Lois Lambert in 2007

Lois Lambert in 2007

Memories 1940 – 1994

Childhood

I was born in Cheltenham in 1940. Searching my childhood memories from babyhood to about 10 years old, I find that what I remember are the kind of incidents that delight a child, usually moments of warmth or laughter, of no deep significance except to those who were present at the time.  Perhaps they will provide a child’s eye on the war years in Britain and the years immediately following; years of struggle for the majority of families, but for the Bahá’í community years of joyous service guided by the beloved Guardian.  It might be best to start with how our family came to be Bahá’ís and in Cheltenham.

My grandmother, Louisa Charlot Ginman, became a Bahá’í in San Francisco in 1911. For some reason she was always known to the Bahá’ís as ‘Madame Charlot’.  At the time of Grandma’s declaration, my mother, Alma, was 7 years old, and from that time was brought up as a Bahá’í child.  She remembers being taken to many meetings in the homes of the early Bahá’ís.  In particular she loved to hear Henry Dunn speak, and she was especially fond of Miss Davis, who would attend these meetings, and let Alma sit on her knee.  She told me how happy she was when these two grown-ups she loved married each other.  They later pioneered to Australia and became known as Mother and Father Dunn.

In 1915, when my mother was 11 years old, her parents (my grandparents) sent her to England to be educated at Cheltenham Ladies College. I remember very clearly Alma’s amusing description of the trauma of being an American 11-year-old, suddenly transplanted from friendly California to be a boarder in a very formal English public school.  The formidable women who were her teachers would say “You may be able to do that in America Alma, but you can’t do that heah!” and they were very determined to eradicate her deplorable American accent. There was a poem the pupils would recite about the founding ladies, which went like this ….

“Miss Buss and Miss Beale

Cupid’s darts do not feel;

How different from us,

Miss Beale and Miss Buss!”

I am not quite sure of the date my grandmother moved to the UK, but in 1918 Shoghi Effendi wrote in a letter to the first British Bahá’í, Ethel Rosenberg, that he was “happy to hear that Mrs. Ginman has moved into Wimbledon’. This was while Shoghi Effendi was acting as Secretary to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  Alma continued to board at Cheltenham Ladies College, but she could now spend her holidays in London and participate in the Bahá’í activities, though in those days children were expected to be ‘seen and not heard’. She remembers Lady Blomfield, Mr. Simpson, Ethel Rosenberg, Mrs. Thornburg Cropper, Dr. Lotfollah Hakim, and Mr. Asgharzadih. One of her favourite teenage memories was when she answered a knock at the door of their Wimbledon home to find Shoghi Effendi standing outside, dressed in tennis whites, and holding a tennis racket.  Their house had a tennis court in the garden and Alma remembers that on that day, the youthful Shoghi Effendi was so full of exuberance that he vaulted with one hand over the sofa which was placed outside for spectators. At the time he was studying at Balliol College, Oxford, and my mother often recalled that afternoon when he was a joyful student, preparing to be of even greater service to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Not many months later he was to be grief-stricken by the passing of his beloved Grandfather.  In the midst of this great bereavement, he discovered that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had appointed him Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith and the weight of responsibility for the whole world was placed upon his youthful shoulders.

Bahá’ís from all over the world would visit and stay in my grandmother’s home in Wimbledon.  When Martha Root was visiting them, Alma remembers helping her pack her suitcases, one for her clothes and seven others for her books. She told me that Martha reminded her “We must spend every minute in service to the Faith, not every other minute.”

My own earliest memories are actually of lying in a pram being pushed by my mother, watching the clouds pass by in the sky overhead and seeing a single hand waving from the sunroof of our little maroon 1939 Morris Minor (EXB 909). My mother kept it through many pioneer moves and when I was 18, I even learned to drive in it. It must have been my father’s hand I saw and it is my only memory of him, because he was declared ‘missing in action’ in 1942 when I was two years old.  My father, Walter Ewart Gregory, known as ‘Greg’ to his friends, was an international ice dance champion – a triple gold medallist.  In the annals of Ice skating he is recorded as the creator of the Rhumba Ice Dance, which he first performed at Westminster Ice Rink.  Alma met him when he was her tutor at the Queens Ice Rink, and they married in 1937. When war was declared, Greg joined the RAF as a navigator pilot, and it was not until seven years later that his identification tags were found near Cologne, Germany, where his plane had been brought down. Until then I always dreamed he would walk through the door one day and gather me up into his arms. Alma must also have hoped for a miracle during those years of uncertainty. After we received confirmation of his death from the War Office, a letter from the beloved Guardian dated April 5th 1947, gave her great comfort….  “No doubt your husband’s soul, already touched in this world by the light of the Faith, and now free and fully conscious, rejoices to see you serving so actively and bringing up your daughter as an enlightened member of the New World Order!”

Walter Ewart Gregory (killed in action 1942) with his daughter Lois in Cheltenham

Walter Ewart Gregory (killed in action 1942) with his daughter Lois in Cheltenham

I do not know when my grandmother, Madam Charlot, and Alma moved from London to Cheltenham.  Grandma used to hold Bahá’í meetings in her home at 53, Painswick Road, and as a toddler I remember frequent visits from ‘Uncles’ David Hofman, Hasan Balyuzi and Abbas Dekhan, all of whom I adored because they played with me and threw me up into the air.  When I was old enough to be embarrassed, Uncle David used to tease me by introducing me to adults with the words “This is Alma’s daughter, Lois – I taught her to blow her first raspberry.”  In return my mother used to remind him of the time when I was on his knee and he opened his mouth a little bit too wide, at which point I generously put an extremely well chewed rusk in his mouth. I don’t know what David was doing near Cheltenham.  Maybe he was working for the BBC but I know that Hasan and Abbas were working for the BBC’s Persian service.  Abbas had a lovely wife whose name was Noura, and Hasan was married to Mollie Brown, who was a ballet dancer with Sadler’s Wells and daughter of Lady Hornell.  One visitor to our house in Cheltenham whose exotic name I have never forgotten was Beulah Magruda from America.

Another frequent visitor was Claire Gung, who had become a Bahá’í in Torquay in December 1939 while she was working as a nurse for a Bahá’í lady, Mrs. Ward, who had terminal cancer.  Claire had left Germany in 1930 and once the Second World War began, had to overcome many challenges because of her nationality.  She moved to Cheltenham to work in the home of a very prejudiced English Colonel who lived in Cheltenham, and David Hofman went to visit her to bring her to my grandmother’s meeting. Soon after that she left the unfriendly Colonel. Claire and Alma were both born in 1904 and became very close friends.  I used to call her Nannie and loved her very much. Claire left Cheltenham to live in Manchester for a while, so most of my real memories of Nannie are from a couple of years later when she joined us as a pioneer in Northampton during the First Six Year Plan.

From the age of three, I remember travelling each year with my mother to Summer Schools, Teaching Conferences and Conventions, all of which used to be held in different parts of the country – summer schools in rather grand houses in the country surrounded by gardens with names like Eastwood Grange and in places such as Barford, Warwickshire, Matlock, Matlock Bath in Derbyshire, Cottingham and Hornsea in Yorkshire, Glynliffon in Wales.  Usually we Bahá’ís had the whole mansion to ourselves for two weeks and it was such a joy to be together. There were often gardens and woods to explore, and there was always a fancy dress evening, and little dramas and sketches, including a very funny play written by Rúhíyyih Khánum called ‘The Growing Pains of a Local Spiritual Assembly’. Hornsea summer school was very exciting for us children because it was by the sea, but I remember there were lots of other people in the hotel who had not come for the Bahá’í summer school, which heightened our sense of the bounty of the spiritual and loving atmosphere we were sharing at the summer school.  One day John Ferraby took two year old Brigitte and me to a boating lake and put us both in the boat first, but it floated away from the edge out of his reach.  In desperately trying to reach out for the boat, Uncle John fell in. Brigitte and I were terrified, but I suppose it was very shallow, and I later realized that Dorothy and Alma, and probably John himself, thought it was very funny.

Teaching Conferences and Conventions would be held in various hotels in cities with Bahá’í communities such as Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester.  I loved these events and looked forward to each one as the highlights of our year.  I would sit at the back with a crayoning book, feeling loved and secure.  There were less than 50 Bahá’ís in Britain at the beginning of the Six Year Plan, and we were like a close and very loving family with a total focus on service and a vision of the new world order. I was an only child and there were no special activities for children – in fact there were hardly any children.  A photo of summer school in 1943 in Barford in Warwickshire shows only two of us, both sitting on Hasan Balyuzi’s knee – one year old Hushang Balyuzi and three year old me.   At that time I think the only other Bahá’í children besides us two were the oldest Lee children – Malcolm and Joyce, and maybe Barbara. (David Lee was a little younger than me, and the twins Peter and Ian were born later).  But it was not until after the end of the war that I got to know the Lee children, when I would look forward to the times we would stay in their wonderful family home in Manchester.

Summer School 1943

Summer School 1943

There were soon to be more Bahá’í children though.  In the next few years five Balyuzi boys were born to Hasan and Molly Balyuzi.  They really wanted a girl, but Hassan said that no girls had been born in his family for 200 years.  John Ferraby and Dorothy Cansdale (who were engaged and can be seen holding hands in the 1943 summer school photo) were married and Brigitte was born in 1945.  By the 1946 summer school photo, there are 10 children in the photo. I am holding Baby Brigitte, and there are Hushang, Robert and Felix Balyuzi, Terry Manton, Bruce Weeks, and I think Bob and Donna Cheek’s first daughter, Patricia.  Soon there were also May and Mark Hofman, born in Oxford, and pioneers were arriving from different parts of the world, such as Mr and Mrs Nazar with Marina, George, Michael and Freda. Later Meherangiz and Iraj Munsiff came to Britain and Jyoti was born.

Summer School in Derbyshire, 1945

Summer School in Derbyshire, 1945

In 1944, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the British Isles asked the Guardian if the British Community could have a Plan, similar to the Seven Year Plan which he had given the American Community.  He gave Britain the Six Year Plan (1944-1950) with the goal of increasing the existing number of Local Spiritual Assemblies (four or five) to 24 – a seemingly enormous undertaking. Alma (and daughter) are listed on the roll as among the first three home front pioneers to move.  We went to Northampton and moved into the first floor flat at 22, Kingsley Road, facing the Racecourse.  Living on the top floor were the newly-wedded David Hofman and his American wife, Marion. I was utterly delighted to be frequently in the company of David and Marion and especially their gorgeous kitten, which would tumble down the stairs to visit us.  Our happy household was made perfect in my opinion, by a lovely young couple, John and Fenella, who lived on the ground floor.  They were very friendly and though they were not Bahá’ís they sometimes joined the meetings that took place in our flat.  John had lost one of his legs below the knee during the war and would astonish me by taking off half his leg – complete with shoe and sock – to entertain me;  absolute magic to a five year old.  David’s father and mother, known to everyone as Mummy and Daddy Hofman, lived on a farm outside Northampton and I have never forgotten the wonderful visits to their farm, playing in the haystacks and the flower filled meadows with lots of other children who were the sons and daughters of David’s brothers and sisters. Mummy Hofman had pretty white hair and a beautiful gentle face, and Daddy Hofman was also white haired and kind.

First Local Assembly of Northampton

First Local Assembly of Northampton

Very soon after we arrived, David and Marion went to pioneer to Oxford and my grandmother, Madam Charlot, left Cheltenham to join them in Oxford. Nannie (Claire Gung) came from Manchester and joined us in Northampton and lived with us at 22, Kingsley Road.  Two very young pioneers who came to Northampton at that time were Shomais Ala’i (later to marry Dr Abbas Afnan) and Noura Faridian.  Shomais was 17 years old when she sailed into Liverpool, and later she told me how homesick she was feeling, arriving on a grey rainy day in this cold grey British city. Alma had gone up to meet her, and Shomais told me that when she came up to her on the quayside Alma held out her arms and said “Oh, my dear!” and Shomais just fell into her arms and sobbed her heart out.  Shomais and Noura were both training to be nurses and wherever they were there was always laughter.  In those days the friends used to raise funds in various ways, including ‘auctions’ and what Shomais used to call ‘jungle’ sales.  One of my very favourite possessions was a present from Shomais after one of the jungle sales – a black Scottie dog with a red tartan collar, in which I could put my pyjamas.

The war and the years following it were times of great austerity, and we had few toys so my Scottie dog was very precious.  We all had to have ration books, and there was very little available to buy in the shops. There were no sweets and only a little fruit apart from those that were native to Britain. Oranges were a rare treat and I must have been seven or eight before I tasted a banana.  The crystallized fruits and nuts and gaz which the Persian friends would bring us were delicious, and sometimes parcels would arrive wrapped in sacking from Iran.  We would also sometimes receive parcels from the friends in America, with children’s clothes which I wore with great pride, whether or not they fitted, and usually there were Hershey bars of chocolate.  Even now, at the age of 73, a Hershey bar is a real treat for me and brings back the excitement of opening those parcels.  One parcel held a Bahá’í ABC, which had a red cover and contained the most beautiful black and white illustrations.  This was my first and for many years my only Bahá’í children’s book and was extremely precious to me.  A was for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, G was for Generosity, X was for Excellence.  Our own children enjoyed it in the sixties, and I still treasure it, though it did not survive their childhood years in the pristine condition it survived mine. By then the age of felt tip pens had begun.

When I was five, I was enrolled in Northampton High School, a big school in the centre of the city, and quite soon I would go by myself across the city by bus every day, even at that young age.  There was no sense of danger for us in those days.  Once you knew the way, you were capable of going by yourself.   The school itself was a bit scary, and the teachers quite strict. I remember being so excited when Brigitte Ferraby was born, and I went to school and told the teacher that I had a new baby sister.  The teacher knew that my mother was a war widow and she spoke very firmly to her about me telling lies, but Alma was not angry with me.  Perhaps she felt that it was not so much a fantasy, as a five year old’s understanding of the closeness of the Bahá’í family.  I called all the adults in the Bahá’í community Uncle and Auntie and they would have been very hurt not to be addressed in this way.

In 1946 we moved from the two-room flat in 22, Kingsley Road to a corner terraced house – 1, St Michaels Mount. During the time we were in Northampton many people became Bahá’ís including Vera Rates and her mother Mrs. Rates, Janet Howes, Betty Reed, Angela Stevens, John Shortland and his mother Mrs. Shortland, (Angela and John later were married) Ethlereda Nutt, Una Coward, John Mitchell, Eric Manton, Sydney Barrett. I remember one occasion very clearly.  A public meeting was planned in an Oxford college where David Hofman was going to speak of the Faith, and my mother organized a coach for the Northampton Bahá’ís and their friends to support this meeting.  I and Eric Manton’s son, six year old Terry, bagged the back seat, which was higher than the rest of the coach.  As we arrived in Oxford and piled out of the coach, through a gate of one of the Oxford colleges, a young man with a bicycle spoke to Alma and asked if she knew where the meeting about the Bahá’í Faith was.  “Oh yes’ she replied “that’s where we are going. Come with us.”   Later, as our coach drove away from the meeting, this young man bicycled behind our coach like a champion, trying to keep up with us, while we cheered him on from the back seat.  This was 21 year old Ian Semple, after he had attended his first Bahá’í meeting.

Of the people who became Bahá’ís in those days much is known of their later service.  Claire Gung and Eric (and Terry) Manton were among the earliest pioneers to Africa in the Africa campaign, Betty Reed became Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly for many years and then was appointed to the European Board of Counsellors, Una Coward pioneered to Sheffield, John Mitchell was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly but tragically he died of cancer; Sydney and Gladys Barrett later pioneered to Exeter when it became a goal town in the late fifties and served for a couple of years at the Bahá’í World Centre. Ethelreda Nutt remained an active member of the Northampton Bahá’í Community until her death at the age of 99. Alma died at the age of 93 in her final pioneer post on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides where she spent the last three decades of her life.

We had many visitors too from many different parts of the world and all over Britain, including Mildred Mottahedeh and Professor Zeine, Marion Little, Isobel Locke, George Townshend. I remember how much joy there was when a German Bahá’í called Gerard Bender, who was a prisoner of war, was able to come to a gathering at our home.  The next day at school I wept tears of grief and frustration when some of my schoolmates were saying negative things about Germans – I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to them that we were all one human family.

One visual memory is when Alma and I approached our little terraced house after coming home from school. We saw two men, both in tweed suits, bent over looking through the letter box. When Alma called to them, they straightened up, with much laughter, and it turned out to be David Hofman and Charles Mason Remey.  When the war ended a number of young Bahá’ís from other countries began to come to study in Britain:  Mickey Mihailoff, Mehdi Samandari, Hussein and Jack Banani and Hassan Sabri, Shomais Ala’i, Noura Faridian, were some of the earliest I remember. At summer schools Uncle Hassan would take me on his back in the swimming pool and swim up and down into deep water with me – long before I could swim, and much to my mother’s concern I seem to remember. But I felt completely safe.  To me they all seemed quite old, but in fact many of these ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ were very young themselves at the time.

We travelled to many different places to help with the teaching work, or attend various meetings in the British Isles during the years of the Six Year Plan. In those days it seemed that every member of the Bahá’í community worked hard to establish the 19 new LSA’s we needed to achieve the goal of 24, set by the beloved Guardian. My mother was secretary of the Bahá’í Youth committee with Hassan Sabri and Philip Hainsworth and later Hugh McKinley.  She was also the secretary of the ‘Assembly Development Committee’ and from the later forties until about 1953 was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly.  The meetings were held in many different cities and I remember many times being tucked into a big hotel bed, going to sleep with the comforting sound of consultation while the meetings were going on in the same room. We would also visit families – I remember visiting Carrie and Elsie Lacey and their grown up son Ernie in Ilkeston, David and Marion Hofman, and May and Mark, in a village outside Oxford.  I used to love to visit Joe and Elsie Lee’s home in Manchester and their wonderful tumbling family of four lively boys and two girls – it was paradise to an only child like me.  At the Lee’s loving and happy home we used to play an amazingly well organised game called murder, which involved drawing bits of paper on which was written either nothing, detective or murderer, then hiding anywhere you liked in their huge and rambling house, being found and (possibly) murdered by a secret murderer and then somehow (I have forgotten how) the detective discovering the culprit.

Times were hard during and after the war, but whenever the Bahá’ís were together there was love and lots of laughter.  Once when Alma and I and Stella Farnsworth from Liverpool were staying with the Lee family, Stella discovered she had forgotten her toothpaste and borrowed some of Auntie Elsie’s.  When it turned out to be Uncle Joe’s shaving cream Alma and Stella (frothing at the mouth!) brought the house down with their laughter.  Jimmy Habibi was another Bahá’í child in Manchester, but I think he was a little younger than the rest of us.  When May and Mark Hofman were small children, we would sometimes stay in their home outside Oxford so Alma could look after them while Marion and David were both away serving the Faith in different parts of the country.  Later I remember learning to ride a bicycle by trial and error at the Hofman home – hurtling down the slope of the country road that led to their house, and ending up in a heap of nettles in a ditch.  They had a grand piano in their living room and a wonderful dog, which once gave my hand a friendly nip that was a bit too enthusiastic when we were playing, and I had to be bandaged up in hospital.  Sometimes Alma would look after May in our home in Northampton when she was just a toddler, and sometimes we were looking after Brigitte when John and Dorothy were busy. I really loved it when my ‘little sisters’ came to stay. In those days I was always the oldest.

 

Lois (L) with Brigitte Ferraby

Lois (L) with Brigitte Ferraby

I often used to go with my mother on her travels around the country but, during the school term once I was five, I used to be looked after by various Bahá’ís.  Sometimes my Grandma would come from Oxford to look after me, and sometimes Nannie (Claire Gung) who came to stay with me while my mother attended the Stockholm Conference in Sweden.  Later I would love staying at Sydney and Gladys Barrett’s home, with their two daughters, Anne and Jeannie.  If it was hot we were allowed to camp in the garden and we played all sorts of games in which 10 year old Anne organized eight year old Jeannie and me most efficiently.  I even went to Brownies with them sometimes and had a uniform.  I was a ‘Fairy’, got my badge for making beds and learned how to play ‘Raft’.  But we never stayed long enough in one town for me to permanently join any Brownie or Girl Guide troupe, so I grew up without many of the practical skills I later realized my classmates had acquired in the Girl Guides.

I was staying at the Barrett’s home on the weekend when sweets came off ration.  On that day Uncle Sydney took us three girls to the local tobacconist to buy us some sweets.  The queue snaked round the block and people were leaving the shop with bags and even prams stuffed to the brim with sweets.  We were all deeply shocked at this evidence of greed – the first I remember ever encountering.  Apparently it was the same all over Britain, and by the next day all the shops were sold out of sweets and they once again became unavailable for many weeks after that.

In those days there were frequent messages from the beloved Guardian, and guidance and encouragement flowed constantly from his pen, in letters and also cables.  News of activities and growth was sent straight to Haifa, and every achievement, however small, would bring him great joy, and he would reply immediately by cable with words of encouragement. At every Convention and Teaching Conference the cable from the Guardian was eagerly awaited.  All of us wanted passionately to bring joy to the heart of Shoghi Effendi.  I have heard that 70 per cent of the small British Bahá’í community arose to pioneer during the years of the Six Year Plan.  They were full of character, these early Bahá’ís in Britain, and seemed to be very practical and down to earth but at the same time to be detached from worldly ties. They went wherever they were needed, without fuss.

Guidance and encouragement from the Guardian came not only to the National Spiritual Assemblies and the committees but also to individuals, urging them not to have negative thoughts about the ultimate achievement of the goals, and not to dwell on their own weaknesses and inadequacies but to have faith in the ultimate victory. Often these letters would be written by Rúhíyyih Khánum on his behalf, with a message written in the Guardian’s own hand at the end of the letter, and signed “Your True Brother, Shoghi”.  These letters brought inspiration, solace and personal advice to many individual believers.  One letter assures my mother that there is no harm in keeping her daughter up for meetings. “Some children are more advanced spiritually than others, and as long as your little girl has a healthy, normal life, she should certainly not be denied the privilege of attending meetings she loves and craves for…. He will pray for Lois that she may become a radiant and fine Bahá’í and also for your dear self and the success of your services”.

By 1947, the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Northampton was elected.  The photo of that first LSA is taken in our sitting room at 22, Kingsley Road and has Mummy Hofman, Alma Gregory, Betty Reed and Janet Howes sitting, and Una Coward, Vera Rates, Eric Manton, Ethelreda Nutt and Claire Gung at the back. When there was a strong well functioning community (I think there were 27 Bahá’ís by the time we left) my mother pioneered to another goal town, this time to Liverpool.  I was sent to a boarding school outside Northampton called ‘Upton Hall’.  My mother was a war widow, and she was able to afford to send me to boarding school because the government paid the tuition fees of children whose parents were killed in action.  She must have been concerned about leaving me, because a letter written by Rúhíyyih Khánum on behalf of the beloved Guardian reads “He greatly admires the spirit of dedication and self-sacrifice which is so evidently animating you in the service of the Cause of God.  It is so very difficult for you to leave your little girl – but he is sure that this added offer in the path of Bahá’u’lláh will bring blessings to your move and protection from on high.”

Upton Hall was housed in an Elizabethan mansion set in large grounds, run by three unmarried sisters, the Misses Teape.  The youngest was the headmistress whom we called Miss Teape, who had an MA from St. Andrews University in Scotland.   The others were called by their first names – Miss Alice and Miss Rose (the headmistress’s name was Daisy, which seemed to us a rather inappropriate name for our formidable headmistress).  The sisters were extremely formal and fierce, and I was often called into their sitting room for some minor misdemeanor and laid face down across an armchair and ‘given the slipper’.  Remarks would be made which would be quite bruising to an eight year old….  “Your mother may not have much money Lois, but the least you can do is keep your dress clean!”  There were other younger teachers of course, more friendly and much loved. But the education was generally by rote.  In history lessons we listened to the teacher dictate, and transcribed her words exactly.  Then for examinations we would have to learn the words by heart and write them down.  I do not remember any discussion about the implications of “Lambert Simnell’s Rebellion”, but I remembered the exact phrasing of the paragraph for years to come.

Sometimes my mother would come and fetch me at the end of term, and I can recall very clearly the excitement in my heart when I finally would see our little old Morris 8 rolling up the long drive – a strong contrast to most of the bigger cars driven by the parents of my schoolmates. But after a while I was considered old enough to travel backwards and forwards to Liverpool by myself.  At first a teacher would take me by coach to Gloucester, where she would put me on a coach to Liverpool and my mother would meet me at the Liverpool bus station.  But by the time I was nine I was allowed to take the coach to Gloucester by myself and trusted to change there to the bus to Liverpool.  It was quite scary and once I got on the wrong bus at Gloucester and sat on it for ages before I realized, just in time, that this was not the right bus. Looking back on those days, it is amazing what very young children were expected to do for themselves. I know that it was ‘protection from on high’ which ensured I arrived safely at my destination.

In Liverpool we lived at 19, Canning Street on the first floor flat of a house owned by a kind lady who had recently become a Bahá’í, Gladys Pritchard. She lived on the ground floor and we used to have many Bahá’í meetings in our sitting room. Though I remember many of the Bahá’ís who came to that room, because I was only there in the holidays, I do not remember who lived in Liverpool and who was just visiting.  There was Gladys Pritchard, Una Townsend, Stella Farnsworth, Phil Noble, Margaret Shanks, Vida Backwell (not yet married to Dick Backwell), Isobel Locke, Hassan Sabri and Brian Townsend.  Connie Langdon Davies was there sometimes – her son was a famous architect of the time and I think he lived in Liverpool.  Philip Hainsworth came and stayed with us sometimes, and I think Hassan lived with us for a while but I am not sure for how long.  Both he and Isobel Locke, who were later to be married to each other, are in the photo of the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Liverpool.  There was a kitten in our house too.  Everyone joked that it was a very spiritual kitten because it used to meow constantly whenever prayers were being read.

I loved school holidays in Liverpool because there was so much to do.  Alma was working as a clerk in the Cunard Offices, so I was alone during the day in our apartment, looked after by Gladys Pritchard, and I used to watch at the window for Mummy to return at the end of the working day. However, in between Bahá’í events and travelling to different cities, Alma made sure I had a good time and we would go ‘over the water’ in the Mersey ferries to New Brighton where they had sandy beaches and a fairground and sugar candy sticks.  Also there were two news theatres in Liverpool, which showed Pathé News and also lots of cartoons and usually an episode of Superman, or Flash Gordon.  I loved these programmes. One of the theatres changed their programme twice a week, so in a good week we could go to the news theatre three times a week. Afterwards we would go to Lyons Corner House and have baked beans on toast.

Liverpool in those days was a huge soot blackened seaport from where people sailed to and from England and goods arrived and were exported to many parts of the world.  The docks were very exotic and rather frightening.  Our end of Canning Street was opposite the Anglican Cathedral and quite respectable, just around the corner from a street where all the doctors had their surgeries. But I was told that the other end of Canning Street, just over the road, was a rather dangerous area, which had places called opium dens and other establishments which it was important I should not go anywhere near.

The safe end, Canning Street, was very near the Philharmonic Hall where we would go to hear Auntie Gladys’ brother Stanley, play the French Horn in the Liverpool Philharmonic, and on one occasion I went with my mother to a French film there.  I didn’t understand the film at all, except for the last scene with the heroine sitting in the window and watching the hero sail away.  I sobbed my heart out and was sad for days at this tragic end, and it wasn’t until some years later my mother risked taking me to see a proper movie again.

But as always, it was the Bahá’ís activities that were most real to me and most looked forward to. In Liverpool we were quite near the Bahá’ís in Manchester, Blackburn, and Stockport. In Manchester as well as the Lee family there was Frank and Pauline Senior and their daughter Adele, Mr and Mrs Habibi and their son Jimmy, Mr Sugar, Uncle John Craven, Mr and Mrs Norton, Louis and Nancy Rossenfield, Albert and Jeff Joseph.   I think Alice Curwen, her sister Prue George and her daughter Patsy, and Ada Williams were from Blackburn.  There were always members of the Bahá’í family coming and going.  Going back to school at the end of the holidays was a bleak prospect, though I tried not to cry because I didn’t want to make my mother sad.  When I unpacked my trunk at school and found little surprise gifts that she had packed for me I would cry sad/happy tears.  But I would soon get over the sadness and enjoy being with my school friends and indulging in the activities, both allowed and not allowed, that we found to amuse ourselves in the lovely grounds.

Later, I was thrilled when Ida Kouchekzadeh was sent to the same school – I think she was about 11 years old. From then on school no longer seemed totally separate from real life in the Bahá’í Community. I thought of her as a dearly loved older sister, and sometimes she came to stay with us in the holidays (after the LSA of Liverpool had been elected and we had pioneered again to Bristol). Ida was beautiful and serene and wise, and if she was unhappy to be away from her family, she never let me see it. I hope that I wasn’t an awful nuisance because of course she had friends her own age.  Mr and Mrs Kouchekzadeh and Ida’s brothers Kianoush and Shidan, came to live in Brighton.

By 1951, Liverpool was a strong community, and my mother moved again, this time to Bristol, where a pioneer was needed to re-establish a lapsed LSA.  We stayed for a short time in a hotel, while we looked for a home to live in.  After an exciting time looking at many weird and wonderful old properties, my mother was able to buy 21, St John’s Road – a four story semi-detached Victorian house in Clifton, for two thousand pounds. No one wanted big old houses in those days.  For us it was perfect – two huge rooms downstairs when many people could gather and lots of bedrooms for people to sleep in.  My grandmother came to join us in Bristol and lived in a self contained flat at the top of the house.

First Local Assembly of Bristol

First Local Assembly of Bristol

Other Bahá’ís who lived in Bristol at that time were Ralph and Rosemary Crates and their two children, who later pioneered to Africa, Dora Weeks and her teenage son Bruce,  who went to Australia, Olive Sutton and Willy Blum.  Of the people who became Bahá’ís while we were there I remember Robert Walker, a student at the university and a German lady who lived in our road who used to sit on Einstein’s knee when she was a baby, and a blind man called Harry, who had a beautiful young daughter.  We used to have weekend schools where friends would come, not only from nearby communities (Dr. Miller, Joan and Brian Giddings and their son David, Suzanne Solomon and her son David; Marion, David, May and Mark Hofman, Carl and Joyce Card from Cardiff; Muriel Matthews from Torquay, Mrs. Aileen Beale from Bournemouth) but also from all over the country.  They were very happy occasions, with an atmosphere not unlike summer schools.

Not far from our house was the house where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stayed on his visits to Bristol in 1911 and 1913, as the guest of Major Tudor Pole, who first met the Master when he was one of the British Officers serving in Palestine.  We made many visits to this house, which was in the centre of Royal York Crescent, a beautiful Georgian Crescent, near the Suspension Bridge across the Clifton Gorge, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  The friends would walk on the wide terrace in front of the house, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been photographed walking, and say prayers underneath the balcony where he had stood.  There was an elderly lady called Miss Watkins who had met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when she was a young girl.  Though she never became a Bahá’í she remembered him with love and reverence and used to come to our home when we had special gatherings.

I was by now 11 years old and the African campaign was about to begin. To my absolute delight another very special person came to live with us.  Farshid Banani was the youngest son of Mr and Mrs Banani who, with their daughter Violette and son in law, Ali Nakhjavani, had answered the call of the Guardian for pioneers to Kampala, Uganda.  Farshid was nine years old, and was enrolled in a preparatory school in England, and Mr and Mrs Banani asked my mother to be his guardian.  Farshid would come and stay with us during his school holidays and he became my precious companion and brother during my own holidays from boarding school.  Musa Banani and Mama Jaan would visit us sometimes, and Farshid’s brothers Hussein and Jack, who had been studying in Britain since about 1948, would also visit us when they could.  The Banani boys were so full of life and I adored them because at summer schools they were very willing to spend time playing with us children.  I particularly remember one delightfully long visit Hussein and Jack made to our home in Bristol when they were on a teaching trip with Gloria Faizi.   When Farshid was old enough, he became a pupil at the prestigious Malvern College, a public school in the Mendips, and I loved visiting him on sports days and speech days with my mother, feeling very proud of him in his dashing boater and blazer or listening to him playing the cello in the school orchestra.

Visitors and travel teachers from all over the world would come and stay in our home – Mr. Faizi and Gloria Faizi, Mr. Khadem, George Townsend, Dr. Zeine, Adib Taherzadeh.  I especially remember one evening in our big living room when both Leroy Ioas and William Sears were reminiscing with my grandmother about Burlingame, California, where she lived when she first became a Bahá’í.  It was fascinating for me to hear some of the history of my family, because Alma and my grandmother very rarely talked about the past.  We were always living in the present and focused on our vision of the future.  I wish now that I had asked my grandmother and mother so many more questions, and that I remembered more systematically the various eras of my own life.

There were very few books for children in those days.   I have mentioned earlier the Bahá’í Child’s ABC which I had had since I was about five, and David Hofman had written and published a book with simple and interesting stories about each of the Messengers of God, illustrated with beautiful coloured paintings by a sixteen year old boy. When I was younger we would from time to time receive a letter with drawings and stories about the Faith from a lady called Auntie Victoria (Bedikian), which were always very exciting to receive.  My grandmother had many very old books from the first three decades of the century, in which the Persian names were spelled very strangely.  She had bound books of collected copies of Star of the West and a number of early versions of the Bahá’í World and of course the beautiful illustrated first edition of The Dawn Breakers. The first Bahá’í books I read from beginning to end were first editions of Portals to Freedom by Howard Colby Ives, and The Chosen Highway by Lady Blomfield,  both of which told many inspiring stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  However, without reading very much and without the availability of children’s classes, or junior youth groups, we children somehow learned a great deal about the teachings and the history of the Faith, and the growth of the International Bahá’í community from the discussions of adults around us and through talks and activities at summer schools, conventions and teaching conferences.

These events were the most important times of our year and we arranged our lives around them.  There were even weddings at Summer Schools.  In 1952, I was a bridesmaid at Shomais Ala’i and Abbas Afnan’s wedding, and at the summer school in Bangor, Bernard Leach and his wife Janet were married.  At Convention there was always an eagerly awaited message from the Guardian and an appointed representative who attended on his behalf.  Until 1951, the Guardian had conferred the rank of Hand of the Cause posthumously on exemplary servants of the Faith such as Martha Root and Louis Gregory.  However, to the excitement of the Bahá’í World, in 1951 the Guardian appointed the first contingent of the living Hands of the Cause, and the second contingent in 1952. At each Convention around the world, one of the Hands of the Cause would be given the task of representing the beloved Guardian. They would often bring from Haifa a small metal phial of attar of roses and all the participants at the Convention would queue up to be anointed behind each ear with this wonderful fragrance which had been laid on the Holy Threshold.  They were joyous occasions.

However, I remember one Convention which also brought great sadness.  In 1954 we were all waiting eagerly for David Hofman to bring Hand of the Cause, Dorothy Baker, from the airport to be the representative of the Guardian at the Convention. Marion Hofman received a phone call and had the sad task of conveying to the Convention the devastating news that Dorothy Baker’s plane had crashed off the coast of Italy on its way to London.

I was thirteen when the beloved Guardian announced the Ten Year Crusade in 1953.  We all had a grey covered book with blue lettering, containing all the details of the plan, with its amazing lists of virgin territories, exotic places, peoples and languages all over the world, and the beautiful coloured map which was folded onto the back cover. It was like a new era, slow at first but gathering momentum. Though we still had home front goals, our outlook became global.  I dreamed of going to Russia, and in a childish sort of way, made a fairly short lived attempt to learn Russian.  More than forty years later, I was to visit Russian cities frequently to participate in the institute process, while we were living in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia.

We were still very few youth in the British community, but as we entered our teens we gradually began to see ourselves as capable of serving in a special way as youth. In those days, when a Bahá’í child turned fifteen, someone would read through the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with us, and if we declared our faith in Bahá’u’lláh, we would be registered as Bahá’ís.  The NSA would send us a letter and a prayer book which contained prayers for special occasions, including the Obligatory Prayers.  I still have mine – a thin grey book in a cardboard cover, and somewhere among my papers at home in the UK I have my registration card, though I have forgotten the number.  By the time I had my fifteenth birthday, I had left boarding school and transferred to Clifton High School in Bristol, just around the corner from the house where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stayed in 1911.  I remember fasting for the first time in my new school, staying in the classroom all alone while the tantalizing aroma of stew and cabbage, spotted dick and custard wafted up from the school dining room.  Later when my new classmates wanted to know what a Bahá’í was, I quickly learned that it was not the best approach to begin by telling them about the Martyrdom of the Báb.  I also remember being at National Convention after I turned fifteen and wondering why nobody was leaving the room to say the short obligatory prayer at noon.  I hadn’t realized that it could be said at any time from noon to sunset.

Growing Up

While we were in Bristol I participated in my first youth travel teaching trip, with Peter Kabisa, a 24 year old student from Kampala, Uganda, and David Solomon from Cardiff, who was then 14.  We decided that we would bicycle round the south of England and offer to do anything we could to help support the communities we visited.  We had each prepared short introductory talks about the Faith, which we could give if required.  We cycled initially from Bristol to Bath, to Torquay, Portsmouth, Southampton, and finally Reading.  I don’t remember many physical details of that long cycling trip, which seems a phenomenal feat to me now, but I do remember arriving in Portsmouth at 4.00 am and sleeping on the benches in the railway station until we thought it was a civilized hour to knock on the door of Pouran O’Toole.  She gave us a very loving welcome, even though she hadn’t expected three unkempt young cyclists at that hour of the morning and was very busy getting breakfast for her two baby boys.  We had offered our services to each of the communities, in whatever way they would like to use us, and wherever we went the friends were very kind to us and went out of their way to make us feel useful.  We did not have a clear idea of systematic teaching or what services we could offer. Also, it was the first time any of us had given a talk, and we were very relieved in those communities where we were not called upon to do anything quite so formal.  However, in Reading, the last town on our trip, we stayed at the home of Owen and Jeanette Battrick, and their daughter Ilona.  They had assembled quite a large but friendly audience to meet us, and here we really had to give our prepared talks.  Owen and Jeanette were very encouraging afterwards and we really felt that we had learned something about service from all the friends we had met during that fortnight.

It was the original plan of the Guardian that when the Ten Year Crusade was completed in 1963, a World Congress should be held in Baghdad, on the Centenary of Baha’u’lláh’s Declaration in that city in 1863, in the presence of the Guardian.  When we said goodbye to anyone who lived anywhere else in the world, we would say “See you in Baghdad”.  However, only four years into the Ten Year Crusade, Bahá’ís throughout the world were stricken with a great grief when the news was released that on November 4th 1957, the beloved Guardian had passed away in London.  The heavens themselves wept on the day of his funeral as Londoners looked on amazed as hundreds of black London taxis, carrying mourners from all over the world, slowly followed the funeral cortege from the Haziratu’l-Quds at 27 Rutland Gate in Knightsbridge, to the Southgate Cemetery in Barnet.  My mother and I were in a taxi with Marion Hofman and John Fozdar.  I remember the crowds outside the small chapel and the sea of umbrellas which surrounded the grave, where the earthly temple of Shoghi Effendi was laid to rest.  We were stunned.  How could we continue without his love and infallible guidance?  To whom would we turn?  We waited for the news of who had been appointed Guardian, and then received the devastating news that no Guardian had been appointed.

At first it was bewildering, but then I remember the dawning of a feeling of wonder as we realised that the beloved Guardian, in  two long letters to the Bahá’í World in the months preceding his passing, had given us all the detailed guidance we needed until the end of the Ten Year Crusade in 1963.  Also, he had appointed a final contingent of Hands of the Cause, bringing the number up to 27.  By the appointment of more Hands of the Cause, whom he called the Chief Stewards of the Faith, he ensured the protection and nurturing of the Bahá’í Community, until the election of the Universal House of Justice.

Letters came regularly from the Hands of the Cause in Haifa, and many of the Hands of the Cause were travelling constantly all over the world to encourage the friends to new heights of service. There was always the presence of one or more of the Hands of the Cause at National Convention, Teaching Conference or Summer School, and our home, like many others was often blessed with visits from these great souls, who protected and guided the Bahá’í Community until the election of the first Universal House of Justice in 1963.  They set an example of sacrificial service and accompanied the friends in their service, urging them to greater and greater efforts.

In the later fifties we began to hold youth conferences in the British Isles.  The first one I remember was in 1957 in Bournemouth in which some of the other participants I remember were Paul Adams, Ilona Rodgers, Stuart Sweet and his sister Christine, Farshang Rameshni and Farhang Afnan. Sometimes youth conferences were held in our home in Bristol and I remember one which we helped to organize in Torquay.  A schoolfriend, Rosalind Perry, and I cycled from Bristol to Torquay to attend it.

A couple of youth conferences were held in our home in Bristol and in Torquay.  In 1958, I went for six months to France where I served as resident caretaker of the Haziratu’l-Quds in Paris, looking after visitors from all over the world as they passed through Paris on route  from East to West and vice versa, often by train and boat, although by then air travel was becoming more and more common. During those months in Paris, I was able to attend the first International Youth Conference in Europe which was held in Luxembourg, and the second one which was held in Germany.  The Bahá’í youth in Europe were beginning to be visible as an active cohort.  A couple of years later there was another International Youth Conference near Delft in Holland, and I remember returning to England with Tony McCarthy and Colin King from Belfast and Gerry Bagley from Palermo.  We sang a lot and laughed a lot as we travelled together to Harlech summer school in Wales.

Adult

In 1959 I went to university in the goal town of Exeter where I studied Philosophy. The NSA appointed a National Youth Committee at this time, which met every month at 27, Rutland Gate, and I spent many weekends on trains to London and elsewhere.  Among our activities were the compiling and production of a typed magazine called ‘Voice of Youth’ and the arranging of youth conferences in different parts of the country.  Already in Exeter when I arrived were Topsy and Jimmy Bennet, Mrs Dawlatshahi and her children, and Mrs Mohktari and her children.  I remember many delicious Persian meals served at the homes of these two generous hostesses. The first Local Spiritual Assembly of Exeter was formed in 1961.  I was really happy to be reunited with the Lee family when Joe and Elsie Lee and their daughter Joyce and her husband, came to live in Exeter.  Barbara and Peter Lee both spent a lot of time in Exeter too, though I think they lived elsewhere – Barbara was certainly in Cornwall for some time.  At some point after I turned 21, I became a most inefficient Secretary of the LSA, and I remember Owen Battrick telling me that I could expect to be elected Secretary until I learned how to be a good one, and only then would I be released!  When my grandmother died in Bristol at the age of 92, Alma sold her house in Bristol and also pioneered to Exeter.  As she had in other cities, she quickly made friends – this time by working in an egg packing factory and later a launderette and joining a volunteer organization which did useful things to help people, but which I think was still called the Civil Defence Corps.

As the Ten Year Crusade proceeded, and new National Spiritual Assemblies were elected all over the world, and more and more virgin territories were opened, the political situation in Iraq made it impossible to hold the World Congress in Baghdad in 1963.  And so the venue was changed to the Royal Albert Hall in London, to the delight of the British community, many of whom would have been unable to afford to travel to this historic occasion if it had been held in Baghdad.   London was transformed during the Conference – the streets of Knightsbridge and Hyde Park full of people in colourful costumes with radiant faces, greeting each other with Allah’u’Abha!   The red double-decker bus that stopped outside the Royal Albert Hall was a number 9 and many of the newspapers on sale in the streets printed photographs and published headlines about the Congress.  Inside the Albert Hall, we saw with our own eyes the fruits of the Ten Year Crusade, in the glorious diversity of the souls who had come from all over the world.  I remember “Uncle” Fred Murray, the first Aboriginal Bahá’í, whose name was taken from the river by which he was found as a baby, standing on the stage holding out his arms to the 8,000 participants and saying “You are my mother, my father, my sister, my brother.  You are my family”; the colourful Peruvian Bahá’í who saw us as a garden of beautiful flowers, the friends from Uganda singing “The Remover of Difficulties” in Swahili, Hand of the Cause Ugo Giachery speaking to us in his beautiful voice of the real meaning of love, and Rúhíyyih Khánum speaking so movingly of why she had chosen a golden eagle to crown the resting place of the beloved Guardian. When the nine members of the newly elected Universal House of Justice stood humbly before us, we knew that every effort we made for the realization of the new world order would be confirmed and we would never be without guidance.

_______________

Now as an adult Bahá’í, I was deeply grateful for the nurturing I had received within the Bahá’í community during my childhood.  While still in Exeter I married my fellow student David Lambert in Exeter University Common Room in 1964. Hand of the Cause John Ferraby officiated at our Bahá’í wedding and many of the friends I have mentioned in these memories were able to be with us on that day, though there were some whose presence we missed very much.  David Hofman and Ian Semple meanwhile had been elected to the Universal House of Justice in 1963 and were residing in Haifa.

Our daughter, Zoe, was born in 1966 in Exeter and not long afterwards David was appointed Head of English at Beaminster School in Dorset.  At that time the NSA appointed a national committee to bring out a monthly Bahá’í children’s magazine called The Little Journal.  Ann Hinton, Norman Burroughs from Bath and I would meet once or twice a month to plan and prepare the content and painstakingly produce 8-12 pages on an old fashioned Banda machine, which involved typing copy and drawing illustrations onto stencils, which we then wound around a drum covered with ink, finally turning a handle to print the required number of copies of each page in turn.  It was messy but rewarding work, and seemed a miraculous process at the time.  During our three years in Dorset, our son Conrad was born.

David’s sister Ann became a Bahá’í and married Tony McCarthy in 1966.  Their first home was the basement of 27, Rutland Gate, where they acted as caretakers.   In August 1969 my mother pioneered at the request of the National Spiritual Assembly to Stornoway, Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, where she stayed until she died at the age of 93, still at her post in 1997.

Alma Gregory's 90th birthday with Stornoway Bahá'ís and Lois (1994)

Alma Gregory’s 90th birthday with Stornoway Bahá’ís and Lois (1994)

In 1970 we moved with Zoe and Conrad to Newcastle, and this was the year we adopted our youngest son, Richard Soyinka, who was ten days old when he was found in the Education Department of the Nigerian High Commission in London. When David completed his post graduation Drama in Education studies, he became a Drama lecturer at Bretton Hall, near Wakefield where we lived until moving to the goal area of Kirklees (Huddersfield) in 1975.

Our community included Patsy and Graham Jenkins and their children Simon and Beth, Jack and Viv Crook and their children John and Anna, Chris and Khosrov Deihim and their children Kathy and Caroline, Janet Fozzard, and Albert Smith. It was a very happy community, with much laughter, often generated by Patsy Jenkins’ skills as a storyteller. As our children became youth the Jenkins’ home and land became a meeting place for Bahá’í youth workshops, to which younger youth would come from all over the country.

Life Overseas

In 1989, when our youngest son Richard was 19, I moved to Tianjin, China and David joined me in February 1990.  We both taught at Nankai University and became close to many dear friends within the university and within the very active contemporary cultural circles in Tianjin.  We were privileged to have a visit from Amatu’l Bahá Rúhiyyih Khánum in 1990 when, accompanied by Violette Nakhjavani and Bijan Farid, she spent a week in Tianjin. Although she was already in her 80’s Khánum gave her love and energy tirelessly during those days, giving lectures each day to large audiences in both Nankai and Tianjin universities, visiting the homes of Chinese artists, novelists and professors, presiding at a banquet given in her honour by the Vice Chancellor of the university and meeting our friends informally in our small apartment. Other precious guests, who came to Tianjin during those three years to share their expertise with Chinese professionals and friends, included Mr Fariborz Sahba, who gave a presentation to a packed audience in the architect department of Tianjin University, Dr. Redwan Moqbel, who was at the time the Chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom, and an eminent immunologist, who spoke to a large audience of doctors and scientists at the Tianjin Cancer Hospital, and Dr Hussein Danesh who met and consulted with the doctors at the Psychiatric Hospital.  The visits of these friends were seen as a significant contribution by Chinese experts in their various fields, and they touched the hearts of all whom they met.  In addition, in 1990 we had a visit from the Peruvian folk song and dance group, El Viento Canta, which had formed while the members were all serving at the Bahá’í World Centre, and included our son Conrad. Tianjin was on the last leg of their six month tour of the newly opened countries of Eastern Europe.  Their previous port of call had been Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where, by chance, they met Ina Ochir and Ulambayar, who helped them find a place to perform.  During El Viento Canta’s visit, Ina and Ulambayar became the first couple to declare their faith in Bahá’u’lláh.  (Though we didn’t know it then, two years later we would be living in Mongolia ourselves, and would stay for the next 20 years).  We were able to revisit our beloved Chinese friends before we left Asia for Macedonia on the last day of December 2011.  We were inspired to find them all utterly dedicated to serving their society and focusing all their thoughts and actions on the betterment of the world.

When we first arrived in Mongolia in September 1992 we were met at Ulaanbaatar airport by the lady who was to be our boss, the Head of the English Department in the University of the Humanities.  We were two complete strangers, but she opened her arms and hugged us.  This was our first experience of the warmth, generosity and openness of heart and mind which we would encounter wherever we went in Mongolia.  The small Mongolian Bahá’í community of a handful of people in Ulaanbaatar in 1992, soon expanded to five Local Spiritual Assemblies. In 1993 the first summer school to be held in Mongolia was blessed with the presence of Mr Grossmann, from the International Teaching Centre and his wife Ursula.  We also received visits from Asian Counsellors Abbas Katiri, John Fozdar and Bijan Farid and his wife Sheedvash and family.  A number of other visitors made their way to Mongolia and travelled extensively into the rural areas, being received with warmth and interest by Mongolian professionals in their field, as well as the growing number of Bahá’í communities.  These included Dr David and Dr Joan Rendell from Canada, Kevin Locke and his daughter Kimila, and Mahnaz Afshin, Semira Manaseki, Jessica Shanks, Eric Dougherty, Shoghi Tufts and Chad Jones. The first National Spiritual Assembly was elected two years later at Ridván 1994 in the presence of Amatu’l Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum. This was Khánum’s second visit to Mongolia – her first had been in 1990 when Knight of Bahá’u’lláh Sean Hinton was the only Bahá’í in Mongolia.  During that historic first national convention, one of the nine delegates, Llavagdorj, made a contribution to the consultation which I have always remembered.  He said “In Mongolia we collect dung as fuel for our stoves.  It is waste matter, but it creates fire to warm and light our homes and cook our food. It gives us life. We Bahá’ís are like that. We are nothing, but when we allow ourselves to be enkindled by the spiritual forces we can become a flame which brings life and light to our society.”

National Spiritual Assembly of Mongolia L to R: Dulamsuren, Jamsran, Unknown, Lois, Battsogt, Baatar, Otgonchimeg, David

National Spiritual Assembly of Mongolia
Back Row, L to R: Ch. Dulamsuren, Soninbayar, Battsogt, Otgonchimeg Front Row, L to R: Y. Jamsran, Lois Lambert, D. Baatar, David Lambert

Puppet workshop with junior youth in Mongolia

Puppet workshop with junior youth in Mongolia

But our 20 joyous years spent serving alongside the Mongolian friends is another story. Since March 2012 we have been living in Skopje, Macedonia, participating in the Balkan Special Initiative, confident that every new message from the Universal House of Justice gives every one of us clear guidance and loving encouragement in the path of service we are all walking together.

________________

Lois Lambert (née Gregory)

Macedonia, April 2013 (revised February 2014)

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