What Is a Baha’i Pioneer or Travel Teacher?

Early Cameroonian Baha’i and pioneer James Mbu on his way to Northern Ghana in 1956 (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

Over the years, I’ve received questions about the Baha’i Faith and how its Teachings are shared.

“Do Baha’is go door-to-door to talk about the Baha’i Faith?” “Were your parents missionaries?” “Do you proselytize?” I was often asked.

I grew up to parents who did travel to spread the teachings of Baha’u’llah, and Baha’is call this “pioneering” or “travel teaching”. It wasn’t uncommon to wake up in our eastern Canadian home to announcements like, “Guess what kids? We’re moving to Africa!” In this article, I’d like to offer my personal thoughts on what a Baha’i pioneer or a travel teacher is, and what it means to teach the Faith. 

One of my favorite quotations from the Baha’i Writings is related to this subject. In Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, He tells us:

The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.

When I look at the society around me, I can easily see some of its afflictions such as violence and abuse, racism, prejudice, discrimination, inequality, homelessness and poverty. These are just scratching the surface! As a Baha’i, I believe that Baha’u’llah, like all the Prophets of God, has prescribed the remedy for everything. However, determining how to apply the teachings of Baha’u’llah — or even understanding what the teachings of Baha’u’llah are — requires study, purity of heart, prayer, understanding, and action. Through the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, we’ve been given a framework to undertake this task and activities that can begin this process, at a grassroots level that works shoulder-to-shoulder with friends of all religious (or non-religious) backgrounds, who also wish to work for the betterment of humanity.

If I have access to what heals humanity, I cannot keep it to myself. But at the same time, when I share Baha’u’llah’s Revelation, I cannot force it on anyone. Baha’u’llah tells us:

Consort with all men, O people of Baha, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and good-will. If it be accepted, if it fulfil its purpose, your object is attained. If any one should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding…1

Over the years as the Baha’i community has grown and developed, it became clear what parts of the world had access to Baha’u’llah’s healing Message, and what parts didn’t. Merriam-Webster, the dictionary the Guardian used, defines a “pioneer” as:

1a member of a military unit usually of construction engineers
2aa person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development
bone of the first to settle in a territory
3a plant or animal capable of establishing itself in a bare, barren, or open area and initiating an ecological cycle

In this sense, a Baha’i pioneer can be understood as a mix of 2A and 2B: someone with a new line of thought, activity or method who settles in a new (to them) place in order to offer it. In the earlier days of the Faith, pioneers were asked to move to specific continents, countries or territories. These days, pioneers may be people who, after consulting with the relevant Baha’i institutions, choose move from one neighborhood to another, all with the aim of being able to offer the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. A travel teacher, by contrast, is someone who travels and visits communities to share the principles of the Baha’i Faith for shorter durations than a pioneer.

What are the qualifications of a pioneer or travel teacher? I love this passage from Advent of Divine Justice where Shoghi Effendi writes,

Neither the threatening world situation, nor any consideration of lack of material resources, of mental equipment, of knowledge, or of experience—desirable as they are—should deter any prospective pioneer teacher from arising independently, and from setting in motion the forces which, Abdu’l‑Baha has repeatedly assured us, will, once released, attract even as a magnet the promised and infallible aid of Baha’u’llah. Let him not wait for any directions, or expect any special encouragement, from the elected representatives of his community, nor be deterred by any obstacles which his relatives, or fellow-citizens may be inclined to place in his path, nor mind the censure of his critics or enemies. “Be unrestrained as the wind,” is Baha’u’llah’s counsel to every would-be teacher of His Cause, “while carrying the Message of Him Who hath caused the dawn of Divine Guidance to break. Consider how the wind, faithful to that which God hath ordained, bloweth upon all regions of the earth, be they inhabited or desolate. Neither the sight of desolation, nor the evidences of prosperity, can either pain or please it. It bloweth in every direction, as bidden by its Creator.” “And when he determineth to leave his home, for the sake of the Cause of his Lord,” Baha’u’llah, in another passage, referring to such a teacher, has revealed, “let him put his whole trust in God, as the best provision for his journey, and array himself with the robe of virtue.… If he be kindled with the fire of His love, if he forgoeth all created things, the words he uttereth shall set on fire them that hear him.2

At Baha’i Blog, we love to share tributes of early Baha’is who selflessly and sacrificially arose to teach the Faith. Their stories are so inspiring. A few of the tributes we’ve shared include:

 

  1. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 289 []
  2. Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice []

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