Monday, November 23, 2009


I love my neighbours.  I really do.  Although, at times, like earlier today, when I'm trying to write and the doorbell is ringing off the hook (oops, a mixed metaphor), they can be a bit trying.  But still, I do love them.

This has gotten me thinking these days about the importance of neighbourhoods and neighbours.  As you know, there has been a wonderful move within the Faith during this Plan to focus more and more on both.  The learning has shown that when you work closest to where you live, you tend to be most effective.

Of course, this does not override the need for pioneers, or the importance of pioneering.  It is, quite possibly, more important to be a bit less effective in an area that needs you more.  In fact, the rewards and benefits for pioneering are nothing to be sneered at.  The Guardian went on at length about the extreme need for Pioneers during the Ten-Year World Crusade, and even went so far as to name the first pioneers in an area as Knights of Baha'u'llah.

Also, when pioneering, you still have to live somewhere, and can teach in that neighbourhood, so it still works.

But I don't feel like writing about pioneers today.  Today my thoughts are in my own neighbourhood.

And for some reason, I'm also thinking about the Letters of the Living.

It occurred to me the other day that the Bab sent His Letters back to their home areas to teach.  In the Dawn-Breakers, it says, "To each He assigned his own native province as the field of his labours."

As I read the stories from all over the world about the successes in teaching, it seems to me that we all really are like those "heroes of God", bringing the first light of Dawn to the waiting masses.  And those masses are our neighbours.  So there really is something to be said about the importance of teaching in your home area.  Even the Bab, right at the beginning, used that technique.

As I look over the guidance from the World Centre, the guidance seems so simple and clear: Get to know your neighbours.  When you do, see which core activities will naturally fit best into your neighbourhood.  Begin them to the limit of your resources, and see how they develop.  While you're at it, don't forget to talk directly about Baha'u'llah and Who He is.

I remember some very dear friends who, a few years ago, decided to go to every door in their neighbourhood to invite people to their children's class.  They made the invitation to everyone who answered their doors and, in the end, had a few children attend.

At a Feast in which they shared this "radical" method of getting children to attend, their efforts were dismissed by some of the friends as not suitable for most of us.  One person even said, "Well, it's easy for some people to go door-to-door."  They didn't understand the pain and difficulty faced by these two dear souls who were terrified to try this.  But, fortunately, these two angels of Baha were not daunted.  They kept at it.

Later, when they reflected on their efforts, they realized that most of their neighbours were elderly, or at least had children who were already grown up.  My friends commented that it seemed like a lot of effort for little return.  Oh, they were glad they did it, and felt they learned a lot, but were raising an excellent question.

One thing they learned was this: by only offering children's classes, they missed a great opportunity to begin a devotional gathering and invite people to that.  They agreed in retrospect that their neighbourhood would have been better served with this other core activity (which has been on-going for a few years as of this writing).

Now when they go out to invite their neighbours, they talk with them first and get to know them.  After a few minutes (it really doesn't take all that long to get to know someone) they are more aware of which core activity would suit the needs of their new friend.

Hey!  Wait a second.  Doesn't the Guardian allude to this in The Advent of Divine Justice?

Having on his own initiative, and undaunted by any hindrances with which either friend or foe may, unwittingly or deliberately, obstruct his path, resolved to arise and respond to the call of teaching, let him carefully consider every avenue of approach which he might utilize in his personal attempts to capture the attention, maintain the interest, and deepen the faith, of those whom he seeks to bring into the fold of his Faith. Let him survey the possibilities which the particular circumstances in which he lives offer him, evaluate their advantages, and proceed intelligently and systematically to utilize them for the achievement of the object he has in mind.

Wow!  He even addressed the "hindrances" that the friends may inadvertantly put in our way.

So, by simply knocking on the door, they were "capturing the attention".  The conversation, in which they were getting to know their neighbours, was a form of "maintaining the interest".  By listening closely to them, hearing their concerns and then considering which core activity was best suited to their interests, they were "carefully considering every avenue of approach" and "surveying the possibilities" of the different core activities, while at the same time "evaluating their advantages".  Then they "proceeded intelligently and systematically" to invite them to a core activity suited to their particular needs.  They were "deepening the faith" of their neighbours.

Hmm.  It seems like a plan is afoot.

And come to think of it, just a few pages earlier, there is this stirring passage:

Those who participate in such a campaign... must... thoroughly familiarize themselves with the various aspects of the history and teachings of their Faith. In their efforts to achieve this purpose they must study for themselves, conscientiously and painstakingly, the literature of their Faith, delve into its teachings, assimilate its laws and principles, ponder its admonitions, tenets and purposes, commit to memory certain of its exhortations and prayers, master the essentials of its administration, and keep abreast of its current affairs and latest developments... They must devote special attention to the investigation of those institutions and circumstances that are directly connected with the origin and birth of their Faith, with the station claimed by its Forerunner, and with the laws revealed by its Author.

Having acquired, in their essentials, these prerequisites of success in the teaching field, they must, whenever they contemplate undertaking any specific mission in... endeavor, whenever feasible, to acquire a certain proficiency in the languages spoken by the inhabitants... and a knowledge of their customs, habits, and outlook.

Why do I hear echoes of Anna's presentation in this first paragraph?  And the need to know our neighbours, echoed in the second?

But this all leads to my real question, one that has been asked by so many friends: What is a neighbourhood?

I tried using my macro-micro approach by looking at the definition of a cluster: Among the factors that determine the boundaries of a cluster are culture, language, patterns of transport, infrastructure, and the social and economic life of the inhabitants.

But really, that seemed too complicated for my simple mind.  So, instead, I watched my own neighbourhood.  How did I know where its boundaries ended?

Come to think of it, how did I know the boundaries of a nieghbourhood in another cluster I visited?

Simple.  I watched the children.

Today, I think of a neighbourhood as a place where the children will walk.

And then, when I want to begin teaching, I see where they hang out.  Chances are that the parents will be there, too.

The children are usually interested in joining the group (I don't often refer to them as classes, for that gives the impression of a sit-down thing in which you have to learn at a desk), and the parents love the idea of the morality described when I speak of these groups.  They often want to attend and make sure it's all ok, which gives me the greater opportunity of speaking with them directly about the Source of these classes.  They are then interested in groups for their young teens (which we confuse them by calling them junior youth, as if anyone other than a Baha'i knows what that means yet), and study circles for themselves.  Oh, and someone eventually asks for a devotional gathering, usually one of the children.  It's so beautiful.  Before you know it, your neighbourhood has been transformed.

And the next thing you know, there are a dozen kids in the park playing Dawn-Breakers and fighting over who gets to be Mulla Husayn and who is Quddus.

Ah well, some things never change.

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