I was born in October 1945 in the village of Serowe in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, now Botswana. I was given the name Molalanyana meaning Maid Servant or Handmaid; shortened to ‘Lally’ it is the name by which I am known. This is my story.
I do not have any recollection of our time in Serowe as I was only two years old when the family relocated to Mafikeng in South Africa. My father, James Leonard Moncho, served as an inspector of schools for the British colonial authorities but by a quirk of history the colonial authorities administered Bechuanaland from an enclave on the South African side of the border known as the Imperial Reserve. This meant that, although my father was working for the British, we lived in the South African town of Mafikeng at a time when the South African racist policy of apartheid – literally ‘apart-ness” – was being enforced.
Life under apartheid
Growing up in Mafikeng in the nineteen-fifties I had a happy childhood. Because I was named after my much respected maternal grand-mother I often enjoyed preferential treatment, particularly from members of my mother’s family. There was discipline and order in our home and I had a loving relationship with my parents who were devoted members of the LMS (London Missionary Society) church. As children we would accompany our parents to church and also attend Sunday School.
The one aspect that was a major challenge to me, even as a child, was the fact that because of my colour I was treated as a second-class citizen; all black people were treated as such. The town was where white people lived and worked. ‘Natives’ lived in designated areas outside the town and had to be out of town by an 8pm curfew or risk imprisonment. Everyday life was structured to be demeaning for Africans, who endured a master-servant relationship with the white population. Queuing at shops was “whites first’, and some of the shops had a little hatch through which blacks could be served without coming inside at all. At least one shop I knew did not allow blacks to even walk on its pavement. Buying meat, a butcher would first ask if it is for you or for the ‘missus’. Schools were inferior, materially and educationally. There was no electricity in the black areas. Places of leisure like parks were labelled with notices such as: “blacks and dogs not allowed”. The infamous Immorality Act meant that any relationship between a black and a white of opposite genders was illegal.
These policies succeeded in making me dislike the white population rather intensely, and in my young age I believed that all white people were essentially evil. As an example of uncalled-for humiliation, when I was about 10 years old and walking along a street in town one day, a young white boy about my age unexpectedly and unprovoked spat on my face and raced off on his bike. I felt stunned, angry, helpless and humiliated. I knew there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was use my sleeve to wipe the spit from my face.
Another incident that reinforced my frustration about this unjust treatment happened when my older brother aged 16 years had been sent to town on an errand and didn’t come back home at the time he was expected. It was worrying because night fell and still there was no sign of him. He was a very responsible youth who wouldn’t just disappear without a reason. Our family was most distraught having to spend the night without knowing what had happened to him. I was the most devastated because he was my favourite brother and hero who treated me like a little princess. The following morning my parents alerted some of our relatives who joined the search for him and with their help he was located — in prison! The day before, he had bumped into a school buddy who offered him a piece of chocolate, and as they walked together in town enjoying the chocolate, suddenly a white passer-by grabbed the boys, called the police who arrested them and put them in prison. Reason? They had been eating a chocolate that was “too good for a kaffir” (a derogatory term for Africans) so they must have stolen it! Our relatives demanded proof of theft and in its absence the boys were freed.
I didn’t need to be convinced of the evil nature of white people, I had experienced it myself and knew that I could never ever be friends with a white person.
John and Audrey Robarts
In 1954 a Canadian couple, John and Audrey Robarts and two of their children, Patrick and Nina, arrived in Mafikeng to answer the call of the 10 Year Crusade. Because of the quirk of history mentioned above they were named Knights of Bahá’u’lláh for Bechuanaland, even though they were living in a South African town.
The Robarts were faced with a major challenge: how to share the message of Bahá’u’lláh with the indigenous population. Not only would the white population not agree with the principles such as the oneness of humanity and equality, the regime would find the ideas provocative and indicative of something that was much dreaded in South Africa at the time – communism.
John and Audrey resorted to prayer, beseeching the Blessed Beauty for assistance. One day Mr Robarts needed to see a medical doctor after a minor accident. He learned that there was just a black doctor who had a practice in town, a real anomaly under the apartheid system which insisted upon separate facilities for each race. This doctor had studied medicine in Scotland and was exceptionally brilliant. In his waiting room would be found a mosaic of different cultures and skin colours, a rarity during those days in South Africa. He also happened to be my mother’s older brother, Dr Modiri Molema. Mr Robarts became friends with the doctor, and they would discuss various topics in the privacy of the consultation room. Eventually Doctor Molema told Mr Robarts that his treatment was now complete and he didn’t have to come back, adding, “But I will say a prayer for you.”
“So, you pray for your patients,” Mr Robarts asked, “in that case I’d like to give you a book about prayer” and he gave Dr Molema a copy of Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era.When the doctor saw the name of the author he exclaimed: “John Esslemont, I knew him in Scotland!” Dr Molema and the Robarts became very close and after some time the doctor told John that he had been studying the Faith and was now convinced about the station and teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, and that he was now the first Bahá’í of Mafikeng. However, this would have to be kept a secret in order to protect the Faith because Dr Molema was a member of the African National Congress and had worked with Nelson Mandela. He was watched closely by the South African security police who were likely to connect his membership of the Faith with his political activities. Nevertheless, he assured Mr Robarts that he would tell his relatives about the Faith. He fulfilled his promise, and in 1955 the first of his relatives to enrol officially as a Bahá’í was his cousin, Stanlake Kukama.
He also introduced his sister, Stella Marais Motshedi and her husband James Leonard Moncho, my parents, to the Robarts. My family had a large field and chickens and after the harvest mother would send my older sister and me to take fresh mealies (corn on the cob) to the Robarts in town, sometimes with fresh eggs as well. It was safe for us to go to their home as long as we went in through the back door so that we could pass as the maid’s children! Mrs Robarts would bring out a cookie jar and offer us some; we agreed these were the best cookies ever and couldn’t wait for the next visit to that household. The love with which the Robarts treated us was truly heart-warming; they treated me like a 10-year-old girl, not as a 10-year-old black girl.
Meetings with the Robarts had to be held with great circumspection so as not to arouse the ire of the local white population. My parents used to go to their home for firesides, and if there was a knock at the door whilst they were studying, they would hurry to the kitchen and make clattering noises with crockery and cutlery, normal house servant chores. As soon as the coast was clear they would be back in the living room studying the Faith. My mother would visit them during the day under the guise of a house-maid who had come to help Audrey with her sewing: many an animated discussion about the Faith took place during these sewing sessions!
Though Dr Molema himself never formally enrolled as a Bahá’í, he identified closely with its aims and principles and he provided the Robarts with letters of introduction to the tribal chiefs on the other side of the border. Through his promotion of the Faith a circle of his family and friends were brought into the fold of Bahá’u’lláh. My mother claimed to be the first in our family to enrol as a Bahá’í but only by seconds; when she requested an enrolment card during a fireside my father quickly added “and get one for me too please!”
This led to the formation in 1957 of the first Spiritual Assembly of Mafikeng which included my mother and father – the Secretary and Chairman respectively of that historic assembly. Meetings were usually held under the cover of darkness with the Robarts flashing the headlights of their car to signal they were close to our house and being answered by a lantern waved through a window by one of my parents, confirming that it was safe to come in.
As a young girl, my feelings that whites were irredeemably bad were radically altered through the love that existed between my family and that of John and Audrey Robarts. Later I was able to articulate in my mind what the Bahá’í Faith meant: my conclusion was, it was this unique religion that made it possible for people to be white but really pleasant at the same time, something I had never experienced before! I came to accept Bahá’u’lláh along with my parents, although no one invited me to enrol formally as a Bahá’í until some nine years later.
There was no concept of formal children’s classes when I was young but my mother regularly read my sister and me stories about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and as children we memorised Bahá’í prayers. My sister Lolo Joyce Boingotlo was an unusual girl, exceptionally kind and considerate, she preferred to be in the house helping mother with chores while I was playing outside. She sang like a nightingale and although she was only two-and-a-half years older than me she took it as her responsibility to ensure that I was always comfortable and happy. I loved her very much and when she became ill with rheumatic myocarditis, I felt privileged to be able to tend to her as she would get very breathless at the slightest exertion. She was exactly 14 years and one month on 25 February 1957, when she passed away peacefully at home. Our very dear uncle, Dr Modiri Molema, had been checking on her regularly and would take time to explain to the family the aetiology of her disease.
Due to my father’s work as a teacher, and later inspector of schools, the Moncho family had resided inside the Bechuanaland Protectorate since the 1930s. When the Robarts arrived in Mafikeng in 1954 he was still working inside the Protectorate but was based for a period of time at the colonial enclave in Mafikeng. In 1957 he was transferred to Kanye, a village inside the Protectorate, and thus my parents opened the interior to the Faith.
By that time the Robarts Family had also left Mafikeng for Rhodesia due to increasingly unwelcome attention from the security police. In 1957 John Robarts was appointed a Hand of the Cause of God. Stanlake Kukama remained in Mafikeng and later became a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of South Africa. My parents settled in the new Republic of Botswana, went on Pilgrimage in 1986 and remained steadfast believers to the end of their long lives.
Tribute to the Robarts
As they prepared to leave Mafeking John and Audrey were invited to meet with the Local Spiritual Assembly who presented them with this humbling tribute, a tribute that is the envy of any soul who pioneers for Bahá’u’lláh:
10th February 1957
MR and MRS. J. ROBARTS
We Bahá’ís of Mafeking have invited you to this meeting to say a word of farewell to you. When you came to Mafeking some three years ago, we might have met you in town and looked upon you as mere unfamiliar Europeans in Mafeking and never thought of the wonders God Almighty had brought us. You on the other hand, were burning inwardly to meet us and speak to us.
It took practically two years before you were able to reveal the message to us, and when God made it possible, despite the multiplicity of precautionary measures you had to observe, it came like a flash of lightning.
When you delivered the message, when you showed us your sincerity, when you sat with us, spoke to us and showed us what you meant by ONENESS OF MANKIND, we forgot altogether that you were not black or we were not white. No words can thank you for the knowledge of the truth about God that you brought us, no words can describe the ability with which you have been able to teach and successfully form the first Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly in Mafeking, which you have been forced to leave in its infancy. We hope, wish and pray that this seed may grow into a mighty shady tree.
We realize that you, as well as we, are very sad to part at this stage, but we do not forget that you are going to do even more work at your new station and we feel happy to think that you are going to a place where people have not heard the prophecy of Bahá’u’lláh and your presence there will enlighten another part of the world which up to the present has been less fortunate.
When time comes that this wonderful message be taught openly to all races in South Africa, your names will always be connected with the pioneer work you did in Mafeking. We shall never forget this sad occasion of parting with friends we have no hope of replacing because of the law of the country to which we must be loyal. We shall always think of you, speak of you and pray for you and we are sure you will also do likewise, and last but not least, we give you this little present which we hope will serve as a token of fellowship in the Cause of God.
(The ‘little present’ was a group photograph of the Mafeking Bahá’ís)
Nobody had invited me
Shortly after my sister’s passing my father was transferred to Kanye, a village in the south east region of Botswana where I did my last year of primary school. From there I went to Moeng College, a boarding school in the north of Botswana where I spent the next six years.
On the sixth of March 1965 I happened to be in Serowe, a traditional Tswana village. I was walking along a dusty road on a very hot day when I passed a man resting under the shade of a large tree. He called to me and as we had never met before I wondered what he wanted from me. It turned out that he was a travelling Bahá’í teacher from Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). He asked me for my name and where I came from. When I replied he became very interested in my surname and asked if I had any connection with the Moncho family who had become Bahá’ís in Mafikeng. He then asked if I was a Bahá’í and I said that I wasn’t, adding that I was, however, a friend of the Bahá’ís. He asked me why I wasn’t a Bahá’í and I replied that nobody had invited me. He sat bolt upright and asked: “If I give you a card would you sign it to accept Bahá’u’lláh?” Without hesitation I responded in the affirmative. So, he whipped out a card from his shirt pocket and I signed it, thus becoming an official Bahá’í aged 19 years. His face beamed, as if to say, ‘Wow, that was an easy catch!’ What were the chances that in a sparsely populated country the size of France that had no more than a handful of resident Bahá’ís, the two of us should meet thus? We never met again.
After being an isolated Bahá’í at boarding school my first contact with a Bahá’í community was in Gaborone, the capital town of Botswana. I enrolled at a typing school while waiting for the result of my application to study nursing in England. Nina Robarts, her husband Ken Tinnion and my sister-in-law, Esther Moncho, were part of that community. Our small group was hoping to establish the first Spiritual Assembly of Gaborone; there were eight adult believers and the ninth, myself, was under 21. The group made a decision to ask the Universal House of Justice for a special dispensation and allow the not-quite-adult believer to be a member of the Assembly. The request was channelled through Mr Shidan Fat’he-Aazam and the Spiritual Assembly of South Central Africa. I never heard the result of the request to the House of Justice because within a few weeks I had been accepted to start training as a nurse in Ealing, West London.
In 1966 I had been given a grant to go to the United States to study medicine but, at the last moment, the grant I had applied for was inexplicably withdrawn and given to someone else. Who knows what course my life would have taken if it had not been for this suspicious act? Undaunted, I was determined that, with the support of my parents, I would raise funds and pay my own way to England to train as a nurse – a big step at that time for a young African girl from an unsophisticated background.
Welcome to Ealing, West London
I did not know how to contact the British Bahá’ís although Mr Fat’he-Aazam had given me contact details of a Bahá’í living in London. Upon arrival I sent messages to this contact and unfortunately never had a response. I communicated with Mr Fat’he-Aazam about my failure to connect with the contact and he sent me the Rutland Gate address of the British National Assembly. I finally made it to no. 27 Rutland Gate and with excitement and trepidation rang the doorbell. The member of staff who let me in asked how long I had been in Ealing. A month or two, I can’t remember, but she reprimanded me rather sternly about my failure to report earlier. I was so stunned by this reception that I didn’t even try to explain what had happened. Also, it would have been foreign to my culture to answer back. I was young, timid and adjusting to a very new and different environment.
Another member of staff came to see me and she was very warm and welcoming. It was this gentle lady who gave me contacts for Vivian and Ron Roe. I made arrangements to visit them and when I arrived at their home they couldn’t have showered more love upon me. They treated me as one of their very own. Their address, 95 The Avenue, became my second home. Later I became a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Ealing.
Vivian was a remarkable woman. She never missed an opportunity to proclaim the Faith and she was particularly good with the media. Two years after my arrival in the UK, I married someone I knew from Botswana who was studying at the University of Exeter. It was a small wedding by African standards yet Viv managed to send out a newspaper article about Ealing seeing its ‘first Bahá’í wedding.’
Exeter and Glasgow
I left Ealing in 1968 to be with my new husband in Exeter. I received a very warm welcome from the Exeter Bahá’í Community, and from the Lee family in particular. Professionally, I benefited a lot career-wise as the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital was a teaching hospital.
The next five years were spent in Glasgow where once again I had the opportunity to serve as a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly. Senobar Tahzib and Alice are two members of that assembly whom I remember well for the love and support they gave me. Professionally, I worked as a Senior Staff Nurse and Midwife in Glasgow up until 1975 and I was awarded my Midwifery and Neo-natal Paediatric Nursing certificates. My most cherished certificate, though, was my wee Scottish lassie, Tebby, born in Glasgow in 1973.
In 1975 I moved to Tangier, Morocco, where my husband had a job. I was warmly welcomed by the Bahá’í community there. This was my first experience of living in a community where Bahá’ís are not free to practise their religion. Despite this oppression the Bahá’ís exemplified a true spirit of unity, love and steadfastness. After a year in Morocco we moved to Roma, Lesotho where I spent six months working at a mission hospital, finally returning home to Botswana in 1977.
Sadly, my marriage didn’t last. In 1982 I re-married. My new husband, Gerald Warren, was a fellow Board member, a pioneer from England, who had previously been my assistant. I moved to the new diamond-mining town of Jwaneng on the fringe of the Kalahari Desert where Gerald was working as a primary school teacher. I remained active in promoting the interests of the Nurses’ Association of Botswana, having travelled to Denmark, Sweden and Kenya on their behalf. I combined the professional and spiritual sides of my life by working to stem the high incidence of HIV/AIDS in Botswana. Taking a holistic approach that sees the AIDS pandemic as part of a wider moral and social problem affecting society, I have been a voluntary HIV/AIDS Peer Educator working with the community, presenting talks, conducting wellness seminars, using drama to teach traditional moral values, forming a peer-educators choir and working with children at primary and secondary schools. In 2006 Gerald moved to Lobatse and I founded a Bahá’í-inspired project called Letsema la Itlotlo (The Self-Respect Project) that uses cultural and spiritual paths to effect changes in those behaviours that lead to HIV infection. One project I initiated provided secondary school pupils in local schools with moral education lessons that cover the medical, social and moral issues surrounding AIDS.
After a brief period of service on the National Teaching Committee I was appointed in 1979 as a member of the Auxiliary Board. From Ridván 1984 I served on the National Spiritual Assembly of Botswana, part of that time as Treasurer, until my appointment to the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa on 26 November 1985. My Bahá’í experience up to that date was varied and included service on committees concerned with publications, newsletters and public relations activities.
Teaching the Faith has always been my passion and I have been involved in co-ordinating a large-scale teaching project in Botswana. I also spent a period travel-teaching in Kenya. I made teaching trips to remote areas on the distant fringes of the Kalahari Desert where my family is well known. My father, as the first Inspector of Schools for that area, was responsible for founding many of the first schools there. His own father travelled from South Africa to the south-western Kalahari by ox-wagon under conditions of extreme hardship as the first Christian missionary to those distant people of the desert. My family connections and the respect that my parents command in Botswana have given the Faith ready access to many prominent people, from the President downwards. I have been very active in public relations and publicity work, including making several radio interviews, and in establishing the good name of the Faith amongst those in positions of authority or influence.
Historic Pilgrimage 1981
Without my daughter, Tebby, my first pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines might have been delayed for many years. When she was seven years old and we were living in Botswana, I got the opportunity to view her school work at a special parent meeting called by her teacher. Going through her work, which was all very impressive, I came across an essay she had written. The subject was ‘My three wishes’, which she had articulated thus:
- I wish to visit the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh because he is a profit of God.
- I wish to eat as much food as I can get hold of.
- I wish to be as comfortable as possible.
This three-wishes essay changed my life. I had not realised that my daughter even knew the meaning of the word ‘shrine’. I had never thought about pilgrimage before, even though I had lived in the UK for ten years and had flown home for vacation without realising that I could have easily made a stopover in Israel en route to Botswana. I was so touched by this first wish that on that same day I sent off an application for both of us to go on pilgrimage and I requested to be notified in case of any cancellation. Eleven months later I received a phone call from the NSA secretary informing me that a telex had arrived from the Bahá’í World Centre enquiring if I was able to come on pilgrimage in ten days’ time! With tears streaming down my face I informed the secretary of my acceptance. After hanging up I realised that I didn’t have any money, I had no leave due, and Tebby was about to sit her end-of-year examination.
I went to the bank to ask for a loan, explaining that I have to travel to Israel, whereupon the officer asked if I was talking about the Israel in the Bible! (At that time very few Botswana citizens had travelled abroad and there was a general belief among Christians that Israel was located somewhere in heaven!) After confirming the location of Israel, the officer went to see the manager and was back within minutes to grant my request, adding that no client had ever asked for a loan to travel to Israel before.
My leave was granted with ease and the head of Tebby’s school, a Moslem lady, readily gave permission for her to miss school. She mentioned that pilgrimage was a very special gift and that although Tebby would miss her end of year examinations, arrangements would be made for her to sit the exam at the beginning of the following year. When I shared this news with Tebby she casually remarked that she would pass her exams anyway as she would pray for assistance in the Shrines. The few remaining days were hectic and included travelling to South Africa to apply for an Israeli visa. Yet with all these preparations I felt a surreal calm within me, it felt like I was floating in the air, and I would imagine that if someone suddenly informed me that my house was on fire I’d calmly inform them that I was not perturbed, and that my only objective was to get to the Holy Land. Let the house burn down.
I had prepared Tebby about the reverence we have to observe, that under no circumstances was she to talk to me in the Shrines. One day after spending a long time in the Shrine of the Báb she quietly crept towards me and pointed to my prayer book. This would mean she had exhausted her children’s one so I passed my book to her and later having had my fill, went out, expecting Tebby to follow me. After a very long wait she still remained in the Shrine and my concern was that she had dropped off to sleep. So, I decided to go and bring her out but just then she came out herself. As we walked away I asked her why she had remained in the Shrine for so long and she simply informed me she was still busy praying. I then asked the wrong question; what were you praying about? Very calmly she explained that she was praying that Ayatollah Khomeini should release all the Bahá’ís from prison, and that he should write to the Universal House of Justice and beg for forgiveness for his treatment of Bahá’ís. I had not expected such a response from an eight-and-a-half year old. This was such an important lesson for me, and as a result of a little girl’s prayer I have tried to say prayers regularly for our brothers and sisters in the Cradle of the Faith, and whenever news of yet another wave of persecutions comes up, I whisper to the Concourse on High and ask when the prayer of a little girl who is now a mother would be answered.
The International Archives
Our small pilgrimage group gathered at the old pilgrim house to get ready to visit the Archives building. Tebby already understood that because of her age she wouldn’t be part of this visit, and that she could find something to read while she waited for me. This didn’t console her in any way, and all she said was, ‘But I came all the way from Botswana to see the photograph of Bahá’u’lláh and now I can’t see it’, and she wouldn’t stop crying. Our pilgrimage guide, Ethel Crawford, had not arrived yet so I used this time to do all I could to calm my daughter.
Finally, Ethel arrives and walks straight to where Tebby and I were sitting and says to her: “Come on, stop crying now, you’re going to the Archives building!” Ethel was delayed because she was on the phone to Rúhíyyih Khánum asking for special permission for Tebby to join the Archives tour and Khánum had granted it. I’d had no idea that Ethel was even aware of the situation and now I was reduced to tears of joy and humility. As we walked out of the pilgrim house, our group was standing outside waiting, and naturally I felt bad that we had caused this delay, and I apologised most profusely to the group. One of them then responds: “The reason we’re standing here together is we were saying prayers that Tebby may be allowed to come with us.” For the second time in minutes I was getting all moist-eyed again.
Although today many indigenous Bahá’ís from Botswana have made a nine-day pilgrimage, my visit with Tebby in 1981 was the first. In 1986 the second Nine-Day Pilgrimage to be undertaken by native believers from Botswana was made when I accompanied my elderly parents, James and Stella Moncho, enabling them to attain their hearts desire by visiting the Holy Shrines. Since then I have made it my mission to encourage as many indigenous believers as I can to register for Pilgrimage.
Counsellor phone call
At age 40, I was treasurer of the National Spiritual Assembly of Botswana and one day as I arrived home after an NSA meeting I received a phone call from our Counsellor and long standing dear friend of my family, Mr Shidan Fat’he-Aazam. He was a very funny man and would never miss the opportunity to tease me. In my usual casual manner I asked him: What can I do for you Uncle Shidan? Then he tells me he’s got some news for me, that an official message would come later but he’s been asked to let me know that I’ve been appointed a Counsellor. I knew he was being funny as usual so my response was: ha ha ha! Seriously though how can I be of assistance, I ask him again and the more he keeps repeating the same sentence the more I’d laugh.
Finally, he sounds a little more serious than usual, so I ask him to hold the line. I run out to Gerald who was outside and told him, as an Auxiliary Board member, that his Counsellor wants to talk to him. After speaking to Shidan, Gerald conveyed to me the message from Shidan that I should make flight bookings immediately for a meeting in Haifa called by the Universal House of Justice. Then Gerald says: Could it be that the House of Justice is calling a meeting for NSA treasurers! Obviously Shidan hadn’t revealed the true nature of the meeting. At this stage I didn’t know how to respond because I was still in serious denial. Later the same day I decided to tell Gerald what the phone call was about and he merely looked at me and told me how proud he was of me! And I thought my husband would have sympathised and supported me! As Uncle Shidan had told me that the official letter of appointment would arrive later, I saw a way out: when the letter arrived I would be able to reply and decline the appointment. However, when it did come it simply stated “You have been appointed . . .”
Then something else hit me: how can I be a Counsellor and attend a two-week-long meeting in Haifa with a small baby when I’m his only source of nourishment. So, I wrote to the International Teaching Centre about this difficult situation and they immediately responded to say that the House of Justice has allowed me to bring baby and a babysitter. Under normal circumstances it would have been almost impossible to find a suitable baby sitter but it so happened that my husband, a school teacher, was on the longest school break so he could come along as baby sitter. Upon our arrival in Haifa baby and father were assigned the bomb shelter which is very close to where the meetings were held and also completely ‘yell-proof’. In the meeting room was a table laid out with files for each of the Counsellors: mine was labelled ‘Mrs Warren & Baby’. I never missed any of the sessions as baby and dad would bring baby for his feeds during my breaks, after which dad would whisk him away until the next break.
Tebby was my first born from my first marriage and was an only child for a long time. Although she didn’t attend any formal children’s classes I brought her up in the Faith which she had a natural love for. Her biological father was a non-practising Christian but believed the teachings of the Faith were good for character moulding, and he respected Tebby’s love for and her commitment to the Faith. Our irreconcilable differences led to the end of our marriage when Tebby was 9 years old.
Formal children’s classes were established in our home after receipt of a message to the Counsellors from the International Teaching Centre in 1988. The following quotation from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá formed part of that message:
“These children are neither Oriental nor Occidental, neither Asiatic nor American, neither European nor African, but they are of the Kingdom; their native home is heaven and their resort is the Kingdom of Abhá.”
Originally, I had felt that as I was away from home a lot with Continental Board work, I couldn’t possibly start a children’s class, but the above quotation moved me so much that I felt impelled to do something, and suddenly it struck me that even if I were away from home my husband, a qualified primary school teacher, would cope adequately during my absence. The first ‘formal’ class was made up of our two children, Heather and Leonard, and their three friends who lived nearby. The class age ranged from five to eight years old. During the first class we felt it was important to start with something that all the children would relate to, so we talked about kindness, love and Jesus Christ.
At the end of the class I asked if there were any questions. A six-year-old girl raised her hand and stated that they knew everything about Jesus already, and wondered when I would talk to them about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá! This was completely unexpected, we had no idea that our own children had been doing their bit of teaching on the side. With hardly any effort on our part this small group steadily grew bigger as the children kept inviting their school friends. One day going through some old records we were surprised to find that in just a few years 75 children had gone through our class. It’s such an easy form of service and we were blessed to be able to start a new class within two days of relocating to Lobatse.
The lesson I learned here is that we tend to focus more on what will or may prevent us from service. We should never feel that service to the Cause can only be carried out by some and not all of us or that we lack experience or time.
Gerald came to Botswana in 1979 to fulfil a British pioneer goal. I have always had a deep love for pioneering but lacked the opportunity to do so myself. For several years our daughter, Tebby and husband Sean Hinton had been lovingly encouraging us to visit them in China with the hope that we could spend some time there too. We had generally not taken their invitation very seriously because of our commitment to the work of the Faith in Botswana. Gerald and I were both members of the National Spiritual Assembly, secretary and chairman respectively. However, after much consultation, we began to warm to the idea and in April 2010 Gerald and I moved our residence to Beijing.
In China I decided to try and learn the national language in order to be able to communicate with the indigenous people. This is very easy for young people to accomplish, but for the over-sixties it is a major challenge to the brain cells! It didn’t matter that I may have been the oldest student in the country, I went ahead, enrolled in a language class and learned enough to get by and to mix with indigenous people and also to be able to conduct the sequence of courses using both Mandarin and English.
We had initially considered staying in China for two, or at the most three years. However, the Bahá’í life in China was so enticing that we felt we were on a spiritual holiday. Eventually we realised that we had to return sometime and so after spending five-and-a-half years in China we returned to Botswana in 2015. On the first day of Ridván after our return I was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly. Spiritual holiday over!
The above history is an ‘extract’ from Lally Warren’s memoirs.
Lally Lucretia Molalanyana Warren