INTERNATIONAL TEACHING CENTRE
21st August 1994
To all Counsellors
Dearly loved co-workers
Growth of the Cause in Rural Communities
To assist institutions and believers alike to understand, welcome, initiate and sustain a critically needed massive expansion of the Bahá'í community, on November 9 1993 the Universal House of Justice sent the compilation "Promoting Entry By Troops" to all National Spiritual Assemblies. The compilation was accompanied by a statement prepared by the Research Department and was introduced by an illuminating letter from the House of Justice. These documents not only reiterate principles relating to the nature of growth, but also suggest measures to increase its tempo and to sustain large-scale expansion of the Cause.
Since the vast majority of the Bahá'ís today live in rural areas, and the process of entry by troops must accelerate beyond all past achievements, the Bahá'í world must make advances in the development of rural communities. With this in mind, the International Teaching Centre consulted with a number of Counsellors from various continents on village teaching. What follows is a summary of the ideas that emerged from those consultations.
Teaching in rural areas has been a source of continuous blessings and as greatly increased the number of believers worldwide. Much of the capacity of the Bahá'í community to promote social and economic development and ton influence society is a consequence of the presence of the Faith in the villages of the world. Historically, thousands upon thousands of early believers who became transformed, and adorned the pages of history with heroic deeds, came from villages and rural areas of Iran. Bahá'u'lláh Himself, soon after testifying to the truth of the Bab's Revelation, journeyed to the village of Takur, His ancestral home, where He raised the call of the new Day and brought hundreds under the banner of the Cause.
Since the Ten Year Crusade, teaching in villages has advanced at an extraordinary rate, bringing several million people into the ranks of the followers of Bahá'u'lláh. Yet, success has only been partial. From the thousands of Bahá'í communities located in these areas, only a small percentage show signs of vital and active community life. The apparent difficulty in creating vibrant rural communities should not, however, distract us from focussing on villages or cause us to underestimate the importance of teaching in rural areas. Nor should the fact that urban life has dominated the industrialized part of the world in recent decades lead us to believe that rural life is destined to gradually disappear. Although villages will have to transform profoundly in order to become prosperous and viable living environments, we must remember that whatever shape future society takes, it will be characterised by a proper balance between urban and rural life. Statements such as the following from 'Abdu'l-Bahá help clarify our vision and give direction to our actions: "First and foremost is the principle that to all the members of the body politic shall be given the greatest achievements of the world of humanity. Each one will have the utmost welfare and well-being. To solve this problem we must begin with the farmer; there will we lay a foundation for system and order because the peasant class and the agricultural class exceed other classes in the importance of their service."
An examination of the development of the Faith in rural areas reveals that one of the essential requirements for success is perseverance. Regions that have received consistent attention over the years, have, even under the most difficult and arduous conditions, shown results. Disaffection with village teaching arises when unrealistic expectations are not fulfilled and, at the first sight of problems, work is all but abandoned. To develop and flourish, Bahá'í communities everywhere, whether in villages or cities, need constant work and continual support. Yet constancy and perseverance by themselves are not sufficient. The degree of success also depends on the appropriateness if methods, suitability of approaches and, above all, proper attitudes.
Inherent in the worldwide growth of the Faith has been the progressive opening of territories, cities, towns, and villages by pioneers and travelling teachers who, more often than not, must cross over boundaries of nationality, culture, ethnicity, and class, that have been erected by the old world order. The attitude that these believers carry with them is one of openness, and the feeling that permeates their hearts is one of love. It is essential, however, that this love, if it is not to be tainted by a patronizing attitude, be accompanied by a profound respect for the people among whom they teach.
Usually on their first visit to a village, teachers encounter a receptive people with a simple way of life, little access to formal education, and who are accustomed to a lack of material comforts. None of these characteristics suggests, however, that rural people are any less capable of delving into the ocean of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, applying it to their social reality and transforming their individual and collective lives. Their openness to the Faith, and to those who bring it to them, should not be misconstrued as an indication of a lack of capacity to arise and become the protagonists of their own process of transformation. It is necessary, of course, to present the Teachings at a reasonable pace and in a language that is easily . grasped. But this does not imply an inherent and perpetual need for oversimplification.
There is a tendency to feel that other peoples' cultures are less refined than one's own. Thus feeling is confirmed when contact with another people is superficial. But whenever those from outside penetrate another culture and discover its depth and subtleties, they develop an attitude of genuine respect for the people. At the most profound depth of every culture lies veneration of the sacred. Efforts to advance the Faith in rural areas, then, are most successful when the sacred in the culture of the villagers is identified and they are assisted in transferring their loyalty and allegiances to the Faith, placing Bahá'u'lláh and His Covenant at that sanctified core of their universe. It is here, at the very heart of a culture, that the process of a transformation of a people begins.
The only power that can effect a profound change is the power of the Word of God. Study of the Creative Word, at a pace in keeping with the interests and possibilities of each individual, is an empowering process, one through which a believer's consciousness is developed. It takes the believer from those early stages of passive acceptance of Bahá'u'lláh and the principles of the Faith to an awareness of the greatness of this Day, the Station and Mission of Bahá'ulláh and His invincible power. It unfolds before the believers a vision of the future world order and gives rise to the consciousness of their true identities as followers of Bahá'ulláh actively engaged in transforming their own lives and that of society. The enormous efforts that have been expended to give the villages of the world information about the Faith and to communicate to them a spirit of love and unity have laid the foundation for deepening activities of a more potent nature. The challenge is to raise the friends' awareness of the spiritual powers available to them and help them change their posture in life from that of passive receivers of a message to that of active agents of change.
It is possible to use the power of the Creative Word to help believers embark on this process of transformation, whether they are literate or illiterate. For example, according to one method, that is being used more and more widely in the field of literacy, certain themes - such as the nobility of man, the nature of true freedom and true prosperity, the source of true happiness - are chosen for discussion among the participants of a literacy class. Appropriate quotations from the Writings are presented, discussed and memorised. Then words - such as love, justice, service, co-operation, excellence - are selected and analysed according to syllables and sounds, which are used to create other words, thereby teaching the mechanics of reading and writing. The discussion portion of the class naturally imparts information on some aspect of the Faith, its principles, its laws and its history, yet the primary purpose of the discussion is to give the participants a glimpse of the spiritual powers with which they have been endowed and to draw them in to an awareness of their community's strengths and possibilities. Thus the literacy class becomes an occasion for preparing the individual to participate effectively in community life.
Awareness of one's latent potentialities is not, of course, the only requirement of action. To be actively engaged in a process of change requires a number of capabilities. It is in this context that the development of human resources has become an issue of such importance in areas of large-scale expansion. Believers everywhere need to be assisted in understanding certain concepts, developing spiritual qualities and acquiring certain attitudes, skills and abilities in order to serve the Faith in a wide range of activities. Naturally, isolated deepening courses are useful in this respect. But when such courses become regularised and organised in a systematic programme addressing the human resource needs of a given region or population, the process of empowering the believers to serve the Faith is accelerated.
This process of human resource development is most effective when it is carried out simultaneously with large-scale teaching. In this context, it is encouraging to note the emergence of a number of long-term projects around the world which aim at setting in motion a process of rapid and sustained expansion and consolidation of the Faith in an area usually served by a permanent institute. In this focussed approach, the primary objective of which is to build up a large concentration of Bahá'ís in an area and transform its localities into distinctive Bahá'í communities, one of the main issues being addressed is the training requirements of a typical village in the region. How many teachers of children and youth, for example, have to be trained for each locality? How many facilitators of literacy classes? How many assistants to Auxiliary Board members? How many individuals to help strengthen Bahá'í family life? How many to work with women's groups? It is envisioned, of course, that as such a project progresses, more complex human resource needs will gradually be addressed. There is every indication that these focussed long-term projects will prove to be powerful instruments for building capacity within a population and creating the dynamics of sustained expansion and consolidation.
Important as human resource development is to both the community and the individual, it would be a mistake to think that the transformation of a community is equivalent to the transformation of the individuals who comprise it. A community is not merely the sum of its individual members. It generates its own forces and moves according to a common will that has to be guided in the right direction. We must be mindful not to impose inadvertently on rural communities, where the concepts and customs of collective life still linger, the very values that have led to the disintegration of community life in so many parts of the world. Specifically, unlike the industrialised world where religion is increasingly confined to a limited sphere of one's personal life, the villages of the world have traditionally considered religion a communal affair, intimately bound with every aspect of life. Our methods to establish Nineteen Day Feast, to help the formation of Local Spiritual Assemblies and to inculcate the principles of Bahá'í administration must be harmonious with this cultural trait. The same may be said about other traditional values, such as the importance of the extended family and respect for people of capacity, which point to some of the directions our teaching methods should take.
The challenge, then, is to understand the processes of life, the structures and the culture of the population and help generate forces that would move the whole community towards Bahá'u'lláh. Communities need to feel responsible for their own spiritual well-being. Through a consultative process, carried out in the light of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, they need to reach their own visions of growth, arrive at unity of thought, and devise plans of action which they themselves are capable of carrying out. Specific actions, which should begin simply and gain in complexity as spiritual, social and economic development occurs, should not be regarded as ends in themselves, but as a means of building collective capacity and confidence. The entire process is, then, a learning one with the Local Spiritual Assembly at its heart. Indeed, as experience has shown, attempts to create functioning without giving attention to the community and its life have generally failed to bring forth lasting results.
It is in the context of some of the above points -- the application of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation to a specific cultural setting, the enhancement of the individual's consciousness of the spiritual powers available to him, the development of human resources, and the generation of forces that lead to community action -- that the question of deepening needs to be addressed. However, important as it is to deepen the adult believers, our efforts to establish strong Bahá'í communities in rural areas will be in vain if we do not pay adequate attention to the education of children and youth. To this task we must devote increasing energy, for upon the degree to which we succeed in educating the next generation of Bahá'ís will depend our ability to sustain a massive and rapid expansion among the millions of receptive souls who reside in the thousands upon thousands of villages in the world.
May the Almighty bless and aid you, the Auxiliary Board members and their assistants in these endeavours.
With loving Bahá'í greetings,
[Signed: The International Teaching Centre]
cc: The Hands of the Cause of God
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