Christine in 1990

I spent my youth in Middlewich, a small town in mid Cheshire.  There I attended the Congregational Church and when I was in the sixth form I became a Sunday school teacher until I went away to university.  I was quite happy in my faith at that time although I do recall at the age of about 13, after listening to a visiting missionary, starting to think that it was only an accident of birth that I was a Christian and if I had been born elsewhere in the world I would have been brought up in a different religion.

In 1959 I went to the University of Wales in Bangor to study English, and it was in my second year that I first came across the Bahá’í Faith. A student friend of mine, Margaret Davies, now Baldwin, who was a devoted member of the Church of England, told me about an interesting poster outside the Students’ Union, advertising a meeting about a ‘new world religion’.  I went to investigate and was very impressed by all the principles which were listed on the poster. At that time, in 1960/61, these principles, listed together, seemed quite new.  So I decided, along with some of my close friends, to attend the meeting.  My boyfriend Patrick, later to be my husband, also came along.

Unknown to us, at the time there was a summer school in North Wales and so there were quite a few people at the meeting from that school, as well as a few students.  A Persian research student at the university, Rafi Mavaddat, had organised the event.  The speaker was Ian Semple and he gave an excellent talk.  At the end, Patrick, who had not really wanted to go, was more interested than I was, since in the process of giving the talk, Ian had answered many of the questions concerning religion which had been bothering Patrick for some years.  I was keen to get out of the room and was annoyed at Patrick for staying quite a long time and asking more questions.

We went to some small follow-up meetings with Rafi, and then the following year Pat left university to work in Dorking, Surrey. From there, and later from Epsom, he used to go to the regular meetings at 27 Rutland Gate, and eventually became a Bahá’í.  During my last year in Bangor, my friends and I attended several Bahá’í meetings at the university, which were much smaller than the first one we had attended.  In the summer of 1962 I graduated, and was married to Patrick in September of that year.  I had a church wedding, followed by a Bahá’í wedding at the Manchester Bahá’í centre.

We went to live in London, attending the regular meetings at Rutland Gate, where the likes of Betty Reed, John Wade, Hugh McKinley and others patiently explained the Faith.  Although I believed in the Faith I could not bring myself to declare. Then leading up to the time of the World Congress in 1963, there was an added excitement to the meetings and an increase in declarations, so the new Bahá’ís could then attend.  I, however, because of my stubborn nature, refused to declare before the Congress, but waited until it was over and then declared!

After my declaration, Pat and I decided that we would like to pioneer overseas and from that time we investigated how we might do this, in particular to an urgent UK goal, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now called Kiribati and Tuvalu) in the Pacific. We were then living in Sutton, Surrey, and were part of the large London community, serving on the committee that organised the regular Thursday public meetings at Rutland Gate and also helping with the weekly children’s classes. The London community, with one Local Assembly, was vibrant and exciting, with feasts held at Rutland Gate, and people passing through from all parts of the world.

We soon realised that the easiest way to pioneer overseas at that time was by teaching, so Pat gave up his job as a trainee actuary, and started on a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate of Education) course at Southampton University, and I taught at a secondary school there. During this year we were able to pioneer to Winchester, along with John Edwards from Bournemouth, to maintain the Assembly there. Once Pat was qualified as a maths teacher, we returned to London. We lived in Streatham, and both found teaching jobs. As London was now divided up we were able to help form the first Spiritual Assembly of Streatham in 1965. We were in contact with the Crown Agents regarding teaching jobs overseas and out of the blue, Pat was asked if he would be interested in a job in Ghana. On contacting the NSA we were told that the day before Pat was offered the job the NSA had received a cable from the House of Justice saying that Ghana was a top priority. The Universal House of Justice, on hearing about the job offer said that this was ‘Providence in Action’. So, instead of going to the Pacific, in May 1966 we headed off to West Africa, known previously as ‘ the white man’s grave’!  In February 1966, a couple of weeks after Pat accepted the job, there was a coup in Ghana which removed from power the president, Kwame Nkrumah, along with his communist supporters. At that time the Bahá’í community had become disorganised because of the political situation.

Christine with Baha’is in 1966, near Tamale, in the north of Ghana

The Regional Bahá’í Assembly sent us a list of the Bahá’ís in Ghana and asked us to trace them. Pat’s job was in a teacher training college in Winneba, about 40 kilometres from the capital, Accra. There was one other pioneer at the time, David Tanyi, from the Cameroons, who was in Accra. We had an old Volkswagen Beetle car and we set off on various expeditions, looking for the Bahá’ís. We often got lost, the car broke down in deserted places, and only through prayer and divine assistance did we manage to carry on with our journeys. We found amazing Bahá’í communities in the north of Ghana, around Tamale, who had not seen Bahá’ís for years, but had kept all their Bahá’í correspondence, even though they could not read. We were very moved by this and their dignity and courtesy to us. We made contact with Bahá’ís in Takeradi/Sekondi, along the coast and not too far away from us, so we were able to make regular visits there.

One problem we had was that although we took malaria-preventing drugs regularly, we still suffered from attacks. I became pregnant during our first year there, and for health reasons, was advised to return to the UK to have the baby. I stayed with my parents in Cheshire whilst Pat remained in Ghana, returning to the UK just in time for Simon’s birth in July 1967 and we took him to Ghana when he was ten weeks old. We continued to trace and visit Bahá’ís during our three years there but we were often ill, and eventually we returned to the UK, in 1969. Simon had thrived in Ghana and apart from our ill health we have pleasant memories of our time there and of the Ghanaian people.

On returning to the UK we spent a short time on the Isle of Wight and then Pat obtained a job with IBM in London, so we moved to Sutton, Surrey, where we rented a flat until in 1971 we bought our first house, ‘Clerdoun’, in Epsom. We had visited Epsom frequently while living in Sutton and decided to pioneer there because at that time it was difficult to find people to settle there. Anne and Philip Hinton moved there at the same time. Gradually we made contact with local people. Anne made contact with Patsy and Graham Jenkins through their baby-sitting group; they both subsequently declared.

Friends of Patsy, Nina and Rita, became interested also and declared. We also got to know students at the local Art College and a number of them became Bahá’ís. We introduced the Faith to parents of our school-aged children also. Two local journalists who came to report on our activities declared, one being Keith McDonald. We had regular Wednesday firesides in Clerdoun where we often had a room full of people. Simon Mortimore was a regular visitor and eventually declared!  Many people visited and sometimes stayed at Clerdoun, which became quite well known both in the UK and overseas. Hands of the Cause Mr Featherstone and Mr Faizi both visited and gave talks. It was a lively community which grew and the LSA appointed several committees to assist in organising activities. We were given two extension teaching goals, Mole Valley and Reigate & Banstead.  We welcomed visiting travel teachers and enjoyed the visit of the Alaskan Bahá’ís amongst many others.

At one time the LSA decided to cut down on activities because we all felt very tired and soon afterwards we had some more declarations which meant we had to organise extra deepening classes!

At this time I served on the UK International Goals Committee and enjoyed meeting all those friends who volunteered to fill our overseas goals. I sometimes meet some of them unexpectedly and it is always a delight to catch up on their experiences since that time. The 1970s was a special time when people seemed very receptive to the message of Bahá’u’lláh.

Another project we helped with was the production of ‘The Little Journal’, which was sent on subscription to children in the UK.

In 1974 we offered to pioneer overseas again, this time to South Africa, which was a priority goal. Bahá’í pioneers had not been able to go there since the 1950s. Pat managed to get a job in Johannesburg with IBM. He was asked to apply to the High Commission in London for permanent residency which he did. As IBM wanted him urgently, they obtained a temporary permit for him and he went on ahead, leaving myself and Simon in Epsom. We arranged for Keith and Fiona McDonald to stay in our house while we were in South Africa, and they continued the firesides and other activities. After they left, they arranged for Anne and Bijan Iqani to move in, who also carried on with the activities. In Epsom I received word from the High Commission that we had been refused permanent residency. We booked our flights anyway and joined Pat in Johannesburg. We stayed there for nearly four years on temporary permits, obtained through IBM. Shortly after arriving in South Africa, a friend of the Bahá’ís with contacts in Pretoria had been told that we would never be allowed to stay as there was information in our file classing us as being like communists. No Bahá’ís had been allowed residence since the 1950s so we stayed on temporary permits. Our second son, David, was born in Johannesburg in October1975 and when Pat went to register him he was told by a South African official that he had entered the country illegally because we did not have residency permits! After two and a half years in Johannesburg we moved to Port Elizabeth where they needed Bahá’ís, and we were able to work with the local Bahá’ís in developing the communities there. Our role was to offer support, sometimes transport, and encouragement. We kept in the background and tried not to attract attention to ourselves. After four years we were told that we needed to apply for permanent residency. This we did, thinking that we would fail, but to our amazement we were successful! This was an important development, because it meant that other Bahá’ís might now be allowed to settle, which proved to be the case, and many did, including several Persians.

Christine and Patrick with Simon and David – 1977 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

In 1979, for health reasons we returned to Epsom, where I was asked to serve on the UK Bahá’í Reviewing Committee (which I did until 2014). Simon by then was eleven and David three. Simon settled in at his old school and David started at play group. We had local children’s classes in Epsom for a while and then the children attended the Thomas Breakwell School in London. The community was smaller than when we left; several Bahá’ís had pioneered but it was still pretty active and there were several declarations. When Pat and I retired in 2003 we decided to leave Epsom and move to Dorset, where Simon was living. We were there four years but did not feel settled and so we moved back to Epsom in 2007. While we were in Dorset we decided to pioneer to Cyprus, spending almost half the year there, going in the spring and autumn. We did not intend to buy property but on our fact-finding visit we found a bungalow with wonderful views over the mountains, just outside Limassol, and so we bought it. We had an enjoyable time in Cyprus, helping with the Ruhi courses and other activities. At the time, a number of Persian contacts came to the meetings and some declared. We had the bungalow for six years, and even though we sold it four years ago, we still visit the Bahá’í community in Cyprus. We do not go there for long periods at present because we help with our grandchildren here, but maybe in a few years we will be off again!

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Christine Beer

Surrey, June 2011 (updated December 2015 and March 2018)

Chris and Pat (Tony Jolly in the middle) at Epsom’s Bicentenary Celebration, October 2017

 

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