Where do you start when you consider the Ocean of His boundless Grace and you a tiny insignificant drop in that Ocean?
The 24th of September 2015 will signalise my fifty-fifth year of struggling to live up to the precepts of Bahá’u’lláh’s Teachings, but it’s a story that needs to be told as I was one of the early believers in Malaysia and posterity will certainly wish to know what moved us to see, to hear and to open our hearts to the sweetness of Bahá’u’lláh’s Voice! Of necessity, I need to include many people in this story of mine, as my life has been indissolubly linked with all those mentioned hereafter, who have – knowingly or otherwise – been an integral part of my development as a Bahá’í.
It was a warm sultry day in a town called Seremban in Malaysia, and I was tutoring a young Chinese girl called Pauline, when a lovely lady walked into the house and greeted me warmly. She had just come 300 miles down Peninsula Malaysia. Her name was Theresa and she was to play a vital part in my spiritual transformation.
I was then an 18-year old trainee teacher, born a Catholic, satisfied as a Catholic, and neither searching nor wanting to change the world. I had been brought up as the sixth child in a family of eight children, and I had had glimmerings of what it meant to be kind, helpful, and sacrificing, and to question established authority. My father would often sit and argue with the priest for hours about abstruse Catholic doctrines. We were extremely poor and my parents had to feed eight mouths as well as themselves, but when they found another family of eight children and their parents, who had just immigrated to Malaysia from India, my father offered a roof for them and somehow kept all 16 children fed for a year. How he did it was a miracle, and it left an abiding memory of extreme kindness toward others when we had so little for ourselves. After a year this particular family left for another town and we lost all contact with them, but 20 years later, fate would have it that one of that family would come to accept the Faith.
But I digress. When Theresa walked up to me, the first thing she said was, “Isaac, have you heard of the Bahá’í Faith?” When my reply was that I had seen the Bahá’í Centre but that I didn’t really know much about what it stood for, she immediately latched onto it and asked me if I would like to attend a summer school. Having never heard of that word, I asked her what it was, and as she herself had never attended one, she said, “Oh don’t worry too much. It’s a time to go and enjoy yourself by the sea, and just meet all types of friends. You see, I am a Catholic as well, so just come and have a good time.” When I hesitated, she said, “Isaac, I will pay for you!” Bless her blessed soul!! I was, then, a struggling trainee teacher, living from hand to mouth, and if she had not offered to pay for me, I would most probably not have gone. From such an example of kindness and generosity, albeit a small one, does one stand to reap a spiritual harvest rich beyond measure!
Thus it was that I went to the Port Dickson Summer School in August 1960. I heard strange names – Dr. Muhajir, Iran Muhajir, Shirin Fozdar (grandmother of our Counsellor, Shirin Fozdar Foroudi), Payman etc. and strange titles, e.g. Hand of the Cause, but none attracted me more than that name Bahá’u’lláh, The Glory of God, uttered with such fervour, sincerity and reverence, that “Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul.” And IT certainly exercised ITS influence upon my soul. It was His grace and grace alone that opened my eyes and captured my heart. I can think of nothing in my then eighteen years of existence that even remotely deserves such an inestimable bounty as being enabled to bow down before your Lord and say, “Yea, Thou art my Lord, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.”
We must remember that many at that particular summer school were either newly declared Bahá’ís or, like me and Theresa, “lambs being led to the slaughter,” joyously and willingly though. Whether in the sea, or on the beach, in the shower, or at the dinner tables, these new Bahá’ís were in full-flow. They never gave me a moment’s respite, but neither did I take exception to these encounters when one of them would sidle up to me and tell me with such emotion who this wonderful being called Bahá’u’lláh was. Oh, what wouldn‘t I give just to be able to recapture the spirit that animated that heavenly summer school and to bottle it up for future generations!
Then, at the end of that glorious four-day gathering, Theresa, that mentor of mine, that lady who, for evermore, I have taken to be my spiritual mother, stands up and says, “I believe, I believe, I believe!” She who had at one time contemplated being a nun, she who was still a teacher of the Catechism in her missionary school, she who had just told me four days earlier that she too was a Catholic, was now standing up in front of the whole crowd and saying that Bahá’u’lláh was indeed Christ returned, the Glory of God! Her father, Yan Kee Leong, the first declared believer in Peninsula Malaysia, then stands up and utters these words, “Now that one of my five daughters has accepted the Faith, I can die in peace at last!” Alas, sooner said than done. He would go on to be the first Malaysian Counsellor appointed by the Universal House of Justice, he would travel the length and breadth of Malaysia to teach the Cause of his Lord, and be the first to carry the Faith to the aboriginal tribes in the mountain ranges of West Malaysia; he would travel by boat to the long-houses of Sarawak in East Malaysia, despite never having learnt to swim, and take this precious message to the islands of the Seychelles, to South America, to Calcutta in India, where he would teach the Chinese immigrants , and to Japan, and he would become an indelible link with the Faith he loved dearly and the believers he cared so much for, before he “could die in peace” – but that is another story.
Needless to say, I was shocked to hear that Theresa had walked into the Ocean of His Revelation, but mingled with that emotion was a creeping certainty of “Why not?” When Theresa was about to return to her hometown, I remember her saying these words to me: “Isaac, I took seven long years to investigate this Faith. I am sure you will be a Bahá’í in a few years’ time!” Theresa would return to her home-town and, with the help of prayers and constant visits from Baha’is from some of the newly declared believers in other towns, she began attracting a large group of friends who came into the Faith and set the town on fire.
On 24 September 1960, one month after that unforgettable summer school, at an evening fireside at Yan Kee Leong’s home which he had given to the Faith as the first Bahá’í Centre in the country, I asked for a declaration card and prayed that my life would henceforth be one of unceasing servitude to this Cause. In the Long Healing Prayer, there is a wondrous (for me) passage: “I call on Thee, O Thou my Soul, O Thou my Beloved, O Thou my Faith.” Whatever tests and trials came my way during all these fifty-five years of my existence as a Bahá’í, however turbulent my life has turned out to be at times, wherever I have moved, there has always and ever been only one constant in my life after that date – BAHÁ’U’LLÁH – and just one longing – to be of service to Him Who is my Soul, my Beloved, my Faith.
I remember there were at least eighteen youth in my hometown, Seremban, like me spiritually voracious in our desire to study the books of His Revelation. We would all gather whenever possible and read those soul-entrancing revealed words from the Gleanings, The Kitáb-i-Iqán, Bahá’í World Faith (a compendium of the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Baha – now sadly out of print) and oh yes! The Hidden Words, whose melodious phrases would keep ringing in our consciousness long after we had left for home. But life was never just that alone.
We would gather at the Centre nearly every day of the week and drive out into the little towns, villages and plantations that dotted the little state of which Seremban was the capital, to take this message to all and sundry. What bounty we considered it, to be able to give so precious a word to those who hungered for it. To give us that little bit of support and love and inspiration, came the Bahá’ís of the town of Malacca, fifty miles away. People like Leong Tat Chee, his wife Mrs Leong, his son Leong Ho-San, Bhaskaran, Vasudevan, Raymond Peter, Anthony Louis, Surinder Singh, the Kanti-Paul brothers, Inbum Chinniah, Koh Ai Leen, Chang Kim Lin.
They were constant guests, our companions, our inspiration as it were, throughout the weeks and months and years that went by. So animated had we all become that, as Marzieh Gail says in her book Dawn over Mount Hira, “nothing else seemed of any importance after that”. After our whole-hearted embracing of this splendorous light and our immersion in all the multifarious activities that came to be associated with this new way of life, we lived to be the spreaders of this light, we deepened ourselves unceasingly, and we learnt to serve on the various institutions that began sprouting up as soon as the Faith took root – the Local Spiritual Assembly, youth committees, deepening sessions, children’s classes, conferences, summer schools. That simple act of taking a card and signifying on it that henceforth you wished to be known as a Bahá’í, became the supreme badge of honour for us youth. They were the halcyon days of our life in that town, and how numerous the believers who came into the Faith. Believers from all walks of life who realised how few the workers were and how massive the challenges that lay before us.
Soon, from overseas, visitors came to be sent wave after wave in the 1960s and 1970s and in the vanguard were those precious Hands of the Cause – those gentle lovers of Bahá’u’lláh, fierce in their determination to lavish on us all that spirit that emanated from the holiest Spot on earth, a love so pure, so incandescent that it burned away all our little frailties and misgivings, and enveloped us all in an all-embracing love and spirit of service. It began with that irrepressible Dr Rahmat’u’llah Muhajir, whose constant visits and very presence moved mountains and made the Malaysian community what it is today.
Then came a cascade of these spiritual giants in succession – these Hands who had all felt so unworthy of the station they had been elevated to by their beloved Guardian: Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, Mr A Q Faizi, Mr Furútan, Mr Enoch Olinga, Mr Collis Featherstone, and last but not least, the tiny figure of Mr Taráz’u’lláh Samandarí, but a giant of a man in spiritual stature. We waited with palpitating hearts to welcome him, to touch him, to shake his hand, so that, far into the future, our descendants could claim, “One of my forebears had the great privilege and blessing to see, touch and be embraced by the man who had seen and been with the very Centre of our Revelation – Bahá’u’lláh.” Oh, how we early believers of Malaysia basked in the love and saintliness of these Hands who lived to do the bidding of their dear Guardian, The Master and Bahá’u’lláh. We felt they truly sprinkled a sort of spiritual stardust on all of us – eager, loving, and ceaseless in our study of the Holy Word and ceaseless in acting on the injunction “Teach ye the Cause of God, O people of Bahá.” So much so, that people in their tens of thousands soon embraced this very relevant message of our times, and laid the solid foundation for the greater expansion of the Faith that was to follow soon.
Many dear ones came to embrace the Cause during those early years of my Bahá’í life. One such person was Harry Charles. He was a Major in the British Army, attached to the Royal Engineers, and he had a twin brother who was a minister in the Church of England. It was our wont to hold regular firesides in my home-town. We booked a room in one of the buildings in the centre of town and many of us youth took turns giving a short talk every week. One Wednesday it was my turn, and while I was speaking, along comes a distinguished, well-dressed English gentleman and takes a seat. My heart began pounding away. What if I couldn’t answer his questions? What if he knew all about the Bible? What if he disgraced my scant knowledge of the world’s current situation? He sat, quietly listening. When I finished, after question time, he came over to me and asked if I had any of the original Writings of this man called Bahullah. I corrected him and said it was Bahá’u’lláh which meant The Glory of God. I exclaimed, Oh, yes! I have some of His Books”. My reply was mingled with such relief that he had not deigned to even ask any questions. I then gave him The Gleanings, The Kitáb-i-Íqán, The Hidden Words, and the compilation The Bahá’í World Faith. He took them away and later we were to learn that he had taken two weeks’ leave from the Army, shut himself up in his flat, and read every word in all those books. Two weeks later, when I despaired of ever seeing my beloved books again, he suddenly turned up at another fireside, and when he gave me a lift home, he turned to me and said the sweetest words a Bahá’í could bring himself to hear: “Isaac, I have absolutely no reservations whatsoever who Bahá’u’lláh is. I accept Him totally.” And here I was, thinking on that fate-laden Wednesday, how I would be able to fend off his questions! That fire that He has kindled in His own land, in its own mysterious ways, “confers on whomsoever He willeth the honour of recognising His Most Ancient Name.”
“The next Wednesday, Harry came to my house and took me out for dinner. After the meal, as we came out of the restaurant, he took out his tin of cigarettes, and threw it into the monsoon drain. He had just had his last glass of wine as well during the meal. When I asked him why he had thrown away the tin, he said, “Tomorrow, the Fast begins, and I am finished with this old way of life!” He started living the life long before he declared officially. On 24 February 1961, after having met the Hand of the Cause Mr Taráz’u’lláh Samandarí, and after receiving a kiss on his forehead from this Hand, Harry Charles declared his belief officially, saying to me that he felt that that particular act from the Hand was not just a benediction but a confirmation. He would be of immense help to the Seremban youth. We were made the instruments in giving him the Faith, but he became the tool in assisting us to spiritualise our lives, in a manner which we had hitherto not done. He showed us how essential it was to say our obligatory prayers, to fast properly with the right attitude; he would often take us all, at dawn, to a hill-top overlooking the town, and there, as the sun was rising, we would all bow down and prostrate ourselves, saying the Long Obligatory Prayer, which we had never done up to that point.
What a legacy he left behind before his departure. He even gave his car to the Assembly to be used for teaching purposes, and on his return to the UK he sent all eighteen of us youth a huge parcel of books, on every one of which he had inscribed some personal words of love. Each of us received copies of The Gleanings, The Kitab-i-Íqán, The Hidden Words, The Four Valleys and the Seven Valleys and a prayer book. In mine, he had written, “To my very dear Isaac, who gave to me his Prayer Book on the 24th Feb. 1961. This I shall always remember.” And in a general note to all of us, he had written: “To the Seremban youth, in eternal gratitude for having shown me The Way.”
In 1966, six years after my declaration, (or was it aeons later? so busy had we been, that it seemed we had been lovers of the Blessed Beauty all our lives) I married that teenage sweetheart of mine, the Chinese girl called Pauline or Yan Mee Lin as she is known in all her documents. She does not wish to write about her life, so the least I can do here is to say something about her life and achievements. I had been teaching her when I first gave ear to the Faith! She would become my life-long helper, and a little star in her domain – cooking. She would bear me three lovely children, she would go on to utilise her talent to serve Baha’u’llah in her own unique way. She would come to learn all about what sacrifice entailed, she would put up with my long absences from home when I would go off into the mountains of West Malaysia to visit our aboriginal brethren for up to ten days at a time and she would not know if I was even alive until I turned up at our home days later, bedraggled, and skinny as skinny could be! (In the mountains, there was only tapioca and salt to keep oneself going day in, day out.) Then during the long school holidays, I would be off to the long-houses in East Malaysia, or visiting other communities all over the country. Throughout all these early years of our marriage, she managed the home and brought up the children, to a great extent all by herself.
Once, a dear American believer, and a close friend of ours, Elizabeth Gibson, remarked to me about Pauline: “She is the most unselfish wife I have ever come across.” Pauline became a cook par excellence, and she began using this skill for the friends in our summer schools – so much so, that at the height of her service, she once cooked for six hundred summer school participants! Then, in the early 1970s, the National Assembly of Malaysia designated our little home in Seremban as the Training Centre for the aboriginal friends. Soon they started arriving in groups of 10 and 15 every other month, from deep in the Malaysian forests, spending three days at our home, and only Bahá’u’lláh knows how we managed to put them all up, feed them, and see to their toilet needs with just one toilet in a tiny bathroom, and only two bedrooms. The visitors would all sleep on the floor in the small sitting room and we would not just conduct deepening courses for them with the help from the Aboriginal Teaching Committee, but it would be Pauline who would see to their breakfast, lunch and dinner in addition to all the family’s needs. No tribute I can pay her will ever suffice to say how grateful I am to her for her love and sacrifice all these fifty years of our life together, and my deep sadness for having caused her the heartaches that sometimes come within marriages.
I must also say a few words about teaching the Asli (aboriginal) believers in Malaysia. It was not a task that attracts every believer. You either liked it or you didn’t. Somehow I loved it and so began ten years of my life being closely involved with not just taking the Message to them into the equatorial mountains, but also devising materials (with The Asli Committee) to help them delve further into the Faith. Fortunately I joined a lovely group of young Baha’is who were willing to put up with all manner of dangers and hardships. I had twelve attacks of malaria over a period of three years, and many others too suffered from this debilitating illness. However, after the twelfth attack I never again had to put up with any of its draining effects. I think by then I had built up an immunity, but I would never want any of my friends to experience what I had undergone. Yet none of us involved regularly in Asli teaching was in the least fazed when we contracted malaria. We just brushed it off as if we were swatting away a mosquito.
There were often times, climbing the mountains, when I would just cry out and say, after walking and climbing endlessly the entire day in the hot, steamy, tropical forest, completely drained, “Oh Bahá’u’lláh, please give me energy for just one more hour to make it.” The Asli believer who was our guide, would say that our destination would be just over the next mountain, but, more often than not, we would need to scale at least another three mountains before hearing the sweet sound of “Allah-u-Abhá” coming from the mountain-top Bahá’ís. Suddenly, all our exhaustion would vanish.
At one time we arrived at a non-Bahá’í village and soon word spread around that we had come with a new message. Slowly, the entire village started arriving at the headman’s house. It was already dark – about 9 pm. When they were all gathered, we went round embracing all the men, saying that was how we Bahá’ís greeted each other. It was a simple, spontaneous act. Then we started speaking to everyone present – men and women – and telling them who Bahá’u’lláh was, and what a lovely message He had brought. When we had finished, the headman asked us what material thing we had brought for them. Our reply was, “Nothing. Just the love that we had for them and the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh – that we were all truly of one race and one family.” He then said he would consult with his people, and after much discussion for about an hour, he turns to us and says, “We have all decided to become Bahá’ís and I will tell you why. When the Muslims come to our village, they sit ten feet away from us, and then they promise that they will give us land, build schools for us, and give us money, if we become Muslims. When the Christians come, they sit five feet away from us, and promise us clothes, food, and money. But when you Bahá’ís came, the first thing you did was to embrace us, (we having no inkling what that little act would entail!) and you say you have nothing to give us. But in our hearts, we know you mean what you say about all of us being one family, because the first thing you did was to show us that we were indeed one family by embracing us. That shows you were truly sincere. And that is enough for us. The whole village would like to become Baha’is.” Can you imagine our joy! More than sixty people put their names on a long sheet of paper that night, along with their thumb-prints to say they were Bahá’ís. In the flickering taper lights, we could see their shining faces. We were so high up in the mountain that the clouds obscured many of them as they left for their scattered huts with their lights tied to their forehead. The next morning, we were told that we had to go on to the next clearing in another mountain as those inhabitants too would like to hear of the Faith. We knew it would be another day of arduous climbing to get there, but so elated were we that come what may we decided we would go on. Figuratively and literally we were treading clouds. One day, with utter naivety I asked Dr Muhajir if all that the Asli teachers were undergoing was really worth it. In his loving, gentle way, he said: “Watch and you will see one day how these down-trodden people grow into the Faith, and how their children’s children come to be champions of the Cause.
Today, a young lady from that race is a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia. A lovely Teaching Institute stands proudly in one of the villages. Gradually, over the years, at least 15,000 of them became Baha’is out of a total population of 50,000 Aslis in the country.
In 1971 I landed a job in my alma mater to teach Sixth Form classes, and a new opportunity arose for me. I was so grateful to Bahá’u’lláh that I had a chance to give the Faith, indirectly, to many Sixth Formers, by inviting them all to “Sir’s home” for Naw-Rúz, Bahá’u’lláh’s birthday, etc. Many accepted the Faith and are still active all over Malaysia. I have been in touch with many of them through Facebook and we are planning a big reunion. One incident has been imprinted on my memory. There were two sixth formers who had come to some of the Bahá’í gatherings. One day I met them during school break and invited one of them to a summer school. When he asked me what it was, I said, “Oh it’s a place where you go and enjoy yourself.” When he hesitated I knew now it was my turn and said “I will pay for you.” I could see how grateful he was. Then the other turned on me and asked why I was not inviting him. I volunteered to pay for him too. Both of them went and both became Bahá’ís. The second one went overseas for further studies and settled in Australia, but the first one devoted many years of his life in serving the Cause in a sacrificial manner on the National Assembly.
In 1972 I was elected to serve on the National Assembly of Malaysia and my service to the Cause went up several notches. At that time I was not just involved in my profession and all the extra-curricular activity that went with being a sixth form teacher, but I was also involved in daily teaching trips to the plantations and villages, as well as my bi-monthly trips into the mountains, and now included in this schedule came the three-day meeting every month of the National Assembly. This coincided with the increase in tempo of the teaching work throughout the country, but the real driving force was Dr Muhajir. He would meet with the National Assembly every so often, and through his gentle urgings, suggestions and inspiration, audacious plans would be formulated which none of the Assembly members would have remotely considered before the meeting began. Even with regard to funds, he would ask us what our goals would be, for announcement at the imminent conferences and summer schools. We would proudly tell him: “We have set a target of $40,000, Dr Muhajir!”
He would look at all of us with such loving kindness and say: “Only $40,000? Set a target of $100,000 and Bahá’u’lláh will see to it!” I was quite sceptical (Oh ye of little of faith!) but true to his word, we would be able to raise $100,000 which would enable us to set far higher goals in the teaching field and still have sufficient extra funds to send pioneers and travel teachers to India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, etc. He never failed to show us how dependence on the “hosts on high” always attracted spiritual strength and sustenance. He would then say that he hoped to meet us again in two or three months, but ere the passing of two weeks we would get a cable from him: “Please convene NSA meeting next week. Am arriving on….” Without any hesitation we nine members would be there to meet with him. Oh how he loved us for that, and it happened many a time during all those years I served on that body. There was much reciprocity on our behalf as well. In our heart of hearts, we knew that these Hands were a unique breed, elevated to a station where they would know no rest, no comfort, no family life even, and how they had so spontaneously and joyously given way to the election of the Universal House of Justice, freeing themselves to move unceasingly through the world to rally the believers to teach, to deepen and to strengthen their way of life as Bahá’ís.
One example suffices to give a glimpse of how these precious Hands inspired the community and lifted us. They moved in an entirely different sphere. At one Conference, I had not seen Dr Muhajir the whole day but I knew he was around somewhere, so I asked a Counsellor why the Hand was not to be seen anywhere. The reply: “His talk is at 8pm tonight. He has been preparing for that by praying in his room, beseeching Bahá’u’lláh throughout the day by repeating the Tablet of Ahmad ninety-five times, so that what he says will inspire the believers and move them to action.” That was the extent of devotion, the dependence on supplication, and the longing desire of these Hands to call upon the Hosts on High to assist us all to rise to ever new heights of service.
I would take Dr Muhajir in my Volkswagen Beetle to many of the plantations in our state. I would also take him to the Asli villages. He would squeeze his large frame into that small car of mine without a word of complaint. We had no car air-conditioning in those days and it would be stiflingly hot, yet when he reached the community hall, or a village, he would look serene and joyful and in his simple Malay speech, (he had been a pioneer for a few years in Indonesia where they spoke the same language) he would completely win the hearts of his hearers!
The Bahá’í Centre in our home town became a hub of activity, and countless souls came into the Faith. One person who was greatly instrumental in attracting people to the Centre was Lily Ng, who was spirit personified. She was the younger sister of Theresa and became a Bahá’í soon after Theresa’s declaration. She was such an intense magnet and would just have that burning desire and love so as to cause everyone who came in touch with her to happily attend firesides and to declare and remain active in the Cause.
Then in 1978 came a time when the National Assembly met with the Hand, Dr Muhajir and he dropped a bombshell: “You keep asking the believers to go out travel-teaching and pioneering. When are you as the NSA going to set an example?” For many of us on the National Assembly, it boiled down to “instant, exact and complete obedience”. Immediately three of us resigned from that institution and each in our own way left for pioneering and travel-teaching areas in different parts of the world. With just enough for Pauline and my three children to survive for the next six months, I left on six months’ no-pay leave for Africa with two other friends, G A Naidu and Sathia Narayanan. After some adventures, via Moscow and London, where to our great sorrow we were refused leave to enter the UK to visit the Guardian’s Resting Place, we finally landed in Tanzania and there we parted. I went on to Nigeria and Cameroon and the other two stayed in East Africa, one to travel-teach and the other to settle down as a pioneer in those regions. Suffice to say I spent every moment of those months trying to find employment in Nigeria where my dear friends Dr Gibson and Mrs Elizabeth Gibson (originally from the US, latterly from Vietnam and Malaysia) were then pioneering. However, Bahá’u’lláh had other plans for me, so I moved to Cameroon for one month to visit many communities throughout that lovely country.
I remember meeting a handsome Iranian brother and sister team who had rented a home and were sleeping on the floor, living as simply as possible. When I inquired of them as to what they were doing in that lonely part of the country, in a town called Baffoussam, they explained that Dr Muhajir had visited their community in Iran and had encouraged them to pioneer to Cameroon. To do this they had both worked intensely hard, saved their money, and having put it in a bank, were now living on the proceeds until they could find some sort of employment. So there they were – yet more fruits of Dr Muhajir’s prayers, longings and promptings. I felt that was just an infinitesimally tiny example of what that much-loved Hand was doing throughout the world to galvanise and inspire the believers to open up the planet for His Great Cause.
I was then asked to visit the Bahá’í community of the Seychelles for a week on my way home, and another three weeks in Sri Lanka. Pauline joined me for the last leg of my travel-teaching stint and we had a wonderful time visiting the various communities in towns and villages throughout that mesmerisingly beautiful country. Our most memorable trip was to a village in the east of Sri Lanka where we were given rudimentary beds to sleep on in the open air, and had to bathe from water which we drew from a well in the compound. The Bahá’ís there had so little, yet were of such a loving nature that the food they prepared for Pauline and me truly seemed as if it were manna from heaven. When I returned home, somehow fortuitously my post had not been filled in my school and I was immediately absorbed back into the teaching fold. I had with all sincerity gone to Africa, and Pauline had been so intent on packing up and coming to join me with the children there that it was truly heart-breaking to return to Malaysia, but our desire to leave never wavered and I went to East Malaysia in Sarawak to see if I could find employment there. Again the doors were closed, though I did write and tell Pauline that there was a good chance I might get a job there and that she should be ready to leave if and when I gave her the final go-ahead. I forgot all about what I had told her and went to the long-houses in the hinterland of Sarawak. Suddenly, one week later, I just had a feeling that she might act too hastily, so I called her to tell her not to do anything in haste. It was too late! She had not only given up the house we were living in and had moved into her mother’s home with the children, but she had also packed many of our things, especially her pots and pans, and had sent them off to Sarawak. After I returned home, a standing joke among the Malaysian Baha’is was: “Pauline and Isaac could not go pioneering but at least their pots and pans did!”
In the end, events were to propel us finally to settle down in a then run-down city in England and to offer our unique brand of service for a quarter of a century. We could never in our wildest imagination have dreamt that we, a Malaysian couple from a small town in Malaysia, who had cried out to be allowed to pioneer, would be fated to move and settle down to teach in one of the most advanced countries in the world! I am lost for want of any reasoning as to why that should have come about.
And then came what I believed would never happen to me. There is a saying attributed to Muhammad which is quoted in The Dawnbreakers. “Dost thou think thou wilt not be tested when thou sayest, I believe?” Tests come to all of us in different guises, and inevitably, when mine came I was found wanting. I remember going down on my knees and being immersed in an ocean of tears, asking Bahá’u’lláh why I had failed Him and beseeching Him to forgive me. Years later, I was speaking of this to a dear Counsellor friend of mine and what he said brought solace to my heart. He said, “We all have tests, Isaac, and many of us fall, not once, but sometimes several times. The important thing to remember is that every time we fall, His out-stretched hand is ever and always there, for us to reach up and take hold. He does this time and time again! He is the Ever-Forgiving.” Bahá’u’lláh calls Him God of grace to the wicked. If that is so, is He not also God of love and mercy to the fallen?
In December 1980 I left Malaysia to study law in England. After a few years Pauline and the children joined me in London, and this turned out to be one of the happiest periods in our lives. People like Soroush Fadaei and Zarin Hainsworth came to be within our dear circle of friends in our community and, as in Malaysia, our little flat in Newham began to buzz with activity.
Then on 10th November 1988, on the instructions of the National Assembly, Pauline and I moved to Liverpool to be the co-ordinators of an outreach project in that city. Though we were given a large house to live in, habits die hard, and we decided to occupy just one room, and to have all the other rooms given over to Year of Service volunteers, travel-teachers, and course participants. So began, for both of us, another phase of serving Bahá’u’lláh – twenty-five years of being intensely involved in teaching, catering, counselling, nurturing and working closely with everyone who came to Liverpool to lend a hand in reaching out to all strata of society in this city. One chapter in Claire Vreeland’s book And the Trees Clapped Their Hands: Stories of Bahá’í Pioneers relates some of our experiences in Liverpool in those days. During the first five years when we served full-time, along with people like Manijeh Akhondi (later Smith) and Trish Wilkinson, Leah Black (USA), Rasmus Blonquist (Sweden) and Shiva Mazloomian (Scotland) a total of 134 people came to declare their faith in Bahá’u’lláh. Today, one of the fruits of that period remains a dear friend of ours and is vibrantly active in the community.
It was also a steep learning curve for both of us discovering the ways of the West, coming as we did from an Asian background, and suddenly finding ourselves in at the deep end of a project in a run-down English city. Despite errors of judgment, the fact remains that we experienced nothing but love, kindness and understanding from more than a thousand friends who often came to help spread His Word with a song in their hearts and a twinkle in their eyes. When our five-year full-time service ended, I managed to get a full-time lecturer’s post in the Community College, and for the next twenty years our way of serving the Cause was to look after the Centre buildings, arrange regular courses, small winter schools, institute classes, and several other events with the assistance of The Centre Management Committee. Even after Pauline’s kidney transplant, she went on being responsible for catering for all manner of weekend courses for ten more years, until her poor heart could no longer take the strain. Then we relinquished that manner of service and moved out of the Centre buildings.
My daily prayer is and has been that He will give me His grace to serve His loved ones and strengthen me in my servitude to Him. That is all I ask of Bahá’u’lláh.
Of our three children: Terry is in Malaysia, Charmaine in the United States, and Felina in England. All are Bahá’ís, all strive to live the life, and I am proud of them. I thank the Blessed Beauty that He blessed me with their acceptance of His glorious Faith.
Pauline and I wish to place on record our eternal gratitude to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom for having facilitated our stay in this country, and indirectly for being responsible for us in becoming proud British citizens, and most of all for having shown us nothing but utter decency, kindness and love. But more than that, we wish to say how prouder still we are to belong to that splendid community of the Bahá’ís of Great Britain.
Liverpool, May 2015
Pauline passed away on 8 May 2017.