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I’ve noticed that when the topic of home visits comes up in our Baha’i community, people are like deer in the headlights!  They don’t know what to do!  I think this is an indication of how far individualism has gone, at least in the West, where we don’t know our neighbours anymore and we’ve lost the art of visiting people in their homes.

Initially the concept of home visits was suggested by the Universal House of Justice as a means of establishing the institute process in those clusters in which large-scale growth had occurred in earlier years. In these areas there were lists of believers who, over the passage of time, had ceased to be involved in Bahá’í activity.

Home visits became a way to reestablish contact with potentially responsive friends, “engage in meaningful conversation,” and gradually introduce the idea of institute courses.

Even in cases where the old believers could not be contacted, opportunities were created to teach the Faith to their family members, friends, or neighbors.  (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

Conducting home visits in order to promote expansion and consolidation soon became associated with Book 2 of the Ruhi Institute. This course prepares students to present deepening themes, calling upon them to practice this skill by making presentations to other Bahá’ís. Campaigns of home visits have drawn upon those completing this course, encouraging them to undertake deepening and teaching activities, and to invite contacts to participate in the three core activities.  (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

Who is Responsible for Conducting a Home Visit?

We all are!  You don’t need any special training to share love; or say a prayer together.

Having said that, the auxiliary board members and their assistants have a special responsibility to support us in our endeavors:

The Board members and their assistants bear a special responsibility to support the friends at each stage of the institute process and accompany them in their efforts to act on the training they have received: to help them hold a devotional meeting, to accompany them on home visits, or to co-tutor a study circle.  (ITC, 2004 Nov 28, Intensive Programs of Growth)

Carrying out a home visit for the first time is not always easy. Sometimes we lack confidence to meet with new believers or seekers. Tutors can find creative ways to help study circle participants to step into the field of action. For the first visit, perhaps visitors could visit the home of the tutor, while they gain confidence and capacity.

Those who’ve completed Book 2 should also be immediately deployed:

Believers who have completed the second course should be immediately deployed in home visits.  (ITC, 2004 Nov 28, Intensive Programs of Growth)

Who Do We Visit?

  • find every Bahá’í whose name appears on the membership list and you haven’t seen for awhile
  • re-establish contact with potentially responsive friends
  • visit the sick, bereaved, elderly and other home-bound members of the community who may be unable to participate in community life otherwise
  • visit anyone who has shown an interest in the Faith
  • visit parents and invite them to enroll their children in children’s classes and junior youth programs
  • include other family members and friends
  • visit those who are active

We may not think that those who are already active need home visits, but who doesn’t need love and encouragement, and a chance to get to know their co-workers in the Army of God a little better?!

Here’s what one person had to say:

We found also that even visiting a so-called active Bahá’í home was beneficial as many of these families did not have regular devotional meetings in their homes and they would not respond so eagerly to the calls raised at Feasts and reflection meetings.  (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

How Do We Prepare?

  • Pray!
  • set some goals
  • take a refresher course focusing upon unit 2 of Book 2 and unit 3 of Book 6
  • role play or discuss some of the challenges you might encounter
  • decide what literature you want to take along
  • Pray!

Since the concept of home visits arose out of the Ruhi Institute, it makes sense that this is a good place to build the skills, capacity and confidence to undertake a home visit yourself.

Here’s what these people had to say:

  1. When we started out on our journey through the courses [using] the Ruhi Institute [materials], most of us knew very little about the practical aspects of the courses. In fact, many felt that perhaps, being European and maybe somehow different from human beings on other parts of the planet, these elements of the courses were “not for us.” Perhaps they were “culturally inappropriate” or just “not our cup of tea.” How wrong we were! Through experience we have learned that the practical elements are a vital part of the training institute courses. If the practice has not been done, the courses cannot be considered to be complete…. (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth: Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)
  1. In my experience, Book 2 really does teach us how easy it is to make presentations and to deepen others (and ourselves, in the process) in the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. We no longer need to leave it to the eloquent members of our community. We are invited to acquire eloquence for ourselves: and all we need utter is an incy-wincy “dewdrop” in order to experience how enriching it truly is. But the secret lies in sharing the material with others. If you don’t, you will be inclined to find Book 2 irrelevant and tedious. (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

Although you want to be systematic; and prepare well, remember you are visiting someone who has invited you into their home to visit.  You don’t need to go with a script, but with reliance on God and love in your heart.

For example, you’ll want to avoid this as much as possible:

. . . the visiting teachers were initially very awkward, acting “as if they were a recording machine” with “no eye contact, no pause, almost not breathing.” There was little interaction with the listener and they had a tendency to lecture. (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

To prevent this awkwardness, I like to say the Tablet of Visitation for ‘Abdu’l-Baha, because at the beginning it says:

Whoso reciteth this prayer with lowliness and fervour will bring gladness and joy to the heart of this Servant; it will be even as meeting Him face to face.

I like to think that by saying this prayer, I’m inviting Him to join me and guide the meeting.

Here is the prayer, if you aren’t familiar with it:

He is the All-Glorious!

O God, my God! Lowly and tearful, I raise my suppliant hands to Thee and cover my face in the dust of that Threshold of Thine, exalted above the knowledge of the learned, and the praise of all that glorify Thee. Graciously look upon Thy servant, humble and lowly at Thy door, with the glances of the eye of Thy mercy, and immerse him in the Ocean of Thine eternal grace.

Lord! He is a poor and lowly servant of Thine, enthralled and imploring Thee, captive in Thy hand, praying fervently to Thee, trusting in Thee, in tears before Thy face, calling to Thee and beseeching Thee, saying:

O Lord, my God! Give me Thy grace to serve Thy loved ones, strengthen me in my servitude to Thee, illumine my brow with the light of adoration in Thy court of holiness, and of prayer to Thy Kingdom of grandeur. Help me to be selfless at the heavenly entrance of Thy gate, and aid me to be detached from all things within Thy holy precincts. Lord! Give me to drink from the chalice of selflessness; with its robe clothe me, and in its ocean immerse me. Make me as dust in the pathway of Thy loved ones, and grant that I may offer up my soul for the earth ennobled by the footsteps of Thy chosen ones in Thy path, O Lord of Glory in the Highest.

With this prayer doth Thy servant call Thee, at dawntide and in the night-season. Fulfil his heart’s desire, O Lord! Illumine his heart, gladden his bosom, kindle his light, that he may serve Thy Cause and Thy servants.

Thou art the Bestower, the Pitiful, the Most Bountiful, the Gracious, the Merciful, the Compassionate.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 319-320)

I also like to say the prayer that Dorothy Baker used to say before every one of her talks – you could use it too:

I beg of Thee, by the radiant light of Thy gifts and by the waves of Thy beneficence, to endow my utterance with inspiration from the traces of Thy Supreme Pen that it may attract the realities of all things. Verily, Thou art the One Who is powerful in all that He wills by His Word, the mighty, the wonderful!  (Bahá’u’lláh, From Copper into Gold, p. 184)

How Do We Set it Up?

  • be systematic
  • identify specific people you would like to visit
  • make appropriate lines of action for each person you will visit; and match them with those best suited
  • choose the most welcoming, loving, and humble believers you can find to be visited, ideally those who have completed the Book 1 practice and make home visits on a regular basis. Make sure they know what the purpose of the visit will be.
  • if possible, arrange for experienced believers to come and accompany you on your first home visits. If going in a group, arrange the groups in such a way that the confident and the timid are paired with one another for support.
  • encourage new believers to come along on a home visit

Going with someone the first time helps build confidence.  Here’s what one person had to say:

We found out that since most of the youth are quite new in service to the Faith, it is very important that initially they go with an experienced teacher and that they should not be left to themselves. Otherwise their first experiences might be negative and if there is no one to support [them], they can become discouraged.  (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

What Do We Do?

Home visits can serve many purposes; and each visit can be a combination of things; or have a single purpose.  They’re totally flexible, according to the capacities of the visitor; and the needs of the person you are visiting.  They can include:

  • start with prayers!
  • share each other’s joys, sorrows, anxieties and hopes
  • engage in meaningful conversation
  • explore spiritual realities
  • learn more and more about the Faith
  • introduce the idea of institute courses
  • teach the Faith to their family members, friends, or neighbors
  • offer to conduct a study circle or devotional gathering in their home
  • offer a helpful service or perform an everyday task
  • draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation
  • study a prayer together – If you’ve taken Book 1, this should come naturally, as you follow the exact same procedure as you’ve been practicing in Unit 1 for the study of the Writings in general. Read the prayer, ask and answer questions from the text, formulate concrete examples, and relate it to your experiences.

For more information please see:  Learning How to Study a Prayer

  • invite them to join a Book 1 study circle
  • share deepening themes from Book 2
  • share stories about the Bab and Baha’u’llah from Book 4 to seekers; and to those already enrolled in Book 1
  • introduce people to the Faith using Anna’s Presentation from Book 6
  • invite them to the next Holy Day celebration
  • end with prayers

Can you think of others?  If so, please post your ideas below!

This is How ‘Abdu’l-Baha Did a Home Visit

He would visit people in their homes every day, or send a trusty messenger in His place:

He is each day at their bedside, or sends a trusty messenger. (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He would encourage others to visit:

In the morning friends and seekers surrounded ‘Abdu’l-Bahá like moths. He spoke to them in these words: You must have deep love for one another. Go to see each other and be consoling friends to all. If a friend lives a little distance from the town, go to see him. Do not content yourselves with words only but act according to the commandments of God. Hold weekly meetings and give feasts. Put forth your efforts to acquire spiritual perfections and to spread the knowledge of God. These are the attributes of the Bahá’ís. Otherwise, what use is there in being a Bahá’í in word alone. (Mahmud’s Diary, Sept. 20, 1912)

On feast days He would visit the poor in their homes, staying long enough to do whatever He could to make them happy:

On feast days he visits the poor at their homes. He chats with them, inquires into their health and comfort, mentions by name those who are absent, and leaves gifts for all. (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He would offer practical help:

If he finds a leaking roof or a broken window menacing health, he summons a workman, and waits himself to see the breach repaired. (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

If any one is in trouble, — if a son or a brother is thrown into prison, or he is threatened at law, or falls into any difficulty too heavy for him, — it is to the Master that he straightway makes appeal for counsel or for aid. (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

One day, a man came running; “Oh Master!” he said, “Poor Na’um has the measles, and everybody is keeping away from her. What can be done?” Abdu’l-Baha immediately sent a woman to take care of her; He rented a room, put His own bedding in it, called the doctor, sent food and everything she needed. He went to see that she had every attention. And when she died in peace and comfort, He arranged a simple funeral and paid all the expenses Himself.” (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

And made sure necessary home repairs were completed:

On the other hand, if the Master knew of a broken window or a leaky roof, which were health hazards, He would make sure the necessary repairs were completed. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)

Home Visits as a Tool for Accompaniment

We know that accompaniment is important and how to do it has been discussed in the article What is Accompaniment and How Do We Do It?

Can home visits help with this process too?  I think so, as people are always more comfortable in their own spaces.

One tutor wrote:

In one rather small Book 2 circle, the group were all new believers and a little nervous about making visits. After encouraging them for a while, I realized I needed to help a little more, so I suggested that for the first visit, I could invite some people to my home and they could share one of their themes in a group setting where they would have more support.

What Next?

  1. Pray!
  1. Meet regularly with others to reflect, prepare, and consult on the experience.
  1. Consider questions such as:

What went well?

What would you do differently next time?

When will you go back again?

What will you do to prepare for the next visit?

What will you do at the next visit?

  1. Share your home visit stories to encourage others.
  1. Keep going! Build on your success!

Here’s what one community learned:

After this initial success, however, the friends in our community found it difficult to sustain what had been achieved.   We found … it is quite easy to initiate a large number of regular devotional meetings, study circles and children’s classes in the homes of people. However, [it is] much more difficult to find committed human resources who would be willing and responsible enough to continuously come to the family until the activity becomes regular and sustained. When the youth movement was launched we found that perhaps targeting younger youth who are fresh and open for learning and consistently working with them individually and in groups could be the answer to our challenge of the lack of human resources. Thus, after this experience, youth were enlisted to carry out home visits. New insights continued to emerge from reflection on action. (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

Results: 

We’ve noticed that results of home visits tend to fall into 4 broad categories: 

Love, Encouragement and Support: 

  • allows for profound spiritual encounters
  • encourages them in the Faith
  • if the members of a family become believers, they can strengthen and support one another
  • draws families and communities closer together
  • a rich source of healing and fellowship
  • offering a helpful service or performing an everyday task is of enormous assistance and encouragement
  • reduces the sense of isolation and helplessness felt by those who want to do more
  • visit those who might be unable to participate in community life otherwise
  • forms closer bonds of friendships
  • we are able to share the Word of God in a safe and comfortable environment where they can ask questions they might feel unable to ask in other settings
  • the encouragement we give to one another motivates and sustains us through the more challenging and intensive phases of our work

Skill Building:

  • we learn how to reach out to receptive segments of the population
  • gives us an opportunity to teach and develop the skills and capacities we have acquired in institute courses
  • we learn how to invite people into the core activities
  • With practice and experience, we become more at ease, more capable and confident, achieving a good rapport with the people contacted

Increased Participation:

  • visits to believers who had not participated in Bahá’í activities for some time rekindled their faith and attracted them to study circles
  • Increase in participation in all the core activities
  • helps establish the institute process
  • supports programs of intensive growth

Growth:

  • creates profound spiritual encounters that will help move people closer to Baha’u’llah
  • significant growth in the number of new Bahá’ís
  • families are able to join in and often do

The Institutions of the Faith have noticed:

Home visits have proven to be an effective approach in promoting both expansion and consolidation in different settings and at different levels of cluster development.  (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

Offering to conduct a study circle or devotional gathering in the home of such believers, if they are well enough, and asking them to invite friends and family can invigorate and encourage them in the Faith, draw families and communities closer together, and be a rich source of healing fellowship for everyone involved. Likewise, offering a helpful service or performing an everyday task for one who is infirm or ill can be of enormous assistance and encouragement, reducing the sense of isolation and helplessness often experienced by the sufferer in such circumstances.  (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 5)

We are learning about teaching the Faith and about fostering community life through these simple practices. When we visit our contacts or new believers and engage in conversation about spiritual matters, we form a closer bond of friendship. We are able to share the Word of God in an environment where our hosts are, quite literally, at home. They can ask the questions they might feel unable to ask in other circumstances. Their family is able to join in and often does… (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

When reflecting upon the visits, the participants expressed that they had found it much more difficult to actually make the presentations than they had thought when they were studying the books; but the visits reinforced the importance of learning to do so. They also realized the importance of visiting new believers and seekers in their homes to strengthen the bonds of friendship, rather than leaving them to themselves. In addition, it was learned that some believers need a more experienced person to accompany them until they gradually gain confidence before undertaking visits on their own. Participants noted that follow-up visits were often more difficult than the initial visit, often due to practical reasons such as distance, work schedules, and the like. Clearly, large numbers of people could be reached through home visits only when many people in the community were participating in the campaigns. (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

During these visits they engaged in friendly conversation about spiritual matters and offered to say prayers. Then after the prayers, quotations were studied together with the family on the importance of having devotional meetings in one’s home. Discussion on the quotations led to some families committing themselves to have regular devotional meetings in their homes. The family members were also invited to join study circles, [and] as a result, several study circles were initiated in the homes of these families as well as a few children’s classes. This was an eye-opening experience for everyone, as we saw how it was not difficult to multiply the core activities by visiting homes of believers, both active and less active, if we are able to be welcomed into the house. Whereas before we were trying to get people coming to our homes or the Bahá’í centers, now we saw that it is much more effective to initiate activities in the homes of the people. Our focus before was on individual transformation and we assumed that when a person became an active believer, he will stay active forever and this will change his surrounding people too, but often we found that an active person after some time can become inactive because of various circumstances of life. The approach of visiting homes leads to the transformation of the households…. (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

To summarize these quotes we learn that home visits

  • have proven to be an effective approach in promoting both expansion and consolidation
  • can invigorate and encourage people in the Faith
  • can draw families and communities closer together
  • can be a rich source of healing fellowship for everyone involved
  • can reduce the sense of isolation and helplessness often experienced
  • enable us to form a closer bond of friendship
  • enable us to share the Word of God in an environment where our hosts are, quite literally, at home
  • allow us to engage in friendly conversation about spiritual matters and offer to say prayers and study quotations
  • give us an opportunity to invite people to join study circles or send their children to children’s classes and junior youth programs

The institutions also learned

  • participants expressed that they had found it much more difficult to actually make the presentations than they had thought when they were studying the books; but the visits reinforced the importance of learning to do so.
  • some believers need a more experienced person to accompany them until they gradually gain confidence before undertaking visits on their own
  • follow-up visits were often more difficult than the initial visit, often due to practical reasons such as distance, work schedules, and the like
  • large numbers of people could be reached through home visits only when many people in the community were participating in the campaigns
  • discussion on the quotations led to some families agreeing to have regular devotional meetings in their homes.
  • it was not difficult to multiply the core activities by visiting homes of believers, both active and less active, if we are able to be welcomed into the house.
  • it is much more effective to initiate activities in people’s homes
  • an active person after some time can become inactive because of various circumstances of life
  • visiting homes leads to the transformation of the households

Helpful Quotes to Consider:

You must always have this thought of love and affection when you visit . . .  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 204).

In every situation, preparation was invaluable, while reflection after the experience was critical to learn how to improve performance. In all instances, courage and wisdom seemed to be necessary ingredients for success.  (International Teaching Centre, Reflections on Growth:  Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops through Home Visits, May 2004)

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box!  If the visitor and the person being visited is not comfortable having a visit in their homes, consider starting with a series of phone visits.

For more information, please see:

Teleconference Study Circle Manual 

Systematic Accompaniment: Ruhi Book 1 in Action

I highly recommend you read this next!

What’s been your experience with home visits?  If you haven’t started yet, how has this helped reduce your anxiety?  Post your comments below!