Four-Year Plan: 1996-2000
It is against such a background of heartening developments that we embark at this Riḍván upon a Four Year Plan that will carry us to Riḍván 2000. We earnestly and lovingly call upon our brothers and sisters of every land to join us in a mobilization of effort that will ensure to generations of the fast-approaching twenty-first century an abundant and lasting legacy.
The Four Year Plan aims at one major accomplishment: a significant advance in the process of entry by troops. As we have stated earlier, such an advance is to be achieved through marked progress in the activity and development of the individual believer, of the institutions, and of the local community.
To effect the possibilities of expansion and consolidation implied by entry by troops, a determined, worldwide effort to develop human resources must be made. The endeavor of individuals to conduct study classes in their homes, the sponsorship by the institutions of occasional courses of instruction, and the informal activities of the community, though important, are not adequate for the education and training of a rapidly expanding community. It is therefore of paramount importance that systematic attention be given to devising methods for educating large numbers of believers in the fundamental verities of the Faith and for training and assisting them to serve the Cause as their God-given talents allow. There should be no delay in establishing permanent institutes designed to provide well-organized, formally conducted programs of training on a regular schedule. Access of the institute to physical facilities will of course be necessary, but it may not require a building of its own.
This matter calls for an intensification of the collaboration between the Continental Counselors and National Spiritual Assemblies. For the success of these training institutes will depend in very large measure on the active involvement of the Continental Counselors and the Auxiliary Board members in their operation. Particularly will it be necessary for Auxiliary Board members to have a close working relationship with institutes and, of course, with the Local Spiritual Assemblies whose communities will benefit from institute programs. Since institutes are to be regarded as centers of learning, and since their character harmonizes with, and provides scope for the exercise of, the educational responsibilities of the Auxiliary Board members, the intimate involvement in institute operations should now become a part of the evolving functions of these officers of the Faith. Drawing on the talents and abilities of increasing numbers of believers will also be crucial to the development and execution of institute programs.
As the term “institute” has assumed various uses in the Bahá’í community, a word of clarification is needed. The next four years will represent an extraordinary period in the history of our Faith, a turning point of epochal magnitude. What the friends throughout the world are now being asked to do is to commit themselves, their material resources, their abilities and their time to the development of a network of training institutes on a scale never before attempted. These centers of Bahá’í learning will have as their goal one very practical outcome, namely, the raising up of large numbers of believers who are trained to foster and facilitate the process of entry by troops with efficiency and love. 1
A sign of the immediate impact of the Plan was the speed with which steps were taken to establish nearly two hundred training institutes during the last twelve months. Many of these have gone far beyond the point of designing their organization; they are actually in operation and have offered their first courses. Moreover, in the movement of homefront and international pioneers and traveling teachers; in the increased attention given by individuals to deputizing teachers; in the preparations made to ensure the formation of Local Spiritual Assemblies only on the first day of Riḍván; in the increasing endeavors to hold regular devotional meetings; in the widening efforts to make use of the arts in the teaching work and community activities—in all these respects could be discerned the friends’ keen awareness of the importance of concentrating on the requirements of the major aim of the Plan, which is to effect a significant advance in the process of entry by troops. 2
Our hopes, our goals, our possibilities of moving forward can all be realized through concentrating our endeavors on the major aim of the Divine Plan at its current stage—that is, to effect a significant advance in the process of entry by troops. This challenge can be met through persistent effort patiently pursued. Entry by troops is a possibility well within the grasp of our community. Unremitting faith, prayer, the promptings of the soul, Divine assistance—these are among the essentials of progress in any Bahá’í undertaking. But also of vital importance to bringing about entry by troops is a realistic approach, systematic action. There are no shortcuts. Systematization ensures consistency of lines of action based on well-conceived plans. In a general sense, it implies an orderliness of approach in all that pertains to Bahá’í service, whether in teaching or administration, in individual or collective endeavor. While allowing for individual initiative and spontaneity, it suggests the need to be clearheaded, methodical, efficient, constant, balanced and harmonious. Systematization is a necessary mode of functioning animated by the urgency to act.
Towards ensuring an orderly evolution of the community, a function of Bahá’í institutions is to organize and maintain a process of developing human resources whereby Bahá’ís, new and veteran alike, can acquire the knowledge and capacity to sustain a continuous expansion and consolidation of the community. The establishment of training institutes is critical to such effort, since they are centers through which large numbers of individuals can acquire and improve their ability to teach and administer the Faith. Their existence underscores the importance of knowledge of the Faith as a source of power for invigorating the life of the Bahá’í community and of the individuals who compose it.
The facts at hand confirm that the Four Year Plan works where a systematic approach is understood and applied. These same facts show that the institutions of the Faith, in their collaborative efforts at national, regional, and local levels, have clearly been adhering to this understanding. However, with individuals, on whom rests the ultimate success of the Plan, this understanding is less clear. For this reason, we must emphasize to our fellow-believers the importance to their individual effort of this prerequisite of success in teaching and in other undertakings.
As translated into programs and projects by national and local institutions, the Plan, among other things, gives direction, identifies goals, stimulates effort, provides a variety of needed facilities and materials to benefit the work of teachers and administrators. This is of course necessary for the proper functioning of the community, but is of no consequence unless its individual members respond through active participation. In so responding, each individual, too, must make a conscious decision as to what he or she will do to serve the Plan, and as to how, where and when to do it. This determination enables the individual to check the progress of his actions and, if necessary, to modify the steps being taken. Becoming accustomed to such a procedure of systematic striving lends meaning and fulfillment to the life of any Bahá’í. 3
The Cause of Bahá’u’lláh marches on resistlessly, quickened by the increasing application of an approach to the development and use of human resources that is systematic. The further creation of national and regional training institutes, now numbering 344, has pressed this development forward, with the result that, apart from North America and Iran where numerous courses have been given, some 70,000 individuals have already completed at least one institute course. All of this is contributing to a growing body of confirmed, active supporters of the Cause. The untold potential of this progression is illustrated in such reports as the one received from Chad, where in an area served by an institute more than 1,000 people embraced the Faith through the individual efforts of those who had received training. Understanding of the necessity for systematization in the development of human resources is everywhere taking hold.
Collateral with the demonstrated efficacy of training institutes is the pragmatic emergence of Regional Bahá’í Councils in selected countries where conditions have made the establishment of these institutions necessary and viable. Where there is close interaction between a Council and a training institute, the stage is set for a galvanic coherence of the processes effecting expansion and consolidation in a region, and for the practical matching of the training services of institutes to the developmental needs of local communities. Moreover, the operational guidelines whereby the Continental Counselors and the Regional Councils have direct access to each other give rise to a further institutional relationship which, along with that connecting the Councils to the National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, effectuates a dynamic integration of functions at the regional level.
The ever-expanding work in social and economic development is also benefiting from the operation of those training institutes that give attention to such subjects as literacy, primary health care and the advancement of women. The more widespread efforts of the Office of Social and Economic Development to promote a global process of learning about relevant Bahá’í principles are enhanced by the work of these institutes, as well as by the rise of Bahá’í-inspired organizations scattered throughout the planet. Clearly, then, the institutional capacity to administer development programs is gaining in strength. This is apparent in projects sponsored by Bahá’í institutions or initiated by individuals through the inspiration of the Faith. An outstanding example of the latter is Unity College, which was created by a family in Ethiopia as the first, and since late 1998, the only private college in the country, with a student body that swelled to 5,000 during this past year. Another example, on a smaller scale but of significance nonetheless, is the initiative taken by a family in Buffalo, New York: here, in their home, they have been assisting tens of children and youth from the inner city to develop, through Bahá’í spiritual and moral teachings, patterns of behavior that will enable them to overcome self-destructive attitudes bred by poverty and racism. 4
The central theme of the Four Year Plan—that of advancing the process of entry by troops—produced a high degree of integration of thought and action. It focused attention on a major stage of the evolution of the Bahá’í community that must be attained during the Formative Age; for until entry by troops is more widely sustained, the conditions will not be ripe for mass conversion, that breakthrough promised by Shoghi Effendi in his writings. The thematic focus of the Plan bore implications for all categories of Bahá’í activity; it called for a clarity of understanding which made possible systematic and strategic planning as a prerequisite of individual and collective action. The members of the community came gradually to appreciate how systematization would facilitate the processes of growth and development. This raising of consciousness was a huge step that led to an upgrading of teaching activities and a change in the culture of the community. 5
- Universal House of Justice. “Riḍván 153 – To the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library. Accessed May 7, 2021. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19960421_001/1#850834393. [return]
- Universal House of Justice. “Riḍván 154 – To the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19970421_001/1#645573403. [return]
- Universal House of Justice. “Riḍván 155 – To the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19980421_001/1#950774876. [return]
- Universal House of Justice. “Riḍván 156 – To the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19990421_001/1#104279438. [return]
- Universal House of Justice. “Riḍván 2000 – To the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library. Accessed May 9, 2021. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/20000421_001/1#241540916. [return]