Tag Archives Baha’i pioneer

A Life of Firsts: Discovering Elsie Austin

Knight of Baha'u'llah Elsie Austin (May 10, 1908– Oct 26, 2004). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

Elsie Austin’s passion for racial equality was in her DNA. Her parents taught at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, an African American educational establishment headed by Booker T. Washington. Even as a girl, Elsie was outspoken, incensed that a textbook failed to recognise any black people for their contribution to history.

“I was taught…that Africans worked iron before Europeans knew anything about it,” she announced to her class. “I was taught that they knew how to cast bronze in making statues and that they worked in gold and ivory so beautifully that the European nations came to their shores to buy their carvings and statues.” While her protest was met with barely suppressed snickering, Elsie was undeterred. “If there had been no protest,” she later said, “what ingrained prejudice and hostility would have been implanted in the minds of those children, and what humiliation and degradation would have been stamped upon us.”

Similarly, when she and seven other African American women students were admitted to the University of Cincinnati, they were warned to be inconspicuous and have low expectations. “That speech traumatized us,” Elsie remembered. The eight resolved to prove their worth, and by the end of the year each took home an honor.

Elsie was angry about prejudice—often justified by religion—towards race. She told her father she was not able to “believe anymore in these religions that are all separate, all fighting with each other, all enforcing prejudice against some group, and yet they say God is the father of all mankind.” George Austin knew something of the Bahaʼis, thought they had interesting views, and encouraged her to investigate this new Faith. Guided by Louis G. Gregory and Dorothy Baker, Elsie joined the Baha’i community in 1934. Continue reading

A Tribute to Agnes Alexander

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.

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Following in the Footsteps of Emeric Sala

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

Fountain of Love: Edward Broomhall (1941-2020)

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

A Life of Acquiescence to the Divine: A Tribute to Farzam Arbab

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

South-southwest of Pago Pago: A Bible Lover’s Guide to the Baha’i Faith

Bill Hyman is a dedicated Baha’i who has been serving his community in American Samoa for decades. He has been tirelessly promoting the teachings of the Baha’i Faith in all avenues of the media and most recently this includes the release of a book that combines his profound love for the Bible and some personal anecdotes. The book is cleverly titled South-southwest of Pago Pago: A Bible Lover’s Guide to the Baha’i Faith and Bill graciously agreed to tell us about it. Here’s our conversation:

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in London, England in 1938, and left, at the age of 18, to work overseas for Cable and Wireless Ltd, a communications company, serving in Barbados, Brazil, Trinidad, Jamaica and Belize. I emigrated from Jamaica to Canada and first heard of the Baha’i Faith when serving in Hawaii for a Canadian communications company. I already believed in the Baha’i principles so I was not particularly impressed. My teacher was a converted Methodist minister. I had the view that if this prophet was as important as my teacher was trying to tell me He was, I would have heard about Him long ago. My first wedding was in Hawaii at the Honolulu Baha’i Center though neither my wife nor I were Baha’is at the time. We wanted a religious ceremony and considered ourselves more Baha’i than anything else. I took my bride back to Canada but the marriage did not last long and the resulting trauma made me look back at the Faith again. I needed a stable platform. After more firesides and study I decided to become a Baha’i, partially to check it out from the inside. Both my first wife and I became Baha’is after our divorce, and our second spouses were Baha’is.

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A Tribute to William Sears, Hand of the Cause

Hand of the Cause of God William Sears (1911-1992). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

When setting out to write this article, I felt overwhelmed: William Sears accomplished so much in his 80 years. How to distill decades of service, achievements, and adventures into a short article? Here I’ve only captured the outlines of a man who seized every opportunity to serve—who once said, “I need only to remember one thing: nothing must come between me and my responsibilities to God and to my fellow man. Glory is not his who loves his country, his family, or himself alone. Glory is his who loves his kind. This, I believe, has helped me to look upon each dawn as a new adventure.”

A spiritual light burned in Sears practically from his birth on March 28, 1911. Starting in 1912, at 18 months old, he had dreams about a Holy Man—dreams which, he later discovered, began when that Holy Man, Abdu’l-Baha, visited Minnesota, where Sears grew up. Raised in the Catholic Church, Sears was full of questions about religion, and was supported in his investigations by his grandfather. His father, however, was bewildered as the boy voraciously studied the Bible and proclaimed, “Someday I’m going to go all over the world and tell people about God.” Continue reading