This is a wonderful opportunity to say something to the dear Persian Baha'is as we approach the hundredth anniversary of the Ascension of Baha'u'llah in this year which, for all of us, all over the world, is so holy. I think the Persian believers who have, for one reason or another, left their homeland and are now living abroad, should consider very seriously, at this historic moment, what their duty is to the Cause of God, which after all originated in their own native land and they became the first followers of this new Faith in the whole world, the ones who gave their lives by the thousands to defend and establish it, to assert its truth and carry its message abroad. This is the Persian believers' immortal distinction in the history of our religion, but likewise it imposes a great responsibility upon them.
It says in the Bible: "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required". I think this particularly applies to the dear Persian believers at this moment in the history of the Cause of God. The thing that is most important, now, for all the Baha'is, particularly for those who come from Baha'u'llah's native land, is to arise, each one of them, forgetful of himself and his own limitations, putting aside every feeling of unworthiness or lack of capacity or experience, and teach the Cause of God as never before.
The humblest of Baha'u'llah's followers must realize he is capable of receiving Divine confirmations if he will arise and go forth, at this great turning point in human history, to share with the frightened, disillusioned, hopeless masses of his fellow men, the life-giving teachings of the Blessed Beauty. It is the sacred duty of all of us to let mankind know that this Cause of God exists and that Baha'u'llah has appeared for the redemption of mankind.
There are many ways of teaching the Faith but I cannot go into them here. We must realize, however, that all the Baha'is - even the children - young people, middle-aged people, older people, people who do not even know English - I am talking about the dear Persian Baha'is who may not know much English, maybe just a few words of English or some other foreign language - all of them have the opportunity to teach at this time. They can teach, as the older generation of Persians all over Europe and in the West have done for many years, by kindness, by hospitality, by the warmth of their love and sympathy towards other people. These are the things which have the greatest effect on people and reach their hearts. People everywhere today are starving for a little sympathy, love and understanding.
No Baha'i must think that he has to have a university degree, that he has to know a foreign language well, that he has to have gone to a lot of summer schools or winter schools or deepening courses, or anything else, to be able to spread the Message of Baha'u'llah. This is an absolutely ridiculous concept! Baha'u'llah Himself enjoined upon His followers to share His life-giving Message with all mankind. I do not believe anyone of us can find any valid excuse for not doing this. We are always meeting people around us, coming in contact with people. Through our kindness and courtesy, through a smile or a word of encouragement, we can find some way of making an overture to another human being. Often we can follow this up, either through a direct approach to the teachings of Baha'u'llah, saying "I am a Baha'i" or "Have you ever heard of the Baha'i teachings, which are spread all over the world?" and so on; we can give them a brief idea of what some of our teachings are.
I believe there is really no reason at all why every single believer, over the age of six years, so to speak, should not be able, in some way, to offer this Message to other people. Bahaha’u’llah enjoined upon us to share His message with humanity. He never said how old or how "qualified" we should be! So let us do it now, quickly, all of us, of every age to those of every age, while there is yet time to render this great service to our fellow men.
To share this Message with other people is our privilege and duty as Baha'is. "Duty" is a very good word. One does not often hear it nowadays, but to do one's duty before God is a very important moral obligation. To fail to do it is a great deprivation and a great personal tragedy for each one of us.
Another thing that I think is of supreme importance, aside from making the effort to share the Message of Baha'u'llah, wisely and lovingly, with those we meet, is the fact that the domestic life of the Baha'is in their homes should be an example to all. There is a great deal in the Baha'i teachings that we can turn to for guidance on this subject. The most important thing of all, however, is that a Baha'i home should have unity. Baha'is and those who are not Baha'is must realize that unity, cooperation, a loving effort to understand the other person's point of view is the goal of Baha'i life, whether it be between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, or whatever the relationship, that unity is essential to the wellbeing of the individual and society. We should pray for unity within our home. We should make every effort and every sacrifice to promote a unified, loving, harmonious atmosphere within the family, within the community, within the world.
The primary teacher of the Baha'i Faith is, of course, the mother: the mother, from the time the baby is born, through her prayers, her care, her love, and above all her example, teaches the child and can create in that child the foundation of a noble human being. This is the purpose of Baha'i life, to ennoble the human race through the knowledge of Baha'u'llah and through turning to Him and obeying His laws and His teachings, to become worthy of the high station of man.
Children should be exposed, from a very early age, to the teachings of our Faith. Children should attend a little Baha'i Sunday School or Baha'i class. A mother can start such a Baha'i class for her own child in her own home; she can tell her neighbours and friends, who may not be Baha'is, that we attach great importance to moral behaviour, to honesty, truthfulness, clean decent speech, knowledge and education; to all these values emphasized in our Baha'i teachings we attach very great importance, and we should teach these things to our children and invite other mothers - whether Baha'is or not-to send their children if they would like to, to our Baha'i classes. There are innumerable people today, all over the world, often people who live just around the comer from where a Baha'i lives, be they relatives, strangers or acquaintances, who have children and are often very worried about how to give their children a good moral and spiritual foundation while they are still young and impressionable.
I think that it is of supreme importance to hold classes for children. It has not only a tremendous effect on the mind and character of a child but also fulfils a deep longing of many parents to give spiritual values to their children. A great many people today are reluctant to send their young children to classes that instill prejudice and narrow-minded beliefs in them. Baha'i classes, which teach the evolution of religion and that all the world's great religions come from the same God, offer progressive-minded young parents a way out: spiritual and moral education with no prejudice and rituals added. It is an excellent, one might say, noble occupation for young Baha'i parents to see that such Baha'i children's classes exist. Baha'is everywhere should give serious consideration to what is possible for them to do to start such classes.
Many things are possible: for instance, young mothers can inaugurate a children's class in their own home for Baha'i and non-Baha'i children; old people, who are frail and maybe not able to go out very much, can have a weekly children's class. There are hundreds of ways to serve if we only have the imagination to see ourselves doing it! There is no lack of desire and eagerness to serve on the part of all Baha'is. But there is often lack of imagination. You have to realize you can do it! Not just the other Baha'i, but you!
Courage and pride in being a Baha'i are very important. People should realize that this world is starving to death for spiritual nourishment and we are the people that have it, because we have the teachings of Baha'u'llah. We should be conscious of the fact that what each one of us can give what I can give, what you can give - as a Baha'i is unique. We have something to share with other people. Whether they are wealthier than we are, or more educated, or more socially prominent, is not the point at all.
Every believer who has the teachings of Baha'u'llah is a spiritual millionaire. He has everything. He may not know all the teachings but that does not matter. It is very much like feeding people: supposing that you happen to know how to do it and you have all the facilities for doing it, and you have the money to do it, and you decide that you are going to have a banquet; you put out all kinds of dishes for your guests, beginning with hors d'oeuvres, and soup, and an entree, and a main course, and this and that, and a dessert and fruit and then cheese - all that would be a really deluxe dinner parry! But supposing you cannot do any of this? Well, you can offer a person a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, a piece of bread. The thing that is important is the spirit of sharing, the will to show love and kindness and hospitality and friendship to other people. It is more important than anything that either money or education can give you.
It is the spirit of God, if you like, the guidance and mercy and power of God, which you become a receptacle for because you are a Baha'i, because you pray to be a receptacle, because you long to serve Baha'u'llah. Then whatever you have, little or a lot, you give.
I believe there is altogether too much emphasis today on brains, intellectual power, and higher education. Baha'u'llah, as we know, makes education obligatory, for boys and girls alike, and He praises, to an unbelievable degree, the qualities that education can produce in the human race. We should be educated. We Baha’is believe in education. But that does not mean that we have to be a bunch of snobs on the subject. Often an illiterate man - and I have seen this in my own worldwide travels - a completely illiterate man, who cannot read or write, may open his mouth and express the Baha'i teachings better than I can, with much more elocution, and a better delivery than I can muster! Some Baha'i villager can get up in a village meeting, in a jungle or a desert somewhere in the world, and express not only the spirit of Baha'u'llah's teachings, but the details of some of those teachings and laws in a very much more graphic way than perhaps a highly educated university graduate who is a Baha'i, or somebody who trots around and gives courses on the Baha'i Faith, which is, of course, of great value and very important, but after all, only one more method of teaching the Cause of God.
We must never think there is a limitation on teaching the Baha'i Faith or that there is a category that can do it better than other people, or some special system. Fundamentally, the greatest teaching aid is the Holy Spirit. Each one of us can call upon Baha'u'llah for His help, call upon God to inspire us. It is truly extraordinary, if you can rely on this help and inspiration, to hear what somehow or other comes out of your own mouth! I have heard myself say things in my talks that I never heard before or thought of before. Where does it come from? I think it comes from a sincere desire to serve.
My mother was told by 'Abdu'l-Baha that she should speak on the Faith; she was horrified! She said, "But, 'Abdu'l-Baha, I cannot talk; how can I? I have no ability to do this!" And 'Abdu'l-Baha told her to "Pray, and turn your thoughts to Me and I will inspire you."So my mother, adoring the Master, one of His early disciples, did what He told her to, and she became a marvellous public speaker. I listened to this story I had heard so many times from my mother, and I just did what she had done. I never starred out in my life to be a public speaker, but I have given many hundreds of talks since I was 15 years old, sometimes to audiences of a thousand or more people at one time. How did I do it? I did it because I did what my mother said 'Abdu'l-Baha had told her to do! Even after all these years, when I have to stand up and give a big public lecture, I am scared to death half the time; but I pray, I tum my thoughts to 'Abdu'l-Baha, I beg His help, and I give my talk. It is not complicated. I tell myself I know something about the Baha'i Faith, and I do want to share it with others, so I put my trust in God and I find I am helped in giving a talk about His Faith. We must learn not to be afraid, and we must not have inferiority complexes. They are wholly unnecessary.
If you go over your Baha'i history you will find that the humblest of people are the heroes and heroines of our religion. Look at Badi, who took the Message of Baha'u'llah to the Shah: he was 17 years old and he got martyred, and we all think of how marvellous he was. But he was in no way really outstanding until he arose and carried that Message to the Shah and was killed for doing so; now he is one of our great heroes of the Baha'i Faith, a very young hero, one might add. Think of Zaynab: in one of the sieges of the Babis in Iran, when the earliest believers defended their right to accept the Bab and follow His teachings, this wonderful peasant woman fought and died beside the men Babis. Think of some of the other early Babi heroines who cut off their long hair and bound it round the muzzles of their inadequate cannons to strengthen them lest they should split!
The early heroines and heroes of our Faith were not college professors; they were for the most part humble people, many of them illiterate people. But look what they became, what they accomplished, what their sacrifices achieve! Why? Because they opened themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit. Because they called for Divine assistance and guidance, in the beginning to the Bab, then to Baha'u'llah, and later to 'Abdu'lBaha. But the principle was always the same: "Ask and ye shall receive."
All forms of service are possible for us, not because of what we are, but because of what this Cause is, and because of the great spiritual values which are part of life and which are emphasized in our teachings. So I think that the Baha'is - young people, old people, people who are in the prime of life - should arise now, and get busy and teach this Cause.
I always remember the story of a little Baha'i girl, many years ago in England; it was the custom of the school she attended to close with a prayer. So one day she plucked up her courage and asked the teacher: "Why can't we have a Baha'i prayer?" The teacher said: "What is Baha'i?", so the child tried to explain, but of course she could not do very much about "progressive revelation" and "universal peace" and other big concepts. After the school day was over, the principal called the child and said that her teacher had said something about her talking about having a Baha'i prayer, and "What was Baha'i?" and again the child could not make herself very clear on the subject; she tried hard enough but she did not succeed. So the principal called the father of the child and said he could not understand what his daughter was trying to explain; it ended up that the father of the child was invited to come and give a lecture to the entire school on what the Baha'i Faith was. This is an example of one way that one little girl was able to spread the Message of Baha'u'llah.
I think that older people, like myself (I am now in my 80s), greatly underestimate their capacity to serve the Cause. Just by being a Baha'i and being alive there is always some way one can serve the Cause. Older people, to great advantage, can go, for instance, to different places in Central Europe where, at the present time, there is a great receptivity to this Faith. But when I suggest this to older people, the first thing they say is: "I am too old". Well, so what? I never heard the beloved Guardian say - or read anywhere in the teachings - that age has anything to do with serving! On the contrary, the entire history of our Faith is the story of people of all ages devotedly serving the Faith! The well-loved Hand of the Cause Jinab-i-Samandari was constantly travelling and serving the Cause until he died at the age of 95; he once pointed to his suitcase and said that was his home!
The second thing people say is: "I don't know the language". Well, there are ways of overcoming that. I can visualize that somebody goes to one of these Central European countries, particularly perhaps to where the cost of living is not so very high at this time, and rents a modest room or two, a small place where they can hold Baha'i meetings. This "pioneer", or even temporary Baha'i teacher, puts a notice on the door that says "Baha'i Centre, All Welcome-Open 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.", or whatever hours seem best suited to the possibility of enquirers coming; then this visiting Baha'i goes there and sits there. He does not speak one single word of Romanian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Czech, or whatever the local language is; he usually just speaks English or Persian. So he sits there in his rented Hazira. But he can only talk to anybody who comes in English because he only knows English. So what does this visiting teacher or pioneer do? He goes to the university, or to a high school, and looks around for a promising, nice student who is studying English, maybe a late teenager, or somebody in his twenties, and he asks him if he would like to come and translate for him so as to practise his English? Some student is sure to be delighted to do this! So the Baha'i teacher, pioneer, visitor, whatever it may be, sits down, wherever the place the meeting is being held, and next to him sits this student, or somebody who wants to practise his English and knows, obviously, some English already; then comes the newcomer, the enquirer, and that person sits on the other side, and then they start a three-way conversation: the visiting Baha'i who does not speak the native language talks and answers questions, and the student practises his English as a translator between the visiting Baha'i teacher and the enquirer. I think this arrangement might work. I think it would be of great advantage all around and that the native translator, after some period of time, might also become a Baha'i and be eager to help all he could in serving the Cause of God in his own country. This is just an example of one way of solving the language problem. But there are many doors to service. We should not think that age or language can prevent us from active, dynamic teaching work.
I remember Marion Jack, buried now in Bulgaria, where she was a pioneer - only we did not use that word in those days. Long before World War II she went there; then came the war. Marion had an enlarged heart; she was very, very poor; she did not speak anything, as I remember, but English - perhaps eventually she learned a few words of Bulgarian; in any case, she stayed there teaching the Faith as best she could in Sofia, the capital. Shoghi Effendi was asked, by the Baha'i Bureau in Switzerland at that time, to please encourage her - as they themselves had already done - to leave Bulgaria because war was approaching and there was a great danger that she would be entirely cut off; she was a Canadian subject and if she remained in Bulgaria would fall under the jurisdiction of Nazi-dominated Europe, in other words, in enemy territory to the Allies. But Marion would not leave; she did not want to leave the country where she had gone to teach the Faith, and Shoghi Effendi did not bring pressure on her to do so. She stayed at her chosen post in Bulgaria. The hotel where she was living was bombed fortunately she happened to be out of it at the time - and she was vacated to the country, to a school where, in a draughty corridor in bitter cold weather, she slept on an iron cot; it is a wonder she did not die of pneumonia! After the War, a woman belonging to some international welfare organization came to Haifa and called on us; she told me she had recently seen Marion Jack and brought me a letter from her. I had known "Jackie", as her intimate friends called her, all my life. So I wrote her asking what she needed, what could I send her? Well, she did not really want anything! She was perfectly happy serving in her chosen pioneer post. But, she wrote me, she did not have any shoes, hers were all worn out, and it would be a great help if I could send her a pair of walking shoes! Marion Jack, called "General Jack" by 'Abdu'l-Baha Himself, is buried in Sofia, Bulgaria, and her grave is a place of pilgrimage for the Baha'is. But the point is that Marion Jack is an archetype for Baha'i pioneers, she had the caliber of a true heroine and is an example of what Baha'i heroes and heroines are like. The world desperately needs the service of all Baha'is at this time, of all categories, of all capacities to follow in the footsteps of people like Marion Jack.
I think that the older people, the middle-aged people and the younger people should all find ways of serving, particularly in Central Europe, at this time. I think that people should realize that a young person, for instance, in one of these Central European Republics - they are all very, very historically prominent countries with great cultures and great educational systems - can get an excellent university degree in medicine, or science, or some specialty, whatever it may be, or just an ordinary arts degree, in one of these Central European universities. They can learn the language - young people learn languages quickly. People of Persian background, I think, have a greater gift for languages than many North Americans, but I think, that they too should think of doing this; after all, 'Abdu'l-Baha's Tablets of the Divine Plan were specifically revealed to the North American believers, so the language problem should not be used as an excuse for not going to these countries.
Now is the time to serve; three weeks of vacation, six weeks of vacation; study abroad; a travel-teaching trip; a special undertaking where you say to yourself: All right, I am going to give six weeks of my life to this or that country, now, and I am going to go there, not as a tourist to go sight-seeing but to seriously stay settled down somewhere and to teach. One should not go with the attitude: "Oh, this is marvellous! Now I can go sight-seeing!" If you have gone there to serve the Cause of God, but see a lovely tourist opportunity, and start galloping all over the country and looking at all the historic monuments and visiting all the cities, this will scarcely be considered as a self-sacrificing effort to share the message of Baha'u'llah with a suffering and disillusioned humanity! On a long-time pioneer project this sight-seeing spirit might be acceptable for a change when one is somewhere for a long period, but for a trip of dedicated teaching effort - often paid for from Baha'i monies - it is surely frivolous and irresponsible and scarcely the right attitude for a concentrated, short-term teaching project. Running about will not get any serious teaching done for the benefit of the people of that country nor confirm sincere truth-seekers who must become inspired and prepared to carry on the teaching work in their own country.
If the Baha'i teacher goes to a chosen place, establishes himself there, and becomes the nucleus for information and Baha'i instruction, then he will really be of service to that country. And I think that Baha'is should consider this type of service and arise to do it. A shorter term of service can be a family with children going on a vacation to one of these Central European countries; children are a marvellous key to the hearts of people in any country; their children play with your children, their mothers begin to talk to you; their fathers begin to discuss things with your husband and so on. In other words, the doors open. But the point of all this is that we ought to seize our opportunity now.
You remember Baha'u'llah says: "Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more." These are the kinds of things we should be thinking about, particularly in the Holy Year so soon to start. We should ask ourselves, at the end of 100 years since the passing of Baha'u'llah, what can I do? What can my family do to offer Baha'u'llah a gift of service at this sacred Centenary of His passing? Each one of us can do something, place a special offering of our own, a personal offering on His Threshold, with our love and with our gratitude.
- Ruhiyyih (Alaskan Baha'i News, B.E. 149)