ONE PLANET, ONE PEOPLE, PLEASE
I recall how moved I was reading these words on the front of a little book. The feeling I experienced then was of finally reaching home after a very long absence.
I was born in Hitchin in 1946 and I have been a Bahá’í for about 32 years. There were eight in our family unit – Mum, Dad, one sister and four brothers besides myself. Although both my parents worked, our family was very poor.
In desperation my parents had my youngest brother adopted by friends as they could not afford another mouth to feed.
Although life was difficult I felt safe and happy. This changed when I was about 7 years old when my Mother could not cope any longer and left home.
Shortly after my mother left, my father brought another woman into the home to act as mother. She had two children of her own, to whom she showed love and kindness. This was the opposite of the way she treated my siblings and me. For the purpose of this story this need not be gone into. However, I remember my real mother mentioning to me that she kept my father from going to prison for the abuse we suffered from this woman.
I do not recall how it came about that I attended Sunday School at that time. Although my parents were Methodists they were not practising Christians. Up until my mother’s leaving I had no religious schooling. I recall that I enjoyed having somewhere to go, just to get out of the house. I remember enjoying the Bible stories and I believed in them. One in particular stood out for me. This was the story of the wise King Solomon who judged between two mothers who were quarrelling over one child, both demanding it was theirs. Solomon said he would cut the child in two, giving each mother half. Of course the real mother could not bear this to happen and pleaded for the king to give the child to the other woman. After hearing this story I remember always praying for God to make me wise.
Being so young I couldn’t articulate my feelings of loneliness even to myself. I had no nurturing, no support, and tried the best I could to protect my younger siblings.
Now that I had learnt about God and had someone to turn to and take comfort in, I was able to speak to Him every night when I went to bed, which was the only time I felt safe.
One day while out playing, I found a purse with about £10 in it. Being so hungry, as we were given very little to eat at home, I couldn’t wait to get to the shop and stuff myself silly. I also treated a lot of my friends, being as I was so rich! However, my glee was short lived as the following day I was called to the Head’s office and was accused of stealing one of the children’s purses at school. Although I explained that I had found the purse in the street some distance from the school they did not believe me. I was terrified when the Head said that he was going to contact my parents, so I ran away. It was getting dark and it had started to rain. I was tired, cold and frightened but then I looked up and saw a church. I knocked on the door and it was opened by a priest who invited me in. The priest listened to my story patiently. It must have sounded like hysterical ramblings. When I had quietened down, he asked me if I was a Catholic? I believe I answered “no”, as I did not understand what a Catholic was. Then, while escorting me to the door, he told me in a stern voice that I should go home and tell the truth. I do not recall the events that followed. I believe I found my own way home. I was only 7 years old so my memory may not be accurate. However, this is how I remember the event and from then on I stopped talking to God.
The Lord’s Prayer
It wasn’t until I was about 25 years of age that I next spoke to God. I had married and had three children, whom I loved very much. Still, I left them with their father when I decided I could no longer continue in the marriage. This was mainly because I believed that this was best for them and, secondly, I had nowhere I could take them anyway. This had a drastic effect on all my children but especially my daughter who was 13 at the time. She blamed me for leaving and she would neither acknowledge me nor speak to me. This hurt and worried me constantly but gradually, and with persistence on my part, I was able to build a relationship between us, though fragile. One evening I received a call from my ex husband, who had received a call from the mother of a friend of my daughter. She said my daughter kept crying and would not say what was wrong and would not go home. She said she was concerned about her and would he pick her up. My ‘ex’ told me he couldn’t do anything with her and that I would have to go and collect her. I only had an idea of the address and I hated driving, especially when I didn’t know where I was going. It was dark and it was raining and this frightened me even more but being so frantically worried about my daughter, I set off. I recall crying so badly while I was driving that my eye mascara was running down my face and blurring my vision. I was in such a state that I felt a panic attack coming on. That is when I started saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over. Suddenly I felt calm – time elapsed without my being aware. I couldn’t recall how I got to my destination, only that I parked the car outside the house where my daughter was staying.
I knew then that beyond a doubt God truly existed.
It was not until my life got on a more even keel that I started wanting answers to the many questions in my head. How could you believe in God and fight? If there was One God how come there were so many different religions? Why were there wars? etc. etc.
I remember badgering my eldest brother Ged to accompany me to a Buddhist temple. Although it was very peaceful listening to the monk, I was out of my depth and didn’t get the opportunity to talk to him.
Next I went and listened to the Pope giving a talk while he was visiting the UK. This was in Leamington Spa in 1979. I was spellbound listening to him and thought perhaps this was where I should be looking.
One World, One Planet, Please
I recall how moved I was on reading the above words on the front of a small book. The words triggered something inside me that instantly attracted me.
I knew my neighbours, Mr and Mrs Douglas Mackenzie, were Christians. They had lived in my area all their lives and would be able to tell me where I could find the nearest Catholic church. “How come you’re looking for a Catholic church?” they asked me. “You’re not a Catholic!” So I then explained to them how I was looking into different faiths.
Well, unbeknown to me, although both my neighbours were devout Christians, they had two grown children who were Bahá’ís. “Have you heard of the Baha’i faith?” my friend said. With that they handed me a little book. On the front it read “One Planet, One People, Please”. My heart skipped a beat as I was instantly attracted to those words. I thanked them and left. I couldn’t wait to read this little book.
I knew as soon as I had read this little book that I wanted to learn as much as I could about the Bahá’í Faith. On the back was a number to call. It was the number of Ray and Mahin Humphrey in Crowthorne, not far from Sunningdale where I lived. I found out that there were no Bahá’ís in Sunningdale so I spent my time visiting Crowthorne and Egham where Martha Hall-Patch lived. Martha used to hold regular firesides which I liked to attend. I visited these friends for a number of years; they listened to me and patiently answered my many questions until eventually all my misgivings made sense and all my questions were answered. It was at one of Martha’s firesides, I believe in 1980, that I declared my faith in Bahá’u’lláh after a 10 year search. Sadly, Martha died in June 2012. She was a great woman and is deeply missed.
Cause and Effect
Gradually my husband noticed a change in me, which he didn’t much like. I no longer was so subservient, asking him such things as why couldn’t he run his own bath? He became so anxious at my change of behaviour that he called my parents and told them I was going along to some religious sect that was having a great change on me. My parents then became concerned and got in touch with my brother, Ged. They asked him to go with me to find out what I had got involved in.
My brother is a year older then I. He was married with two children and was doing well until his wife asked him to leave. He then started drinking and smoking so heavily that I was afraid it would eventually kill him. He had no religious beliefs but loved a good debate. He found the Bahá’ís friendly, if not a bit deluded, and this he set out to prove! In order to do this he studied the Bible religiously, excuse the pun! Even so, he was so not into God that I knew it would take a miracle for him to become a Bahá’í, and this is exactly what I prayed for.
Sure enough, about five years later I found out he had declared! From then on he quit smoking and never touched another drink.
Now my parents were dumbfounded and decided themselves to come and find out what it was all about. My stepfather was the first to declare. He said he had been a Bahá’í all his life but just could not articulate it. A year later my mother too declared.
Talking of Miracles
I understand full well that a miracle can only be believed by the person that experiences it. However I would just like to take this opportunity to mention a couple more relevant times where my ‘Friend’ has lent a helping hand.
I was working in a nursing home and I was asked by my manager to bath a lady on the second floor, who had just been admitted. The elderly lady was very upset and confused about being in the nursing home. When I offered to help her take a bath, she refused. I went and told my manager the lady had refused but the manager was not happy and said that this was her bath day and so she must have a bath. Again the lady refused, this time crying. I went back to my manager, saying that instead of a bath I could give her a full wash. My manager then shouted at me and told me to go and bath the lady. So I went back to the lady and tried again. I explained that I was going to run the bath and warm the towels. She was shaking and crying and asked me why I was treating her in this way? Didn’t I believe in God? I was very upset when I went to run the bath. Just before I went to turn on the taps I knelt down by the bath and prayed, “this is your child my Lord, I am helpless, I give this problem to you.” I then went to turn on the taps and, to my amazement, no water came out from them. I went downstairs and told my manager. She tried the taps in the downstairs bathroom and they worked. Then she came upstairs, fuming by this time. She turned on the taps, nothing! “What have you done to the taps?” she shouted. “Nothing” I replied. “What should I do?” “Oh well, you will have to wash the lady” she said, and marched off.
It was the day that I had decided to visit my brother when I saw my son. He had popped in that day. My son was about 25 years old at the time and I had not seen him for some time. I had been told that he was taking drugs but not to what extent. When I saw him I could not believe the change in him. He had lost about 4 stone in weight, had dark circles under his eyes and his face looked gaunt. “What are you doing to yourself?” I asked him. “Do you want to die?” “I have it under control” he replied. “Please come home” I asked him, “at least until you are well.” He refused, but said he would if he got any worse. On the way home I cried, while praying, with my entire heart beseeching God to help my son. The next time I saw my son he was off drugs and was looking like his normal self.
I was now living in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, where I spent 10 years (1999 – 2009). My husband had wanted to emigrate there as it was where his great grandparents originated from, and both his brother and sister both had emigrated there.
My husband never became a Bahá’í while I was with him but he often came to meetings and stated that if he ever became anything it would be a Bahá’í. He helped and supported me in holding feasts for around 40 young Bahá’ís. I would often bring a street child home in order to bath, wash his clothes and feed him. My husband never complained, although my staff and neighbours frowned and would complain, saying I would be robbed or killed in our beds.
Feast held at Lions River
When I first arrived in South Africa my heart was not in it, as it was only at my husband’s insistence that I had agreed to go. I missed my family desperately and I felt lost and very lonely. I was now living in a hostile country where it wasn’t even safe to go for a walk. We had bought a farm in a place called Lions River. The only thing I knew about farming was that cows mooed! I constantly prayed for my spiritual healing and that I could be of some assistance to the faith.
One day I read an advert in a shop window; a charity organization was asking for assistance in helping with the street children. The children ranged in age from three years old to 15. The venue was run from a hall that the church allowed us to use and I was soon running a project which was trying to get the street children back into the school system.
Although it broke my heart seeing how these children had to survive, I loved them and the job, as I felt I was doing something worthwhile. We would collect food or have it delivered from the shops and the farms nearby. I kept chickens and used four loaves to make egg sandwiches which I took to them every day. Late morning the children would gather and have their glue taken from them before being allowed into the hall; it was returned to them when they left. I had to do this in order to gain their trust or they would not have come back. We would begin with prayers and songs and then do an English class. My daughter Joanne in the UK helped me enormously with this, emailing me various ways in which to teach the children. She would send me pictures, such as of a man sitting on the moon; the children would sing ‘man on the moon man man man’ and write down a big M.
I took a course in the Zulu language but found the ‘clicking’ sounds very difficult. Still it made the children laugh to hear me and I learnt enough to get myself understood.
We received many donations from various people, which we used to purchase school uniforms, books etc. The law stated that children did not have to wear uniforms or pay school fees but this was just not the case. Every child had to pay and be seen to be wearing the right uniform before they would even have a chance of being admitted. This was another ordeal as the school did not want street children to attend their school. However, with persistence we placed every child in school. I could go on for ever talking about the experiences I had working with the street children but I will leave it for now. What I will say is that the life I experienced as a child was a haven compared with the life of some of these children who were molested from the age of three, outcasted, beaten, and abused in every way you could possibly imagine.
One evening I received an email from my mother-in-law. She had found and sent me a contact number of a Bahá’í family living not far from me. She was not a Bahá’í and I don’t know how she found out this information as I had tried but been unable to. The number my mother in law sent me led me to my meeting the Worth family. They first introduced the Faith to Howick in 1996 and today it has a community of some 180 Bahá’ís. The Faith was first introduced to South Africa in 1911 and I believe there are 6,000 Bahá’ís there today.
I lived just outside Howick in a place called Lions River, a 10 minute drive from Howick. I was to become a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly along with some wonderful dedicated people who gave me such inspiration.
Fay George, who was 78 years old, became one of my closet friends. Fay was a dedicated Bahá’í. After her retirement she spent all her time teaching the faith, holding feasts at her home and helping people – from giving food to the poor and whoever would knock at her door, to helping in the hospice. She would remember all the birthdays of the people she met while working in the hospice and take parcels to them on their birthdays. She knitted jumpers, gloves, hats etc which she gave to the poor. One day a young man knocked at her door. She left him there while she went to fetch him food. Before she knew it she was accosted and thrown in a cupboard while he ransacked her home. Fortunately she was not badly injured and as soon as she was well enough she carried on giving and helping wherever she could.
Steven and Karen Worth were running a Bahá’í school in a township called Mpophomeni and asked me if I would like to join them. I soon got involved with working in the township schools teaching the faith and I was thrilled when my daughter brought my two grandchildren over for a visit, who were just seven and eight years old at the time. They came to the school and sang songs and played with the children.
I loved the children who attended my class and was so pleased to be told years later that all my class had declared their faith as Bahá’ís after reaching the age of 15, and were still asking after me.
It was after I had returned from the township that I received a phone call from my daughter. My son, Jay, had been arrested in Thailand for trying to sell weed. He had 50 pills on him at the time. I got in touch with a Christian lady who informed me it was her calling to visit prisons abroad. She made visits once a year to the prison taking parcels and letters with her which she collected from parents who had children in prison. I rang her and arranged to meet her at the airport in Durban. In seven months we had only received one letter from my son saying that he was the only English person there. He had to pay for a spot to sleep, he had no blanket, and the food was uneatable. He told us in his letter he would die in that place.
The lady was very kind. She told me that she had been doing this for many years and knew a lot about the laws in Thailand. She said that my son would be likely to get a 50 to a 100 year sentence, and that I must forget any hope of him getting out. I asked her if she believed in miracles? She just gave me a sad smile when I said I would get him out.
Once again I prayed for a miracle, for this would be the only way my son would walk out of that prison – that, along with a £20,000 bribe. I googled a Bahá’í on the internet who lived in Bangkok. I had never met him before but he agreed to help, even though it was a two hour plane flight for him to reach Phuket where my son was being held.
He visited my son often and he emailed me letters. I arranged to send him the money to pay for my son’s release. He went to the prison and handed over the money as soon as my son walked out free. My son had been in the prison for two years. When he came out it took him ages before he could sleep in a bed, having had to sleep on the floor for so long.
Soon afterwards, the lady I had met at the airport sent me an email; she said she definitely believed in miracles.
Jay set up his own business soon after returning to the UK. He started by walking around with a bucket, cleaning peoples windows. He now has his own roof tiling business, and has never been in any trouble since.
I believe that all my experiences in life, up to reading about the Bahá’í Faith, were contributing factors in my being able to recognize the truth in Bahá’u’lláh’s words.
I thank God for my life.
God has answered all my prayers throughout my life with the exception of only one. This was the prayer I regularly prayed for as a child; I prayed for God to make me wise.
Berkshire, July 2012