Every year in our village, our Baha’i community participates in the annual autumn festival. We set up a beautiful booth with Baha’i literature and information, and photographs of the Shrine of the Bab and the Baha’i Houses of Worship. We also have a fun game for the children to play, where the prizes are candies and small gifts, but more importantly, they are also given the opportunity to write their name on a can of soup or vegetables that will be donated on their behalf to a local charity.
This year, because of the pandemic, our annual autumn festival was cancelled. In order to be of service to the poor in our community, my husband Robert and I organized a delivery of canned goods to our local charity.
This is one small action, inspired by the many beautiful examples from the lives of Baha’u’llah, Navvab, and Abdu’l-Baha. Here are a three of my favourites.
Abdu’l‑Baha tells this story about Baha’u’llah’s generosity when He was living in Iran (you can also watch it being told here):
He was most generous, giving abundantly to the poor. None who came to Him were turned away. The doors of His house were open to all. He always had many guests. This unbounded generosity was conducive to greater astonishment from the fact that He sought neither position nor prominence. In commenting upon this His friends said He would become impoverished, for His expenses were many and His wealth becoming more and more limited. “Why is he not thinking of his own affairs?” they inquired of each other; but some who were wise declared, “This personage is connected with another world; he has something sublime within him that is not evident now; the day is coming when it will be manifested.” In truth, the Blessed Perfection was a refuge for every weak one, a shelter for every fearing one, kind to every indigent one, lenient and loving to all creatures.1
And the Greatest Holy Leaf tells this story about her Parents:
Even in the early years of their married life, they, my Father and Mother, took part as little as possible in State functions, social ceremonies, and the luxurious habits of ordinary highly-placed and wealthy families in the land of Persia; She, and Her noble-hearted Husband, counted these worldly pleasures meaningless, and preferred rather to occupy themselves in caring for the poor, and for all who were unhappy, or in trouble.
From our doors nobody was ever turned away; the hospitable board was spread for all comers.
Constantly the poor women came to my Mother, to whom they poured out their various stories of woe, to be comforted and consoled by her loving helpfulness.
Whilst the people called my Father “The Father of the Poor,” they spoke of my Mother as “The Mother of Consolation.”2
One of the early Baha’is of America, Lua Getsinger, told of the experience she had in the prison-city of Akka, where she had gone on pilgrimage to see Abdu’l-Baha:
She was with Him one day when He said to her that He was too busy today to call upon a friend of His who was very ill and poor and He wished her to go in His place. Take him food and care for him as I have been doing, He concluded. He told her where this man was to be found and she went gladly, proud that Abdu’l-Baha should trust her with this mission.
She returned quickly. “Master,” she exclaimed, “surely you cannot realize to what a terrible place you sent me. I almost fainted from the awful stench, the filthy rooms, the degrading condition of that man and his house. I fled lest I contract some terrible disease.”
Sadly and sternly, Abdu’l-Baha regarded her. “Dost thou desire to serve God,” He said, “serve thy fellow man for in him dost thou see the image and likeness of God.” He told her to go back to the man’s house. If it is filthy, she should clean it; if this brother of yours is dirty, bathe him; if he is hungry, feed him. Do not return until this is done. Many times had He done this for him and cannot she serve him once?3
Abdu’l-Baha’s love and care for the poor — in the East and in the West — is legendary. Who can forget the “touching spectacle at Bowery Mission when four hundred of the poor of New York filed past Him, each receiving a piece of silver from His blessed hands”?4 (You can listen to an audio drama told in the perspective of one of the recipients of His generosity in New York City here on Baha’i Blog).
These stories, among others, inspire our family to consider how we may be of assistance to the poor in my community. Clearly our family’s effort is no match for the sustained and overwhelming outpouring of love and care that our Holy Ones provided to the poor. We are just taking a small step in the hope that it will be of some help to those in need.