Wesley’s Bahá’í Odyssey
As a child I loved religious instruction classes; I was attracted to them trying to fathom out the anomalies I saw in Christianity and arguing and discussing with my teacher whom we kids had jokingly named ‘Holy Joe’. As a very young child, I vehemently argued and disagreed with racial prejudice in all its forms. It would seem that I yearned to understand God, thinking of God as the umpire of fair play. To me the manifestation of God’s Will on earth is religion and the religion I grew up in was Christianity, which did not make sense to me as there were too many unanswered questions.
When I was 12 years old, living in Colchester UK, the Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) turned up at our door. After consultation I thought “Yes”, and so began my years in the Mormon Faith, thinking I had found the religion of God. I studied and became a Deacon by the age of 15 but then found out that in the Mormon Church black people were accepted in the Faith but not accepted in the ruling body of the church. I asked why, and was told that when Cane killed Abel, God decreed that all Cane’s descendents would carry the mark of Cane, i.e. a black skin. This was told to me by the Elders: good upstanding white Americans. I told them I disagreed with them and was instructed that it was a matter of faith and I had to agree as there was no room for disagreement. I simply had to have faith; to me blind faith, in the Mormon leadership. It was at this point that I left the Mormon church at age 16.
In the years to come I read more on Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism and found that a great deal of what they said made sense to me but likewise a great deal either confused me or I did not agree with. I could find no faith that I accepted as the Faith of God. So for the next 27 years I was angry with God and had no time for those who claimed to represent Him on earth.
From a very young age I had very strong left-wing beliefs, wandering through life believing in social justice through Socialism and politics. Married, divorced, then in 1989 I met my wife-to-be in Folkestone, Kent. Within a few months of our courtship starting, Stephi became interested in the Bahá’í Faith. We were living with each other, though not married, in a small flat. Stephi asked me if I minded if a few Bahá’ís came to our flat for what they called a ‘Fireside’, and so started what was, for me, two long years of questions. My main protagonist was a lovely and very deepened Bahá’í called Jagdish Saminaden and we chatted and talked, me asking questions and Jagdish answering (I must admit I gave him a hard time!). His lovely wife Bella was always there to pour oil on troubled waters; always there to calm both of us down as we could get very carried away and intense. Slowly but surely Bahá’u’lláh, through these two lovely people and the Bahá’í community of Folkestone, talked to and reawakened my dormant and so unhappy soul.
The teachings made sense to me: a universal language so people could talk to each other and understand each other, so simple but effective, so important and so imperative. Every child to have an education; my socialist beliefs shouted “Yes, at last, common sense!” The eradication of the great discrepancies of wealth and poverty; my socialist beliefs made manifest. The equality of men and women, YES! That science and religion are as the wings of a bird enabling humanity to soar into the heaven of God’s Will and Grace; if one wing is damaged, the bird cannot fly. Then came the crowning glory for me: Bahá’u’lláh has told His followers there is only one God and that all of the Prophets, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, Krishna all gain their power and insight from the same God. As a Bahá’í, I would have to give respect to them all and I would have to understand that the respect I give to Bahá’u’lláh, I would have to give to the other Manifestations of God too. Progressive Revelation was explained to me which I heartily agreed with. At long last I had a faith that made sense, was fair not discriminating and, by my lights, was all-inclusive. Oh such relief! I had found the Manifestation of God for our age.
While all this was happening, Stephi and I fell deeply in love and we agreed to marry. By now Stephi had declared her Faith. At this time in the UK, Bahá’í marriages were not recognized, so when we married we had to first have a civil wedding and the next day we were to have the Bahá’í ceremony of marriage. I was told I would have to say, “We will all verily abide by the Will of God”, but my conscience gave me a problem: how could I be part of a Bahá’í ceremony when I was not a Bahá’í? So I had a chat with Jagdish, put an idea to him and he told me that my idea was feasible. So on the day of our wedding in Sandgate Castle with my family and friends, Stephi’s family and friends, our Bahá’í friends in attendance, with Jagdish officiating, Stephi in her lovely white gown and me in white bow-tie and tails……we stood before the gathering, with speeches and introduction over, and at the moment of our vows….at which point I stopped the ceremony. Stephi thought I was backing out and looked worried but I took out from my pocket a small card and asked her if she would sign/witness it…my declaration card. I wanted to be married in a Bahá’í ceremony as a Bahá’í. To say Stephi was surprised is somewhat of an understatement! It was a gift to my wife-to-be but a heartfelt wish and need on my part. I must tell you that the previous day we had had the Civil ceremony which was so moving that it moved Stephi to tears and her mascara ran. So today she was in control…no tears, no running mascara was her thought….then the declaration card and the realization of its import; her mascara ran with tears of happiness.
And so I declared my faith, and was married in my Faith. I became a Bahá’í officially one minute before we were married; I agreed to abide by the Will of Almighty God, so be it. I try to live a Bahá’í life and I will die in the Bahá’í Faith thanking God for His kindness to me.
In 1993, and one year later we, Stephi, our daughter Gissy, one cat and I, in a long wheelbase Landrover loaded with all our worldly possessions, drove through Europe to Corfu in Greece. It was a 7-day odyssey. Greece has been our home now for 20 years and on the island our daughter found her lovely American husband, also Bahá’í, and followed him to China where they were married. They have an adorable child, our grandson Neo, and are now living in Seattle USA.
We, Stephi and I have had our ups and downs; I am not the easiest person to live with. 40 years a commercial oil-field saturation diver, a rough diamond, argumentative and antagonistic at times, though I will always hold fast to the ropes of Bahá’u’lláh. In 1991 I had brought Stephi and Gissy to Greece for a holiday to introduce them to what I hoped would be our new home as a family. At this time I was not a Bahá’í and we had not married. On the last night of their holiday I had been drinking and lost my temper with little Gissy; I was in a bad mood and Gissy burst into tears. The next morning Stephi and Gissy flew back to UK as it was the end of their holiday. I stayed on the island for two more months working, with lots of time to think. On leaving the island I had my last drink and from then on I stopped drinking. One year later we were married. And so for 18 years I did not drink. Then three years back I had a very bright idea: I’m told I was under a great strain with lots of pressure but the long and the short of it is I decided to have a drink (a really bright idea!). In a short time Stephi found out I was drinking. I tried to stop and prayed for help in my endeavor but no way could I stop. Stephi suggested Alcoholics Anonymous so I went to Athens to the nearest English-speaking AA. In the first meeting I realized that I was an alcoholic and so started my membership in AA. It is a truly amazing organization of brave, big-hearted human beings. On my return to Corfu I started Corfu AA and it is my honour to give service to humanity through AA with the full backing of the Greek National Spiritual Assembly. The odd thing is that if God had answered my prayers and had aided me in stopping my drinking, that would have been that, finished. But, by introducing me to AA, I have a life-long journey of service to those who, like me, are alcoholics. Sometimes one should be careful of what one prays for: I asked God to help me to stop drinking and He did, not in the way I’d expected, but in a more helpful and constructive way that gives me great fellowship and allows me to give service for the rest of my life.
From an AA writing: We shall be with you in the fellowship of the spirit and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the road of happy destiny. May God bless you and keep you until then.
“Armed with the power of Thy name, nothing can ever hurt me. And with Thy love in my heart, all the world’s afflictions can in no wise alarm me.” Bahá’u’lláh
Corfu, October 2012