friends everywhere entered into this mode, they gradually came to better understand the nature of the institute and how to go about establishing it. “It is important to realize that the development of the institute in your national community, like everywhere else,” it has been explained, “is a dynamic process in which all those involved gradually reach higher and higher levels of understanding as to the nature of the process itself.”[9] The fact that the Bahá’í community worldwide has acquired a vocabulary necessary to speak on the subject indicates how successful it was both in creating capacity for developing human resources, on the one hand, and in adopting a posture of learning in all its affairs, on the other. Words and phrases such as “study circle,” “sequence of courses,” “institute campaigns,” and “practice” are now commonplace. To speak about a “pyramid of human resources” or a “system of distance education” evokes a practical set of ideas in the minds of Bahá’ís everywhere. It is well understood by all when the training institute is referred to as the “engine for growth.”

To reach this point required learning in two principal areas: in the nature of programs for the development of human resources and in the system for their delivery. This was underscored in the message dated 9 January 2001 from the House of Justice:

Drawing on the wealth of experience now accumulated in this area of endeavor, institutes will have to provide their communities with a constant stream of human resources to serve the process of entry by troops. Elements of a system that can meet the training needs of large numbers of believers have already been tested worldwide and have proven themselves. Study circles, reinforced by extension courses and special campaigns, have shown their ability to lend structure to the process of spiritual education at the grassroots. The value of a sequence of courses, each one following the other in a logical pattern and each one building on the achievements of the previous ones, has become abundantly clear.[10]

As indicated in the above passage, it took time to come to an understanding of the role of a properly structured sequence of courses in enhancing the friends’ capabilities of service. The document “Training Institutes,” prepared for and approved by the House of Justice, had advised that “the complexity of the task of defining each sequence and elaborating the materials” should not be underestimated.[11] In this respect, many National Assemblies felt that the wisest course of action was “to make a start, using the tried and tested sequence of course materials” already available because of the pressing need to move forward.[12] It was in the light of such considerations that eventually more and more National Assemblies decided that their training institutes should adopt the materials of the Ruhi Institute for their courses:

When the concept of the training institute was introduced by the House of Justice, it left National Spiritual Assemblies free to adopt whatever kind of systematic training they felt best suited to their countries. Quite rapidly, however, it became evident, through experience, that the courses of the Ruhi Institute, developed over many years in Colombia, were far more effective than any other generally available. Some believers who did not have the experience of using the courses were of the opinion that they were too “elementary” for the people of their country, but, in one country after another, the Ruhi Institute courses have proved their effectiveness in virtually every environment. The House of Justice has still not limited National Assemblies in their choice of institute courses, but it has been pleased to note how most National Assemblies have recognized the effectiveness of the Ruhi Institute’s main sequence of courses and have put it to full use—a use that in due time will enable them to develop additional materials suited to their specific environments, that supplement the books of the Ruhi Institute.[13]

Though born out of the experience of the Bahá’í community of Colombia in large-scale expansion and consolidation, the materials of the Ruhi Institute have clearly demonstrated their global applicability. The House of Justice has noted in a letter dated 26 July 2004 written on its behalf that those national communities which have adopted the materials “have increasingly shown the beneficial effect of this training on the expansion of the teaching work, the rise in the level of human resources, and the breaking down of the earlier barriers between Bahá’ís and others in worshipping together and in areas of service, including the education of children.”[14] Further, with the spread in the use of its materials, the letter stated, “the Ruhi Institute has continued to evolve, incorporating the experiences and suggestions of friends in many parts of the world” into its materials.[15]

In communities where the materials of the Ruhi Institute have been adopted as the main sequence of the courses, training institutes are beginning to supplement these courses with others that are tailored to the specific needs of the populations they seek to serve. These other courses are generally offered after the completion of one or another course in the main sequence, which, in this case, can be thought of as a trunk of a tree with branches extending out from it. This model was of course discussed in the 9 January 2001 message of the House of Justice. “The main sequence,” the message read, “much like the trunk of a tree, supports courses branching out from it, each branch dedicated to some specific area of training.”[16]

With the majority of national communities adopting such a model, using the courses of the Ruhi Institute as the main sequence, they have begun to derive unexpected benefits from this arrangement. The letter dated 26 July quoted above went on to say that “a fortunate side effect of the choice of one set of materials by so many communities has been a commonality of experience in this vitally important Bahá’í activity throughout the world.”[17] The letter was referring to a statement from the Riḍván 2004 message of the House of Justice:

On assessing the opportunities and needs of their respective communities, the great majority of National Spiritual Assemblies have chosen to adopt the course materials devised by the Ruhi Institute, finding them most responsive to the Plan’s needs. This has had the collateral benefit that the same materials have been translated into many languages and, wherever Bahá’ís travel, they find other friends following the same path and familiar with the same books and methods.[18]

Adopting a sequence of courses in this way has enabled the institutions to think more systematically about developing the human resources of their communities. For they could now set numerical goals “as to the number of believers who will pass through courses at various levels during a specified time period.”[19] The metaphor of a “pyramid” of human resources is sometimes used in this respect, as explained in the passage below to one National Assembly:

In letters written on its behalf to other National Spiritual Assemblies, the House of Justice has stated that the development of human resources in a country may be likened to the building of an ever-expanding pyramid, whose base must be constantly broadened. An increasing number of friends are recruited to enter the first basic course, and relatively significant percentages are then helped to reach higher and higher courses, enhancing thereby their capacity for service.[20]

It is in this context that the system for the delivery of courses—the other principal area of learning—becomes important. In order to have “ever-growing contingents of believers” pass through the sequence of courses, training institutes soon came to realize that they would need to put in place a decentralized system of delivery. “The limitations of the approach in which institute courses are offered only to groups of believers at central facilities”[21] were all too apparent:

The primary challenge before you is to help hundreds and then thousands of the believers in Haiti to enter your institute program and study a well-defined sequence of courses. Clearly, you cannot accomplish this by inviting them all to one central location.[22]

The idea that finally emerged was the study circle because it enabled the curriculum to reach large numbers. In this connection, the House of Justice noted that the approach that seems to be “most effective in reaching believers at the local level is the formation of study circles which are coordinated by a national institute.… In this case, a sequence of courses is offered to small groups of believers in a locality by tutors or teachers trained by the institute itself.”[23] A letter to an individual dated 24 May 2001 elaborated on the theme:

As you know, a study circle is not a structure in the Bahá’í Administrative Order. Rather, it is one element of a scheme of distance education that is showing great promise as it becomes more firmly established in Bahá’í communities throughout the world. From the reports received at the World Centre, it is clear that the success of this scheme depends on the degree to which the flexibility inherent to it is exploited. In many places a study circle will continue with the same tutor from course to course. Yet the membership of a study circle does not have to be fixed. Often the demands of life, especially the mobility of people today, prevent a person from studying the full sequence of courses with one group. Thus, after the completion of a course, one or two friends may find that they have to suspend their studies for a time and join another group for the next course when their circumstances allow. It is precisely because of this inherent flexibility that the scheme is proving to be so effective in moving a significant percentage of believers through a sequence of courses and in developing thereby the human resources of the community.[24]

Of course, some form of organizational structure is required in order to maintain a system of distance education in which a number of study circles are conducted throughout the year. This organizational structure does not need to be overly elaborate. A “national coordinator, assisted by regional coordinators if necessary, as well as a growing number of tutors in the country,”[25] is generally sufficient, in addition, of course, to the institute board appointed by the National Spiritual Assembly in consultation with the Counsellors. The following excerpt from a letter addresses the roles of the board and coordinator:

With such a focused aim, the roles of the respective participants are also clear. The coordinator needs to operate at the level of implementation, carrying out day-to-day plans and activities and ensuring that the basic function of the institute is performed—this, with the assistance of the tutors and any staff if necessary. The board oversees the institute process as a whole, largely through the periodic reports of the coordinator and through occasional consultations. It will want to make itself readily accessible to the coordinator, providing the atmosphere in which he or she can share ideas, seek the board’s views on the possibilities and challenges facing the institute, and benefit from its advice. To carry out its role, the board does not need to meet frequently, as does a committee charged with undertaking a set of specific tasks.[26]

As mentioned in the 26 December 1995 message of the House of Justice, the structure of the organization in place in a community to oversee the development of human resources will depend to some extent upon the size of the community. National Assemblies with geographically large communities have chosen in consultation with the Counsellors to devolve responsibility for the implementation of courses on training institutes at the regional level, each with its own board and a regional coordinator. Regardless of the arrangements in place, the institutional capacity created in most national communities to impart spiritual education to growing numbers of believers was significant enough by 2001 for the House of Justice to make the following announcement:

… there are many countries in which the institute is the only structure developing the capacity to organize and maintain courses in locality after locality. As this approach is working well with youth and adults, and increasingly for junior youth, there is no reason why the training institute should not also shoulder similar responsibility with respect to children, where necessary. As a general rule, institutes do not take on the administration of plans and programs for expansion and consolidation. Conducting children’s classes, however, is a unique enterprise, of special urgency. In those countries where the task is given to it, the institute becomes a center of learning intensely engaged in the spiritual education of the friends from the tenderest age through adulthood.[27]

The above offers a vision of a powerful educational institution offering a range of programs for children, junior youth, youth over 15, and adults—all carried out in the context of the expansion and consolidation of the Faith. As a means of ensuring that its programs keep current with the demands of growth at the level of the cluster, two additional mechanisms have proven to be important. One is the intensive institute campaign. Such campaigns, the House of Justice explained in its Riḍván 2005 message, when they pay due attention to the practice required, “have remained the vehicle for stimulating growth at the cluster level.”[28] And when a cluster approaches the point where it is ready to launch an intensive program of growth, it is often necessary to have an institute coordinator at the level of the cluster—the other mechanism. Such a coordinator is “responsible for ensuring that the number of study circles, children’s classes, and junior youth groups steadily multiplies.”[29] He or she is “required to work with a growing contingent of tutors and children’s class teachers in the cluster, maintaining their enthusiasm and helping them to improve the quality of their services.”[30]

The above describes in the briefest terms the nature of the institutional capacity that has been built through successive global Plans, beginning with the Four Year Plan, to develop the human resources needed for the expansion and consolidation of the Faith. As noted earlier, “the effects of this systematic approach to human resource development are making themselves felt in the lives of all three protagonists of the Plan—the individual believer, the institutions, and the local community.” National Assemblies had to develop the capacity to encourage and empower the friends in their efforts to advance the institute process and to ensure that the institute had what it needed to succeed at its task:

As for your National Assembly, what is needed most from you at this time is the kind of enthusiastic and energetic support for the institute process that comes from an ever-increasing understanding of the dynamics of growth in Ethiopia. Through constant encouragement, the judicious assignment of resources, and frequent consultations with the Counsellors, you can promote the learning called for in the Five Year Plan and ensure that the creative energies of the many dedicated Ethiopian believers are channeled constructively and the vast potential of your community is realized.[31]

For the friends serving in the institute to be empowered in this way, they would need a wide degree of latitude to carry out their work:

Crucial to the future success of the institute will be the freedom of movement and action that it enjoys. The institute is, of course, an agency functioning under your aegis, and ultimately matters related to its operation rest with you. However, at this point in the growth of the Faith, the mandate of the institute is fairly clear-cut: A sequence of courses has been adopted as the national program for the development of human resources. It is the job of the institute, then, to help a steadily increasing number of youth and adults advance through that sequence and to carry out the concomitant task of organizing and maintaining classes for junior youth and children. There is little need for lengthy and frequent consultations to set direction and devise and rethink fundamental plans. Now is the time for action, and the central participants driving the institute process should be granted the latitude required to perform their functions effectively. Specifically, the national coordinator should be invested with enough authority to ensure that the basic purpose of the institute to raise up active supporters of the Faith is fulfilled.[32]

It also meant that National Assemblies would be challenged to find new approaches to overseeing the work of its agencies:

Your institute has been structured so as to accommodate a range of dynamic programs, including one in the area of mass media communications through the radio station. At the apex of its organizational structure is a board of directors that sets general policies, offers guidance as needed, and provides a forum for the executive director to share concerns and seek advice from time to time. Surely it is to be expected that such a complex organization would develop certain patterns and cycles in performing its operations, including phases for planning and budgeting. To halt the established rhythm to enable the National Spiritual Assembly to carry out an evaluation of the institute’s performance and give it instructions does not seem justified. This is not to say that the desire of the National Assembly to follow the progress of the institute is not a legitimate one. Indeed, at any time during the year or over the course of the Five Year Plan, you may wish to review the institute’s work, along with the Counsellors, and provide guidance and encouragement. But this should not prevent the institute from proceeding with its programs, nor cause it to suffer from the lack of financial resources. Further, when adjustments are felt necessary, they should be done in a way that does not slacken the gathering momentum of the processes of growth in your community. You should remember that, in the final analysis, much of the success of your efforts to meet the requirements of the Five Year Plan will depend on the continued steady progress of your national agency for the development of human resources.[33]

National Assemblies gradually had to come to appreciate that although having human resources in the field provided communities with the manpower needed to ensure that the growth of the Faith could move forward, this should never preclude the participation of all of the friends in its work. However, Assemblies also had to realize that certain positions would necessarily involve some formal preparation:

Clearly the way should be open to all the friends to participate in the affairs of the Faith, to the extent that their personal circumstances and their desire to serve allow. In general, within the Bahá’í community, a distinction between “trained” and “untrained” believers is unwarranted. There do exist certain positions of service, however, that require specific qualifications, and an Assembly will naturally consider these qualifications in naming individual believers to fill them. In the case of a position responsible for coordinating courses offered according to a curriculum that has been adopted by the institutions, it seems only reasonable that the person called upon to perform this service would have a considerable degree of experience with the set of courses in question. Care should be taken, however, that such requirements are only brought into consideration when clearly necessary, for to have requisites for performing every kind of activity would have the harmful result of barring many devoted and eager friends from contributing to the unfoldment of the Five Year Plan and, ultimately, the advancement of the Faith.[34]

The institutions also had to exercise the ability to help the friends to avoid creating false dichotomies on the basis of misunderstandings about the global Plans and to recognize that deepening and human resource development should not be held in opposition to each other:

National winter and summer schools, as well as deepening classes at the local level, are an integral aspect of community life in which the friends come together to deepen their knowledge of the Faith. Institutes were created as an instrument to develop the human resources necessary for the expansion and consolidation of the Faith. These two elements are complementary, and benefit from each other as they both flourish.[35]

For local communities, the effects of training institutes have been significant as well. The acts of service treated in the main sequence of the Ruhi Institute courses are intended to set in motion a process that will lead to the sound development of local communities or, as envisioned in the Five Year Plan, of clusters. A plan of growth for the cluster is, in some sense, embedded in the sequence of courses, as described in the passage below:

The training institute is intended to endow a certain percentage of the friends in a community with the spiritual insights, knowledge, and skills and abilities necessary to perform the various tasks that accelerated expansion and consolidation of the Faith demands. Through the deployment of such believers in the field of service, then, needs of the kind you have identified can gradually be met. In the sequence of courses adopted by your institute, for instance, those who have completed the first course often go on to initiate devotional meetings in their localities, an act of service that in many places constitutes the beginnings of a sustainable pattern of community life. This pattern is strengthened as participants in the courses gain the capacity to deepen their fellow believers in the fundamentals of the Faith through a program of home visits and to conduct classes for the spiritual education of children. As such efforts to deepen the generality of the believers and educate their children advance, the level of their participation in essential aspects of Bahá’í community life, for example, the Nineteen Day Feast and Holy Day observances, likewise increases.[36]

Communities, of course, are the collective expression of the individuals who compose them and who strive to promote their development. Ultimately, then, the purpose of the training institute is to build the capacity of individuals to meet the many needs of growing, vibrant communities. The content and order of the courses of the Ruhi Institute are based on a series of acts of service, the practice of which seeks to enhance such capacity. It views this process of capacity building in terms of “walking a path of service.” On such a path the friends are assisted first in accomplishing relatively simple tasks and then in performing more complex and demanding acts of service. This is the nature of capacity building. Each is accompanied by another as he learns to walk the path on his own. “One of the most noteworthy outcomes of the institute courses,” the Universal House of Justice has recently noted, “is the emergence of an ever-increasing number of tutors who, having themselves studied the courses and struggled to walk a path of service, engage others in the study of the sequence, instilling in them the same desire to arise and serve.”[37] “Arise, then,” it has urged, “to engage more and more trusted members of your families, friends, neighbors and coworkers in the sequence of courses and assist them to walk the path of service so that a sizeable expansion of the Bahá’í community is hastened and sustained.”[38]

– 45 –

Learning to Open Aspects of Bahá’í Community Life to Others

Referring to the development of communities at the level of the cluster, the Universal House of Justice wrote the following at the start of the Five Year Plan: “Among the initial goals for every community should be the establishment of study circles, children’s classes, and devotional meetings, open to all the inhabitants of the locality.”[1] In its Riḍván 2002 message it commented that significant progress had been made in opening these activities to society at large, citing the training institute as the means for this development:

It is most encouraging to see that the progress of this work is being energized through the training institute process, which was considerably strengthened last year by the campaigns undertaken in many countries to increase the number of trained tutors. Where a training institute is well established and constantly functioning, three core activities—study circles, devotional meetings, and children’s classes—have multiplied with relative ease. Indeed, the increasing participation of seekers in these activities, at the invitation of their Bahá’í friends, has lent a new dimension to their purposes, consequently effecting new enrollments. Here, surely, is a direction of great promise for the teaching work. These core activities, which at the outset were devised principally to benefit the believers themselves, are naturally becoming portals for entry by troops. By combining study circles, devotional meetings and children’s classes within the framework of clusters, a model of coherence in lines of action has been put in place and is already producing welcome results. Worldwide application of this model, we feel confident, holds immense possibilities for the progress of the Cause in the years ahead.[2]

In the passage above the House of Justice encouraged the friends to fully exploit the possibilities for growth inherent in the three core activities. So successful was the Bahá’í community in doing so that the House of Justice could comment in its message of 17 January 2003 that the orientation of the Bahá’í world to society at large had undergone a significant change:

The coherence thus achieved through the establishment of study circles, devotional meetings and children’s classes provides the initial impulse for growth in a cluster, an impulse that gathers strength as these core activities multiply in number. Campaigns that help a sizeable group of believers advance far enough in the main sequence of courses to perform the necessary acts of service lend impetus to this multiplication of activity.

It is evident, then, that a systematic approach to training has created a way for Bahá’ís to reach out to the surrounding society, share Bahá’u’lláh’s message with friends, family, neighbors and coworkers, and expose them to the richness of His teachings. This outward-looking orientation is one of the finest fruits of the grassroots learning taking place.[3]

One obstacle believers had to overcome to achieve this change in orientation was the fear of introducing family and friends to educational programs whose content goes beyond the presentation of Bahá’í principles to speak about teachings that are explicitly religious in nature. A letter dated 25 September 2001 to a National Assembly encouraged the Assembly in this regard in the context of children’s classes:

It is possible, of course, to create a program for children which is inspired by the Bahá’í teachings and conveys such topics as moral education, comparative religion, peace, concern for the environment, service to humanity, or world citizenship. Such programs might also convey practical subjects such as literacy, academic tutoring, or vocational training.

In its message dated 9 January 2001, however, the House of Justice refers specifically to Bahá’í children’s classes as also being open to non-Bahá’í children. In the case of these classes, which are intended to address the complete spiritual education of Bahá’ís, it would not be possible to eliminate Bahá’í religious teachings, and topics such as Bahá’í history, Bahá’í laws, and the Covenant would be an integral part of these classes.

While Bahá’í religious teachings are part of the program of child education in Bahá’í classes, the design of the program, particularly the sequencing of content, may make it more attractive to non-Bahá’ís. For example, in the approach taken to child education in Ruhi Institute Book 3, the emphasis is placed initially on character development, and only later are specific aspects related to the life of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb introduced. So too can we see the same principle at work in the main sequence of books in which many non-Bahá’í youth have participated. Book 1 addresses such broad topics as prayer and life and death (from a Bahá’í perspective, of course). It is in Book 4 that history is presented in detail. Thus a non-Bahá’í can feel welcome to participate and is not overwhelmed by new, purely religious teachings. Then, if attracted by the principles and general spiritual teachings, the non-Bahá’ís would not hesitate to engage in the full program; alternatively, they are free to withdraw or not participate in some segments.[4]

Since the beginning of the Four Year Plan, the House of Justice has envisioned that the educational process set in motion and the activities it would engender would be open to the community at large and serve as a means of teaching the Faith. In this way a letter dated 8 May 1997 written on behalf of the House of Justice encouraged the National Assembly of Bulgaria to open some of its institute courses to those who were not Bahá’ís, saying: “In addition to attracting thoughtful people to the Cause, such courses could also be a means of confirming them in the Faith and increasing the number of Bahá’u’lláh’s faithful followers in your country.”[5] Indeed, concern for the generality of humankind and its spiritual development has been at the heart of the call of the House of Justice to the Bahá’í world to focus its attention on advancing the process of entry by troops. “The community must become imbued with a sense of mission,” the House of Justice wrote when announcing the Four Year Plan, “and the Assembly grow in awareness of its role as a channel of God’s grace not only for the Bahá’ís but for the entire village, town or city in which it serves.”[6]

Although significant progress has been made in opening the Bahá’í community to society at large, its orientation towards those who have not yet declared their faith in Bahá’u’lláh will require continued adjustment. There seems to be a natural human tendency to draw a distinction between “us” and “them.” A letter dated 27 April 2004 to an individual warns Bahá’ís not to allow their expectations to create unnecessary barriers for people:

From a careful reading of the messages regarding the Five Year Plan, it should be clear that the House of Justice is not calling on the friends to forgo all activities except devotional meetings, children’s classes and study circles in their efforts to attract people to the Cause. Through a variety of endeavors, including regular firesides, seekers should be helped to reach the point where they eagerly embrace the Faith and join the Bahá’í community. Yet it is equally evident that the core activities of the Plan are proving to be an excellent means for the friends everywhere to widen their circle of influence and share Bahá’u’lláh’s message with a growing number of people from different segments of society. Further, where such an open attitude exists among the believers, the distinction between those who are formally enrolled in the Faith and those who are drawing close to it does not define the level of their involvement in these core activities. Specifically, experience around the world suggests that many seekers, though certainly not all, welcome the opportunity to study the full sequence of institute courses and even engage in acts of service that contribute to Bahá’í community life, for instance hosting devotional meetings and teaching children’s classes. Such participation has often been instrumental in the eventual confirmation of their faith and in their formal declaration. Care should be taken, therefore, that we do not allow our own expectations to set limits on people which, in reality, may not exist.[7]

Rather than simply categorizing people as “non-Bahá’ís,” believers are encouraged, then, to see “each person who is drawn to explore Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings” somewhere along a “never-ending continuum of spiritual search.”[8] A letter dated 4 May 2005 written on behalf of the House of Justice to the National Assembly of Kazakhstan shows the extent to which this way of thinking should influence how we approach the question of teaching:

Most heartening to note are the plans to form six teams, some composed of family members, who will reach out to their friends, neighbors and relatives. The teams will work systematically to help an increasing number of seekers advance through the sequence of institute courses, nurturing in them the desire to begin core activities with their own family and friends. The intimate friendship that develops between team members and course participants will foster the resolve and capacity of the latter to reach out to other souls and assist them to arise, in turn, to carry out acts of service. In this way, a handful of believers can significantly extend the spiritual influence of the institute and lay a strong foundation for the accelerated expansion of the community.[9]

Central to this way of thinking seems to be the attitude Bahá’ís adopt towards the teachings of the Faith. The House of Justice has said that “Bahá’ís should give the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh liberally and unconditionally to humanity so that people may apply them to pressing social issues and uplift themselves materially and spiritually.”[10] It was this posture of giving to which the Guardian referred when he said,

We must be like the fountain or spring that is continually emptying itself of all that it has and is continually being refilled from an invisible source. To be continually giving out for the good of our fellows undeterred by fear of poverty and reliant on the unfailing bounty of the Source of all wealth and all good—this is the secret of right living.[11]

A posture of giving, it seems, is an essential attribute of the intensive programs of growth that will continue to be the object of learning during the years to come. At the heart of these programs is the realization that the Faith is not intended for Bahá’ís alone but rather for all of humanity:

The friends who participate in these intensive programs of growth should bear in mind that the purpose is to ensure that the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh reaches the masses of humanity and enables them to achieve spiritual and material progress through the application of the Teachings. Vast numbers among the peoples of the world are ready, indeed yearn, for the bounties that Bahá’u’lláh alone can bestow upon them once they have committed themselves to building the new society He has envisioned. In learning to systematize their large-scale teaching work, Bahá’í communities are becoming better equipped to respond to this longing. They cannot withhold whatever effort, whatever sacrifice, may be called for.[12]

– 46 –

Learning to Reach Receptive Populations

In its message dated 17 January 2003, the Universal House of Justice noted the effectiveness of the pattern of growth established through the multiplication of core activities among Bahá’ís and their families and friends. It then went on to remark that

In many parts of the world, bringing large numbers into the ranks of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers has traditionally not been a formidable task. It is therefore encouraging to see that, in some of the more developed clusters, carefully designed projects are being added to the existing pattern of growth to reach receptive populations and lift the rate of expansion to a higher level. Such projects accelerate the tempo of teaching, already on the rise through the efforts of individuals.[1]

In this connection, it was explained to one National Spiritual Assembly that “in general, focusing on receptive populations is one of the strategies of the Five Year Plan for accelerating growth.”[2] On a number of occasions the House of Justice has underscored the importance of focusing efforts on receptive populations and systematically sharing Bahá’u’lláh’s message with them through appropriate methods and approaches. The framework of the Five Year Plan, however, offered National Assemblies a new way of addressing the question. In a letter dated 20 March 2002, the National Assembly of Austria was advised to select a cluster with a receptive minority population for special attention:

An important challenge now before you is to ensure that one or two clusters in Austria reach the level at which intensive growth programs can be established. This will involve, foremost, helping the institute in your country develop to a more advanced stage, endowed with the capacity to accompany a significant percentage of individuals up to the point in its sequence of courses where they can be trained to act as tutors and multiply the number of study circles in the clusters selected. Given the receptivity displayed in the past by some of the minority groups in Austria, for example the Turkish, you would clearly do well to choose at least one cluster with a large representation of such a population.[3]

Every cluster, of course, has different demographic cross sections and will often have distinct social and ethnic groups. It is envisioned that, once the institute process in a cluster is well founded, activities will “move to the stage of reaching special populations.”[4] The House of Justice, for instance, in a letter dated 5 August 2004 written on its behalf to the National Assembly of Canada, expressed the hope that the intensive program of growth launched in Vancouver would take advantage of the receptivity displayed among the Chinese-speaking population:

Your Assembly has no doubt already begun to give thought to how best to capitalize on the success. The House of Justice hopes that this development can be energetically exploited in pursuit of the teaching objectives of the Five Year Plan. Where clusters have advanced to such a degree that they are ready to take up the challenge of intensive growth, nothing is more promising than to encounter a significant opening among a minority population like the Chinese-speaking Canadians. Seizing such opportunities requires a major shift from the gradualist approach that meets the needs of clusters at earlier stages of progress.

The House of Justice is confident that, with your encouragement, the Regional Council will be able to devise an intensive program of activities focusing on the specific needs of Vancouver’s Chinese population. Apart from taking advantage of Ms. …’s very welcome willingness to lend assistance, it may also be wise for the Council to contact the Bahá’í Committee for China with respect to other human resources, teaching materials and practical suggestions.[5]

As the above passage suggests, the success of efforts to bring receptive populations into the Faith depends, to some degree, on the ability of teachers who can present the message in a suitable manner. The role of the institute, then, is crucial in this respect. “A major object of the recent emphasis on establishing training institutes,” the House of Justice has advised, “is to increase the capacity of individuals to teach the Cause effectively.”[6] An excerpt from the 9 January 2001 message of the House of Justice further explains the relationship between training and teaching:

With the work of institutes growing in strength, attention has now to be given everywhere to systematizing teaching efforts. In the document “The Institution of the Counsellors” just issued, we emphasize the role that the Auxiliary Board members and their assistants play in helping the friends to meet this challenge, both at the level of individual initiative and of collective volition. As individuals progress through institute courses, they deepen their knowledge of the Faith, gain insights, and acquire skills of service. Some of the courses devoted to teaching will no doubt treat the subject in general terms. Others will focus on various means of sharing Bahá’u’lláh’s message with specific segments of society, incorporating the wisdom gleaned from the teaching endeavors of the friends. This combined process of action, learning and training will endow communities with an ever-increasing number of capable and eager teachers of the Cause.[7]

This passage indicates that, as experience is gained in reaching out to a population, the learning that is acquired can then be systematized in courses that are offered by the training institute. As more and more individuals take part in the courses and gain the knowledge, spiritual insights and skills needed to bring people from among the population into the Cause, teaching activities multiply, enrollments increase, and further learning occurs which can be incorporated into the courses. “Training and teaching, then, become two parallel processes that fuel each other,”[8] explained the 1998 document “Training Institutes.” “Training courses raise the enthusiasm of the friends for teaching and help them acquire the necessary skills. Increased experience in the teaching field is reflected in the constantly improving content of training courses.”[9]

Such courses, then, can be regarded as the chronicles of the evolving experience of the Bahá’í community in sharing Bahá’u’lláh’s message. They report what the community is doing and learning. They systematize both the knowledge being generated through collective action and the results of that systematization. As endeavors to reach different populations and social groups intensify through programs of growth in the coming years, it is imagined that significant effort will be dedicated to developing branch courses in this way. A letter dated 26 June 2002 written on behalf of the House of Justice underscores the need for such courses:

The 9 January 2001 message of the Universal House of Justice likened an institute’s main sequence of courses to the trunk of a tree, from which branch out other courses. One can already observe a degree of diversity emerging as branch courses begin to appear in some programs, designed to meet specific training needs. The elaboration of such courses will necessarily proceed in a gradual fashion since effective course content will depend on the amount of learning and experience acquired in the field of action.[10]

Training, however, will not be sufficient to raise the tempo of teaching, as explained in the 9 January message:

Training alone, of course, does not necessarily lead to an upsurge in teaching activity. In every avenue of service, the friends need sustained encouragement. Our expectation is that the Auxiliary Board members, together with their assistants, will give special thought to how individual initiative can be cultivated, particularly as it relates to teaching. When training and encouragement are effective, a culture of growth is nourished in which the believers see their duty to teach as a natural consequence of having accepted Bahá’u’lláh. They “raise high the sacred torch of faith,” as was ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s wish, “labor ceaselessly, by day and by night,” and “consecrate every fleeting moment of their lives to the diffusion of the divine fragrance and the exaltation of God’s holy Word.” So enkindled do their hearts become with the fire of the love of God that whoever approaches them feels its warmth. They strive to be channels of the spirit, pure of heart, selfless and humble, possessing certitude and the courage that stems from reliance on God. In such a culture, teaching is the dominating passion of the lives of the believers. Fear of failure finds no place. Mutual support, commitment to learning, and appreciation of diversity of action are the prevailing norms.[11]

Clearly, much work remains to be done in this regard. While a number of populations have been identified for special attention in recent years, the Bahá’í community is still at the initial stages of systematizing the knowledge it is acquiring in teaching the Faith among them. These populations include “the Sami and the other peoples of the arctic and sub-arctic areas as far north as Spitsbergen,” mentioned in the Riḍván 1996 message to the followers of Bahá’u’lláh in Europe, as well as the inhabitants of “the islands of the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the North Sea” and “the Romany peoples, who have begun to show such receptivity to the call of Bahá’u’lláh.”[12] Arabic speakers in North America have been urged to focus on “attracting souls from amongst the Arab population” within their clusters,[13] and the National Assembly of the United States has been advised that, among the Muslim population, Kurds and Afghans may be particularly receptive.[14] In 2002 the National Assembly of Uganda was asked to assist in spreading “the spirit of the teachings among seeking and receptive souls” in Sudanese refugee camps in the northern part of the country.[15] And Bahá’í youth have been encouraged to “seek out receptive souls” in “schools, at…universities, and in the workplace.”[16] Along these lines, the Riḍván 1996 message to the followers of Bahá’u’lláh in Latin America and the Caribbean drew attention to the fact that

… the climate of search prevailing among both the leaders and the masses in your countries, which has emerged following the ideological upheaval of recent years, is of special significance. Two sectors have been particularly and differently affected and are athirst for the life-giving waters of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation: on the one hand, the teachers in the national school systems and, on the other, university students and their professors. Historically, both have exerted widespread influence in your societies, and should you teach them systematically, you will certainly reap abundant fruits.[17]

These are only a few of the populations that, it is imagined, will be the focus of the serious attention of the Bahá’í community in the years to come as it pursues the aim of advancing the process of entry by troops and strives to bring together “the diverse members of the human race in ever closer association.”[18]

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