It is a strange feeling to continue a story which I first wrote over twenty years ago. The sequel is unfortunately not all positive but please forgive me for this – for all’s well that ends well! RD
Born in 1970 in Colchester, Essex, I was brought up in a small village where the local Church of England church provided quite a lot of activities for us as children. My parents went to church, and my sister and I to Sunday school. As we grew older we sang in the choir and served as acolytes. After the death of my father, the Church served an even greater role in our family life but as a teenager, like many, I began to question not God but whether there might be something more to life. My first job entailed shift work, which meant I was no longer able to go to church on a regular basis. A new choirmaster was unhappy about this, so I left and went to sing in the Catholic choir! This caused quite an upset for my poor mother and also the vicar’s wife although, I must say, this was nothing compared with how they received the news that I had become a Bahá’í in America just eighteen months later!
At the pool where I worked, I had both a French and a German colleague. Talking to them put the idea into my head that I wanted to travel. As I had enjoyed learning German at school, I decided to go to Germany as an au pair. Little did I know how this would change my life. In June 1989 I went to be an au pair in a small town called Holzkirchen, near Munich. Through another au pair I became friendly with a Bahá’í family – Hans and Stephanie Eijsink and their two daughters Lua and Corinne. One evening in November that year they invited me to watch an introductory video about the Bahá’í Faith. The word Bahá’í meant nothing to me at all, but I watched the film and then filled in the questionnaire at the end. I left their house only to return the next night in floods of tears; my au pair family had given me just three weeks’ notice and I faced the prospect of no job and nowhere to go in a strange country. Hans and Stephanie were great; they calmed me down, said a prayer and then sent me away with a copy of the book God Loves Laughter by William Sears. That book worked wonders! I laughed until my sides hurt and when I returned it a few days later, things looked a lot brighter, especially when the Eijsinks asked me if I would like to travel back to America with them in the new year.
So, 29 January 1990 saw me boarding a plane for Denver, Colorado, USA. I knew nothing then of what lay ahead or what new direction my life would take. Over the months I learnt more and more about the Faith. I started going to firesides on a regular basis and then, after attending the “Vision to Victory” conference in Denver, I asked Stephanie if she had anything more I could read. She presented me with another of William Sears’ books, Thief in the Night. After reading this I was sure that it was true, but I had many unanswered questions and also a fear of what family and friends back home might think, and this prohibited me from declaring.
Not long after this I began to have a recurring dream that grew stronger as time went by. In this dream I was being given a guided tour of strange churches/worship places by a man whose face I never saw. A while later I started to read the book From Copper to Gold about the Hand of the Cause Dorothy Baker and inside the cover was a picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. That night my guide had a face and the next day, 9 July 1990, I became a Bahá’í in Salt Lake City.
Unfortunately my visa was coming to an end and I had to leave America just a few weeks later. I arrived home in the UK and in the car on the way back from Heathrow, my mother handed me an A4 envelope and wanted an explanation of its contents. It was a welcome letter and the Bahá’í Journal which Mother had opened because it looked official. Now I had to declare my new-found faith to my family and with limited knowledge, this was a big challenge. Up to this point the Faith was a positive and uplifting experience for me. I was excited and full of enthusiasm but now my mother was worried that I had joined a sect and had rejected all that she had taught me. She wanted to know with what kind of people I had been mixing. Life was bumpy for a few weeks; the vicar’s wife came to see me again and we had lots of ever-circling discussions. Finding out where the next Nineteen Day Feast was happening, and getting to it, was difficult – and only after my mother met Betty Begent in Colchester did she relax about the kind of people I was getting involved with.
Settling back into life in England was not easy. For a while I did temping work as a nanny, during which time I went back to Munich and then to Kelkheim, near Frankfurt, for a few months. Kelkheim is only a few miles from the Bahá’í House of Worship in Hofheim and it was here that I returned at the beginning of 1993 to work at the local swimming pool. After all the enthusiastic meetings with the young Americans in Denver and Salt Lake City, it was a complete change going back to Colchester where, at the time, the Bahá’í community were mostly young families and people a lot older than myself. In Germany it was even more difficult because first there was the language barrier, and then my first real contact with people who had fled from Iran. On top of this I was still very young, on my own, very unsure how to teach the Faith and lacking in the confidence to be different. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said you have to be strong to be a Bahá’í and how right He was.
Being so near to Hofheim I found more people had heard about the Bahá’í Faith, but unfortunately many were against the building of the House of Worship and therefore were not positive. This time I found it was my work colleagues who were worried about me, again concerned that I was involved in some kind of sect. Everyone seemed to be sure Bahá’í was something weird and foreign, and no amount of explaining could change this. As a result, I ended up keeping quiet about my Faith, never doubting it but unable to teach or to stand up for my opinions.
An increasing deafness led to the loss of my ability to take part actively in many activities. The lack of money for books, and not knowing anyone from whom to borrow books, led to a knowledge standstill. At some point I felt so guilty about not being able to live the Faith like the community in Hofheim did, that I handed my card back to the Spiritual Assembly.
Shortly after this I met my husband Martin, then my first son James was born, and we moved to Hövelhof. My isolation was complete. The Faith lived on in my heart but I was unable to be active in it.
In 2005, when my grandmother died, I had the realisation that I had gone up a step on the family ladder as now my children would be looking up to me for guidance. That in turn made me realise that if I didn’t start to stand up for what I believed now, I never would, and that my children would then lose the chance to learn about the Faith while they were young. So I found out where the nearest Bahá’í family lived and went to visit them. In Hövelhof I am the only Bahá’í, although there are several families dotted around within a twenty kilometre radius. The Bidardel family in Bad Lippspringe really helped me get back on track. Now the biggest challenge was to convince my husband that I wasn’t getting involved with weird people nor getting the children brain-washed by some sect. My husband is Catholic, brought up in one of the most Catholic areas in Germany. At first it was so hard that I thought my decision to follow my heart was going to cost me my marriage, but thankfully it didn’t come to this. Step by step we moved on, the children went to a few classes and my husband Martin did Ruhi Book One with me.
As to what I have done or achieved as a Bahá’í, not nearly enough! I have made many acquaintances with lots of lovely, interesting people. I don’t think anybody has declared as a direct result of my teaching, although I think that many lives may have been made more bearable because of my efforts. I have always tried to at least be a good Bahá’í in a practical manner, and to help anyone in any way I can.
In 2009 I went completely deaf, and in the summer of 2010 I had my first cochlear implant which enabled me to go to my first summer school in Tambach and then to take my first children’s class, with the help of my husband, at the winter school in Horn-Bad Meinberg in 2010. This was a great experience, my first Bahá’í service together with Martin, and the turning point in his acceptance of me for what I am and what I do.
Our learning curve is still struggling upwards, and money for books or Summer Schools etc. is still short. My dream is to have another Bahá’í family in the neighbourhood so that we can do things together. I admire and am almost jealous of Bahá’í couples; they are so strong together, and oh sometimes I really could do with the other wing! My children James and Georgina are still at the age where religion is generally not a hot subject! Usually I am met with “Oh no, do we have to?” when I announce we are going to a Bahá’í function, but then I have just as much trouble getting them to come away again! I hope, as teenagers, they will experience the same enthusiasm as I did in America.
Nobody knows what the future holds. For my part I hope to be able to travel again, to go back to America and visit the Eijsinks and, most of all, travel to Haifa and to walk around those beautiful gardens, hopefully with my husband as a Bahá’í beside me!
Rachel Susan Deeks
Germany, October 2012