DR. FIRAYDUN MITHAQ, THAILAND
This is about my teaching trip to Central America that I undertook after being inspired by a story that I had read about Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s teaching activities in the deep Amazon jungles of Brazil. Her story later came out as a film called “The Green Light Expedition.” I was simply astonished to see that, despite being a lady of an advanced age, Amatu’l-Bahá withstood all odds and set an example for other much younger and energetic teachers of the Faith.
My pioneering story began in 1962 when I landed in Laos from Iran. As a pioneer I undertook several teaching trips within Laos and in Southeast Asian countries. In the spring of 1975, I undertook a teaching trip to Central America, a place alien and unknown to me, relying completely on the unfailing help of Bahá’u’lláh. I planned to visit nine countries and islands in the Caribbean region of Central America including Mexico, Jamaica, Belize, Haiti, Panama, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, and Barbuda. The main purpose of my teaching trip was to assist in the process of entry by troops in these places, based on my own previous experience in mass enrollments in Laos where I had pioneered.
The journey was initiated through the guidance of the Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir. Prior to the time of my trip, Dr. Muhájir visited Laos. On that visit, I mentioned to him how deeply I was touched and inspired by the trip of Amatu’l-Bahá to South America. I told him that I wanted to learn more about how it could be beneficial to the consolidation of the indigenous tribes in the countries of Southeast Asia where I had been working and experiencing entry by troops and mass teaching. Since I was running an air travel agency in Laos, I could easily arrange very cheap round-trip tickets to fly to those regions and visit the small indigenous communities. Dr. Muhájir immediately responded by simply saying in the Persian language, “fekre badi nist” meaning, it is not a bad idea. Some time passed and I forgot about what I had proposed to Dr. Muhájir. But Dr. Muhájir was on top of things. One fine day, I received a cable from Dr. Muhájir who was in Haifa, Israel in which he asked if I could make a teaching trip to visit some Baháʼí communities in Central America and, if I agreed I had to be in Haifa within a week. With all the excitement, I immediately accepted the invitation. I sent him my reply by telegram and started my journey from Bangkok, Thailand. I landed in the Tel Aviv International Airport in Israel. From the moment I stepped out of the airport a sudden feeling of indescribable joy filled my soul. Although this was not my first teaching trip abroad, this time around it was totally different as it was planned by the Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhájir, and blessed by the Universal House of Justice.
As I traveled by bus from the airport to the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, I meditated on how the early heroes and pilgrims of the Faith had walked on this blessed land. While immersed in these emotions, I suddenly saw myself greeted by the majestic view of the Shrine of The Báb on Mount Carmel. As I walked towards the old Pilgrim House, I could not control myself and burst into tears. I stopped for a while behind a large tree for some moments of silent meditation. When I checked in at the registration desk, I informed the lady that I had come to meet Dr. Muhájir. She asked me to sit for a while in the hall. After a moment she connected me with Dr Muhájir over the telephone. As I greeted him on the phone, he responded warmly and asked me to go to his hotel at noon to have lunch and talk over the teaching plan. I got the address of his hotel, booked a room in a hotel that was close by his, and went over to the Shrine of The Báb and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to offer prayers.
I had met Dr. Muhájir many times in the past with much ease and comfort. But this time as I was on the way to his hotel, I felt a bit nervous, perhaps owing to the huge enterprise that was in store. I reached his small hotel that looked more like a hostel, the kind he usually chose to stay in. When I entered his room, he welcomed and embraced me warmly, and all my nervousness left me at once. He briefly inquired about the friends and the Bahá’í activities in Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand where I was serving as a Continental Counsellor. Then he began to talk about the importance of my forthcoming travel teaching in Central America and mentioned that the friends in those countries were devoted, sincere, and active in serving the Cause and that their teaching of the Faith was mostly on a one-to-one basis. He said that the time has come for the friends and communities in that region to take a step further and get actively engaged in the process of the entry by troops. He then emphatically assured me of the potential for a wider expansion of the Faith through the process of the entry by troops in those countries. He was clear that entry by troops in those countries could become a reality. He said that sharing my own experiences of mass-teaching in Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand with them would be useful. He patiently explained how and what could be done in each country that I would be visiting. He gave me a list of at least sixteen countries, communities, and cities that were suitable for the visit. However, later I found out, that I was able to visit just six countries within the thirty-three days of this trip. Then he said that at 3:00 pm the next day, I would meet with the International Teaching Centre to discuss further details and receive guidance. He further informed me that on the following morning, I should join him for prayers at the Shrine of The Báb and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, after which we would go to the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh in Bahjí to pray and beseech divine assistance.
The next morning Dr Muhájir and I were all alone at the Shrine of The Báb. There, Dr Muhájir recited the Tablet of Visitation of Bahá’u’lláh in Arabic. And at the resting place of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá he recited the Tablet of Visitation of ‘Abdu’l- Bahá. After that he asked me to recite a prayer. Then we visited the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh in Bahjí where we prayed for the communities in Asia and Central America. While I was immersed in prayers at that most holy spot on earth, many thoughts flashed through my mind and I left all my affairs in the hands of the Blessed Beauty. When I completed my prayers, I observed that Dr. Muhájir had already left the inner Shine of Bahá’u’lláh. I went over to the Bahjí reception centre where I joined him for a cup of tea. I was scheduled to meet the Universal House of Justice that afternoon following my meeting with the International Teaching Centre. I consulted with Dr. Muhájir about what I should say if the members of the House of Justice members asked a question. He replied, “Just answer the question and tell them what you know. Most importantly, tell them about the progress of the Faith in your primary area in South East Asia as that would bring joy to the House of Justice”.
Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir.
In the afternoon I went to Haifa where I was welcomed by three members of the International Teaching Centre – Counsellors Aziz Yazdi, Florence Mayberry, and Hooper Dunbar. They asked for some details about the progress of the Faith in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and I gave a comprehensive report which must have impressed them as evidenced by their warm smiles. After that, I was given the contact details of the countries I plan to visit in Central America.
Then I went to meet the members of the Universal House of Justice. The Universal House of Justice is “the last refuge of a tottering civilization”, as these are the words of the beloved Guardian. As I arrived at the seat of the Universal House of Justice, the secretary reminded me that I was two minutes late. I apologized for my delay with an apologetic nod. She led me to the door of the Council Chamber, and I entered with the greatest reverence. I was invited to sit on one of the unoccupied chairs. During the meeting, I was fully aware that God speaks through this divinely ordained institution that is the last refuge for a tottering civilization and that He guides humanity to its spiritual destiny through this Supreme Body. At the request of a member of the House, I recited a prayer in the Persian language. Then I was informed that the House of Justice was happy that the Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhájir had consulted with me and given me a teaching plan for Central America. The House gave me several guidance and assured me of its prayers at the Holy Shrines for my journey.
That was my last night in Haifa. I was happy that I had been given the best possible guidance by the International Teaching Centre and the Universal House of Justice. I began jotting down a few points for my effective service in Central America. I was about to embark on a journey to places totally alien, unknown, and unfamiliar to me. My complete reliance was on Baháʼu’lláh alone and I knew that armed with the power of His name, I should be safe and secure!
COUNTRIES AND CITIES VISITED
From Tel Aviv in Israel, I flew into Dallas in the United States, transferred flights, and landed at Guadalajara Airport in Mexico. From there I took a seven-hour bus trip of about 550 kilometers to Mexico City. That daytime bus trip helped me gain a glimpse of the Mexican culture as I viewed the countryside, talked to people, and practiced the few Spanish words that I knew. After arriving in Mexico City, I took a taxi to the Baháʼí Centre where Counsellor Paul Lucas was busily engaged in a deepening program for Auxiliary Board members and their assistants. At the end of the deepening session, Counsellor Lucas who anticipated my arrival introduced me to the group and asked me to say a few words about the purpose of my visit. I briefly mentioned that the World Centre had asked me to visit them to share success stories and methods of approach used in Southeast Asia in teaching the masses and advancing the process of entry by troops. I suggested studying and discussing together with them a few practical methods of approach relevant to the process of entry by troops. Counsellor Lucas accepted my suggestion and agreed to plan a day or two within the next few days when we could get together for this purpose.
In the meantime, I decided to visit several rural communities for consolidation purposes. It worked out well and in the company of Mr. Nicholas, an assistant to Auxiliary Board member, I found myself on a local bus on the way to a town that was the hub for numerous rural Indian American villages where some Baháʼí families and friends lived. Meeting the believers there was not only a precious and uplifting experience but also served as a valuable introduction to an old culture. Nicholas was a young, devoted, humble, and knowledgeable believer, an excellent guide and a translator. After we got off the bus, we decided to eat something before taking another short bus ride to the first village that we intended to visit. After our meal, we found that the bus to that village had already left and the next bus would be in the late afternoon. So we decided to walk the 6-kilometer distance to the village. Although there had been no prior notice of our visit to that village, when we arrived at the house of a Baháʼí family, we were warmly welcomed by the lady of the house. We exchanged greetings and were invited to take rest until her husband, who was away working on their farm, would return sometime before sunset. Not intending to waste time, we asked if she had other family or friends that we could meet while waiting for her husband to return home. She said other families would be at their farms too, but she took us to visit a Christian friend whose husband was sick in bed and attended to by his wife.
Upon arrival at the house of the ailing Christian friend, we were introduced and were welcomed with a gentle smile. The man had been hurt by a falling tree on the farm and could not walk. He was waiting for his son to take him to the hospital in the town. Then he asked about the purpose of our visit to their village. He wanted to know if we were doctors who had come to treat him. Nicholas clarified that we were not doctors but visitors who had come to see our friends belonging to the Baháʼí Faith in the village. The man asked about more about the new Faith and remarked that he knew very little about it. Nicholas shared the central teachings of the Faith and said that Bahá’u’lláh came to renew the spirit of love and give the needed teachings and guidance to unite mankind as one family. The conversation went on for a while and the man looked satisfied and happy with the answers he received. I asked him if we could say a healing prayer for his quick recovery. The man agreed with a big smile. Nicholas recited the healing prayer in the Spanish language, and I chanted a prayer in the Persian language. Our host said he liked the prayers and wanted to know more about the Baháʼí Faith, and the discussions continued, this time with greater details.
We bade goodbye to him and returned to the first house. By the time we got back to the first house, the man of the house had returned from the farm, and his children too had returned from school. Nicholas introduced me to them. We greeted each other and exchanged hugs. The host said, “I hear that you are coming from the Holy Land.” I replied that I live in Laos and had just gone to Haifa and ‘Akká cities in the Holy Land for prayers and to consult the World Centre about the process of entry by troops that had become important in the teaching and consolidation activities in many places of the world. He inquired if it could be possible for entry by troops to happen in his village. I said it was certainly possible and asked him if he could invite his friends and their families to gather together in order to explain and discuss it. He said that he could invite his friends to gather on the following morning, but he was not sure how many would turn up at short notice. He invited us for dinner. After dinner, he went to inform his friends about the next day’s meeting.
That night, our host spread a clean sheet on the floor with two pillows to sleep. We said a round of prayers and the children too joined in before we went to bed. Although the sleeping situation was a bit uncomfortable in a new place, I had sufficient sleep and woke up to the crowing of roosters at dawn. I went outside and enjoyed the fresh cooling breeze. Soon Nicholas joined me. We walked to the nearby stream at the foot of a hill and got refreshed with the crystal-clear running waters that flowed down through the rocks, creating a pleasant sound. We sat on a rock, chanted a few prayers, and enjoyed the calm symphony that nature had created to soothe our souls. Back in the house, we were given breakfast with warm goat milk and tortillas, that is bread made on a hot round plate over a glowing fire. Then we went to another house with a larger veranda for gathering. While we were waiting for others to come, we were served some tea with an unfamiliar fragrance that was possibly made from some healthy herbs. Little by little, seven people gathered. Our Bahá’í friend welcomed everyone, briefly introduced the Bahá’í teachings and mentioned about the Prophet Founder of the Faith. After prayers, the idea of entry by troops was explained in this simple way: that when a few families and friends gather for the purpose of supporting one another, praying together, consulting about the ways of advancing their spiritual and social well-being, and sharing their belief with their fellowmen, they form a group. The group can then consult about village development and make plans for the education of children and adults, etc. This indicates that they are walking on the path of service that can lead to the entry into the Faith of large numbers of people because they are working together in a spirit of unity and fellowship. They had understood a glimpse of the process of entry by troops.
Before returning to Mexico City, we visited a second village. Our meeting in the second village was relatively brief because the villagers were away at their farms. We sat on the veranda of a Bahá’í friend while an old lady of the house made tortillas. She gave us a few of them while her daughter brought a plate of beans cooked in their traditional manner that tasted delicious when eaten with the tortillas. After reciting prayers, we began walking around the village and greeting people before catching a ride in a small truck that was taking some passengers and crops to the market in Mexico City.
We had wanted to visit yet another village that day, but due to time factors, we hadn’t. We had to go back to the city to rest and prepare for a meeting at the Bahá’í Centre with Counselor Lucas, the Auxiliary Board members, and their assistants on the following day. However, since I had read about the desert people of Mexico I was interested in visiting them. I asked Nicholas if there was a nearby village of desert people that we could visit. He replied that the desert where they lived was more than a thousand miles away, but that there was a village of the Papago tribesmen just outside the city. The tribesmen were nomadic and stayed there temporarily while they shopped for basic necessities in the city. The village is known as Tohono O’odham. He said we could go there by bus that stops close to that village. We agreed to go there the next day. The Faith has to be given to every race and tribe in the world.
The next day we got off the bus that stopped near Tohono O’odham village and ate something at the vendor’s food stall at the bus stop. After that, we walked about fifteen minutes to get to the village. When we arrived in Tohono O’odham village, several camels that were tied up in a fenced area captured our attention. Nicholas suggested visiting the head of the village first as a mark of respect. However, we had to wait a while since the village head was not there. While we were waiting, I walked over to the open area where the camels were fenced, and Nicholas followed me. While we were watching the camels, the caretaker of the camels asked us if we liked riding on camels. I mentioned that I would like to ride a camel even for just a few minutes as that was my only opportunity. The camel owner invited us to go to the fenced area for a free ride. I climbed on top of the camel and the camel owner took me around the yard a couple of rounds. I had ridden elephants a few times in the forests in Laos, but it was the first time that I had ridden a camel. I thought how nice it would be to travel by camel and tell the desert people about Baháʼu’lláh.
By this time the village head came to learn of our intention to meet the desert people. He said it was admissible for us to meet the desert people. We saw an elderly man who was sitting on a stool outside his room, and we greeted him. He inquired about the purpose of our visit. Nicholas consulted me if we should introduce ourselves as Baháʼís and tell him about the Baháʼí Faith. We decided not to take the direct approach first but say that we had come to meet them and see how they are, to learn from them about the simplicity of their lifestyle, to pray for their wellbeing, and then share with them the message of love and unity from Bahá’u’lláh. Nicholas then explained very well the purpose of our visit and mentioned about the Faith and Bahá’u’lláh. The old man said “You are right. We live a simple and peaceful life in harmony with nature and with our neighbors. We do not complain when the nature is rough and stormy because everything whether good or bad will pass. But who is Bahá’u’lláh? It must be an important message that you have come to share with us. Let me ask my friends to come to hear it too. My son will call them to come to see you.”
Soon, a few people gathered. Nicholas talked briefly about the principles of the Faith, explaining the concept of progressive revelation and the healing message of Bahá’u’lláh. Nicholas gave a wonderful talk, and everyone was seen smiling happily. The man reaffirmed that the Baháʼí message was very good and added that he did not follow any particular religion, but that he believed in being good and doing good which are important for a peaceful life. Then Nicholas added that three other things are important to do namely; 1) praying for divine assistance, guidance, and protection. 2) Serving and helping others to progress, and 3) Sharing the message of Bahá’u’lláh with others. Following our conversion the host family expressed immense happiness and served us cinnamon tea. The host also made an observation that the city people do not mix with them easily or partake of any food or drinks offered.
Nicholas and I thought it would be good to visit this village more often, especially because the villagers were receptive and were easily approachable. They could learn about the Faith and take it to the nomadic people in the more remote interiors that are not easy for us to reach. I could see there was some kind of similarity in attitude to life and spirituality between the Mexican desert people and the tribal people in Laos, even though they live far apart.
Back in Mexico City, I went to the home of Counsellor Paul Lucas for an arranged dinner meeting. I briefed him on the activities I was involved and he expressed happiness. On the following morning, we met at the Baháʼí Centre for the gathering of the Auxiliary Board members and their assistants. We arrived a few minutes early and were served with hot Mexican black coffee and crackers. It was a lovely morning as the friends began coming in one by one with smiling faces. Counsellor Lucas opened the meeting, introduced its purpose, and asked two persons to recite prayers. Then he invited me to speak.
After thanking everyone for coming, I began with a quote from The House of Justice: “Without question your opportunities are limitless, and the House of Justice hopes to learn of your great advances as all resources are mobilized to bring about that long-awaited entry by troops. Its prayers and admonitions will guide you as you devote your energies to widespread teaching campaigns augmented and often spearheaded by Radio Bahá’í” (Compilations, Guidance for Bahá’í Radio, p. 9)
Nicholas was invited to describe the meetings we had in the first village and also the visit to the desert people at Tohono O’odham to help everyone visualize the existing level of receptivity and the potential for engaging in the process of entry by troops in these places. Nicholas gave a good description of our visits to the two villages. Next, it was important to lead the friends to identify some steps of action concerning the process of entry by troops. Therefore, to clarify the meaning and objective of the phrase “entry by troops,” we began by asking the friends to express their views about what they thought was essential in a teaching approach, especially when teaching to groups. Suggestions trickled in one by one, and we started to make a list. The suggestions included knowledge of the topic, prayer for divine assistance, teaching plan, humility, and friendliness when teaching. Further questions were asked on how to reach the group of people closest to us, our families and friends. Other topics on which discussions took place were on the need to make a list of the people that we would like to approach; working alone or as a team to achieve the goals; need to have reflection and discussion meetings for assessment and improvement as required. These points that were discussed were regarded as highly helpful steps in our approach to the process of entry by troops.
The friends consulted to see if these points in teaching could be applied to the circumstances in Mexico. Counsellor Lucas joined in the discussion and clarified several questions that were raised, helping the group to go forward. They shared their views concerning the opportunities and the ways to engage in the process of entry by troops and began forming their teams. Unfortunately, I didn’t have sufficient time to go around with the teams to learn more from their teaching approaches. I had a tight schedule and had to keep moving to my next destination.
My next destination was the city of Kingston in Jamaica. A Persian family originally pioneers from Iran met me at the airport and invited me to stay with them. In 1916, when ʻAbdu’l-Bahá had mentioned about this part of the world in the Tablets of the Divine Plan. The community had been growing rapidly and some entry by troops had been experienced before the mid-seventies, but it needed to be revitalized. Sitting at a coffee shop with the Persian family, I learned that in their weekly firesides, people had been joining the Faith one at a time, and they wondered how entry by troops could take place. They told a story about how on a weekend when they were visiting a Baháʼí farming family in a district in Jamaica, one woman related that she had been breeding chicken, and the chickens would come around her and eat from the bowl in her hand. Then, she thought if she could attract animals, surely, she could attract children in her neighborhood. Therefore, she started conducting children’s classes at her home and it was going well.
In several gatherings at the Baháʼí Centre and in other places, the friends that attended were mostly young and energetic. Some were unemployed and had plenty of time for teaching, consolidation, and other beneficial services. A teaching campaign for entry by troops would be a good activity for them. All it needed was a clear vision and understanding of the process of entry by troops, devotion to teaching, and a workable plan. About thirty people gathered on the first day sang Baháʼí songs, and chanted prayers with joy. I asked them to share stories of their teaching activities and they did, with humorous incidences as well. Then the chairperson quickly introduced everyone and said a few words about the purpose of my visit. We began with reading a quotation concerning the purpose and the process of entry by troops. Then, the points that had been discussed in Mexico were presented. At this time a young man suddenly jumped up and out of joy began to sing and chant melodiously, “We are going to have mass-teaching. We are going to have mass-teaching”. Everyone burst into laughter. The community was ready for collective action. Therefore, after sufficient consultation, we set our minds to get things moving. The teams were formed and the families and friends that were to be approached were identified. Then each team began planning the details of their activities. Once the teams were formed, the Teaching Committee took charge and coordinated the activities.
I enjoyed going out with two of the teams to some suburban areas. It helped me to learn about the attitude of the Jamaican people towards religion, their teaching approaches, and some of the African culture that they have inherited from their ancestors. Although their families were Christian, they were generally open to new ideas and the concept of spirituality. The team I had joined visited one community whose residents lived by the seaside and so the people were fishermen. We had a good conversation with a small group of fishermen about the Faith.
We visited a few schools and talked to students and teachers about the Faith. Then we invited them to the Bahá’í Centre to investigate more and to join the social activities that were organized by the youth. One teacher showed great interest in the Bahá’í teachings and especially liked the principle of the oneness of mankind. He said that he had a weekly radio program on culture and education and wanted to quote on the radio program a paragraph taken from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh in a pamphlet that he was given. This was extraordinary. I thought it was a sign of high receptivity and a promising future.
While spending five eventful days in Jamaica, I was fortunate to meet Counsellor Donald Witzel and briefly discuss with him how to seize the emerging opportunities before they slipped away.
My next destination was Belize. The Universal House of Justice recommended that I spend more time in Belize. When I arrived in Belize City, Dr. Hedayatu’llah Ahmadieh met me at the airport and took me to his house where I stayed while I was there. Dr. Ahmadieh, an Iranian pediatrician was among the first pioneers to settle in Belize, then known as British Honduras in 1966 filling a pioneer goal for the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States during the Nine-Year Plan period (1964 to 1973). In 1975, he served as an Auxiliary Board member, and later in 1977 he was appointed to the Board of Counsellors, first for Central America and the Caribbean and later to the Board of Counsellors for the Americas. At the beginning of his residence in Belize, he was not allowed to practice medicine since his medical degree was not approved by the authorities in Belize. After two years of unemployment, when a new officer took over the position at the Ministry of Health, he was permitted to work as a general practitioner at the only existing public hospital in Belize. Belize, a poor country with a small population and struggling economy had a problem with malnutrition which caused the death of many young children. Dr. Ahmadieh tried to help save children’s lives.
Dr. Ahmadieh was very focused on teaching the Faith and had developed a handmade teaching booklet with pictures and with an orange-coloured cover that later was published and used widely as a teaching tool in many countries. At his suggestion and with the spiritual assembly’s approval I traveled to Belmopan, Orange Walk, Punta Gorda, and Dangriga and visited their rural Bahá’í communities.
During the two weeks of travel teaching in Belize, meetings were organized everywhere I went, and the urgency and benefits of engaging in the process of entry by troops were discussed. A young man from Canada named Art Wagner arrived as a pioneer in Belize while I was still there. At one stage of his life in the USA before coming to Belize, Wagner had suffered serious burns. The burning scars and marks were visible on his hands, arms, and neck. He considered this accident to have been a test and sacrifice to prepare him for pioneering. He drove me in his car to most of the towns, villages, and some communities. Although he had had a good and comfortable life in the USA, he did not mind sleeping next to me on the bare floor.
The villagers that we met were mostly farmers and fishermen. Therefore, our food was usually steamed or spicy fish soup with yam. Wagner did not like eating yam, but he tried it anyway. I too began to get used to eating yam. In the cities, many of our activities had been pre-arranged by the local friends. We met students in the college in Belize and several schools in other cities. In one school the students that we encountered were more concerned about the weakening economy and wondered how spirituality could combat poverty and starvation. These were good questions that gave us the chance to share the Baháʼí perspective on many challenges that mankind had been facing for a long time due to the imbalance between the material and spiritual dimensions of life, and how this imbalance had affected social and economic structures. It was explained that true education and the practice of justice in society in accordance with God’s teachings were the only solutions to such problems.
We had another interesting experience in a high school where one teacher was a Bahá’í. We were invited to talk about the Bahá’í Faith. This teacher had succeeded in getting permission to organize a gathering in the school to talk about material, intellectual, and spiritual prosperity. The principal who knew about the Bahá’í Faith and appreciated the principle of the oneness of mankind, permitted us to talk to the junior and senior high school students about on this topic. Nearly one hundred students and a few teachers gathered outside under the shade of trees beside the playground. We talked about the harmony between material and spiritual civilizations. After the talk, a few questions were asked, and discussions ensued. A sixteen-year-old girl shared that her aunt was a Bahá’í and had talked to her family about it, but her parents had not paid much attention. This young girl wondered why people were reluctant to accept the Bahá’í Faith if it was relevant and good. She wanted to know more and asked for literature. Two books were recommended: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh and Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era. That evening we consulted with the local believers to organize a weekly fireside for students in case they didn’t already have one.
On another day we joined in a fishing trip with a group of people that we had met and previously spoken about the Faith with. As my days in Belize came to an end it became clear to me that the young generation in Belize had great potential for advancing the process of entry by troops. It made me realize why the House of Justice recommended that I spend more time there.
Haiti was another super interesting country to visit. It is a great country and its people value spirituality despite the extreme poverty, the wide gap between the rich and the poor, and a weak economy with a large population. All these adverse situations had pressurized its society.
After arriving in Port-au-Prince, I waited over an hour in the airport when an Auxiliary Board member and two other friends arrived to greet me. Although we saw each other, we couldn’t recognize each other until I called the Bahá’í Centre from the nearby public phone booth. As soon as I said “Alláh-u-Abhá,” all three of them heard me and came forward asking if I was their Bahá’í visitor. We greeted and exchanged hugs. The magic phrase of “Alláh-u-Abhá” united us instantly! I was taken to the American guesthouse close to the clinic where an American Bahá’í doctor lived. By the time I arrived in Haiti, I had contracted a mild cold from the fishing trip in Belize. After freshening and changing, I joined the three friends, and we went to the Bahá’í Centre where the other friends were waiting for the meeting to start. Listening to prayers and chanting created a lovely spiritual atmosphere. A passage from the Universal House of Justice about entry by troops was shared. At this time the House of Justice was encouraging the Bahá’ís to arise with zeal and determination and engage in the process of entry by troops. Subsequently, the teaching points that were developed and discussed in Mexico were introduced to the friends in this gathering. Everyone was quiet, contemplating the meaning of those words from the Supreme Body. Then they broke into small groups and consulted among themselves. There was a break during which all were invited to tea and refreshments before coming back for the second part of the meeting. In the second part of the meeting, friends chose team partners and identified the families and friends that they planned to meet. The next day friends gathered in the Bahá’í Centre, prayed, and started going out to teach. I joined them with all happiness.
In one village near the beach, we were invited to a children’s class that was held every Sunday. It was quite soul-stirring. The children prayed, sang, and listened to Bahá’í stories that their teachers read to them. Then we walked to the beach to play games and have fun together. My five-day stay in Haiti was worthwhile.
With children at the beach in Haiti.
My next destination was Panama. Upon landing in Panama City and passing through the formalities, I was delighted to see Counsellor Alfred Osborne and his wife at the airport who had come to meet and take me to the Bahá’í Centre. On the way, we stopped to visit a Bahá’í family that had been in Panama for years and who were teaching the youth and children. They had developed some teaching materials for children that included Bahá’í stories, teachings, prayers, drawings, and artwork that looked attractive and interesting.
Counsellor Osborne asked about my visit to the World Center. I related the highlights of my discussions with the Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhájir about the process of entry by troops and my consultation with the Supreme Body and the International Teaching Centre. He mentioned that the process of entry by troops among the indigenous Indians in Panama had been going on a small scale for a short period, but it had gradually slowed down. He added on that not much was heard about it for a time because they thought it was necessary to focus first on consolidation before doing more teaching work. I humbly commented, “You know well that teaching and consolidation must go hand in hand.” He replied, “We have to work on that. Now that you are here, it is a good time to bring up this matter with the friends and encourage them to resume the teaching activities for entry by troops.” He suggested that we quickly arrange a gathering of the Auxiliary Board members, their assistants, the teachers, and the members of the institutions in Panama to discuss this issue.
A gathering was arranged in the public community hall. More than fifty friends attended. Prayers were recited and the purpose of the gathering was elaborated. Then the friends were asked to pay attention to a passage from the 1974 Naw-Rúz message from the Universal House of Justice addressed to the Bahá’ís of the world. The message also referred to a letter written on behalf of the Guardian stating: “Success in this one goal will greatly enrich the quality of Bahá’í life, will heighten the capacity of the Faith to deal with entry by troops which is even now taking place and, above all, will demonstrate the solidarity and ever-growing distinctiveness of the Bahá’í community, thereby attracting more and more thoughtful souls to the Faith and offering a refuge to the leaderless and hapless millions of the spiritually bankrupt, moribund present order.” The teaching points that had been discussed and put into action in the preceding countries and communities I had visited were introduced. Friends were invited to consider and see if a similar approach or any other program could be made to resume the process of entry by troops in Panama.
In another community, friends considered planning a teaching campaign that focused on entry by troops. An important question was raised, “How about the indigenous people that comprise more than twelve percent of the population in Panama? Are they included in the areas where the process of entry by troops can be applied?” They said that they would arrange for a teaching team that I was invited to visit some of their villages.
Once while I was in the company of Counsellor Osborne we were invited to “The Women’s Advancement Circle,” a group that included a few Bahá’ís. One of them was a policewoman using virtues in her interactions with violators of laws. It was quite interesting to see how the virtuous and loving Bahá’í attitudes had a positive influence on peace and order in the wider community. On a Sunday we went to the Bahá’í House of Worship on top of a mountain where regular services of prayers and readings from Holy Writings were held creating a sense of peace and tranquility. I was asked to chant a prayer in the Persian language, to which I favorably complied. There I met Ms. Ruth Pringle who served as an Auxiliary Board member before she was appointed to the Continental Board of Counsellors. We had a good discussion about fostering the process of entry by troops among it’s the indigenous groups in Panama. Then we visited an American Baháʼí couple at their house. The husband was a genius pianist and organist who worked at the Panama Canal lock. He had been successfully sharing the Bahá’í teachings with his colleagues and had started a weekly prayer gathering during free times in the lock where a number of his friends joined. Counsellor Osborne asked me if I was interested to see the Panama Canal lock. “Yes,” was my response. So, we went to see the lock which I had previously read about with much interest. Seeing the locks one can appreciate to what extent human endeavor is capable of tackling nature for its social and economic advancement. It is truly amazing to think about. The Panama Canal not only connected two major oceans – the Pacific and the Atlantic but also symbolized the connection between the East and the West.
It was time to leave for my next destinations, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Upon arriving in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, I phoned the Bahá’í Centre, got the address, and took a taxi there. It was a nice, sunny, and cool morning with plenty of flowers and greenery everywhere. A friend at the Bahá’í Centre took me to my hotel and told me the meeting would be at 6:00 pm, and asked me to be ready at 5:30 pm as someone would come to take me to the Centre. From 5:30 in the evening the friends started showing up and the meeting started at 6:00 pm sharp with some prayers and readings. The chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of San Juan welcomed everyone and said that I had come from the World Centre to assist them in their teaching and consolidation activities. With that brief introduction, he invited me to talk about the purpose of my visit.
I thanked the friends and asked permission to make a small correction. That was that I did not come from the World Centre, but I lived in Laos and had just been to the World Centre on a short visit for consultation with the Supreme Body and the International Teaching Centre to prepare for this trip and I was glad to be there. The purpose of my visit to Puerto Rico was none other than to share some insights about the process of entry by troops.
I mentioned the time is now, the potential is great, and the level of receptivity is high. Engaging in the process of entry by troops requires a systematic approach and collective action with devotion, perseverance, and detachment. The teaching can primarily focus on families and friends, something that can be achieved by anyone individually and by working in teams. Friends can visit the families and friends that they decide to approach and teach. At this point in the discussion, a lady raised a question about her son-in-law who, she said, was a good person but not interested in religion. How could she interest him in the Bahá’í Faith? This question showed how people wanted to help their loved ones see the spiritual treasure that they had found. Certainly, our humble prayers, exemplary Bahá’í life, and attitude towards the oneness of mankind will attract the people to begin searching for the truth.
I was encouraged to visit the communities in the cities of Guatemala and Catani and I welcomed that opportunity. Subsequently, the next day friends came to join me in visiting these two cities, which made it possible to travel there and meet people in colleges, coffee shops, and parks.
In a college, we spoke to two small groups of students that were quite friendly and outspoken. When they heard about the Bahá’í teachings, in particular, that we were working towards creating a new civilization and a new World Order based on the harmony of spiritual and material well-being, one student asked a question about how such utopian ideas could be realized when there was so much injustice and with a big gap between the spiritual and material life of the society. This question allowed us to talk about the material and spiritual nature of man, and how it is possible to harmonize and balance these two distinct aspects through spiritual and material education. The students were open-minded and did not have any problem understanding or accepting our conversation. This experience was another sign of the receptivity of the young people in that region.
I was ready for my next destination, Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, when something unexpected happened that brought my traveling program to an end. The secretary of the Spiritual Assembly came to me with an envelope containing a cable from the Universal House of Justice asking me to return to Laos as soon as possible, take my family, collect my valuables, and leave Laos immediately because a new government had come to power in Laos. The international airport in Vientiane was closed and the land borders were strictly controlled to discourage the people from leaving.
Rather shocked, I sat quietly and prayed. I had anticipated that some political changes would come about in Laos but did not know it would happen so fast. For sure I had to obey the House of Justice, cancel the remaining part of my traveling plans, and return to Laos at once. Fortunately, my wife Giti and our two children were in Bangkok, Thailand staying with Giti’s brother while I was away on this trip. But as much as I did not want to leave before completing my traveling plan, I had to return to Laos without delay, obeying the order from the Supreme Body.
While my journey through Central America came to an abrupt conclusion and I was sad that I could only cover six out of the nine initially intended countries. It enabled me to gain invaluable experience in serving the Faith with zeal and perseverance in the decades that followed. This was a totally different kind of teaching trip- never to be repeated as it was one that was planned by Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir and blessed by the Universal House of Justice and the International Teaching Centre. Looking back at the kind of services I had rendered it reminds me of what we are doing today- home visits!
Dr. Firaydun Mithaq
31 January 2024.
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