Re: "window of oppurtunity"... different approaches

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Posted by Jon Paul Duvall ( on November 12, 2003 at 02:08:48:

In Reply to: "window of oppurtunity" in regards to conversion posted by Omid on November 10, 2003 at 15:11:20:

Its often hard to convey the spirit of consultation in the written form, since we are taught to write with emphatic statements and with proofs etc... but this is only offered as one piece to the puzzle and not as any difinitive answer:

I think there are a few basic approaches that different people take toward teaching the Baha'i Faith:

1) Conversion
In this method the goal is identifying a person or a group of people sharing some common charcteristic (a demographic) and focusing ones efforts on teaching this person about the Baha'i Faith with the goal of having that person or members of that group declare belief in Baha'u'llah. This often is a premeditated approach where one tries to determine what kinds of things would this particular person or group be interested in that might have something to do with a main Principle of Baha'u'llah, or that the Writings might bear some new insight into that might interest this person. You will see books and pamphlets geared towards teaching "Christians" or "African-Americans" etc. etc. which try to link common experiences or beliefs members of these groups often have with the teachings in the Faith.

2) "Let deeds not words be your adorning"
In this method one simply tries to be the best Baha'i she can be, living the life, trying to take the Principles of the Faith into her core and exemplify them in her everyday life. She walks the walk. When someone takes note things which set her apart from her peers (she doesn't back-bite or drink alcohol, she associates with members of all races without fear or suspicion, etc.) they ask her "Why are you like that?" Then she tells them about how the Baha'i Faith has changed her life and made her the person she is.

3) I'm in love with Baha'u'llah and I am going to tell everyone about it
In this approach any excuse is a good one to tell someone anything about the Baha'i Faith. If you are standing in line in the grocery store you simply say "Hello how are you?" and once the small talk is over you start telling them somethings about the Baha'i Faith.

4) Bring people to Baha'i social / devotional / deeping gatherings
Introduce people to the Baha'i community, give them a taste for what it is like to be a Baha'i among fellow believers. Let them experience the power of the prayers during devotional gatherings, experience the loving genuine acceptance by the friends at a social gathering, get real insight into things by participating in a deeping or Ruhi book.

5)Make deep intimate friendships with people
By forming real and intimate friendships with individual neighbors, coworkers, classmates, etc. you form a real person bond with another human being. And eventually the question of religion and belief comes up and since this person already loves you they are able to truly listen to your beliefs without fear that you are trying to convert them, and eventually will probably come to an Ayyam-i-Ha party, or even ask to read something about the Faith. And if they become seekers, you can delve into the Writings and deepen together and explore the Faith together.

6) All of these together in some fashion.

I think each person finds a different approach she is comfortable with, and often different Baha'is will feel strongly about one way or the other and sometimes this even lends to clashes of opinion. I lived in a community where door-to-door teaching was something some of the community thought was a good idea and others thought a horrible idea and potentially damaging to the Faith. Eventually the community decided that each person should follow their conscious in the matter and everyone would accept those individual decisions. Some people went door-to-door, and some people did not.

As for when is the biggest window of opportunity i think the truest answer is EVERY MOMENT.

For my own personal opinion, i believe that it doesn't matter that anyone I know becomes Baha'i or not. Baha'u'llah's exhortation to teach His Cause wasn't "find the best method to convert people who might otherwise not want to be Baha'is." For me it is an encouragement not to keep this precious gift a secret, not to be shy and bashful, but to tell people about it, everybody we can, and when we find people who are interested then we can share the Faith on a deeper level with them.

From a purely scientific angle on the question of windows of opportunity, there is among current thought about teaching in general, that the teacher must be on the look out for what its called a "teachable moment." Usually pupils are so caught up in there own understandings of things that even if you are being very clear and explaining things perfectly they are not really learning. Therefore you need to look for (and in some schools of thought - provoke) these "teachable moments." How i adapt this to teaching about the Baha'i Faith is simply this: most of the time it is not timely to get very deep with people, but i always keep the Baha'i Faith near the surface and if anyone seems interested, or they have some deep issue or concern that i can listen and let them unburden their soul by confiding in me about, and if they ask my thoughts about it, then i can give them something out of the Teachings of Baha'u'llah.

And speaking from personal experience in college (though it is somewhat unique in that i went to an extremely diverse and liberal arts school in Chicago) - fellow students are far more likely than professors to be interested in learning anything at all, let alone about a new religion. Students are already thirsting for knowledge and aren't scared to learn new things.

Also, in my own experience, what seems to "work best" is to try to create an environment where people feel comfortable to speak truthfully, and encourage them to talk and truly listen to them. Do as little talking as possible but encourage them to speak those sentiments which are at their core-being. To illustrate i will use an example:

I was in college, and wandering around the dorm, seeing where fate would take me. I came across a party where i knew some people. I sat down in the hall and said hello to people as they went in and out of the party. Soon a classmate came out and sat down next to me, he had been drinking (as an aside my own first rule in teaching the Faith is to let people be themselves and never try to impose my own standards and morality onto them). I started talking with him. And gently i asked him things about what he thought about the world and what was happening in it. And the most amazing thing happened. Soon he was telling me how all the people in the world were like one people, and how everyone has a piece of the bigger Truth, how different religions all were important and had lessons for us... things that almost came verbatim out of talks of 'Abdu'l-Baha... i kept saying "yeah, right on... keep talking!" Then i told him "Man, everything you are saying is straight up the TRUTH. I have something for you, because you should know where these ideas are coming from." I ran to my room and came back with a little booklet which used to be called "Teachings for the New World Order" which is a collection of statements from Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha some prayers, and so on. (Think they changed the name since New World Order has a scary context these days). Anyways, i read a few lines from it that were things that he had said and then i left. He said thanks. The next day i was practically attacked in the hallway by his roommate asking me for a copy of that little book because he started reading it and wanted to borrow it but his roommate wouldn't let him have it because he was so into it. Luckily i had another copy.

The point to this story is that i said very little aside from encouraging that seed which God had already planted in this kids soul and then sharing with him the actual Writings of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha. It was a teachable moment because i let this young man teach me about his true feelings and thoughts about the world, and i connected with his true self, and showed him how that true self was mirrored in the Writings of Baha'u'llah.

Not sure what else to say right now, other than, if we do our best and follow our heart, we will be guided to thirsty souls and thirsty souls will be guided to us - these we can delve deep into the Faith with and learn together with - until we encounter these fellow seekers of Truth, we should simply do our best to present the Faith in a manner consistent with its Teachings and Principles to everyone we meet in a way which does not antagonize, or make people uncomfortable.

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