“Face to Face, Street to Street”: A Wilmette Institute Learner, by Re-reading The Dawn-Breakers, Rediscovers Her Zeal for Teaching and Begins to Plan a Teaching Project

Leslie Anne Libermann, a watercolorist who lives in Fort Myers, Florida, has finished her second Wilmette Institute course (Rediscovering the Dawn-Breakers: Bábí History, 1844–53). Here she shares how the course reawakened the zeal for teaching that she experienced as a new Bahá’í (she declared her Faith in 1996) and while pioneering with her family in China (1999–2003) and her determination to start a neighborhood teaching project she is calling “Face to Face, Street to Street.”

“I was able to complete the reading of The Dawn-Breakers and much of the additional materials. . . . I think I gained my deepest spiritual insights through actually following Siyyid Husayn-i-Yazdí through the book. Trying to put myself in his place, trying to imagine what he was experiencing really affected me deeply. I don’t know if this is a deeper spiritual insight or not, but I certainly obtained a greater admiration for the lives of these first believers.

“When I first read The Dawn-Breakers, I was moved by the story but did really understand the significance of what the early believers accomplished. It was like reading a novel in which I lived vicariously through the characters. This time the people became real to me. I realized that this is not just a story; these are world-changing events that I am a part of. As such, the Dawn-Breakers are not only my inspiration but my destiny. I need to make something of my life, for my Faith, that will make a difference. The characteristics of Táhirih, her vast knowledge, mastery of sacred scriptures, passionate loyalty, fervor as she taught the Cause, the services she rendered to humanity, the example she set, the trials she endured—these need to become some of my goals. . . . The ability to forgive others when they harm me, accepting whatever sacrifices I am called on to make, these are ways that I can become closer to my Faith. I need to study the Bible, the writings of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, and become more knowledgeable so that I can answer others’ questions, and even more, so that I have the confidence to teach. When I became a Bahá’í, I couldn’t wait to tell people about the Faith. Where has that enthusiasm gone?

“This time reliving the lives of the new believers through The Dawn-Breakers has brought back to me my initial emotions of connection to something far greater than I can ever perceive. It brings to me such a great yearning to once again be able to serve, either through pioneering to some place, or finding a way to share with a greater number of people this amazing Faith.

“Now I have a greater knowledge of the events of Bábí and Bahá’í history than I had before. I have several stories that I can share with others, as well as be able to talk about the life of Husayn-i-Yazdí. When teaching Ruhi Book 4 (The Twin Manifestations), I will be much better prepared to answer questions that people ask.

“I have always valued this wonderful Faith but did not realize how great the bounty is that I have received. This course has deepened my understanding not only of sacrifice, but also that sacrifice comes from placing your life in the course that God has set for you, not that you have set for yourself.  I remember feeling that guidance when pioneering in China, but it has been twelve years since we have been back in the U.S., and I have strayed far from where I once had been. It is hard to connect to my Faith the same way here. I am not sure why I feel so much more inhibited against sharing my Faith here than I did in China. I need to start reaching out to people and just do something.

“In the regular course of holy days and Feasts, I can share stories that I have read about the Dawn-Breakers. That is a concrete way that I can apply what I have gained. However, so much of what I have gained is internal. A this time I only have an idea of what I want to do but not a concrete plan of how to go about doing it. Between this course and something that I read highlighting a community in The American Bahá’í, I know what I want to do, just not how to do it. I want to reach out to members of my immediate neighborhood and start bringing everyone together. I will call the project “Face to Face, Street to Street,” after a line of Táhirih’s poem. I am still working out how exactly I will do it and where I will start, but that is what I am thinking about.”

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