Rising to the occasion in a global crisis
SYDNEY — As the global health crisis continues to cause disruptions to society in all parts of the world, efforts of Baha’is to serve humanity increase in intensity. Communities are quickly and creatively adapting to new forms of interaction suited to public health requirements and focused on the specific spiritual and material needs that have now emerged.
“There is a deep resolve to serve our neighborhoods,” says Venus Khalessi of the Australian Baha’i community’s Office of External Affairs. “Even with limits to social contact, we are trying to strengthen our contributions to the life of society—especially reaching out to those who are older or vulnerable and being conscious of the needs of each other.”
At the same time as current conditions prompt fear and anxiety, people across the world are finding hope in prayer. Everywhere, large numbers of people are connecting online over short distances or across continents to share uplifting devotions.
The Baha’i Houses of Worship have long been centers and symbols of the spirit of collective worship. Like other public places, they have had to close their doors as a preventive measure. Yet in communities where Baha’i Temples exist, new approaches are being taken to infuse wider segments of society with the spirit these structures embody.
In Santiago, Chile, 19 short videos of the Temple accompanied by a prayer set to music have been produced and disseminated online. At the House of Worship in Wilmette, United States, regular devotional programs have been temporarily moved online and include a visual presentation meant to convey the feeling of sitting in the Temple.
Baha’i educational efforts continue during these disruptive conditions. Communities have been encouraged by Baha’i institutions to conduct these activities in a way that respects government guidelines and prevents physical contact.
“Our community adapted incredibly fast,” says Leyla Tavernaro-Haidarian from the Austrian Baha'i community's Office of External Affairs. “Within days, all activities that build capacity for service to society were moved online. These forms of media have allowed us to continue classes for children, which they need as much as ever. The ideas of resilience, caring for community, and togetherness that we look at are relevant to them as they navigate these times.”
A youth from London who teaches classes for the spiritual education of children in his neighborhood describes how he and others are finding meaningful ways to serve under these conditions: “Consulting about this shift in action triggered a thought: as the situation develops could we try to see every parent as a potential teacher?” This youth is now supporting parents through telephone conversations.
Baha’is in countries in Africa and Asia that had not been heavily affected by the outbreak took active steps to raise public awareness about the virus. A group in Motibasti, Nepal, prepared informative banners—taking care to keep a safe distance and use protective gear as needed—and provided critical information about principles of personal and collective hygiene. Efforts have also been made to provide soap for handwashing.
Reflecting on the changes in her society, Dr. Tavernaro-Haidarian says that “whether in balcony conversations among neighbors or in the way public figures and journalists are speaking, one can see a big shift in the focus of discourse here in Austria toward an enlarged sense of shared identity in facing a global challenge. Concepts of unity and solidarity are receiving serious attention. Various groups are putting their differences aside to address this problem, and people are reaching out across religious backgrounds to pray together.”
Nilakshi Rajkhowa, of the Baha’i Office of External Affairs in India, notes a similar trend in her country. “We feel that this is the time when we can reach out to everyone for a profound conversation on spiritual and social transformation, because people have become more conscious of a central idea at the heart of Baha’u’llah’s message: we are all one, we are interdependent, and we are all called on to support one another.”