We had a great table thanks to Special Ideas. Numerous pamphlets in both English and Spanish, along with a colorful Golden Rule poster on a large poster display board gave our table a very artistic and professional look.
Sandwiched between two large and hugely popular clubs, Louis and I silently said our prayers and put on our best smiles as we prepared for the expected flood of students on this rainy day. To our left was a one of the many church clubs. Our tables were sandwiched together and the aisles were fairly narrow so there was little room to maneuver. However, our church neighbor had more than a dozen students in gray tee-shirts stationed in front of their table flowing over to our side, practically crowding us out. Passing students were swallowed up by the eager young Christians handing out pamphlets and escorting them to their table to sign up for their club. They were very aggressive and well organized.
Louis and I stood behind our table for a period of time, patiently trying to make eye contact with the few students who managed to make it through the church fire-wall. Despite the aggressive tactics, some students approached our table, took literature, and even asked questions. One or two people signed up during the first few hours. Louis went off to explore the vast array of clubs at Clemson and I stayed behind, my patience slowly eroding as church members cast disapproving glares my way.
As the day went on the hall filled to overflowing and the air conditioning gave up the ghost. Organizers opened the doors to a sea of humidity and still they came. Luckily we had bottled water to offer and many students were grateful, but the cluttering in the aisle in front of our table worsened. It became obvious that I had to do something.
I politely asked the church members to stay in their assigned area which completely clogged the aisle. Now no one could get by without having to face eager young church members pushing their message of hope and salvation. The disdainful glimpses cast over wary shoulders increased, however. Soon the ebb and flow of too many students in too small a space cascaded over into our area again and this time I decided to be proactive.
I picked up one of Justice St. Rain’s fabulous stickers from Special Ideas (‘No room in my heart for prejudice’) and stood in front of our table, adjacent to theirs. The surprised looks I got for that move were scandalous. Nevertheless, I offered the stickers to students passing by and was quite pleased with the response.
Minorities overwhelming accepted the stickers, and most wanted their sticker with the backing so they could later peel it off and put it on their laptop (one said, her refrigerator). Many others wanted to wear it and soon you could see little black and red stickers all over the hall.
For those who wanted the backing intact, I “fumbled around” carefully tearing out a sticker. At the same time, I asked if they had heard about the Baha’i Club and this opened the door for many people to hear a short explanation, ask questions, take literature, and even sign up for the club. As an experiment, I invited a few to sign up and just about everyone I asked did indeed signup. After a while I began to lose my voice and I regretted not inviting more people to sign up when I had the chance (next year hopefully).
Between encounters with passing students, I made an effort to talk to my neighbors and let them know that we were not competing but were working for the same goals: to draw people closer to God. Some responded positively; others shied away. One of them had a curt comment to which I replied that we Baha’is are facing many of the same problems “that you did 2,000 years ago.”
I had a long, public deepening with one gray-shirt in the middle of the crowded aisle (he happened to be the tallest man in the building, near 7 feet, I suspect) and a very nice guy to boot. Later, Professor Donald House, a long-standing Baha’i and chairperson of the Visual Computing department at Clemson joined me and Louis to help. Shortly thereafter, the minister from our neighbor church club came over and introduced himself. We had a lovely discussion (while his group continued to engage anyone who walked by). It turns out, the minister knew about the Faith through a friend who was a Baha’i. Small world, eh?
Anyway, we stood there offering stickers as closing time approached, hoping, praying for just one more student to sign up, and then one more. I did that 3 times and as people were packing up. The last was the best. God send us a young couple who asked the very best questions you could imagine. We were the last table to pack up. The courts that were so crowded just a short while ago seemed vast now. I thanked God for the opportunity to teach as our footsteps echoed off the walls.
In the end, 15 students signed up and we thanked God for that bounty. All but one are not Baha’is. Now the real work begins. It’s hard enough for busy Baha’i students to get together for meaningful action. Now we have the extraordinary bounty of working with a motivated and capable group of people brought together through the power of the principles upon which our Faith is built. How many show up to the first meeting and become active, God only knows. Which projects they choose to pursue is up to them but we will keep you informed of progress. Pray for the club, please!