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Bahai'a faith growing in Georgia
Large concentration of members live, worship in state
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Jake Hendrix, left, spoke about what it is to be Baha’i to his fellow believers during a session Sept. 19 at Atlanta Bread Company in Gainesville. “To be Baha’i you have to be a Christian, you have to be Jewish, you have to be a Muslim. To be Baha’i you have to be it all,” Hendrix said. - photo by JOSHUA L. JONES

How to get involved: For more information, wisit www.meetup.com/The-Hall-County-Bahai-Meetup-for-Unity-Group.

Around the same time that America was breaking into a Civil War, a Persian nobleman named Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri announced he was a “Manifestation of God.”

In the spring of 1863, he and his followers convened, changed Nuri’s name to Baha’u’llah and declared a new religion — the Baha’i faith.

Now, the religion is among the fastest growing world religions and has gained more than 5 million followers worldwide. A large concentration of believers practices the Baha’i faith in Georgia, where the religion continues to increase in popularity.

Gainesville residents Bill and Robin Neiheisel are among those who believe Baha’u’llah’s teachings and live a life in pursuit of unity. Together, the couple started a group via the popular social website, Meetup.com, to help those interested in learning more about the faith.

Here is what Robin Neiheisel had to say about the faith:

Question: How would you describe the Baha’i faith to someone unfamiliar with it?

Answer: The Baha’i faith teaches God reveals religious truth to mankind periodically through his divine educators. They go by different names (Christ, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Muhammed, Krisna), but they all receive their message from the same divine source (God). These divine messengers are not in competition with one another.

Q: What are the main tenants?

A: There is only one God. We are all members of one human family. Religion is progressive in nature; it does not end with one particular religion. God has sent his messengers at different points in mankind’s history due to our particular needs.

Q: What are the opportunities available to practice the faith?

A: Baha’is get together every 19 days for a spiritual meeting. We meet in one another’s homes. We also have devotional gatherings, study groups and informal meetings at which folks can ask questions about the Baha’i faith.

Q: What appeals to you about the Baha’i faith?

A: The emphasis on unity — especially racial unity — and the elimination of all forms of prejudice. We do not become involved in partisan politics.

Q: Why did you found the Meetup group?

A: We felt that people who did not know us might feel more comfortable getting to know about the Baha’i faith in a public place. So we meet at a local restaurant, keeping it casual and friendly.

Q: How do you feel the group has made a difference in people’s lives?

A: We have enjoyed meeting new people and discussing some really interesting topics, such as the soul, life after death, being spiritual at work, family life, marriage, tests we have been through, the persecution of Baha’is in Iran.

Q: What do you want people to know about the Meetup group?

A: We do not proselytize. We invite people from any faith or no faith to join our discussion group. We have some great spiritual discussions.

Q: What do you want people to know about the Baha’i faith?

A: We believe the founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’u’llah, is the return of all the prophets, including Christ. We encourage people to search for the truth independently.

Q: Do you feel the Baha’i faith is contradictory or complementary to other major faiths?

A: Definitely complementary. It fulfills prophecies of other world religions.

Q: What is required for someone to become Baha’i?

A: Belief in Baha’u’llah as a messenger of God. We follow his teachings and those of his son, Abdu’l-Baha.