One of the earliest feelings I remember having, as a child, was that life is a spiritual quest, and I had a strong conviction that one day I would meet someone who would help me on this quest. I didn’t really know how it would happen, but I thought that everything would be easy, open and obvious. I imagined that I might even meet someone in the street in my home town.
As time passed, my dream began to fade: I had left my church at 17 (I later realized that I had never accepted Jesus, although I had always believed in Moses). Two years’ service in the Air Force had left me puzzled and disillusioned, and I was working as a meteorologist at London’s Heathrow Airport. The year was 1957, and I was enjoying a good social life, and had quite forgotten my spiritual quest. However, the ‘good life’ was not to last. Some of my workmates had received posting notices to go and work in Libya. At that time (a year after the Suez crisis) the posting was an ‘unaccompanied’ one, and was not popular, especially as we thought that we might not be treated in a friendly way, after the political intrigues of the previous year. Those people who were to be posted became quite inventive in their pleas as to why they should not go: one was to be married in six weeks’ time, another had a sick parent – the excuses seemed endless, but they all worked; the postings were cancelled.
Things began to look different when I received the same kind of posting notice. Yes, it was an unaccompanied posting, but I had no excuses, no sick relatives, no girl friends and no inspiration! It looked as if I would have to go, and I wasn’t looking forward to it at all.
A few weeks later, a cheerful young man, who introduced himself as Stuart Sweet, called at the Office and inquired about the weather conditions in Tripoli, Libya. I told him that I, too, was going there three weeks later, and I formed the opinion that he had a very positive attitude to life and his personal fate. He mentioned that he was a Bahá’í, but I don’t think that I batted an eyelid – I wasn’t even curious.
Somehow I got through the next three weeks with very mixed feelings, and arrived in the Middle East for the first time in my life. From what I could see, it wasn’t just the Middle East but it was the Middle Ages too! The women there were completely veiled from head to foot, and could only look out on the world through the left eye – even the right eye was covered.
There were more surprises in the office too: two of my new colleagues took me to one side and said: “You had better be careful with Stuart. He has a strange religion.” This had a curious effect on me and I am sure it was not what my new ‘friends’ had intended. I remembered my spiritual quest and, even then, I felt that I was getting back on course.
Stuart and I soon found that we had a lot in common, and we shared a rented villa in Tripoli for nearly two years – I observed him and he taught me! The Bahá’í friends in Libya at that time had many difficulties, and they couldn’t teach, except by example. However, I managed to coerce Robert and Bahia Gulick into lending me some books. I also remember attending evenings with the Jarrah family and being thoroughly spoiled by them.
A year later I enthusiastically declared my faith in Bahá’u’lláh. On looking back, I had discovered Bahá’u’lláh, Muhammad and Jesus on a quest that had started over again because I had listened to advice but had fortunately decided not to take it!
Berkshire, August 1991
In May 1961 Ray married Mahin (Tofigh) in Cambridge and they lived at the Bahá’í Centre – 4 Gonville Place. Theirs was the first Bahá’í wedding in the city and, as such, it attracted much publicity in the local newspapers in Cambridge and Peterborough, where Ray had previously lived as one of the three pioneers to open that goal town. Being the only Bahá’í family in Cambridge at the time, almost every function was held in their house and they were blessed with some outstanding visitors.
The first Bahá’í student from the University, Jeremy Fox, declared and was followed by several other young people: Louise (Gloor) Semple, Denise (Girardo) Fox, Julie Fuller and many more.
Ray and Mahin’s first son, Vahid, was born in Cambridge. As the Bahá’í community was growing, and the call for pioneers for the Nine Year Plan came, they decided to move to the new goal town of Bedford (103 Wendover Drive) where Abbas was born three years later.
The night before Abbas was born Mahin had an amazing dream; she was being pushed on a trolley to the operating theatre by a magnificent figure, tall with long black hair and a beard. She asked him who he was and was told, Bahá’u’lláh, Who said: “All is going to be well. Don’t worry.” Mahin woke up to find herself back in her hospital bed and Abbas was born early in the morning of 9 June 1965.
In August 1968 the centenary of the arrival of Bahá’u’lláh and His companions at Akka was to be marked by a conference in Palermo, Italy, followed by a mass pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Ray and Mahin were booked to go with 350 other Bahá’ís from the U.K. As there was a typhoid outbreak in Italy they were advised to have vaccinations. Vahid was six years old, and he reacted very badly to the vaccination, became very ill and had to be admitted to hospital just three days before they were due to leave for the Conference so, with great sadness, they had to cancel their trip.
Everyone who went on the pilgrimage prayed for Vahid’s recovery and the miracle happened, he began to get better. The wisdom of what happened became apparent a year later when the Humphrey family attended the Summer School in Harlech, North Wales.
As they were coming out of the morning session with their name tags on, a lady surprisingly came up to Mahin with a delighted expression on her face and said: “Now I have found this Mrs Humphrey, and I can thank her for giving us the opportunity to go on the trip to Palermo and Haifa”. She added, “We desperately wanted to go, but there was no more room in the party. Then three days before the actual trip we heard there had been a cancellation. Everywhere we went we were called Mr and Mrs Humphrey. We were quite fed up with it, but wondered if we would ever meet you.” The lady was Margaret Watkins. She told us that before going to Haifa her husband Bob was not a Bahá’í, and were it not for this trip he would never have become one.
In 1968 came another pioneer move as Bedford was becoming established. Ray’s work (as a meteorologist) moved to Heathrow Airport, so Ray and Mahin moved to Epsom. Then in 1971 they moved again, this time to Wokingham, and their house in Crowthorne has remained their base ever since.
These days Vahid lives in South Australia with his wife Karen and their three children. Abbas lives in the UK and works for British Airways. Mahin, the intrepid travel-teacher in the family, is for ever grateful to Abbas for all the tickets he has provided her with for travelling all around the world!