Kevin at Bahji in the Holy Land

Kevin at Bahji in the Holy Land

I was born in 1951 in the ‘Potteries’ in the middle of England in the mid-point of an incredibly violent and challenging century. My parents were both nurses and for five years I was an only child before my brother Sean came along, to be followed by two more boys, Brendan and Keiran, and a girl Brigid. We were raised in a strongly Irish Catholic tradition. In 1962 we emigrated to Australia on the good ship Orion. The six-week journey was the greatest adventure of my young life, and moving to Australia was one of the very best decisions my parents made. I received a good education variously from the nuns, the Christian brothers and the De La Salle brothers. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I was probably quite rebellious, and especially into my teens. Being the eldest by five years does not sound like much of a difference but that gap between a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old or a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old sibling is significant in terms of being playmates. I was able to read before I went to school and my imagination developed healthily through books and reading. This was the age before television. At the age of 18 in 1969 I graduated from Wyong High School with average grades. I have to admit I only did just enough to pass at the levels at which I had sat the exams and no more. I had been earning pay checks since the age of 10, cutting grass, working in shops, working in a market garden, working on a turkey farm, working on a bread run, and others, on top of the work I was required to do at home.

When I left school I started a promising career in the Bank of New South Wales in our hometown of Wyong. This pleased my girlfriend and my mother immensely but I’m afraid I only lasted 10 days. Next I went to work for a TV station – Channel 7 in Sydney. This was especially exciting for a shy country bumpkin like me, coming into contact with the exuberant (not to say exotic) types attracted into creative media. I met the various stars of the day including Tony Bennett, José Feliciano, Rolf Harris, and the Beach Boys. It was illuminating to see the illusion created by television; the contrast between what one sees on the screen and the reality seen in production. During the latter part of my work at Channel 7 I lived in Terrey Hills across the valley from the Bahá’í House of Worship in Sydney. I only went there once at 4 o’clock in the morning with two friends, me particularly very much under the influence of alcohol. My life from that moment became more of a nightmare than anything else. Over the next maybe five years of driving I lost my licence twice, the first time for one year and the second time for three years.

I lasted 12 months at Channel 7 and then headed north to the mining camps and my fortune. I did make a modest fortune but had spent it by the time I got home six months later. I had many small jobs: sign painting, sandblasting, potato picking, bar work in Sydney and many other jobs far too numerous to mention. I attempted to do the right thing by studying psychiatric and general nursing but I seemed to have my elbow on the self-destruct button. I was not knowingly searching for anything and I was certainly not what one would call a practising Catholic. I was a great worry for my parents, particularly my mother. During this time I managed to lose the end of my left index finger in a potato peeling incident whilst working in a restaurant kitchen in Sydney. This was rather a significant life event and very uncomfortable as the finger became gangrenous. During my recovery and convalescence I returned to live in my parents’ house. They had moved to a place called Goulburn, a gradually declining town on the edge of the southern tablelands in New South Wales. Goulburn is not the end of the world, they say, but you can see it from there. I enrolled at the teacher-training college to become a primary school teacher, thinking that perhaps this was the way to redeem myself. Unbeknown to me, the Dean of the College, Dr. Ray Meyer, was a Bahá’í.

During this time my parents made an extended trip to England and Ireland and since I was not a responsible adult (by most definitions), an old friend of the family, Doreen Mullen, was asked to come and look after my siblings. Doreen had an interest in the Bahá’í faith and asked me to go to a public meeting in the town with her as she didn’t want to go by herself. The talk was given by Caroline Spratt, a Canadian Bahá’í who, with her husband Terry and their two children, were Bahá’í pioneers in Goulburn. The presentation was about the equality of men and women and Caroline said that Bahá’u’lláh (the founder of the Bahá’í Faith) had stated that men and women were equal and she used the analogy of the wings of a bird – each wing is equal but each has a different function. The main point that I took away was that if the wings were unequally strong and unbalanced the bird could not fly. At this meeting I met a very sweet girl, Marilyn Shave, who impressed me greatly. Some weeks later I invited her out to the drive-in. She in turn invited me to “a party with lots of young people” the following night. We duly went to the “party” which turned out to be myself and Marilyn and Terry Spratt at Terry and Caroline’s home. I was a little bemused waiting for “the young people” to turn up but quickly realised there would be none. The meeting took an interesting turn with Terry asking me “well what would you like to talk about?” This was about as far from a party with young people as could be. When I was obviously stumped for an answer Terry said “well, let’s talk about God”. During the next hour and a half Terry explained to me the concept of progressive revelation, the concept of the Bahá’í Covenant, and how he himself had become a Bahá’í. In any place where Terry wanted to quote the writings of the Bible or the Bahá’í Faith he would actually go to the book, find the relevant passage and read it out in its full purity. I found that many of the concepts married with what I had been told as a Catholic child and youth and resonated with something deep within me. At the end of the evening Terry gave me a book to read, Release the Sun by William Sears. This was a Thursday night. By Saturday I had finished the book which detailed the early days of the Faith in Iran and is a wonderful account of heroism and love. I recommend it to anyone.

On the Saturday night I had the most vivid dream in which I was face to face with Jesus who was on the cross. I could see the crown of thorns and blood, all images I’m sure from my Catholic childhood, but as I looked into His eyes I understood that He was feeling no physical pain. It is a fact that once the body goes into that kind of damage and shock the perception of pain is reduced. I understood deeply that His real pain, sadness and suffering occurred because He had such love for these people who were rejecting Him and He understood how much they were losing by their actions. This had a profound effect on me, giving me an entirely different view of Jesus, His suffering and His message. In that moment I recognised and fully accepted his Holiness the Báb and all He had said. The following Tuesday night, 24th June 1975, I went back to return the book. Terry asked me what I thought and I told him that I was in no doubt that this was the truth and asked him what I should do next. He brought out a declaration card and a little booklet entitled What is a Bahá’í? The card said “I believe that Bahá’u’lláh is the messenger of God for this age and I will endeavour to follow His teachings. I apply for membership of the Bahá’í world community.” I asked for notepaper and took a copy of what the card said. I then signed it. I opened the booklet and on the first page it said “Bahá’ís pray every day”. Not being much of a praying person I thought that I might be able to get round this injunction with not too much trouble. I then opened the second page which said “Bahá’ís do not drink alcohol or take habit-forming drugs”. I’m not sure if anyone there noticed, but this was a massive shock to my system. It immediately ran through my head “I’ve been trapped”! But within a millisecond another thought overtook me – “this is the most important thing to have happened in the last 2000 years. It is definitely the most important thing that happened in your life Kevin, and you think that you can’t give up drinking?” And it never was a problem again. It was almost as if there was a chemical transformation in my body at that instant and I experienced it as a physical change.

In the next letter (yes letters was how we communicated then) I wrote to my mother, I mentioned I had become a Bahá’í. When she received it she caught the first plane back from the UK! Considering my previous life and all the trouble I had been in, she must have thought that I had really done it this time, done the ultimate, and joined a cult. After she was back home with me for one day she said “If this is the Bahá’í Faith, then I am all for it”. My transformation was total. Looking back from the perspective of 41 years I can truly say it was the best and most important thing that ever happened to me and every morning I thank God. I am eternally grateful and will always pray for Terry Spratt. I was so lucky to have such a nurturing community with Ray and Nance Meyer, Marilyn Shave (now Patience) Terry and Carolyn Spratt and most of all that radiant and wonderful soul J.J. Jannu. God bless them all! There is no way that I can ever express my gratitude to the Blessed Beauty for the bounty of being accepted as a Bahá’í. Now my life began to take on direction.

Jannu introduced me to some wonderful Bahá’ís who were chiropractors, notably Mary Ann Chance. Chiropractic was something I had not come across before but the more I investigated it the more interested I became and the more I realised that it fitted well with my character and aspirations. There were no courses in Australia at the time teaching chiropractic, most of them being in the United States. Only one existed outside North America and that was in Bournemouth, England. Since the American government needed $20,000 to prove that I wasn’t going to work in their country, Bournemouth became the obvious choice.

In October 1975, four months after I had become a Bahá’í, I left to join my father in England. My English family didn’t really know what to make of me, probably considering me pretty exotic. I stayed with them for a short time and in November I travelled to Scotland and met with some of the Bahá’ís there. It was the most exhilarating experience and I felt I was with my real family, among people I had met only hours before. Wonderful people like Pat MorrisseyAndy McCaffertyScott and Kathleen Murray (on Ulva), Garry Villiers-Stuart and so many more. I dossed in Dumfries for a while. The ‘oneness of mankind’ was a reality. Gary suggested I visit Northern Ireland and the Bahá’í friends there, including his family and particularly Jane, his mother. Jane Villiers-Stuart was without doubt one of the most wonderful people I have ever met and she had a massive positive influence on my Bahá’í growth and education. I had the bounty of meeting Nooshin, my future wife, who was studying at Queens University in Belfast (thanks Garry). One of the enormous bounties of being a Bahá’í has been the great human beings I have been honoured to meet in Ireland, Lesotho, Ecuador, Portugal, America, Iran, Australia and Europe. These are “treasures of the earth”. I have visited Haifa a number of times, having been privileged to go on pilgrimage three times. The last time was in 2010 with my wife and three children. I also stayed in ‘Abdul-Bahá’s teahouse at Bahjí for a number of weeks, a great spiritual experience thanks to my wife’s aunt Mahin Humphrey who was serving there at the time. I have served on Local Spiritual Assemblies in Northern Ireland, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Craigavon, Christchurch Cookstown and Derry. I served as chairman of the summer school committee for the three wonderful schools in Portora in Enniskillen and two in the Friends School in Lisburn in the late eighties and early nineties.

Now, 41 years later, I still live in Northern Ireland with my wonderful wife Nooshin, having raised our boys, and hopefully we can all continue to be of service to humanity and the Bahá’í Faith. I will continue to serve as a chiropractor into my nineties if I can. The best is yet to come.

________________

Kevin Proudman

Northern Ireland, August 2016

Kevin and Nooshin with their sons Aram, Anis and Sana

Kevin and Nooshin with their sons Aram, Anis and Sana

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