I was born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, the eldest of three children and the only girl. My parents had a farm situated between Coleraine and the seaside town of Portrush, where my brothers and I enjoyed a very happy and loving childhood. After attending the local primary school I went to Coleraine for my secondary education, and on leaving there, went to Belfast to train as a nurse, which included time in hospitals in Londonderry and Lurgan. As a family we attended Ballywillan Presbyterian Church, where I went to Sunday school. I was then a member of the Girl’s Brigade, through which I did my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and was fortunate to have my gold badge presented to me by the Duke himself. I also sang in the church choir and later became a Sunday school teacher. My experiences of my church and the activities I was involved in were very positive and I appreciated the guidance the church gave me.
I first heard of the Bahá’í Faith in 1967. I was a student nurse in Lurgan and Portadown Hospital, Lurgan, Northern Ireland, when a new doctor, originally from Iran, but who had come to Belfast for his secondary education and to study medicine at Queen’s University, came to work in the hospital. We became good friends and he mentioned from time to time about going to a Bahá’í feast or fireside. At first I made little comment, for I knew nothing about these events, and when I did ask some questions, he always answered my query, but never put any pressure on me to go with him to any of the events. I eventually met his brothers and two of his cousins who were also studying at Queen’s. They were very friendly and good fun but never forced any information about their beliefs on me. For me this was very impressive as it is something that would turn me away from wanting to know more about any topic. The name of this young man was Rustam Jamshidi and we became good friends. I started to go to some events with him where I met many more Bahá’ís and the majority of them were local people, which was a surprise to me, and I wondered why I had never heard of this religion before. All of the people were very welcoming and friendly and I remember climbing several flights of stairs to the Bahá’í centre in Belfast where I always hoped to see two very dear people who were so kind to me, Harry and Jean King.
One event that really touched my heart and made me think more seriously about this faith was a commemoration meeting on the 9th of July which was the martyrdom of the Báb, at “Altona”, the home of Colonel and Mrs Lisbeth Greaves in Belfast. I can still recall clearly that it was a beautiful sunny day, and when we went into the lovely room, with a beautiful display of scented roses and the very peaceful and calm atmosphere, where the singing of the birds could clearly be heard through the open front door, my heart was really profoundly touched as the story of the Bab’s short life was conveyed in the very moving prayers and readings.
At no time did I ever have any problem or doubts with what I heard about the Bahá’í teachings, and many of them seemed to fit perfectly with thoughts I had always had for as long as I could remember. For example: how could anyone dislike or even hate another person because of where they lived or because of the place of worship they attended; as I am from Northern Ireland I am sure no further explanation is required.
In June 1969, with the loving consent of both sets of parents, Rustam and I were married, Rustam’s mother and father travelling from Karachi for the occasion. We were married in Ballywillan Presbyterian Church just outside Portrush, followed by the Bahá’í ceremony and reception in the hotel now known as the Royal Court, Portrush. I would like to especially mention my minister at the time, the Rev. James Frazer. He was most helpful and interested in all the arrangements and at no time voiced any problem with either of the ceremonies. He even went to the trouble of learning a Persian welcome for Rustam’s parents with which he began his speech at the reception; to us he was demonstrating his true Christian belief.
I had always enjoyed and been happy with my time as a member of my church and had been involved with the Girls Brigade, church choir and later as a Sunday School teacher. For some time after my marriage I continued to go to church in Lurgan where we lived, but gradually it had less and less appeal for me. As I met more Bahá’ís and attended my first summer school in Dublin, I began to think more about the Bahá’í Faith.
In February 1971 we had our first son, Alistair. In the September of that year, Rustam went to Iceland to attend a Bahá’í conference. On his return he brought two friends back to stay with us for a few days, Ruhi and John Huddleston. Ruhi was so lovely and we got on really well. One evening she asked me why I had not become a Bahá’í, the first time I had been confronted with the question. I replied that I had no problem with anything I had heard or knew about the Faith but felt very inadequate and was far from being able to live up to the standards and teachings. Ruhi kindly smiled and told me that these were the aspirations and hopes of all Bahá’ís, to endeavour and work towards achieving them to the best of our ability, and if I believed in Baha’u’llah and His teachings I was a Bahá’í. So, no longer in doubt, I declared myself a Bahá’í in September that year.
This was a very special time in my life. Ruhi and John showed such love and understanding and gave me very sound advice, enabling me to move forward. Needless to say, this brought great joy to Rustam and his wider family circle and I will always appreciate the way his patience and lack of pressure on me to become a Bahá’í was the very wise and correct thing to do as far as I was concerned.
As with all new Bahá’ís, tests and challenges were to follow, though nothing major. We went on our first pilgrimage in 1972 along with our dear friends Amy and Alex Shields, and my faith was very much strengthened and confirmed as I visited and had the wonderful privilege of praying in the Holy Shrines; thereafter any tests, troubles and challenges I encountered were put into context when I took my mind back to that wonderful experience.
Rustam and I lived in Lurgan for approximately ten years, where we were two of the members of the first Local Spiritual Assembly in that area. In 1980 we moved to Omagh where Rustam got his consultant’s post in the Tyrone County Hospital. By this time we had our second son, Peter. At that time there was one other Bahá’í in Omagh, Shelley Franklin, and a few years later Malcolm and Vida Lake and their children pioneered to our community from Londonderry. Our family was completed in 1982 with the birth of our daughter Karen. Again we were two of the members of the first Spiritual Assembly of Omagh, which also included Nadereh and Nurullah Hedayati, Kamaran and Katerina Ferdozian and Rustam’s elderly father Jamshid who had come from Karachi to be with us during the last years of his life and is now buried in Greenhill cemetery in Omagh.
As the years have passed, and in particular most recently, my faith in Baha’u’llah has deepened, I have been supported and sustained through many challenges; for His mercy, and the strength it has given me I am most humbly grateful.
Over the years I have had the great bounty of serving on a Spiritual Assembly, as a member of the Training Institute for Northern Ireland, as an Auxiliary Board assistant, and as a teacher in the Grace Swann School in Omagh, which in its time catered for Bahá’í families over a wide area.
I had the bounty of being present when the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Republic of Ireland was established, and was able to attend the dedication of the Indian Temple in Delhi. I have also been on three more pilgrimages and a tour of the Holy places in Turkey. Another wonderful bounty was attending events in Ireland where Hands of the Cause Rúhíyyih Khánum, Mr. William Sears, Mr. John Robarts and Dr. Muhajir addressed the friends; it is now with the passing of time and with more understanding, I realise how privileged I was.
At present we continue to live in Omagh where our community is quite small but we remain as active as we can and endeavour to share the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh with our contacts and the wider area through our devotionals, discussion groups and the study circles.
Northern Ireland, January 2015