In 1956, travelling through mid Wales in my employment, I had occasion to stop at a hotel in Newtown, Montgomeryshire and had my first experience of the Bahá’í Faith. I went in to dinner in the evening and found the dining room deserted, except for one person, and he enquired whether he could come and sit with me to have company while enjoying our meal. The occasion is still very vivid in my mind and casually the conversation drifted from one subject to another until we found common ground – religion. The person whom I suddenly encountered was David Hofman and it was the first time I had heard the word Bahá’í. I was very interested in religion, being a member and deacon in the Pentecostal Church, and was awaiting the Return of Christ. After much conversation during our meal, we decided to go across the road to the cinema but we only stayed 10 minutes and returned to the hotel to finish our more interesting discussion. Before retiring for the night, Mr Hofman gave me a book, of which he was the author, entitled “The Renewal of Civilization”. It was all new to me and it was the beginning of a new adventure into the realm of religion.
The following morning I met Mr Hofman at breakfast and I gave him my works presentation card with my address and left with the feeling that I had met a new friend. On arriving home, I told the story to my wife Beatrice and she said: “Oh, another one of those sects, is it?” But this book had really captured my attention and one day, looking at the television, I saw Mr Hofman appear, discussing educational books for Wales. It was only a short appearance but long enough for me to call Beatrice and get quite excited for her to see the person with whom I had spent an enjoyable evening in the heart of Wales.
Approximately six months passed and the firm I worked for had invited me to man a stand at an exhibition in Earl’s Court, London, as I was their rep. for soft furnishings and travelled the whole of Wales. I went up on the South Wales train to London and I went along to the dining car for a meal and sat right opposite our dear friend, Mr Hofman. I was surprised, as he too was surprised, for he said, “Eric Kent, I have prayed and prayed that I would meet you again as I had lost your address.” So I made sure he had it and my phone number and, before I had arrived home, he had rung Beatrice to invite us to his home, which was then in Cardiff. We both accepted the invitation to spend the evening with the Hofmans and this was the beginning of both of us looking into the Faith.
I was born in Dowlais, near Merthyr Tydfil in 1923, brought up in a Christian home with a very evangelical background, accepted the Lord Jesus as my personal saviour at a very early age, and was baptised in water. The message of the Church was Saviour, Healer, Baptiser and Coming King, and so I lived for the day of the Return of Christ. My mother was a very dear Christian and brought me and my brother up to love God and to live in such a way that if Christ returned, we would be ready.
In 1939 I met Eric, who was a member of another chapel, not quite as evangelical as the one I attended. This year was the commencement of the War and he went to Gloucester to work and there had an experience of a personal salvation. We became closer as I had been brought up to be married to someone who shared the same faith. We both liked singing, and the church we belonged to soon used our talents. We sang duets together with my brother, who was a good musician playing the piano or accordion for us, and we became known in our circle as the Dowlais Trio. We were always asked to sing in our conventions and public meetings all over Wales and sometimes England. There were many churches in our area that had no ministers and so we three would nearly every Sunday take services, Eric and my brother alternating to preach the gospel.
In 1947 we were married and moved to Caerphilly. Eric came to work in the offices of the Great Western Railway repair sheds that were in Caerphilly. We missed the Evangelical Church here and one of our Evangelical ministers from Cardiff said that if we would find somewhere to worship, that we could have a tent campaign. This Eric did, and found a chapel that only used the vestry as they were so few in number. They allowed us to use the church, so we paid the rent for one year in advance, in faith, and had our meetings on Sundays at 7 pm. – not to clash with theirs at 6 pm. We had a very good three weeks’ campaign and had many converts and a thriving church and Eric was one of the deacons there. My brother liked Caerphilly and was more often with us than at home, so when he eventually married, he moved to Caerphilly.
We were very happy in our service for the Lord. Our daughter arrived after nine years of marriage and we had her dedicated in the church. She was two years old when Eric came into contact with the Bahá’í Faith and David Hofman. He had quite a few things that had to be explained before he could really accept Bahá’u’lláh, and Marion was a very great help to him. It took me three years to study before I could be convinced because I was so indoctrinated with the faith that I had accepted since I was a child, and had to have all my questions answered from the Bible. I had stood in the open air meeting many times and said that I had accepted Christ because He was what He claimed to be, and since I have realised that it had already been proven for me as it was over a thousand years since Christ and everyone in our country acknowledged Him. But would I have been a Christian if I had lived in His time? I continued going to the church, and the scriptures of the Bible became more real to me, but the church people were very antagonistic, especially as Eric had accepted the Bahá’í Faith.
In 1959 Dr John Fozdar, a Bahá’í, came to one of the hospitals in Cardiff to study. Being a Bahá’í, he and Eric had long conversations and he advised Eric to go into hospital to have an operation on his lungs. We (Corinne and myself) had x-rays. I was OK but they advised me to let Corinne go into the same hospital for treatment, so Eric and Corinne went into hospital in Cardiff, and in those days it was a long job. Eric was there for 13 months and Corinne for 11 months, and I was left at home in between the Christian Faith and whether the Bahá’í Faith was true or one of the false religions which would turn up in the last days. The church I belonged to even said that God was punishing Eric for becoming a Bahá’í but I didn’t think that God would punish a child of 3.
My father retired from his work. My parents had moved into Caerphilly to be near my brother and myself and were very kind to me, but the church people tried their best to discourage me. I was very fortunate to have Marion and David Hofman living in Cardiff and very very many times I would stay with them. David would pick me up from the hospital to take me home with him and we had many happy hours discussing the Faith and of course I met many Bahá’ís in their home. I would come back home and my brother would be on to me that I was mixing with people of the devil. I wouldn’t like to go through this period again. One minute I would know the Faith was right and then I would come home after a wonderful time with Marion and David and then on my own would have doubts, having been brought up to believe in the literal Return of Christ in the clouds when every eye would see him, and be very disappointed that I had missed this because Bahá’u’lláh had come without me knowing it.
We were very privileged to be living so near Marion and David as we met so many Bahá’ís. Most of the ones visiting them, also visited Eric in hospital. Hand of the Cause Bill Sears visited him and he also came and gave some talks to us, and in Pontypridd. After Eric and Corinne came out of hospital and I was still not a declared Bahá’í, we had a very interesting evening here in our home. Marion, David, Hassan and Isobel Sabri and John Fozdar came to a fireside. I had invited my brother, sister-in-law and two other members of the church I attended, who were my neighbours, and David came and gave a talk. Then we had a question time and my brother kept answering all the questions with what Paul said, and David said, “But Paul was not a Manifestation of God; what does Jesus say about it?” And he said the Bible is the inspired word of God and got really aerated. Prior to this we had a knock at the door and one of the deacons was there, supposed to be visiting Eric. I found out afterwards that it had been arranged for moral support. They hadn’t come to find out; their minds were made up before listening, and they and my brother and sister-in-law and the other deacon walked out. We that were left had a prayer together and Marion and David said they had never experienced such a meeting and realised the antagonism that we had to put up with. I realised too that before looking into the Bahá’í Faith, I thought that other faiths were not of God and that only Christ could intercede for man.
Another time Ali Nakhjavani came to visit us and I felt he was such a spiritual person that I said to Eric, “Why don’t you go and take Ali to meet our minister?” I thought that if he met him, he would realise that he was a very spiritual person and would look into the Bahá’í message for this age, but he wouldn’t even have a prayer with him. Ali realised then what we had to contend with. At this time there wasn’t so much literature around and Bill Sears hadn’t written “Thief in the Night” with all its biblical prophecies. So I only had some sheets typed for me which I found very useful.
My family are all born-again Christians – my one uncle, a minister, whom Eric and I loved very much, wrote to David Hofman, thinking he was leading us astray and sent letters all around the family telling them all that the Faith was not the right path. He had read books against the Faith and said it was an offshoot of Islam. And when I challenged him once because he said that Muslims were very difficult to get converted, I asked him if he had read the Koran, and he hadn’t, so he didn’t know what he was talking about. All this made me more determined to really study the Faith, and the Bahá’ís I had met were such wonderful people that I was sure it couldn’t be of the devil, as my brother thought. The scriptures say: “by their fruits ye shall know them” and “a good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit” and soon I was convinced. I wrote to the NSA and proclaimed my faith in Bahá’u’lláh. I had that peace and knew I had done the right thing. I had a telegram from Marion and David Hofman, and also a beautiful framed picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which we have on our wall and which has helped us to talk to people who visit our home and enquire who He is.
Eric never pushed me into the Faith but answered all my queries, and his attitude to all the people who weren’t very kind helped me to see which was truly closer to God. I didn’t want to accept this Faith because Eric had become a Bahá’í and we know that personal investigation of truth is one of the facets. The church has been our life and when we left this we were quite lost. We missed the fellowship, singing etc., and the church people never enquired why we left because they had been warned not to do so. We both joined choirs to make new friends, as we missed our singing.
At this time Beatrice Newman was looking into the Faith too. She lived in Pontypridd and was a deaconess in her church but her church was not as fanatical as ours. We used to get together and have firesides. She had two sisters, Mary and Flo, and their mother who lived to a very good age and loved Bahá’ís. She didn’t enrol or sign a card but she was a Bahá’í, and her funeral was a very memorable occasion with so many Bahá’ís and Bahá’í prayers. Mary and Flo eventually became Bahá’ís and the 3 sisters left Pontypridd after they had got an Assembly there and travelled for the Faith. Mary and Beatrice are now in the Abhá Kingdom and Flo is living on her own in Bournemouth (Poole). We had some marvellous times together.
Shirin Fozdar visited us here in Caerphilly. Eric had her to talk to the ladies in the Council chambers and they gave her the freedom of Caerphilly. She also went to Pontypridd. Cardiff was an LSA and we had Nineteen Day Feasts with them. Charles Dunning was there; he was a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh. He was so thrilled when I became a Bahá’í and wrote me a letter. He used to visit us and was a wonderful Bahá’í. We were very privileged to take part in his funeral service. David and Barbara Lewis were also in Cardiff and we were privileged to be at their wedding. Eric was one of the first Bahá’ís in Wales and was on the first Welsh Teaching Committee which was held in our home on 16th November 1960. Meherangiz Munsiff visited us too and spoke to a church sisterhood. We have had many wonderful Bahá’ís in our home and were privileged to go to the first World Congress in 1963 in the Royal Albert Hall where they announced the first Universal House of Justice. It was a great thrill and we, the Bahá’ís of Wales, all travelled in cars to this and had a picnic on the way. There were so many different nationalities there and all in national dress and Corinne, our daughter, only 7 then, wore her Welsh costume. She was friendly with a little Japanese girl who also had her national costume on. It was very well organised. The Albert Hall was full to capacity with Bahá’ís. You had to have credentials to get in. One evening was devoted to non-Bahá’ís. Hand of the Cause William Sears gave a wonderful talk. It was a wonderful conference – everyone so happy and full of love.
When we arrived home we found we were invited to go on pilgrimage and had a date for May 10th 1964, and this was another wonderful experience that we will never forget. We stayed at the pilgrim house on Mount Carmel. At that time they had two, one for the East and one for the West. We were only 8 in our group, 4 from the USA (mum and dad and two boys), one gentleman from Italy, and Corinne, Eric and myself, and we were in the presence of Hands of the Cause Mr Faizi, Mr Furutan and Mr Haney, and it was nine days of heaven, spent on Mount Carmel, the Mountain of God, and in Akka (Bahji). We even slept in the Mansion House in Bahji, which was a great privilege, and met with the first Universal House of Justice. We were very privileged to have known three before they became members, David Hofman, Ali Nakhjavani and Ian Semple.
Our daughter was very impressed with our pilgrimage and I’m sure it had a lasting effect on her life. I prayed that she would eventually marry a Bahá’í. It was a real test of faith as there weren’t any Bahá’ís of her age around. But she went to a Naw Ruz party in Llangollen and met Richard Hainsworth and after a short time with other Bahá’ís, teaching the Faith in Ireland and Africa and in this country, they got married and promised to pioneer to Russia (Moscow) and now, after 11 years there, we have seen Bahá’ís coming in in troops. This is a thrill for us as we dedicated her to the Lord when she was a baby. When she was younger we sent her to the Sunday School at the church we earlier belonged to but I made sure that she asked questions and didn’t accept blindly what she was told, as I did. She asked so many questions that they couldn’t answer, that she eventually wouldn’t go but went to a Baptist chapel with some friends. She was very conversant with the principles of the Bahá’í Faith and talked to them about it. When she was 15, on her birthday, the first thing she did was ask us what she could do to become a Bahá’í. Eric and I were so thrilled and surprised. She always repeats the experience to others when talking about the Faith. At 21 she was in Cardiff University and became a fully fledged Bahá’í and also was elected onto the Local Spiritual Assembly of Cardiff.
We, Eric and I, feel so privileged to have been chosen to serve Bahá’u’lláh in these early days and are very grateful to all the Bahá’ís who made it possible with their words and prayers.
Eric and Beatrice Kent
Transcribed from a recording made in Caerphilly, 1993