Yet, for the most part, the Baha´i international community has not heeded these clear and repeated instructions. We have not really done much. Sure, there is an SED office at the Baha´i World Centre and there are ongoing projects under their supervision. But they are but drops to an ocean. As well, the priority given to them by Baha´u´llah and Abdu´l-Baha have been superceded by other priorities put forward by the UHJ and the ITC.
Primarily, the priority is to teach and to expand the numerical growth of the Baha´i international community. When questions arise as to the reconciliation of these two priorities, words to the following effect are often cited:
“Because love for our fellowmen and anguish at their plight are essential parts of a true Baha’i’s life, we are continually drawn to do what we can to help them. It is vitally important that we do so whenever the occasion presents itself, for our actions must say the same thing as our words — but this compassion for our fellows must not be allowed to divert our energies into channels which are ultimately doomed to failure, causing us to neglect the most important and fundamental work of all. There are hundreds of thousands of well-wishers of mankind who devote their lives to works of relief and charity, but a pitiful few to do the work which God Himself most wants done: the spiritual awakening and regeneration of mankind.”
Basically, it boils down to the argument that the best thing that Baha´is can do for their fellow man is to teach them the Baha´i Faith. But where does this leave the thousands who are destitute, sick, hungry, orphaned and helpless?
To me such an argument is revulsive and wholly incompatible with the words of Baha´u´llah and Abdu´l-Baha. Did the Master stop a poor man on the street and teach him, or did He stop and duck in an alley way to remove His shirt to give to him? Did He ask what religion the poor man professed? or whether he had heard of the Baha´i Faith?
This sort of lukewarm, shrugging of the shoulders and moving on, response is what we witnessed with the Tsunami tragedy of late last year.
Does the person without food really want to listen to your great news about a new religion? or would they rather eat something and feed their family? Would the sick prefer to be cured or to hear of a new Manifestation of God? Put yourself in those shoes right now and think about it for one second.
If these acts are “doomed to fail” and are not the “work that God wants us to do”, then pray tell why did Abdu´l-Baha, the Exemplar, repeatedly behave in this manner? and why did such acts take such a high prominence in the Writings?
I think that, as in many things, Baha´is must learn to practice moderation. Moderation here means that one doesn´t ignore the wailing of the poor or the plight of the sick (stepping over them as a triffling inconvenience of the “Old World Order” on our way to our 5th repetition of Ruhi), neither does it mean that we give up teaching the Faith or deepening.
So where are the positive ideas, you ask?
The first idea is simple, to encourage Baha´is to exit their self-imposed bubble and go out into the real world to help those in need. This can be done in a rather simple way. Making a list of charities and organizations who already do have the infrastructure and systems in place but need human resources. Baha´is can volunteer a few hours a week or month and in so doing, they are not only implementing the Writings about helping our fellow man, but they are doing themselves a huge favour. They are getting out and actually talking with real people, dealing with real problems and co-operating with those on the front lines trying to do something about them. Don´t you think this is much better than to sit in a classroom and rot your brain with the mindnumbing, parrot-like repetition that is Ruhi?
All you need to do is to make a list of like minded organizations in your community and bring it to the Feast and make a short presentation (and be the first to volunteer to set an example). Unfortunately though, most Baha´i communities have become so dense that they will probably cock their heads and ask you, is this approved by the LSA/NSA/UHJ/ITC?
ok, ok, ok . . . I promised to be positive. On to the second idea:
This is a bit more complicated and requires that your whole community be on the same page (more or less). The idea is to pick a sister Baha´i community somewhere way out there in the world. The only stipulation being that they be in a developing or marginalized part of the world and that they have some similarities with your language and culture. For example, the Baha´is of Lisboa can pick a small community in Brasil (say somewhere in the interior). The aim of such partnering is to encourage inter-community communication and allow the Lisboa (in our example) to send funds and other resources to the Brasilian community in need.
The beauty of this sort of partnership is that Lisboa doesn´t need to send a lot of money as their currency (Euro) is quite strong against the Brasilian Real. So a €50 transfer, which is not much for a community such as them, would mean the world when exchanged into Reals. But it doesn´t have to be just money – the community can send books, for example. The actual help will have to come about after an initial dialogue between the two communities. As well, there are many unquantifiable benefits accrued to both communities in such a partnership.
I´m not suggesting a simple wealth transfer but a two way relationship where both parties gain – albeit in different ways. Also, the point of this is to allow the economically poorer community to help itself and improve its conditions – not to simply receive hand outs. Of course, this idea is not simple and implementing it appropriately would take time and a lot of loving patience on both sides. But just think about the benefits and the fruits that it can yield.
There you have it, two positive ideas. Now go run with it.