Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Baldwin Alexander (1875-1971). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
In this article, I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learned about Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Alexander from when she first heard about the Baha’i Faith, to her efforts to deepen herself in its teachings, to how she established a Baha’i community in Japan. I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned from her life.
Agnes was born in Hawaii in 1875. Her parents were Christian missionaries who moved to Hawaii from the mainland United States. Although her family was not wealthy, she was able to travel and studied at Berkeley in the United States in the 1890s.
In 1900 Agnes visited Europe and while staying with an aunt in Rome she met an American Baha’i, Charlotte Dixon, who had recently been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She gave Agnes a prayer, but did not actually mention the Baha’i Faith, as many Baha’is in those days did not feel comfortable talking about the Baha’i Faith without knowing if someone was genuinely interested. After having a spiritual dream Agnes asked her for more information, and after discussing it together, she came to believe in the teachings and principles of the Baha’i Faith. As was the custom at the time, she sent a letter to Abdu’l-Baha to declare her belief and received a Tablet in reply which encouraged her to establish the Baha’i Faith in Hawaii. Here is an excerpt:
Be, therefore a divine bird, proceed to thy native country, spread the wings of sanctity over those spots and sing and chant and celebrate the name of thy Lord, that thou mayest gladden the Supreme Concourse and make the seeking souls hasten unto thee as moths hasten to the lamp and thus illumine that distant country by the Light of God.
Amelia Engelder Collins (7 June, 1873-1 January, 1962). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
The very first time I heard of Amelia Collins was when I was a child, maybe five or six, visiting the Holy Land with my family. We were walking along the wide path in Bahji, the only sound our footsteps on the white pebbles, and before us towered a beautiful wrought-iron gilded gate, leading to the Shrine of Baha’u’llah.
‘This is the ‘Collins Gate’’, my mother whispered to me. ‘Named after Amelia Collins.’
In my child’s mind’s eye, Amelia Collins too, was a figure who towered above me like this enormous gate. When I finally saw photos of her, it surprised me that, as described by Hand of the Cause Mr Abu’l-Qasim Faizi, she was, in fact, quite small – ‘a slender, white-haired, very upright, elderly lady.’ When I began to read about her life, however, I realised that this incredible woman was, indeed, like this gate: strong, upright and truly a spiritual giant. Mr Faizi goes on to describe the gate itself as standing ‘silently…as a loving remembrance of the one who adored the Guardian of the Faith – Shoghi Effendi.’ Continue reading
Howard MacNutt, 13 July, 1859 - 26 December, 1926. (Photo courtesy of the Baha'is of the United States.)
To read about the life of Howard MacNutt is to learn a love story. Howard was born 13 July, 1859 in Philadelphia and he passed away on 26 December, 1926 in Miami. He was posthumously named by Shoghi Effendi as one of 19 Western Disciples of Abdu’l-Baha, or Heralds of the Covenant. Shoghi Effendi wrote that Howard MacNutt “will for ever remain associated with the rise and establishment of His Faith in the American continent, and will continue to shed on its annals a lustre that time can never dim.”
Perhaps of all Howard MacNutt’s services rendered to the early Baha’i community of North America, the one for which I am most grateful is the bringing together of the talks given by Abdu’l-Baha on His travels in the United States and Canada in 1912. Abdu’l-Baha requested that the volume be titled The Promulgation of Universal Peace and that Howard write its introduction. What an honour! It’s a beautiful introduction that sets out to explain Abdu’l-Baha’s Station. For example, he writes: Continue reading
Emeric Sala (12 November 1906 - 5 September 1990). Photo courtesy of lona Sala Weinstein.
A snapshot of the Romanian Baha’i Community in the early ’90s would be quite a busy picture: the Baha’is, particularly youth, were very busy around the clock with casual conversations and public meetings on the principles of the Baha’i Faith, as well as offering firesides and deepenings to study and discuss these principles in detail. In Bucharest and around the country, the Baha’i youth in Romania were busy!
All those youth truly deserve recognition and celebration. What a narrative that would be! But the life of one special youth from Transylvania, a youth from a much earlier generation of Romanians, was so ground-breaking that it was depicted on stage. That is how Flight to a New World was conceived and performed in 2016 in Santiago, Chile on the occasion of the dedication of the Mother Temple of South America. I know this sounds confusing: what does the story of a young man from Romania have to do with the Mother Temple of South America? And what does it all have to do with me? Here’s how the story unfolds:
I was pulled into the act in the fall of 1991 at the busy Baha’i Centre in Bucharest. People interested in hearing about the Baha’i Faith were gathering for a meeting and I happened to welcome a witty gentleman in his mid ’70s. He said: “Everyday I go by your sign downstairs. Today I decided to come up and ask some questions”. You can imagine my excitement. In response to my invitation to join the meeting, he replied: “I know everything about the Faith. I am here for something else. I have a long-lost friend from my town and I thought you may be able to tell me where he is.” Intrigued, I asked: “Who is your friend?” “Emeric Sala!” he replied. Continue reading
Edward Broomhall (1941-2020)
Entering the lounge room of Edward and Noel Broomhall’s flat in Haifa, was like stepping into Aladdin’s Cave.
Intriguing paintings and photographs of many different scenes adorned the walls. Suspended from the ceiling were exotic lamps probably from the bazaars of Turkey.
Balanced on coffee tables were books on fascinating subjects, some even of the pop-up variety. Collections of toys were piled up topsy-turvy in woven baskets. Models of mechanical people on shelves created tiny worlds of fun.
CDs of the latest music were set available to play. Racks of antique postcards kept visitors busy for ages. Weavings covered chairs. Persian carpets seemed to unite the whole colourful ensemble. Book shelves were full: novels, non-fiction, Baha’i books
And there, smiling in his arm chair, was collector-in-chief, Edward Broomhall. He would rise to lovingly hug his visitors, welcoming us into his extraordinary room.
Darling Edward, as we would call him out of his earshot, is now no doubt inhabiting some sort of oriental-Pacific paradise of a room in the Abha Kingdom.
Edward Mac James Broomhall, a world citizen from Australia, aged 79, passed away peacefully on – and how this symmetry would please him— 10/10/2020. Continue reading
It is hard to put into words all that Dr. Farzam Arbab has done. Who can accurately estimate the far-reaching impact of a man whose entire life was devoted to the upliftment of the peoples of the world? Who can summarize the life of one who gave particular attention to those populations most marginalized and written off by the upper echelons of society? When Baha’u’llah advised us to regard human beings as mines rich in gems of inestimable value, Dr. Arbab did not consider it merely a pretty metaphor. He gave his whole life to uncovering those gems. Continue reading
Saichiro Fujita (April 15, 1886 - May 7, 1976), one of the earliest Japanese Baha’is. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
Saichiro Fujita, known to the worldwide Baha’i community simply as “Fujita,” became the second Japanese Baha’i in 1905 in California.
Fujita first saw Abdu’l-Baha in Chicago when he climbed a lamp post in order to see over the crowd that had gathered to meet Him. When Abdu’l-Baha saw Fujita He said, “Come down Zachias, for this day I would sup with thee.” Abdu’l-Baha was referring and repeating the Biblical story of a short man named Zachias, who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a better view of Christ. Together, Abdu’l-Baha and Fujita drove off to home of Corinne True, an early American Baha’i. After resting, Abdu’l-Baha met with Fujita and stated:
So, how is our Japanese Effendi? Recently the government of Japan has undergone a change. A new emperor has come to the throne. The sovereignty of the former Mikado has come to an end… But as you are a believer in God, you have a kingdom which will never collapse and will be everlasting.
Fujita came from a prominent Japanese family and had heard of the Baha’i Faith from Mrs. Helen Goodall in San Francisco several years prior to his personal meeting with Abdu’l-Baha. Once a notorious party-hopper, Fujita became a Baha’i and received a tablet of praise from Abdu’l-Baha. Not believing it to be about himself, Fujita dismissed it. After received two more tablets from Abdu’l-Baha, Fujita began to realize he truly was the recipient of Abdu’l-Baha’s warm words and he asked what he could do to better serve the Faith. When they met, Abdu’l-Baha asked him to finish his engineering education in order to be able to work for Him in Haifa. For seven years, Fujita lived with the Trues and finished his schooling. He then travelled to Haifa where he lived, with the exception of a few years in Japan during World War II, until he passed away in 1976 at the age of 90, and is buried in the Baha’i Cemetery at the foot of Mount Carmel.
Robert Hayden: 4 Aug 1913 - 25 Feb 1980. (Photo: US National Baha'i Archives)
Poetry and the literary arts hold special significance in the Baha’i writings. Some early Baha’is sent poetry to Abdu’l-Baha and here is an excerpt of a Tablet sent in reply:
O thou maid-servant of God! Thy poetry was received. The context was elegant. The words were eloquent and the theme, the Manifest Light. Consequently, it was highly appreciated. Endeavor, so far as it is possible for thee, that day by day thou mayest string the pearls of poesy with sweeter rhythm and more eloquent contents, in order that it may become conducive to the perpetuity of thy name in the spiritual meetings. Upon thee be greeting and praise!
In this article I attempt to pay tribute to a Robert Hayden, a Baha’i who made outstanding contributions to the art of poetry. Continue reading
Ellsworth Blackwell (August 1, 1902 – April 17, 1978). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community. Source: Baha'i World, Vol. 17.
Ellsworth Blackwell (1902 – 1978) was an African-American Baha’i who was dedicated to sharing the principles of the Baha’i Faith in America, Haiti, Madagascar, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In this article I would like to share a challenge he faced when confronted with racism within the Baha’i community, and how his commitment to justice, combined with wholehearted co-operation with the governing or administrative bodies of the Baha’i Faith, allowed this instance of prejudice to be resolved while maintaining a unified spirit.
Ellsworth became a Baha’i in 1934, and in 1937 he decided to serve at the Wilmette House of Worship (the Temple was not entirely completed until the 1950s, but it was open to visitors and Baha’is volunteered as tour guides). He had the capacity to be a tour guide, but was informed that it was “policy” that African-Americans could not be tour guides. This example of discrimination was of course not in keeping with the Baha’i teachings on the elimination of prejudice. This quotation from Abdu’l-Baha amply elucidates the Baha’i view:
… as to religious, racial, national and political bias: all these prejudices strike at the very root of human life; one and all they beget bloodshed, and the ruination of the world.
Early Australian Baha'i Ethel Dawe (1902-1954) Photo courtesy of the the Australian National Baha'i Archives.
The first generation of Australian and New Zealand Baha’is included a number of extremely capable women, who excelled at sharing the teachings of the Baha’i Faith through public speaking and writing, and who also learnt about the administration of the Baha’i Faith by serving on and establishing Spiritual Assemblies and committees, from local to national levels. They included Hilda Brooks, Margaret Dixson, Emily Axford, Maysie Almond, Dulcie Dive, Thelma Perks, and Gretta Lamprill. In celebration of the centenary of the Baha’i Faith in Australia, this essay reviews the life of yet another of these early heroines, Ethel Dawe.
Ms Dawe was born in Kadina, South Australia on October 17, 1902. She was educated at the Methodist Ladies College, was an accomplished pianist and singer, and her recitations, as well as her participation in Adelaide society, was regularly mentioned in the newspapers’ social columns. In 1931 Ethel heard of the Baha’i teachings from her mother’s aunt, Maysie Almond – who together with her husband Perce had been the first South Australians to accept the Baha’i Faith after hearing Hyde Dunn speak in Adelaide in 1924. Continue reading