I was born on 18th February 1935 as Felix Charles Caprez. I was not fond of the name Felix so chose to be called Charles, which is the name most Bahá’ís know me by.
At an early age I knew that there was something in the world that was going to unite peoples, as at school I had a Jewish friend. His mother was very kind to me as she said I was the only boy who made friends with him. I could not understand why the other boys ignored him. I was in the choir in an Anglican Church and once asked the priest who Mohammed was? He replied that he was a very holy man who had a lot of camels. I asked whether he was a prophet like Jesus? He replied “no”. So something was telling me up to the age of 15 that it was not right for people to be separated into religious, racial, tribal or educational groups. There was somewhere a uniter.
During 1959 when I was working as a travelling auditor, I often went to Epsom, travelling by bus from Putney. On one journey the bus conductor gave me a foreign coin in my change so I decided from then on that I would travel to Epsom by Southern Region, as it was called in those days. On my next journey, 2nd September 1959, I changed trains at Clapham Junction, and things began to happen. I got into the train for Epsom and a nurse also got into the train. I said “Good morning”! She replied and went straight to sleep. She got out at the stop before me, which was Ewell East, and I said “Have a good sleep” assuming that she had been on the night shift.
The whole of that day I thought of her and wondered if I would ever see her again. On my return home I again had to change trains at Clapham Junction. About 250,000 people change trains every day at Clapham Junction. I looked in front of me and who do you think was walking towards me? Yes, you’ve guessed – it was the nurse! I stopped and said to her “this is a coincidence” and we started talking. The outcome was that we agreed to meet the next day. The nurse’s name was Bahayieh Saedi – most of her friends called her Soraya. So on 2nd September 1959 I met my first Bahá’í. We spoke sometimes about religion in general and the Bahá’í Faith often came up but did not register in my mind. We got engaged on 21st December 1959 and as Soraya had already mentioned that Bahá’ís should not be engaged for more than 90 days, I had agreed to this. So we had a Bahá’í wedding on 18th March 1960 at the National Haziratu’l-Quds in London, officiated by Mehrangiz Munsiff and Betty Reed. We had had the registry wedding just before but the Bahá’í wedding was very special and my mother was very impressed.
The next three or four years we went to most Bahá’í meetings and I think most of the Bahá’ís thought I was a Bahá’í, but obviously the time was not ready for me to declare.
We were living in Barnes, London SW13 with my mother and there was only one other Bahá’í in the area and she had great difficulty in getting to the meetings as her husband was a Moslem and did not allow her to attend. My wife Soraya gradually told me more about the Bahá’í Faith but it did not sink in. I was, however, doing a considerable amount of teaching but something was holding me back. I did, however, enjoy a glass of wine or whisky and could not understand why Bahá’ís were not allowed to drink alcohol. I even suggested to my wife that I could write to the Universal House of Justice and ask for permission to have one drink a day. She of course said “don’t be daft”!
I knew all about the nineteen day feasts and attended the latter part of some of them. I was always so happy to be with Bahá’ís. Soraya then decided that Barnes must wake up and, instead of going to the Feast in other areas, she would hold the Feast in Barnes. So every 19 days she would go into our front room and pray and meditate and eventually she would knock on the adjoining wall, which was to tell me to make the tea and bring it in. So we celebrated the third part of the Feast together, which was quite nice for me as it made me feel useful and I always enjoyed drinking tea. This went on for many months and my mother would often ask what Soraya was doing? I generally replied that probably she was praying for us to see the light. After several months a Bahá’í from Austria arrived. This meant that Soraya had company for the Feast, but still the same system – a knock on the wall and I would bring in three cups of tea.
In 1963 I attended the World Congress at the Royal Albert Hall, London, and was very impressed with all the different peoples. London had never seen anything like this before.
In 1965 Soraya wanted to go to Iran to see her parents so we started making plans. The first problem was that as we had had a Bahá’í wedding, the Iranians would not alter Soraya’s surname on her passport. This would present problems as I intended to return to London before Soraya and our first son, Paul, who was then 3 years old. Somehow we ended up with the Chief Mullah of London and he gave us the following advice. For a small fee he could change me into a Moslem for our journey and on return to London he could change me back to a Christian. I was really getting confused! The Mullah said something like ‘religion is in your heart but visas and passports, although just pieces of paper, control travel.’ He then said ‘to solve all your problems, why don’t you travel to Iran by motor car as father, son and friends?’ I said that I didn’t have a driving licence and he said, with so much authority ‘get one’.
So we drove by car to Iran with Soraya’s sister Nahid and two friends and had a wonderful trip. We stayed in Iran for three months and I was privileged to visit the House of The Báb. I will never forget that day. First Soraya had to put on a chador as we had to proceed through the Moslem quarter of Shiraz. Upon entering the garden I was told to wait downstairs as Bahá’ís could not enter with non-Bahá’ís. Soraya and her Bahá’í friend went into the House while I was made welcome in the adjoining caretaker’s house. He gave me a book to read Portals to Freedom, the first Bahá’í book I had ever read. I read about 30 pages and on turning each page, would pray that they would stay longer in the House of the Báb in order to enable me to finish the book. They returned and I was allowed to enter the room in which The Báb had declared His mission. Upon entering the room I admired the carpets and stained glass windows. I then sat down and said a few Bahá’í prayers – then the tears started coming and nothing would stop them. I don’t know how long I stayed in the room – about 20 minutes – but I felt different. We all met downstairs and had tea.
Eventually we returned to Teheran and then to London. Someone had told me that once you have heard the name Bahá’í it will never leave you. I now found that whenever I was not busy with anything I would hear the word Bahá’í over and over again.
We attended many meetings and especially the weekend picnics at Ted and Alicia Cardell’s farm at Great Paxton in Huntingdonshire. I kept wondering what was holding me back.
In 1966 we went to the summer school at Rimini in Italy. It was wonderful – lessons in the morning and swimming in the afternoons. All was well until one afternoon the Bahá’ís went on a special coach trip and, as a non-Bahá’í, I stayed behind. I was now on the beach with about 5,000 non-Bahá’ís like myself and I have never experienced loneliness such as I experienced that afternoon. When they returned I was so happy.
On 20th October 1966, the anniversary of the birth of The Báb, my sister-in-law, Nahid, had decided to become a Bahá’í so we all went to the home of Mr and Mrs Earl and Audrey Cameron and read The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. After reading this, Earl said to me “What about you?” I said yes, and became a Bahá’í on that same night. What had kept me from declaring since 1960 I will never know, but everyone has told me that everyone has a time to declare.
On our way home I was so much on fire that I said “Let’s go to Buckingham Palace and if the Queen is in and available, we could talk with her”. Soraya said that the Bahá’í Faith does not do things like that without proper thinking, so we went home. I had found the inner peace that had alluded me for many years.
In 1968 we pioneered from Britain to Swaziland and in 1975 we moved to Zimbabwe. We are now Zimbabweans and have made this country our home.
Becoming a Bahá’í has made me realise that I cannot get any closer to God. I am now doing what God wants me to do, and knowing and loving Bahá’u’lláh has made me a very small part of a world religion that will change the world according to God’s will. The Bahá’ís are the luckiest people in the world.
I could make a list of all the Bahá’ís who showed me so much love – the list of names would be endless. May I just say to all of you – I thank you all.
Bulawayo, ZIMBABWE December 1990
Editor’s note: Charles remained in his pioneer post in Zimbabwe until his death in January 2012.