“Sister, sister,” the small voice of one of the junior youth I know calls out. She stands outside my door next to an evidently malnourished boy. “Sister,” she says again, “Do you have some rice? He hasn’t eaten since yesterday.” This boy, with his big eyes and tiny face, is one of our neighbours and lives in a truly humble home.
“You haven’t eaten anything?” I say with disbelief and shock. He looks down, too embarrassed to respond and I regret that inappropriate question. “He ate a donut,” she answers. Donuts cost about $0.05, cheaper than bread and significantly cheaper than a sack of rice. We pack some food for him, it may last his family a week. Seeing as the sack is half his size, she offers to help him carry it home.
After they leave, I sob. I sob for the heart-breaking hardships endured by so many around the world; I sob for the children who eat a cheap donut to suffice their hunger; I sob at my sense of powerlessness to be of any meaningful help to my neighbours, let alone humanity. Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently.1
Holding these swelling emotions, the words of the Master echoing in my mind, conscious that “the world stands more and more in need of the hope and strength that faith imparts”2, I look to the Writings for answers to three questions about helping those in need.
1. What is the part we’re supposed to play in a world seemingly crumbling apart before our very eyes?
Abdu’l-Baha counsels us:
Assist the world of humanity as much as possible. Be the source of consolation to every sad one, assist every weak one, be helpful to every indigent one, care for every sick one, be the cause of glorification to every lowly one, and shelter those who are overshadowed by fear.3
To the orphans be ye kind fathers, and to the unfortunate a refuge and shelter. To the poor be a treasure of wealth, and to the sick a remedy and healing. Be a helper of every oppressed one, the protector of every destitute one, be ye ever mindful to serve any soul of mankind… He must do good to every soul whom he encounters, and render benefit to him.4
Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute!5
In short, the Writings state: Help. Help EVERYONE.
It summons me to ponder on what actions to undertake as an individual to help mitigate such suffering, especially in the area where I reside, and it definitely suggests I should offer food to those who hunger.
2. But, then, how long can sacks of rice last? How soon before this or other children return to a donut a day?
Regarding your question concerning helping the poor… The greatest gift that we can give to the poor and the down-trodden is to aid to build up the divine institutions inaugurated in this day by Baha’u’llah as these institution, and this World Order when established, will eliminate the causes of poverty and the injustices which afflict the poor. We should, therefore, do both, support our Baha’i Fund, and also be kind and generous to the needy.6
It is not merely material well-being that people need. What they desperately need is to know how to live their lives — they need to know who they are, to what purpose they exist, and how they should act towards one another; and, once they know the answers to these questions they need to be helped to gradually apply these answers to every-day behavior. It is to the solution of this basic problem of mankind that the greater part of all our energy and resources should be directed…7
In reflecting on these words, my mind is filled with memories of service projects of the junior youth groups I have been involved with, of witnessing the capacities of their animators being strengthened by the institute process and through loving accompaniment, of partaking in conversations with parents on the importance of education and coherent living, and of hearing the joyous chanting of the Words of God from the lips of children. Perhaps this isn’t the revolutionary, grandiose, romanticized vision of helping the world which I imagined. But these acts of service, carried out in a small setting, possess transformative powers at spatial and temporal levels. If we could see the end in the beginning, how much more will we wholeheartedly throw ourselves into these endeavours?
3. As an evanescent, insignificant, powerless nobody, would my actions REALLY mean anything; would it actually make a difference?
We are given the following guidance:
The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct.8
When his life is oriented towards service to Baha’u’llah, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.9
An act, however infinitesimal, is, when viewed in the mirror of the knowledge of God, mightier than a mountain. Every drop proffered in His path is as the sea in that mirror.10
Despite reading these quotations, my heart could initially only muster a doubtful, “I guess my contributions could mean something…” But then I hear this louder, more confident Voice reply — it sounds crazy, but I imagine it is the voice of Baha’u’llah – telling me: “We are with you at all times, and shall strengthen you through the power of truth. We are truly almighty.”11
My soul warms, basking in the comfort of our Creator’s love. For that moment, it finds courage to persevere; humbled by the opportunity to serve, my soul soars on the reassuring words of its Beloved.
- The Universal House of Justice message Naw-Ruz 177 [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 453 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 216 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p.184 [↩]
- From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual Believer, March 11, 1942. Lights of Guidance, p. 124 [↩]
- From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Italy, November 19, 1974. Lights of Guidance, p. 122 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, quoted in The Advent of Divine Justice [↩]
- The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Jun 05, Detailed Legislation on Moral Issues [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, Quickener of Mankind, p.4 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p.346 [↩]