Saturday, December 7, 2013

5 December 2013 - The Universal House of Justice, Anniversary Master's return to Holy Land




Link to PDF-file: http://goo.gl/q5k7X0


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The Universal House of Justice

5 December 2013 



To the Baha'is of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

      When He arrived in the Holy Land, exactly one hundred years ago today, at the conclusion of His "epoch-making journeys" to Egypt and the West, 'Abdu'l- Baha eschewed any ceremony or fanfare just as He had at His departure. But between His going and His return, a defining period in Baha'i history had unfolded--a "glorious chapter", in the words of Shoghi Effendi, during which "seeds of undreamt-of potentialities" had been sown, "with the hand of the Centre of the Covenant Himself", in the "fertile fields" to the west.

       The accounts of 'Abdu'l-Baha's travels and of the effect He had on those who met Him are legion. Some went to extraordinary lengths to enter His presence--going by boat, by foot, or even under railway trains--and, by the urgency of their desire to see Him, imprinted themselves on the consciousness of future generations of adults and children. The testimonies of those who were transformed by even a brief, sometimes near wordless encounter with their beloved Master remain deeply stirring. In the wide array of visitors He received--rich and poor, black and white, indigenous and emigre--the universal embrace of His Father's Faith was unmistakably in evidence. It is impossible to adequately gauge the full scope of what 'Abdu'l-Baha accomplished within this period. Many of the seeds He planted, and which He nurtured towards maturity through an extensive correspondence that He maintained until the end of His life, would blossom into a steadfast community capable of bearing the great weight of work in the years to come, supporting the first structures of national Baha'i administration and beginning to act on the Master's longing that the divine teachings be brought to every city and shore.

      The friends have, of course, called these points to mind during this centenary period, and they have done much more besides. As we hoped, they have given their attention to the tasks before them, drawing inspiration from the Master's potent example and timeless counsels. We have been pleased to see how, in particular, efforts to bring spiritual education to children and young people have flourished. Work to establish the institution of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, the singular significance of which 'Abdu'l-Baha stressed so pointedly during his visit to the United States, is making progress in eight countries, whilst in every land, devotional meetings--a communal aspect of the godly life--are thriving. The Baha'i community's increasing engagement with the life of society, which is enabling it to offer a fresh perspective to formal and informal conversations of all kinds, carries distinct echoes of 'Abdu'l-Baha's deep concern for the needs of the age. In clusters where the demands created by the scale and intensity of activity are most acutely felt, more complex schemes of coordination are emerging through a gradual and patient process of learning. In certain regions of the world where the institutions are overseeing special initiatives, an influx of eager pioneers is helping to strengthen the foundations of sustained growth and broaden the scope of what can be achieved by a community. The work of expansion and consolidation is advancing through the unflagging labours of countless devoted souls who have, in numerous ways, followed 'Abdu'l-Baha in treading the plane of sacrifice. The heightened capacity of a worldwide community to assist populations to move towards the vision conceived by Baha'u'llah was conspicuously evident at the Eleventh International Baha'i Convention. That same capacity was vividly illustrated in the film "Frontiers of Learning" and explored in detail in the document "Insights from the Frontiers of Learning", which have stimulated profound reflection not only on the dynamics of growth but also on the means to treat the roots of many a social malady. And in the closing months of this three-year period came the most spectacular demonstration of how the present generation has responded to the call of service to humankind singularly embodied in the Person of the Master: the gathering of more than eighty thousand youth in a four-month series of conferences held in well over a hundred far-strewn locations across the globe.

      Although each possessed its own unique features, all conferences shared essential attributes in common--the meticulous care that characterized the preparations, the oneness of mind that was palpable at each gathering, the energy that has surged therefrom. In the strenuous efforts they made to attend can be glimpsed the depth of commitment felt by the participants. Some laboured with great sacrifice to raise the necessary funds from meagre resources; in other cases, by explaining the noble purpose and wholesome nature of the events, the friends obtained special permission from the authorities for the arrangements. Shipping lines were persuaded to change course to collect participants, while some youth walked for days to reach a venue. Reports of the insights generated, the creativity released, the moving testimonies delivered on each occasion and, most of all, the impetus lent to acts of service are evidence that those present were touched by spiritual forces more enduring, more deeply rooted than anything that could be elicited by the thrill of fellowship and large numbers alone. It is most heartening that tens of thousands of youth, unwilling to succumb to triviality or to settle for easy conformity, have now been brought within the widening embrace of a conversation and pattern of action of far-reaching consequence regarding how to live a coherent life and be an agent of spiritual and social transformation. The new levels of collaboration these conferences demanded of the institutions to mobilize and guide such large numbers and prepare the host of facilitators to assist them; the wholehearted collective effort required of the community as it threw wide open the circle of participation and witnessed the profound effect of doing so; the serious commitment evinced by the individual who, drawing on the concepts explored in the conference materials, is joining the tens of thousands occupied with reaching out to hundreds of thousands of others--these, together, have contributed to a marked rise in capacity in the three protagonists upon whom the success of the Five Year Plan depends. And while we acknowledge that the youth are at the forefront of this advance, its distinguishing feature is that the community rose as one to support, encourage, and champion this phenomenon, and now rejoices to see itself progress as an interdependent, organic whole, readier to meet the imperatives of this day.

      Given all this, we have no hesitation in recognizing that what these developments reveal is an advance in the process of entry by troops of a kind not experienced heretofore.

      We call upon all to reflect upon the significance of the endeavour in which the community of the Greatest Name is engaged, the purpose of which the Master strove to underline so often in the course of His travels, and to rededicate themselves to contribute their share to its outcome. "Try with all your hearts", He urged one audience, "to be willing channels for God's Bounty. For I say unto you that He has chosen you to be His messengers of love throughout the world, to be His bearers of spiritual gifts to man, to be the means of spreading unity and concord on the earth." "Perchance," He remarked on another occasion, "God willing, this terrestrial world may become as a celestial mirror upon which we may behold the imprint of the traces of Divinity, and the fundamental qualities of a new creation may be reflected from the reality of love shining in human hearts." To this end do all your efforts tend. During the second half of the Five Year Plan, the society-building power of the Faith must be released within thousands of clusters where programmes of growth need to be initiated, reinforced, or extended. The challenge for Baha'i institutions and their agencies will be to furnish the means to accompany all those who cherish a pure and earnest desire for a better world, whatever their degree of involvement in the process of spiritual education so far, and help them translate that desire into the practical steps that day by day and week by week accrete to build vibrant, flourishing communities. How fitting that, at this hour, a generation of youth has come into its own, ready to assume growing responsibility, since its contribution to the work at hand will prove decisive in the months and years ahead. In our prayers at the Sacred Threshold, we will entreat the Almighty to sustain all those who would be a part of this immense undertaking, who prefer the true prosperity of others over their own ease and leisure, and whose eyes are fixed upon 'Abdu'l-Baha for a flawless pattern of how to be; all this, that "those who walk in darkness should come into the light" and "those who are excluded should join the inner circle of the Kingdom".


 [Signed: The Universal House of Justice]
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

April 2013 - The International Teaching Centre, Insights from the Frontiers of Learning




Link to PDF-file: http://goo.gl/t7kP7M


Insights from the
Frontiers of Learning

A document prepared by
The International Teaching Centre

BAHÁ’Í WORLD CENTRE
APRIL 2013

INSIGHTS FROM THE FRONTIERS OF LEARNING

INTRODUCTION

1. CLUSTERS AT THE FRONTIERS OF LEARNING
1.1 A Sustained Rhythm of Expansion and Consolidation
1.2 Emergence of a Well-Grounded Educational Process
1.3 Advances in Community Building
1.4 An Effective Organizational Scheme
1.5 Greater Involvement in the Life of Society

2. EMERGING PROGRAMMES OF GROWTH
2.1 Establishing a Basis for Building Capacity
2.2 Expanding the Reach of Core Activities

3. INCREASING INTENSITY
3.1 Enhancing the Quality of the Institute Process
3.2 Providing Greater Structure as Complexity Rises
3.3 Intensifying Community-Building Efforts in Neighbourhoods and Villages
3.4 Identifying and Overcoming Obstacles to Sustained Progress
3.5 Reaching Out to Youth in Receptive Populations
3.6 Enduring Fellowship

4. ENHANCING INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY TO SUPPORT
THE MOVEMENT OF CLUSTERS
4.1 Training Institutes
4.2 Learning Sites for the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Programme
4.3 Regional Bahá’í Councils

5. SOCIETY-BUILDING POWER OF THE FAITH


INSIGHTS FROM THE FRONTIERS OF LEARNING

When the Universal House of Justice at the start of this Five Year Plan called on the
Bahá’í world to build on the extraordinary achievements of the previous five years, it described
a community that had not only surpassed its numerical goals but had also achieved qualitative
progress at the more profound level of culture. Since then, the friends have extended their
efforts to an increasing number of clusters, embracing ever-larger contingents of participants in
a process of community building. At the close of the Plan’s second year, there is already a rich
experience that has significant implications for future action. The purpose of the present
document is to review this experience and describe a number of approaches that, when applied
by the friends in a manner suited to their circumstances, may enable them to accelerate the
progress under way. For this review the clusters at the frontiers of learning worldwide will first
be considered, then those where the friends are beginning to establish programmes of growth,
and finally those where efforts are being made to increase intensity. A few words will also be
said about administrative arrangements at the regional or national level that support the
movement of clusters.

1. CLUSTERS AT THE FRONTIERS OF LEARNING

Today, in more than 3,600 clusters around the globe, the friends are striving to establish
new programmes of growth or to advance existing ones. An analysis of developments in some
200 of the most advanced of these clusters—particularly the strongest 20—suggests effective
strategies for growth and demonstrates the efficacy of pursuing lines of action in a coherent
manner. The House of Justice has stated this Ridván that many of the “distinctive and salient
features which characterize the clusters furthest advanced are also evident in communities at
much earlier points in their development”.1 It is hoped, therefore, that a close examination of
the pattern of action characteristic of the clusters at the forefront of learning will assist friends
labouring in clusters at even the earliest stages of development.
Advanced clusters generally have a sizeable Bahá’í community and, more significantly,
have been effective over time in mobilizing large numbers of individuals in service to the Cause
and to society. Some have historically had large communities; others have experienced
significant growth only in recent years. Yet, in all of the strongest clusters, those sustaining the
various activities of the Plan are counted in the hundreds, while participants may number in the
thousands. From among these dedicated friends, some, thoroughly conversant with the
processes shaping the cluster, attend to the administrative needs of the Plan as cluster
coordinators, members of Area Teaching Committees, members of Local Spiritual Assemblies,
or assistants to Auxiliary Board members. A growing number serve as teachers of children’s
classes, animators of junior youth groups, or tutors of study circles, and participate in clusterwide
teaching campaigns. Many also lend their talents to a host of other activities in the
teaching and administrative fields and to the enrichment of various aspects of community life.
Everyone is aware that participation in the Nineteen Day Feast and observance of the Holy
Days are obligations not to be forgotten, and everyone recognizes the importance of devotional
gatherings and the quality of the devotional life of the community. A welcome addition to this
efficient use of human resources is the focused attention being given by a nucleus of dedicated
friends, usually youth, to intensive efforts in a rising number of neighbourhoods and villages.
Among the distinguishing characteristics of these advanced clusters, as the following
pages will explain, is the ability of the friends to sustain growth in regular three-month cycles,
to maintain focus on the educational process that propels progress, to establish a strong
community-building effort, to organize their endeavours to meet the challenge of increasing
complexity, and to guide a growing involvement with the wider society.

1.1 A Sustained Rhythm of Expansion and Consolidation

The House of Justice has explained that the pattern of action unfolding in clusters that
creates a vibrant community life may be viewed from two, equally valid perspectives. One of
these involves “the three-month cycles of activity through which a community grows—the
burst of expansion experienced as a result of intense action; the necessary period of consolidation
during which increases in ranks are fortified ... ; and the opportunities designated for all to
reflect and plan”.2
When sustained over time, these three-month cycles of activity set a particular rhythm to
community life. Each cycle the friends regularly renew their vision, assess their progress and
current challenges, adjust their plans of action, and organize intensive phases of activity for
expansion and consolidation. These cycles unfold uninterruptedly, even though patterns of
expansion may vary. Occasional problems retard progress, but the believers are able to
surmount obstacles and move on in unified action.
With a deep appreciation of the imperative of direct teaching when circumstances call for
it, the friends in strong clusters have moved beyond a single approach to the expansion phase of
their cycles. They have overcome a preoccupation to try to increase in numbers in a relatively
short period of time. Their understanding of the framework for action having become deeper,
their analysis of the complex array of circumstances and forces more sophisticated, and their
reflection on their accomplishments and the challenges ahead more penetrating, they are able to
make sound strategic choices in order to respond to the requirements of growth at a given
moment.
“The friends have also learned that it is not necessary for the principal focus of the
expansion phase of every cycle of a programme of growth to be directed towards the same
end”,3 the House of Justice observed at Ridván 2013. “Conditions may require that in a given
cycle, as an example, attention be primarily aimed at inviting souls to embrace the Faith
through intensive teaching efforts, undertaken as individuals or collectively; in another cycle,
the focus could be on multiplying a specific core activity.”4 Similarly, plans for the expansion
phase might differ according to the needs of a particular neighbourhood or village. Indeed,
where resources are plentiful, different groups of individuals may be directed towards different,
but complementary objectives in a single expansion phase. In this way, over a span of many
cycles, there is a steady increase in the number of new believers, of core activities and
participants, and of those who, when accompanied by others, are able to extend the scope and
complexity of the work of expansion and consolidation.
As the process of learning advances, it is natural that “when a new feature is introduced it
requires special attention for some time”.5 Yet, the House of Justice adds, “This in no way
diminishes the significance of other aspects of their community-building endeavours.”6
The ability to assign resources to new elements introduced in successive messages from the
House of Justice, without shifting the attention of all the Plan’s contributors, allows the friends
in the most advanced clusters to make progress towards “the long-cherished goal of universal
participation in the affairs of the Faith”.7
The result of all these considerations is a three-month period filled with a range of lively,
diverse, and well-coordinated activities. And even though the rate of progress may vary from
place to place depending on the circumstances of various populations, the cycle is characterized
by a spirit of unity and a sense of common purpose among the friends throughout the entire
cluster. What is important to realize is that such a promising pattern of growth can only be
maintained if everyone, in a humble posture of learning, and no matter the extent of his or her
activity, offers unqualified support, in deeds and words, to every other soul who labours in the
divine vineyard. “All must become as wings to bear one another onward”,8 Bahá’u’lláh states.

1.2 Emergence of a Well-Grounded Educational Process

The second perspective from which the pattern of action in a cluster can be viewed is as
an educational process with three distinct stages, “the first for the youngest members of the
community, the second for those in the challenging transitional years, and the third for youth
and adults”.9 The most advanced clusters demonstrate both the magnitude that such an
endeavour can assume and the complexity it entails. In the Lubumbashi cluster of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the educational process now serves about
6,000 people, including some 3,500 children, 2,200 junior youth, and hundreds of youth and
adults in study circles, all supported by an intricate scheme that generates and systematizes
knowledge and coordinates the efforts of scores of tutors, animators, and children’s class
teachers.
In many parts of the world, it is relatively easy to attract children from the wider society
to Bahá’í classes, and parents readily recognize the beneficial influence of spiritual and moral
education on the attitudes and behaviour of their youngsters. The challenge now being
rigorously addressed by training institutes in the most advanced clusters is to systematize the
effort and create an enduring system for the spiritual education of children. The House of
Justice observed, “Among the range of questions now before every training institute one stands
out as particularly pressing: how to mobilize sufficient numbers of children’s class teachers for
successive grades and, by extension, tutors who can form groups to study the requisite
courses.”10 The immensity of the challenge involved in achieving this is recognized. Not only
are courses being held to train teachers for the first three grades of the programme for which
materials currently exist but a network of coordinators and their helpers is also gradually being
established in each cluster to accompany the teachers, so that they can learn to sustain the
classes and help the children to advance from grade to grade each year. In India, for example,
as soon as the materials for Grades 2 and 3 were released in 2011, the 17 regional institutes
organized a series of training seminars, efforts were intensified to translate the materials into
Hindi and other regional languages, and regional and cluster coordinators, in consultation with
cluster agencies, identified and trained teachers in the new materials. Initial results were
encouraging, with nearly 3,000 children moving into Grade 2, and several hundred into
Grade 3.
The junior youth spiritual empowerment programme has grown to become an increasingly
prominent feature of many advanced clusters in the world. With the help of a network of more
than 40 clusters designated as sites for the dissemination of learning about the programme
guided by the Office of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá’í World Centre, a
number of practical challenges have been overcome so that the programme can be implemented
and sustained. Valuable knowledge has been accumulated that has allowed the friends in the
learning sites and associated clusters to enhance the efficacy of training and support for
animators, to maintain an increasing number of junior youth groups for the requisite three years,
to obtain the support of parents and officials, and to carry out the programme in the context of
the overall pattern of cluster activities. The arrangement for the ongoing dissemination of
learning has made it possible in the advanced clusters to raise the number of participants to
hundreds and in a few cases to more than a thousand. By instilling in the junior youth a keen
sense of purpose, the programme has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to transform young
people, increase their commitment to spiritual and material education, empower them to
undertake social action for the improvement of their communities, resist the destructive and
prejudicial forces within their societies, and contribute to the construction of a better world.
The two stages of the educational process described above are only possible, of course, if
there is a movement of individuals through the sequence of courses of the institute, and the
most advanced clusters have sustained a continual flow of participants over an extended period
of time—some for as many as 20 to 30 cycles. Over the years, various approaches have
contributed to this accomplishment worldwide. To initiate the institute process, believers were
encouraged to participate in the courses and then, as they engaged others in conversation about
the message of Bahá’u’lláh, they found receptivity among friends, family members, neighbours,
and co-workers, many of whom readily participated in study circles. Subsequently, the
believers in many clusters learned to reach out to “segments of the general population with
heightened receptivity”11 through direct teaching efforts involving home visits or campaigns,
resulting in significant numbers of new Bahá’ís. As increasing attention was given to the youth
in these populations, a significant percentage began to enter into study circles. In the most
advanced clusters, the capacity to harness the ready response of growing numbers of young
people by enabling them to move quickly into the field of action primarily as animators of
junior youth groups, but also as participants in or initiators of other core activities, is on the
rise. The challenge of increasing the number of tutors who take advantage of this opportunity is
being actively pursued as well.
Experience with youth from receptive populations in advanced clusters suggests that the
expansion of the junior youth programme has the potential to impart a pronounced boost to all
three stages of the educational process. The effort to train animators of junior youth groups,
more and more from among youth in the larger society, calls for additional study circles or
institute campaigns. Such campaigns could take the form of an intensive study of Ruhi Institute
Books 1 and 5, leading to the immediate establishment of several junior youth groups; over
time the majority of animators participate in study circles to complete the remaining books of
the sequence, which enhance their abilities for service. As awareness is raised among the
families of the junior youth, other members, mostly children and youth but also a few adults,
become involved in the stage of the educational process appropriate for them. Indeed, many
insights about how to significantly broaden the programme to involve large numbers of
participants have been derived from experience in those clusters supported by learning sites.
These insights have been shared with regional institutes and applied in a manner that assisted
with the implementation of other core activities. Finally, in those clusters where the friends
have learned to maintain junior youth groups over a number of years until the completion of the
programme, many junior youth show enthusiasm for the courses of the main sequence and, with
their customary zeal and discipline, engage in study and in carrying out the necessary acts of
service. Such a promising outcome, though yet modest in its extent, suggests that, as they
move through the sequence of courses, these young people could swell the ranks of children’s
class teachers, animators, and tutors in a cluster. What has been described here is not the only
way the educational process advances. However, time and again, the junior youth programme
has proved its effectiveness as a strategy that merits vigorous pursuit.

1.3 Advances in Community Building

When human resources in a cluster become more abundant, core activities multiply and
participation grows. A dynamic and complex pattern of action emerges that touches every
aspect of community life. An evident characteristic of the advanced clusters is a change in
understanding that moves beyond concern with the mere multiplication of activities to manifest
the deeper implications of the community-building process. In its Ridván 2013 message, the
House of Justice states:
As the experience of the friends has deepened, their capacity for fostering
within a cluster a rich and intricate pattern of life, embracing hundreds or even
thousands of people, has risen. How pleased we are to note the many insights the
believers are gaining from their endeavours. They appreciate, for instance, that the
Plan’s gradual unfoldment at the level of the cluster is a dynamic process, one that
is necessarily complex and does not lend itself to ready simplification. They see
how it moves forward as they increase their ability both to raise up human
resources and to coordinate and organize well the actions of those who arise.
The friends realize that as these capacities are enhanced, it becomes possible to
integrate a wider range of initiatives….
… Indeed, they recognize the benefit that accrues from the contribution of each
individual to the progress of the whole, and thus the service rendered by each one,
in keeping with the possibilities created by a person’s circumstances, is welcomed
by all.12
The mutually reinforcing character of the core activities and the transformative impact of
the institute process become more evident, and sustainable growth and universal participation
more feasible, in the smaller, intimate settings of villages and neighbourhoods. As the House of
Justice explains:
In essence, this approach centres on the response to Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on the
part of populations who are ready for the spiritual transformation His Revelation
fosters. Through participation in the educational process promoted by the training
institute, they are motivated to reject the torpor and indifference inculcated by the
forces of society and pursue, instead, patterns of action which prove life altering.
Where this approach has advanced for some years in a neighbourhood or village
and the friends have sustained their focus, remarkable results are becoming
gradually but unmistakably evident. Youth are empowered to take responsibility
for the development of those around them younger than themselves. Older
generations welcome the contribution of the youth to meaningful discussions about
the affairs of the whole community. For young and old alike, the discipline
cultivated through the community’s educational process builds capacity for
consultation, and new spaces emerge for purposeful conversation. Yet change is
not confined merely to the Bahá’ís and those who are involved in the core activities
called for by the Plan, who might reasonably be expected to adopt new ways of
thinking over time. The very spirit of the place is affected. A devotional attitude
takes shape within a broad sweep of the population. Expressions of the equality of
men and women become more pronounced. The education of children, both boys
and girls, commands greater attention. The character of relationships within
families—moulded by assumptions centuries old—alters perceptibly. A sense of
duty towards one’s immediate community and physical environment becomes
prevalent. Even the scourge of prejudice, which casts its baleful shadow on every
society, begins to yield to the compelling force of unity. In short, the communitybuilding
work in which the friends are engaged influences aspects of culture.13
Of course, not all neighbourhoods demonstrate the receptivity necessary to become
centres of intense activity, but Bahá’ís, wherever they live, can reach out to others and establish
core activities, drawing participants from among their acquaintances wherever they may reside
in the cluster. In recognizing the commonalities between two simultaneous thrusts—one deeper
in concentrated areas and the other more broadly across the cluster—the friends in the advanced
clusters readily appreciate their engagement in a single collective enterprise of community
building. A unity in diversity of actions emerges, in which every believer can find a part to play
as defined within the Plan’s framework for action. And even though different individuals
engage in different activities, all share a common purpose and readily appreciate the contribution
made by others as they gradually embrace larger and larger numbers of participants in the
pattern of their community life.

1.4 An Effective Organizational Scheme

A cluster advances as more and more capacity for service is developed in a growing
number of individuals, who are then assisted to initiate a growing number of interdependent
activities that embrace ever-larger numbers of participants. This capacity-building process
must, as time goes on, be complemented by an ever more sophisticated system of coordination
and support. The House of Justice explained: “Sheer numbers require organizational schemes
to take on a higher degree of complexity.”14 Numerical growth, along with the geographic
spread of activities in neighbourhoods and across the cluster, has necessitated further
development of the basic scheme of coordination used to initially establish an intensive
programme of growth. The experience of the advanced clusters has borne testimony to the
words of the House of Justice that “the workings of this cluster-level system ... has coded
within it the capacity to accommodate higher and higher degrees of complexity, in terms of
structures and processes, relationships and activities”.15 While it is not possible to distil from
the diverse nascent efforts now emerging in advanced clusters worldwide a single approach for
general use, at this point at least three dimensions are noteworthy.
In the most advanced clusters, because of increasing complexity, it has become necessary
to subdivide the cluster into smaller areas as well as to select neighbourhoods or villages for a
focused effort to learn about community building. Large urban centres under the jurisdiction
of one Local Spiritual Assembly are organized into sectors, while rural and urban clusters with
several Local Assemblies are divided by creating a number of units. Examples of such units are
the five routes of the Norte del Cauca cluster in Colombia that follow particular bus routes and
three areas of Tiriki West in Kenya that resulted from grouping the 72 communities into
segments of 20 to 25 neighbouring villages. With regard to neighbourhoods and villages,
deciding what constitutes a small setting has not been easy in all cases. In the sparsely
populated Pemba cluster in Zambia, a few small villages next to each other were grouped
together to form settings large enough for learning. Conversely, in the Kajang cluster in
Malaysia, the friends started by working in large municipal areas but gradually identified within
them smaller locations more suited to community-building endeavours.
The designation of multiple units within a cluster allows for the creation of new patterns
of coordination to serve the friends in smaller areas. The number of individuals involved in
coordination and support depends largely on the growth in participation in these smaller
settings. At a minimum, in the most advanced clusters a trio of coordinators is appointed, one
for each of the three defined areas of action of the institute. As various subunits are identified,
the more experienced friends may be asked to serve as additional institute coordinators or as
helpers to coordinators. In some instances it has been found useful to have a sector teaching or
growth committee emerge in a similar way, with the designation of an individual as a sector
growth facilitator functioning under the aegis of the Area Teaching Committee. Even down to
the level of neighbourhoods some informal structures are beginning to take shape, such as a
core group that consults, plans, and fosters participation. Where there are a large number of
activities, coordinators and growth facilitators are often needed to serve full-time as part of a
more formal scheme of coordination. In any case, what is emerging in most clusters in the front
ranks is a robust administrative network involving numbers of coordinators and helpers
assigned to assist them, currently ranging from about 10 overall in clusters such as Toronto,
Canada, to as many as 50 or 60 in Lubumbashi and Tiriki West. In Delhi City, India, the
structures in the Harkesh Nagar neighbourhood alone involve 26 individuals who support about
200 core activities engaging nearly 1,200 people.
Another vital and promising development is the increasing participation of Local Spiritual
Assemblies. Aware of the guidance provided in the 28 December 2010 message from the House
of Justice pertaining to their responsibilities, and enriched by “each member’s personal
involvement in the core activities”,16 Local Assemblies are periodically examining their
contribution to the overall effort. Representatives of Assemblies often participate regularly in
cluster planning meetings and share with other members the ways in which their Assembly can
support the cycles of activity. Assemblies are also able to think about all community members,
providing encouragement and support and ensuring that each finds a meaningful part in the
work of expansion and consolidation.

1.5 Greater Involvement in the Life of Society

As the friends in advanced clusters interact more closely with families and form veritable
friendships, they have found themselves drawn further and further into the life of society. Their
efforts, which emerge naturally through conversation and common concerns, generally consist
of “two interconnected, mutually reinforcing areas of activity”:17 participating in the prevalent
discourses of society and social action. In both cases, the first steps consist of simple, fairly
informal acts; some may eventually evolve into more complex, ongoing endeavours.
The initial impact made by the friends in their villages and neighbourhoods is often on
perceptions and values related to the spiritual, moral, and material education of children and
youth. As the quality of the children’s classes and junior youth groups has risen, the capacity
of the believers to have meaningful conversations on the subjects of education and the moral
empowerment of young people has also advanced. As a corollary to this, parents with
youngsters participating in the Bahá’í programmes have demonstrated a greater appreciation
of the importance and commitment to the progress of the academic studies of their children.
Warm friendships and ongoing conversations among the families in neighbourhoods and
villages have also led to greater awareness of local needs. Reflection meetings, junior youth
groups, or neighbourhood Nineteen Day Feasts provide spaces for the community to begin to
consider how to apply the teachings of the Faith “to improve some aspect of the social or
economic life of a population, however modestly”.18 Some efforts have begun on a small scale
and are developing organically, implemented by villagers or neighbourhood residents
themselves. In the Tanna cluster, Vanuatu, for example, a group of junior youth realized that
the route across a creek leading to a major intersection was difficult to traverse, particularly for
the elderly, so they built a simple bridge and a small basic rest house, where travellers walking
long distances could rest or take refuge during a heavy rain.
Another feature increasingly observed in advanced clusters is the impact the institute
process has had in building the capacity and raising the participation of women, who now are
often at the forefront of the teaching and administrative work. Women and girls have gained
increased confidence by initiating core activities and are having a greater voice in community
affairs through participation in reflection meetings and other gatherings. Parents, impressed by
the initiative of their daughters in serving as children’s class teachers, animators of junior youth
groups, or tutors of study circles, have come to understand the importance of providing girls an
education equal to that of boys. And in cultures that have held traditional views that obstruct
the advancement of women, young men as well as young women are becoming thoughtful
protagonists of change. In the Daga cluster, Papua New Guinea, for example, young women,
normally relegated to household chores and child care, are not only being elected members of
Local Assemblies but also as Secretary or Chairperson, a development unimaginable even a few
years ago.
In addition to these grass-roots stirrings, in certain clusters the efforts of the friends are
reinforced through social and economic development activities of Bahá’í-inspired agencies.
For example, in the Katuyola village of the Mwinilunga East cluster in Zambia, youth
participating in the Preparation for Social Action programme offered by the Inshindo
Foundation, together with youngsters from several junior youth groups, initiated a tree-planting
project to address the high levels of deforestation that had resulted from traditional slash and
burn farming methods. This enterprise grew to engage the people of the village and is receiving
the support of the local chief, civic authorities, and the forestry department of the government.


2. EMERGING PROGRAMMES OF GROWTH

In its 28 December message, the Universal House of Justice states that the first milestone,
signifying the emergence of a programme of growth, is marked by an initial flow of human
resources into the field of action:
That is to say, in whatever combination and however small in number, devotional
gatherings, children’s classes and junior youth groups are being maintained by
those progressing through the sequence of institute courses and committed to the
vision of individual and collective transformation they foster.19
A new programme of growth begins as two nascent capacities develop. First, one or more
friends in a cluster must be able to help individuals study the institute’s sequence of courses and
accompany them as they initiate core activities. Then, these individuals must be able to attract
others to participate in the core activities. As efforts along these lines have borne fruit in
various parts of the world, the institutions concerned set aside exaggerated expectations of what
must be achieved before a new programme of growth can be said to have emerged.
Currently the friends in some 1,200 clusters are working to move beyond this first of
several milestones in their development, and such efforts must extend to yet another 1,500 to
2,000 clusters in the next three years to achieve the goal of 5,000 set by the House of Justice.

2.1 Establishing a Basis for Building Capacity

In whatever cluster they reside, whether selected as a goal to receive systematic attention
or not, the friends should feel no hesitation to initiate their own effort to establish a programme
of growth. Even if the work begins modestly with the actions of a few enthusiastic believers in
a single neighbourhood or village, over time, through a sound institute process, an initial spark
can grow into a flame that draws more and more individuals into a unified endeavour. Beyond
such initiatives, a number of simple but effective strategies have emerged to support local
believers or open virgin areas.

Pioneering
The House of Justice referred to one of the strategies for initiating a programme of
growth in its 23 May 2011 message to the Bahá’ís of the world.
In the next five years, the successful prosecution of the Plan will require the
services of several thousand consecrated souls who, spurred on by their love for the
Blessed Beauty, will forsake their homes to settle in villages, towns, and cities in
order to raise to 5,000 the number of clusters with programmes of growth.20
Hundreds of believers have already responded to the call to settle in international and homefront
goal clusters and to initiate efforts that give rise to an organic process of growth. In general,
many of these have been young people—with experience as tutors of study circles, animators
of junior youth groups, and teachers of children’s classes—who had learned how to engage
naturally with the wider society in their more advanced home clusters. A majority arose as
short-term pioneers, and because they often were able to serve full-time for one or two years,
progress in growth and community development proceeded at a rapid pace.

Visiting Teams
In describing how a programme of growth emerges, the House of Justice stated that
“visiting teams may be called upon to provide impetus to the fledgling set of activities”.21
Where the institutions found it challenging to raise up pioneers at the start, or where pioneers
and local believers could benefit from added support, an individual, sometimes an assistant
assigned by an Auxiliary Board member, or teaching teams composed of believers who had
solid experience and a collaborative attitude were sent to goal clusters to help firmly establish
the institute process. This support was often reinforced by arranging for friends from clusters
without growth programmes to spend time in a well-developed cluster to increase their
understanding through first-hand experience of how to advance a process of growth.
In the island cluster of Rodrigues, off the coast of Mauritius, many attempts were made to
settle short-term homefront pioneers, but whenever they eventually left the island, the growth
process invariably stalled. A team of four experienced animators from the mainland came for
three weeks with a plan to establish junior youth groups and develop resources within the
population. The first week, assisted by two local animators, they reached out to 20 junior youth
and visited the parents to explain the programme. In the second week, they organized a one
week day camp; 15 junior youth attended consistently. In the third week, the animators
continued to visit the parents to assess the impact of the programme. The younger children
asked to have activities as well. From the group of junior youth now involved in the
programme, three will turn 15 soon and hope to participate in a study circle for Book 1. For
their next visit, the team from Mauritius decided to arrange for the study of Book 5 as well as to
assist with the junior youth groups.

Institutional Support
At the start of the Five Year Plan, national communities were encouraged to select, after
consultation among the various institutions concerned, a limited number of clusters where they
could begin to learn about initiating new programmes of growth. Many countries, buoyed by
their experience and initial success, already have a process in place to begin work in all the
clusters they hope to advance beyond the first milestone before the end of this Plan. Others still
need to extend their efforts in this area during the course of the coming year, so that there is
sufficient time for the institute process to take root and begin to flourish in every goal cluster.
“All of the institutions and agencies promoting the aim of the current series of global
Plans need to exercise the measure of agility that the birth of such a dynamic process
demands”22, the House of Justice states. Whatever strategy is employed to achieve this end,
institutional support is essential. A homefront pioneer who settled in the Fianarantsoa cluster of
Madagascar found great receptivity. She began by hosting devotional meetings and offering a
children’s class. She was able to engage a few parents of the children in a study circle, but for
some time the cluster did not advance further. Assistance from the training institute made the
difference. When the regional coordinator visited, together they were able to stimulate the
growth process by identifying youth who showed interest in serving as animators of junior
youth groups. They made a concerted effort to meet youth and their families, share the aims of
the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme, and enlist their support. These youth
studied the courses of the institute in a nearby urban centre and embraced the Faith. There are
now nine junior youth groups of 100 participants. With the local friends actively serving, the
cluster moved past the first milestone in a span of only nine months.

2.2 Expanding the Reach of Core Activities

In new clusters where efforts to establish programmes of growth have been initiated over
the past two years, the friends have taken advantage of “opportunities afforded by [their]
personal circumstances”23 and engaged in conversation with people they come in contact with
in daily life—neighbours, parents from their children’s school, shopkeepers, young students, or
new acquaintances met in public spaces—about the spiritual and material conditions of their
communities. The stories of these myriad encounters have confirmed the observation of the
House of Justice that the believers are growing in their capacity “to enter into purposeful
discussion on themes of spiritual import with people from every walk of life”24 and that any of
the core activities “can serve as a stimulus to growth”.25
A mother in Belarus began a children’s class with her two children, and the class grew to
nine. Young people aged 12 to 14 soon showed interest, and the mother and her husband
participated in intensive courses of the training institute to learn how to serve as animators of a
junior youth group. After this second core activity got under way, a study circle was added to
respond to the growing interest of the children’s parents. In a cluster in the United States, a
devotional meeting provided an initial impulse for movement. Gradually a study circle was
formed with some of the participants from the devotional gathering. Soon after, a children’s
class was started, followed by a junior youth group. In an emerging cluster in Fiji, the first step
was to reach out to youth and invite them to serve as animators to form and sustain junior youth
groups. To support the initiative, the Local Spiritual Assembly decided that all its members
would also complete a study of Book 5. The initial effort attracted the interest and involvement
of youth from the wider society, and as they participated in institute courses, human resources
were developed not only to multiply junior youth groups but also to establish children’s classes
as well.
These experiences, repeated in various ways in many clusters worldwide, demonstrate
how the initial flow of human resources into the arena of systematic action rapidly propels a
cluster beyond the first milestone along the continuum of development.


3. INCREASING INTENSITY

As the reach of core activities continues to expand, a higher level of organization to
coordinate efforts emerges, and a distinct rhythm to the cycles of expansion and consolidation
becomes apparent. The enthusiasm of the friends grows, their facility with the instruments and
methods of the Plan increases, and they become more adept at responding to the unique social
conditions around them. With more activity, they put in place the institutional structures needed
to channel their energies and deal with added complexity. In time, they advance towards the
second milestone, the establishment of an intensive programme of growth.
While a good deal of effort may be required to move beyond the first milestone, this is
only the beginning of many challenges to be addressed in striving to continually increase the
intensity of action and sustain the process of growth and community development. Indeed, in
some cases, the friends have encountered misunderstandings or obstacles that have sapped their
energies or led to a reduction in the scope of their endeavours for some time. With experience
they have come to realize that overcoming challenges is an intrinsic part of their journey.
Thus, in striving to increase intensity so that clusters advance along the continuum of
development, the challenge of the institutions becomes, on the one hand, how to sustain and
extend the healthy dynamics of fledgling programmes of growth and, on the other, how to
revitalize intensive programmes of growth in clusters where the level of activity and the
development of human resources seem to have reached a plateau. In this regard, a number of
insights and approaches have emerged to assist the friends to “learn to read their own reality,
see their own possibilities, make use of their own resources, and respond to the exigencies of
large-scale expansion and consolidation to come”.26

3.1 Enhancing the Quality of the Institute Process

In its Ridván 2010 message and in the message dated 12 December 2011, the House of
Justice discussed the purpose and character of the institute process and the importance of
enhancing its quality. Through a deep study of these messages, the believers and institutions
have realized that creating a systematic and vibrant process of human resource development
continues to be their primary challenge. They recognize that “in the final analysis, sustained
quantitative gains will be contingent on qualitative progress”.27 Replacing an anxiety about
“numbers”—whether of core activities, participants, or enrolments—with confidence in the
efficacy of the institute process to empower growing contingents of individuals, the friends are
placing renewed emphasis on the quality of the educational process at all levels, and especially
the quality of study circles. As the House of Justice wrote at Ridván 2010, “Much will fall on
those who serve as tutors.”28 Theirs is the responsibility to create
an environment conducive to the spiritual empowerment of individuals, who will
come to see themselves as active agents of their own learning, as protagonists of a
constant effort to apply knowledge to effect individual and collective
transformation.29
With the aim of enhancing the capacities of those serving as tutors, animators, and
children’s class teachers, training institutes around the world have given greater attention to
reinforcing the work of cluster institute coordinators on whom rests primary responsibility for
accompanying them. In the past two years, special arrangements were made to enable more
coordinators to offer additional time—many on a full-time basis. Also, gatherings for cluster
coordinators that involved in-depth study of institute materials and reflection on critical
concepts contained in them, in conjunction with field visits, were held in many regions and
countries. In this way, institute coordinators increased their ability to support the friends in
conducting study of the materials of the institute in a manner that fosters understanding and in
implementing the practical components in a way that builds confidence for service. Where this
type of profound reflection was incorporated into the structure of training institutes and their
regular operations, qualitative progress was observed.

3.2 Providing Greater Structure as Complexity Rises

In clusters that have attained a level of development where “a nascent programme for the
sustained expansion and consolidation of the Faith can be perceived”,30 the need for
administrative structure emerges over time in a natural way and cannot be rushed to correspond
to some preconceived scheme. Initially the efforts of the friends have generally been guided
and supported by Auxiliary Board members and their assistants. More sophisticated patterns of
coordination are required as the number of participants and the level of activity increase. If one
of the core activities is growing far beyond the level of the others, it is natural that a coordinator
would be put in place for this line of action first. For example, in those clusters where focus
was initially directed towards increasing the number of junior youth groups, the junior youth
coordinator was the first to be appointed.
“Parallel to the establishment of mechanisms to support the institute process,”31 explains
the House of Justice, “other administrative structures are gradually taking shape.”32 The
question of the timely appearance of an Area Teaching Committee depends on the circumstances
in a particular cluster. In clusters that are just beyond the first milestone, although the number
of activities and human resources might be increasing, the appointment of an individual as a
cluster development facilitator has usually proved to be sufficient to support the participation of
believers and friends of the Faith in home visits, devotional meetings, and other teaching
activities. A nucleus for an Area Teaching Committee has generally emerged naturally from
among the core of active believers who have demonstrated a capacity to accompany others in
service.
As with other structures in the cluster, the means for planning and reflection has also
developed organically, becoming more organized, systematic, and varied as complexity has
grown. Initial informal interactions, perhaps facilitated by an Auxiliary Board member or an
assistant, eventually give rise to a cluster reflection meeting and to other formal and informal
occasions for reflection, such as gatherings for coordinators, tutors, animators, or children’s
class teachers; teaching teams; or for the participants working in specific cluster sectors,
neighbourhoods, or villages.

3.3 Intensifying Community-Building Efforts in Neighbourhoods and Villages

In most clusters, there are a number of Bahá’í communities. Community-building efforts
will therefore naturally emerge in all these localities. Participants in core activities are drawn
from a wide circle of contacts and possibly from various parts of a cluster. Where the number
of believers is few, a special measure of flexibility may be required and friends who live in
nearby communities may need to collaborate in their endeavours. In sizeable communities,
gatherings in a local centre provide an opportunity to host large numbers and demonstrate the
distinctive spirit of the Faith, reinforcing the work in smaller settings. Efforts to engage circles
of friends in the core activities—university students or young mothers, to mention but two—
make a valuable contribution to the overall community-building process under way. As the
friends strive to creatively explore the possibilities around them in more and more parts of the
cluster, new believers are welcomed, human resources raised up, and the pattern of community
life that germinates through the core activities is gradually extended until it embraces all the
believers and their associates. Essential as these efforts are, they eventually reach their own
natural pace and scale, and alone, seem insufficient to achieve the thrust required for large-scale
expansion and consolidation.
As discussed in section 1.3, particularly promising developments occur when, as the
House of Justice explains, some of the friends, often young believers, “become integrated into
neighbourhoods and dedicate themselves to assisting particularly receptive populations to
advance along a path of spiritual development—giving rise to centres of intense activity”.33
This type of endeavour, a distinguishing feature of the most advanced clusters, offers great
promise as well for all clusters where the friends seek to build intensity. In some cases, work in
the neighbourhoods or villages is initiated as a result of organized, direct teaching activities or a
campaign to expand a particular core activity; in others, individuals settle as pioneers for this
purpose; and in some, cluster agencies accompany resident believers to further intensify their
teaching efforts among their neighbours. In clusters where, from the outset, the junior youth
programme is singled out as a critical element in advancing the community-building process,
agencies identify neighbourhoods with a large number of youth and junior youth. In selecting
neighbourhoods or villages for focused efforts, it has been observed that fostering activity in
too many areas at once can dissipate energies. These varied experiences suggest the importance
of the friends’ taking an in-depth view of a particular neighbourhood or village to understand its
reality—its resources, its challenges, and the potential of its population to work alongside the
Bahá’ís to “begin a process of collective transformation”.34
When a dedicated team of believers focuses its attention on fostering activity in a
neighbourhood or village, these friends need to be given latitude to function in a manner that is
in harmony with an unfolding organic process and be provided with appropriate support from
institutions. They need time to learn how to respond to the demands of growth within a
receptive population: how to form genuine friendships, what teaching activities are effective,
and how to channel resources to sustain such a growth process. It is not necessary, or even
productive, for everyone in the cluster to focus on the neighbourhood. Yet, often it has been
found that progress in a neighbourhood or village can infuse a new energy and optimism in
endeavours across the rest of the cluster, providing a fresh impulse to its forward movement and
to the process of community building under way in all areas.
As multiple activities are concentrated in the small, relatively cohesive areas of a
neighbourhood or village, the transformative impact of the spiritual and social forces at work
are more readily noticed by the population at large. Parents see their children and youth
progressing before their eyes and recognize that the social relations of their community have
been imbued with a new spirit. Entire families are sometimes drawn to participate in the life of
the Bahá’í community and embrace its teachings. And efforts are eventually “sustained by
human resources indigenous to the neighbourhood or village itself—by men and women eager
to improve material and spiritual conditions in their surroundings”.35

3.4 Identifying and Overcoming Obstacles to Sustained Progress

In hundreds of advanced clusters where intensive programmes of growth were begun in
the previous Plan, the believers achieved steady progress, enabling them to move beyond the
second milestone towards the frontiers of learning. However, in hundreds of others, the friends
encountered obstacles that significantly hindered their continued advance or even resulted in a
decrease in participation and activity, requiring them to reflect upon and revise their approach
in order to learn to overcome the difficulty. A review of some challenges and misconceptions
that arose in such clusters may assist those who face similar problems to properly assess their
situation and make the necessary adjustments in a timely manner.
In some cases, challenges arose as a result of an inability to establish one or another vital
aspect of the framework for action. For example, in certain clusters the institute process had
not taken root so the relationship between study and service intrinsic to the institute courses was
not realized. Thus, rather than bringing about an organic process in which more and more
individuals carry out more and more activities, a small number of believers became overwhelmed
by increasing responsibilities. Only when the challenge of human resource development was
resolved could the scope of endeavours expand. In other clusters, the friends readily enrolled
new believers but struggled to help a significant number of them advance through the sequence
of courses and enter a path of service. There were also those instances when the friends
initiated many core activities among themselves, without giving due attention to teaching and
inviting participants from the wider community. Reflection meetings sometimes centred too
much on planning or instruction rather than the opportunity to learn from experience and revise
action accordingly.
Occasionally, when addressing new, emerging facets of an evolving programme of
growth, misunderstandings surfaced, or, in some cases, attention to a new aspect of the work
led, inadvertently, to ignoring others. For example, in some places a dichotomy was perceived
between collective teaching campaigns and the responsibility for personal teaching, when in
reality, every act of teaching represents a response of the community to the Master’s Divine
Plan. Sometimes, a focus on neighbourhoods was interpreted to mean that core activities
drawing participants from different parts of a cluster should no longer be maintained. On
occasion, there was a “tendency to confuse focus with uniformity or exclusivity”,36 leading
either to an insistence on a single fixed approach or, conversely, to the idea that all individuals
can establish any initiative they wish.
In the work of expansion and consolidation, the House of Justice has repeatedly observed
that mistakes will inevitably be made and new challenges will present themselves. Obstacles,
when they arise, are ultimately resolved through perseverance and further experience. Fruitless
debate, insistence on personal views, creating false dichotomies, or the “tendency to reduce a
complex process of transformation into simplistic steps, susceptible to instruction”37 can be
carefully avoided or wisely overcome. It is learning together that is yielding the insights
necessary so that “stumbling blocks can be made stepping stones for progress”.38

3.5 Reaching Out to Youth in Receptive Populations

As discussed in section 1.2, the experience generated in many of the most advanced
clusters has demonstrated the efficacy of a strategy that involves focused attention on enlisting
young people from the wider society to serve in the community-building process. The same
approach has been effective in establishing or strengthening intensive programmes of growth.
As stated in a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice:
By multiplying vibrant junior youth groups, a community learns a great deal about,
for instance, how capable human resources are increased and deployed; how
capacity for service is raised within cohorts of individuals; how an expanding
programme can be effectively coordinated; and how initiating one activity can,
quite naturally, lead to the emergence of others. And as a consequence of the
organic unfoldment of the educational process and the participants’ ongoing
spiritual and moral development, all facets of the growth programme are, in time,
extended and enhanced.39
In the Tuscany North-West cluster of Italy, the level of activity had reached a plateau and
the veteran believers found it challenging to reach out to receptive youth. With the aid of the
junior youth coordinator and teaching committee, a campaign focused on expanding the junior
youth programme in neighbourhoods in the city of Livorno where the believers were interacting
with a receptive population. Ten youths from around Italy spent three weeks in Livorno
praying, studying, and preparing how to converse about the junior youth programme. As a
result of the campaign, 12 young people from the wider society participated in a two-week
intensive training in Books 1 and 5 to prepare to serve as animators. The experience of
focusing on this particular age group in a receptive neighbourhood changed the outlook of a
community that had been struggling to increase participation in core activities. As two adult
believers wrote, “We all feel that Livorno is no longer as before. There is a new awareness in
the community, a new energy, a new vision.” Almost every member of the local community is
now engaged in the activities of the Plan, including some serving on a new Area Teaching
Committee, others offering devotions in their homes for the new believers and seekers, and
nearly all striving to reach out to youth. Similar experiences have emerged in all continents.
Not all the believers, of course, are able to work directly with junior youth groups, which
may be largely concentrated in certain neighbourhoods or villages in their cluster. Nevertheless,
a sound knowledge of the programme has proved to be invaluable for all those engaged in the
work of the Plan, since the insights acquired help to shape the discourse with the wider
community about the mission of the Faith to contribute to the betterment of the world. In the
East Valley cluster in the United States, the friends serving in teaching teams and as animators
concentrated for a period on learning how to effectively engage young people and their families
from a receptive neighbourhood in an elevated and effective conversation about the junior
youth programme. Over time, as their efforts bore fruit, this conversation began to spread to all
the friends engaged in activities throughout the cluster, whether associated with the junior youth
groups or not. This not only contributed to the multiplication of groups but also enriched the
entire programme of growth by helping the friends visualize and describe their efforts in
broader terms of community building and social transformation.

3.6 Enduring Fellowship

The “ethos of loving service”40 fostered through the institute process becomes the
animating spirit in clusters where encouragement and helpfulness are expressed through a deep
commitment to accompanying one another in treading a path of service. This vital element in
the emerging Bahá’í culture is manifested through the quality of the interactions among the
friends. By working shoulder to shoulder, sharing in one another’s joys and struggles, bonds of
love and friendship are created that are the foundation for enduring fellowship. No structures or
processes can make up for the spirit of loving fellowship if it does not exist.
Where faith in the capacity of others, a humble attitude of learning, mutual support and
assistance, patience and forbearance, flexibility and generosity, and loving fellowship and
encouragement are found, all the elements of the framework for action cohere and progress.
As described by the House of Justice: “The operation of spiritual forces in the arena of service
becomes increasingly apparent, and bonds of friendship, so vital to a healthy pattern of growth,
are continuously reinforced.”41


4. ENHANCING INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY TO SUPPORT THE MOVEMENT OF CLUSTERS

The previous discussion in sections 1.4 and 3.2 concerning administrative arrangements
highlighted how structures within clusters evolve in response to growth and an expanding
framework of activity, accommodating ever greater complexity. This section will consider
structures and processes at regional and national levels, where institutions are striving “to create
and refine mechanisms that serve to further the pattern of growth unfolding at the cluster level
and the learning process associated with it”.42
It should be noted that, despite significant evolution in the scheme of coordination in the
first two years of the current Plan, it is premature to define a specific pattern to be followed
everywhere as clusters move towards the frontiers of learning. More experience is required,
and additional guidance must be provided over time by the Universal House of Justice.
Nevertheless, it is hoped that the insights about administrative structures and processes offered
in this section of the document, although preliminary in nature, will assist institutions in various
countries and regions to keep pace with the complexity associated with the movement of
increasing numbers of clusters along the continuum of development.

4.1 Training Institutes

There are some 300 training institutes worldwide, about a third of which operate at the
regional level. Some of these agencies have already grown to become sizeable and complex
organizations, with scores of full- and part-time coordinators and their helpers maintaining
hundreds of activities involving thousands of participants. For many years, most of the work of
the institute, including overseeing both administrative matters and the development of the
programmes, fell on national or regional coordinators. While the responsibilities of these
coordinators continue to be important, and indeed have only become more complex as the
scope of the activity of institutes has been extended to thousands of additional clusters, it has
been necessary to bring institute boards more fully into operation as well.
National Assemblies or Regional Councils, in consultation with Counsellors, appoint to
institute boards individuals who have had direct involvement in serving as tutors, animators,
children’s class teachers, or former coordinators and are familiar with the institute’s structure.
A sound understanding of the relationship between human resource development and sustained
growth is also required. With such a reservoir of experience, boards are increasingly taking
responsibility for formulating annual plans and budgets, organizing periodic reflection
gatherings with coordinators, facilitating the flow of funds, and collaborating with other
institutions. The board also needs to regularly engage with the Counsellors and their auxiliaries
and have a close, collaborative relationship with the Regional Council or, in its absence, with
the National Assembly itself, through frequent communication and occasional joint meetings.
A primary consideration of the board and all the institutions that support the institute is
the scheme of coordination and how the coordinators at all levels can be accompanied in their
service. National and regional coordinators support a growing number of cluster coordinators
by periodically bringing them together in gatherings for sharing experience and by visiting
them in the field to support their day-to-day operations. They also ensure that resources such as
funds and materials reach clusters in a timely manner, and cluster coordinators are engaged in a
collaborative interaction with other agencies and institutions. Where activity is under way in a
significant number of clusters, it may even be necessary to provide for the organization of the
work of coordinators into subregions. Whatever the particular structure suited to the conditions
of a region, there must be a variety of occasions that bring together friends serving as
coordinators to learn from one another’s experience, explore new guidance, and reflect upon
and revise their plans of action.
A number of attitudes and abilities are essential to foster in coordinators at all levels:
deep understanding and appreciation of the nature, purpose, and methods of the training
institute; commitment to the community-building process; recognition of the need to nurture the
potential of others; dedication to learning; a collaborative spirit; and a readiness to support
others and be supported by them in adhering to a Bahá’í way of life. Experience in recent years
clearly indicates that coordinators will need to be allowed to serve for a few years in order for
the required capacity to be built, and creative means will have to be developed to enable them
to devote a period of their lives to this field of endeavour, perhaps, in the case of the youth, in
conjunction with their continuing education.

4.2 Learning Sites for the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Programme

As described earlier, the systematic process for learning about the junior youth spiritual
empowerment programme has lent impetus to growth and community building in general. A
formal structure for this learning process emerged during the previous Five Year Plan when a
number of clusters with significant advances in the implementation of the junior youth
programme were designated as sites for the dissemination of learning. Now numbering more
than forty, at different stages of development, these learning sites and the resource persons
associated with them support a network of approximately ten clusters each. Among these
nearly 400 clusters are virtually all of the most advanced clusters in the world. Now a critical
component of the institutional framework to advance community building, this structure for
systematic learning is proving to be an invaluable resource for Counsellors and their auxiliaries,
National Assemblies, Regional Councils, and training institutes. The House of Justice
explained:
The areas of learning at these sites, and in their associated clusters, have included
the capacity of animators, the dynamics of junior youth groups, and the scheme of
coordination that supports the development of the programme among diverse
populations; this learning is then shared with the training institutes. The
effectiveness of the programme is vastly enhanced as resource persons serving the
learning sites conduct training seminars and work closely with cluster coordinators
in their efforts to increase the number of animators and junior youth groups.43

4.3 Regional Bahá’í Councils

Bearing the primary responsibility at this time “for overseeing the execution of the Five
Year Plan in the territories under their jurisdiction,”44 Regional Councils recognize that their
overarching task is to ensure the movement of clusters along a rich and dynamic continuum of
development, from supporting those where the first stirrings of the growth process are evident
to strengthening those that are advancing the frontiers of learning. This is achieved through the
Councils’ assistance to the institutions, agencies, and believers at the cluster level, in addition to
their work with the training institute.
As part of their responsibility, Regional Councils ensure “the timely appearance and
dynamic functioning of Area Teaching Committees”.45 During the last Five Year Plan, Councils
gained a great deal of experience in fostering the effective functioning of Area Teaching
Committees through gatherings for orientation, consultation, and planning, as well as visits by
the Council Secretary or other friends designated to follow the work of the Committees and the
progress of clusters. In addition to assessing the strengths and challenges in each cluster, the
objective of these interactions was to focus on building capacity in the Committees, particularly
in their secretaries. Another fruitful practice has been a periodic meeting for reflection by key
individuals at the regional level, once every three or six months, to assess how the Area
Teaching Committees are being supported and how they are contributing to the development of
the clusters. Such meetings have included the Secretary of the Council, the Counsellor or
Auxiliary Board members, regional institute coordinators, and other members of the Council or
staff charged with following the movement of clusters.
Along with their responsibilities in the field, Regional Councils are carrying out an array
of administrative duties. They are trying to put into place efficient systems and mechanisms to
ensure the flow of funds, information, learning, and human resources, such as pioneers. The
scope of the work of Council Secretaries, which includes overseeing administrative and field
operations and, in some cases, properties, is increasing, requiring many to devote hours
equivalent to full-time service. In order to manage the wide range of tasks, well-functioning
offices with support staff are emerging.


5. SOCIETY-BUILDING POWER OF THE FAITH

Over many decades, generations of Bahá’ís have striven to apply the teachings of
Bahá’u’lláh to their individual and collective lives. Inspired always by the distant vision of a
new World Order and a divine civilization, the believers have pressed on and consecrated
themselves to achieving the goals of successive global Plans. This vision of a world
civilization, as Shoghi Effendi wrote, is one that “no mortal eye hath ever beheld or human
mind conceived”.46 Referring to the endeavour of the followers of Bahá’u’lláh, who at the time
were few in number, he stated:
Conscious of their high calling, confident in the society-building power which
their Faith possesses, they press forward, undeterred and undismayed, in their
efforts to fashion and perfect the necessary instruments wherein the embryonic
World Order of Bahá’u’lláh can mature and develop.47
The transformative and constructive powers inherent in the Faith are gradually becoming
manifest in advanced clusters where Bahá’ís are working alongside their neighbours in a
collective process and, through social action and participation in countless conversations, are
learning to respond to the heightened social consciousness that springs in a natural way from
intensive engagement in the core activities. The House of Justice has observed:
An especially notable feature of the last twelve months has been the frequency
with which the Bahá’í community is being identified, in a wide variety of contexts,
with efforts to bring about the betterment of society in collaboration with likeminded
people. From the international arena to the grassroots of village life,
leaders of thought in all kinds of settings have expressed their awareness that not
only do Bahá’ís have the welfare of humanity at heart, but they possess a cogent
conception of what needs to be accomplished and effective means for realizing their
aspirations.48
The Bahá’í community is now more able than ever before to advance “the manifold and
diverse dimensions of civilization building”.49 In contemplating the complexity of the process
and the recurring challenges that lie ahead, there is no doubt that “endeavour, ceaseless
endeavour, is required”,50 as the Master described the task of establishing “true civilization”.51
At the same time, mindful of the countless expressions of Bahá’u’lláh’s divine love and
evidences of His all-conquering power in their lives, the friends press forward, labouring
“serenely, confidently, and unremittingly”52 to contribute their talents and energies, no matter
where they reside, to those efforts that are “conducive to the regeneration of the world and the
salvation of the peoples and kindreds of the earth”.53


REFERENCES
1 Ri dván 2013 message written by the Universal
House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the world.
2 Message dated 12 December 2011 written by
the Universal House of Justice to all National
Spiritual Assemblies.
3 Rid ván 2013 message.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ridván 2010 message written by the Universal
House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the world.
8 From an unpublished Tablet of Bahá’u’lláh.
9 Message dated 12 December 2011.
10 Ibid.
11 Message dated 27 December 2005 written by
the Universal House of Justice to the Conference
of the Continental Boards of Counsellors.
12 Rid ván 2013 message.
13 Ibid.
14 Message dated 28 December 2010 written by
the Universal House of Justice to the Conference
of the Continental Boards of Counsellors.
15 Rid ván 2010 message.
16 Message dated 28 December 2010.
17 Ri dván 2010 message.
18 Ibid.
19 Message dated 28 December 2010.
20 Message dated 23 May 2011 written by the
Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of
the world.
21 Message dated 28 December 2010.
22 Ibid.
23 Ibid.
24 Rid ván 2010 message.
25 Message dated 28 December 2010.
26 Ibid.
27 Ri dván 2010 message.
28 Ibid.
29 Ibid.
30 Message dated 28 December 2010.
31 Ibid.
32 Ibid.
33 Letter dated 9 August 2012 written on behalf
of the Universal House of Justice to the National
Spiritual Assembly of the United States.
34 Ri dván 2010 message.
35 Ibid.
36 Message dated 27 December 2005.
37 Message dated 28 December 2010.
38 Ibid.
39 Letter dated 14 November 2012 written on
behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the
National Spiritual Assembly of the United
States.
40 Message dated 28 December 2010.
41 Ibid.
42 Ibid.
43 Letter dated 7 August 2012 written on behalf
of the Universal House of Justice to the National
Spiritual Assembly of Germany.
44 Letter dated 23 January 2011 written on behalf
of the Universal House of Justice to the Local
Spiritual Assemblies of Colombes and
Courbevoie, France.
45 Letter dated 9 August 2012 written on behalf
of the Universal House of Justice to the National
Spiritual Assembly of the United States.
46 Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh:
Selected Letters (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing
Trust, 1991, 2009 printing), p. 206.
47 Ibid., p. 195.
48 Rid ván 2013 message.
49 Ri dván 2010 message.
50 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization
(Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990, 1999
printing), p. 66.
51 Ibid., p. 81.
52 Ri dván 153 [1996] message written by the
Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the
world.
53 Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed
After the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, (Wilmette: Bahá’í
Publishing Trust, 1988, 1992 printing), p. 223.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

17 July 2013 - The Universal House of Justice, Destruction of Most Great House in Baghdad

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

17 July 2013

To the Baha'is of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

      A century and a half ago, Baha'u'llah departed His House in Baghdad for the Najibiyyih Garden, where He would, for the first time, openly disclose His prophetic mission. He left behind Him an edifice of surpassing sacredness that had sheltered Him for seven years. This sanctified residence, to which the Blessed Beauty would never return, was styled by Him the "Most Great House"; designated, along with the House of the Bab in Shiraz, as the place of Baha'i pilgrimage; and addressed, by the Supreme Pen, in these stirring words:
      I testify that thou art the scene of His transcendent glory, His most holy habitation. Out of thee hath gone forth the Breath of the All-Glorious, a Breath that hath breathed over all created things, and filled with joy the breasts of the devout that dwell in the mansions of Paradise. 
      Yet, in His own lifetime, the House in Baghdad was subjected to mistreatment, and ownership of the building was temporarily wrested from His followers. Baha'u'llah foretold, in poignant terms, the further degradation that would befall His House.
This is not the first humiliation inflicted upon My House. In days gone by the hand of the oppressor hath heaped indignities upon it. Verily, it shall be so abased in the days to come as to cause tears to flow from every discerning eye. Thus have We unfolded to thee things hidden beyond the veil, inscrutable to all save God, the Almighty, the All-Praised. 
      Events over the last one hundred and fifty years have borne out that to which Baha'u'llah had thus alluded. The House in Baghdad was acquired for His use about twenty-five years after its construction, which is thought to have occurred in 1830. By the early 1900s, it had fallen into total disrepair. When conditions were propitious, 'Abdu'l-Baha arranged for it to be fully rebuilt, from the foundation upwards. As this work was nearing completion, efforts to seize the building by those opposing the Faith intensified, culminating in a wholly spurious claim to ownership that was unjustly endorsed by the courts. Again, the Most Great House was taken from the Baha'is.

      Over the years that followed, successive attempts were made by the believers, under the direction of Shoghi Effendi, to regain control of the property. The case was eventually taken up by the League of Nations, which plainly condemned the injustice done to the Baha'i community, but even this brought about no redress. However, the confiscation of the Blessed House and the response of the friends did lead to another significant development, as Shoghi Effendi recounts in "God Passes By":
      Suffice it to say that, despite these interminable delays, protests and evasions, and the manifest failure of the Authorities concerned to implement the recommendations made by both the Council of the League and the Permanent Mandates Commission, the publicity achieved for the Faith by this memorable litigation, and the defence of its cause--the cause of truth and justice--by the world's highest tribunal, have been such as to excite the wonder of its friends and to fill with consternation its enemies.
      Now is not the occasion to delve into the details of this "memorable litigation", but an extensive description has been set down by the Guardian in his peerless account of the first Baha'i century. We add only that, since that time, the Most Great House has not been in the possession of the Baha'is, having been turned into a Shi'ah religious endowment instead.

      Owing to the highly delicate situation in Iraq over the last tumultuous decade, it was not possible for the friends to press their claim to this sacred property. Nevertheless, the institutions of the Faith in that country and individual believers remained vigilant regarding any developments bearing on the security of the Most Great House and took whatever measures were open to them to promote its protection and preservation. Iraqis themselves, although not generally aware of the special significance with which the property had been invested by Baha'u'llah, were not oblivious to its historical and architectural value. Only a year ago, the Department of Antiquities had published, in the official gazette of the government, a decree intended to guarantee the building against any action that might damage it, a decree that carried with it the force of the law. Indeed, as far back as the early 1980s the authorities had recognized the House to be a fine example of period architecture in Iraq, still in good condition, and had designated it as a heritage site.

      Thus, it was with utter shock and desolating grief that the Baha'is in Baghdad discovered on 26 June that the "most holy habitation" of Baha'u'llah had been razed almost to the ground to make way for the construction of a mosque. It has now been confirmed that the work was undertaken without a legal permit. The destruction of the property, it emerges, had been planned for some time, but the largest part of the operation was carried out over just three days and nights, from 24 to 26 June, using heavy machinery. We understand that the Department of Antiquities, which had previously been preparing to renovate the property, is already taking steps to establish precisely what led to the demolition, to attempt to halt any construction on the same spot, and to bring to account those responsible.

      In the world at large, it has become all too familiar for a blow of this severity, dealt to a hallowed site, to provoke an aggressive response. The Baha'is of Iraq, trained by the hand of the Abha Beauty, will of course remain the embodiments of kindness and forbearance, hopeful of a just outcome. They are under no illusion as to the magnitude of the loss which they, on behalf of the worldwide Baha'i community and beyond, are being forced to bear. But their eagerness to render service to their society will not be diminished by this calamity, nor will they be any less conscious of the pressing need for the whole of humanity to be acquainted with Baha'u'llah's teachings. On the contrary. To gain insight into what the Most Great House truly stands for-- indeed, to understand better the transcendent meaning of pilgrimage to that holy edifice--one need only observe the response of Baha'u'llah's followers throughout the world to its destruction: high-mindedness, serenity, trust in God. Their primary focus is on opening the hearts to the implications of the message of the Blessed Beauty; events in Baghdad will only serve to heighten the sense of urgency with which this work is undertaken. At this time when the series of youth conferences, now commencing, is about to propel forward the current stage in the unfoldment of the Divine Plan, we beseech the Almighty to graciously bestow upon the friends everywhere fortified resolve.

      Baha'u'llah foresaw that the Most Great House would be subjected to terrible indignities, but He also stated that, no matter what adversities might arise, the Cause was divinely protected. Let every believer take heart. In a moving apostrophe addressed to that House, the Ancient Beauty asserted: "God hath, in the world of creation, adorned thee with the jewel of His remembrance. Such an ornament no man can, at any time, profane." He gave a promise, too, that, notwithstanding all that would befall the Blessed House, the future glory of that sanctified place was assured: "In the fullness of time, the Lord shall, by the power of truth, exalt it in the eyes of all men. He shall cause it to become the Standard of His Kingdom, the Shrine round which will circle the concourse of the faithful."

                                                                                                [signed: The Universal House of Justice]