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Learner Finds Wilmette Institute to Be a Home in the Bahá’í Community

Dec 30, 2022

Course: Introduction to Bahá’í History (2022)
Faculty Mentor: Robert Stockman

I learned a great deal from the course Introduction to Bahá’í History and was inspired to study more. I shared my new learning and excitement with others. I had three study partners, including my father and husband. The weekly class-wide discussions on Zoom did not work out for me and the other group member, but I was able to have much more time with my father, and my mother joined our study group discussions by phone several times a week. My husband and I discussed our readings every day. 

These discussions about Bahá’í history and the growth and teaching work of the Faith have strengthened the bonds of already strong relationships. I’ve always been close to my parents and I adore my husband, but these ongoing conversations have given us new things to share and think about together. Additionally, we have a 16-year-old Bahá’í refugee living with us. Each morning, over breakfast, I’ve shared interesting things that I learned with him. By discussing the information we learned each week with this high school student and with extended and immediate family, the reach of this class expanded and inspired many people who were not even enrolled in the class. 

Still to be accomplished: I did not yet create a draft of a short story about the Gathering [Conference] of Badasht, but I did share some important historic events in my car rides and conversations with children and junior youth in my life. I plan to continue teaching children about Bahá’í history for the rest of my life.

“This is one of our Zoom classes during COVID. We’ve been at this for a few years. Jacky Zuniga [top right] is my co-animator.”

I have always loved reading about Bahá’í history, including some of my mentor, Dr. Stockman’s books and O. Z. Whitehead’s book about early American Bahá’ís: Some Early Bahá’ís of the West. But I’ve never attempted to discuss the information with anyone, so much of what I learned in my previous studies evaporated. In this class I was able to learn from our Zoom discussions, ask questions, and gain context. Dr. Stockman’s willingness to answer any question, and his depth of knowledge, inspired and ignited our class discussions. This helps in my Bahá’í community and in my teaching. 

This course has rekindled my love of history, learning, and investigation. My dad told me the class and our discussions have been a spiritual experience, and we are all feeling that energy. Each unit of the course contained inspiring and thought-provoking readings and videos. This inspired me, my husband and my father to explore many tangents from the class information. Dad was interested in any statistics and analysis of a population. He also gained a lot from the historical context of the Bábí movement, and so did I. We continue, even now that the class has ended, to discuss the material and constantly exchange new information and ideas. 

The discussions we’ve had have direct implications for growing the Bahá’í Faith at this time. I was already excited to know about the establishment of the Bahá’í Faith in America, but I became equally excited as I learned a lot about the Shaykhi movement, Islam, and the history of Iran around the time when the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh lived. And I loved learning more about Shoghi Effendi and the Hands of the Cause of God, and how they grew the Cause. I’m also now more interested in Islam and the history of Iran. Those topics used to seem too vast to comprehend, but this course helped me break them down into manageable bits of information that I can build on as I continue to study.

Because of this course, I am much more optimistic that the 9 Year Plan and all the Plans can succeed. I never understood how successful the Plans had been previously. After learning about Shoghi Effendi’s strategic approach to expanding the influence of the Bahá’í Faith around the world, I see beautiful inevitabilities.

I wish this course would never end! I will continue to study Bahá’í history and weave it into meaningful conversations. I will take more classes and share the information and ideas in discussions and classes and stories for children and junior youth. I will continue to create children’s classes enriched by everything I learn.

I love the emphasis in the Wilmette Institute on applying our newly acquired learning to our teaching work and our daily lives. It is a wonderful environment for learning because it doesn’t begin and end in words. I see tangible results from deepening my knowledge.

This was my first Wilmette Institute course. I had been hesitant to sign up for a class where the other students might be vying for attention to be recognized as intellectuals. But this environment was not pretentious. I now see how the institute meets people at all levels of education. The Wilmette Institute feels like my home in the Bahá’í community. The Wilmette Institute gives me a place to learn from scholars and researchers who enthusiastically share their wealth of knowledge. In this environment of learning, I’m inspired by kindred spirits. 

The Wilmette Institute forces me to carve out substantial time each week for my own spiritual growth. The amount of reading assigned is significant, so my deepening has increased dramatically. The course moves forward whether you are ready or not! So I have no choice but to do my best to keep up. I wish everyone in the world would take this course. I hope that I can create some materials in my children’s classes that convey some of this content.

Editor’s Note: Addison also shared with us (with permission of the youth) several pieces of artwork created by members of her Junior Youth Group. As you will see from the images and captions below, the artwork is inspired by historic events Addison shared with the youth during their gatherings.

From Left to Right: The silver chalice in the home of the Báb; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s arrival into New York City Harbor in 1912 onboard the S. S. Cedric; Mr. M. learning from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá how to pray in New York City but being distracted by the birds outside the window, the cracks in the wall, and the discomfort of kneeling.

Bahá’u’lláh’s banishment, after the events in the Garden of Riḍván, through the mountains into Constantinople.

From Left to Right: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá pouring new water into the cup of a woman…; …who had emptied her cup of earthly attachments; the Síyáh-Chál (the Black Pit) underground where Bahá’u’lláh saw the Maid of Heaven.

Contributors

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Addison Walker (Las Vegas, Nevada)

I’m a junior youth animator and content creator for Bahá’í children. In our Junior Youth group, participants learn stories about the Central Figures and draw what they learn.

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