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Month: June 2024

REMEMBERING MY EARLY DAYS IN LAOS

REMEMBERING MY EARLY DAYS IN LAOS

This article is written to record some of my precious and unforgettable days in  Laos (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), where I pioneered from 1962 to 1975 after which I moved to Hong Kong.  This is  written based on my own observations and records of my pioneering in that fortunate country.

When I decided to pioneer while living in Iran, I submitted myself to the Asian Pioneering Committee based in Tehran. This Committee received inputs from the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia (RSA) that pioneers were needed in Laos. Therefore this Committee  advised me to go to Laos, a country I had never heard of till then. The RSA  had arranged with the Asian Committee and Samandari Travel Agency, for my travel to Laos. Placing my whole trust in Baháʼu’lláh, I arrived in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos on 4 December 1962. My story of recollecting some of the major events starts from this date. During my pioneering years in Laos, I was was very much guided by the institutions of the Faith. Laos was also immensely blessed by the visits of some Hands of the Cause of God during my stay there, who gave me further advice and guidance as to what needs to be done at the ground level. The Hands of the Cause of God that I met in Laos during my pioneering days are:

1) Mr. Ṭarázu’lláh Samandarí, who in October 1966, visited the believers in Vientiane,  Luang Prabang and the tribal believers at a large gathering in the village of Nough-Vieng-Luang Prabang province.

2) Mr. Abu’l-Qásim Faizí who visited the Bahá’í community in Vientiane in January 1969 and as well gave public talks at Lan-Xang Hotel where he stayed.

3) Dr. Raḥmatu’lláh Muhájir visited Laos many times between 1961 and 1975. He deepened the believers in Vientiane and traveled to see the masses of Lao refugee believers in Thakhek, in Ban Viengkham and Ban Nam Pod.

4) Mr. Collis Featherstone met the believers in Vientiane and the mass-teaching area of Ban Viangnkham in February 1971 and the believers in Savannakhet, several times in between 1970 – 1973.

Firaydun with Hand of the Cause Mr. Featherstone in Laos, 1970.

5) Hand of the Cause Mr. Enoch Olinga, visited the believers in Vientiane and the believers in Xayaboury in January 1971 immediately after attending the Oceanic Conference of the South China Seas held in Singapore. He talked to the believers about the purity of heart of the tribal people and related some stories about tribal people that had embraced the Cause in Africa.  He mentioned that the best way of showing our love to Bahá’u’lláh and God was to share the Bahá’í Teachings.

THE PROCESS OF GROWTH OF THE FAITH

When Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhájir made his first visit to Laos in 1961 I had not pioneered to Laos yet. I met him first at the Bahá’í National Convention of Thailand held in Ridvan 1964 in Bangkok. Hand of the Cause Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum represented the Universal House of Justice at this Convention.  The first believer of Laos, Bui-Van-An was a Vietnamese that stayed for a short time in Vientiane. The first local believer of Laos was Mr. Luang Van-Tui of the Tai-Dam tribe that joined me attending the Convention in Bangkok as observers from Laos.  When Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum saw Luang-Van-Tui and knowing that he was the first local Bahá’í believer in Laos and is actively teaching the Faith showered him with love and admiration.

The Lao Bahá’í community with a few local spiritual assemblies had to function under the guidance and support of the National Spiritual Assembly of Thailand, until Riḍván 1967 when Laos had its independent National Spiritual Assembly.  When Dr. Muhájir heard at the Convention that over a thousand of indigenous people had entered the Faith within the span of less than two years, he did not leave me alone. He had visited Laos in 1961 and had felt the potential for mass-teaching in Laos. During my four days in Bangkok, he opened a new horizon about teaching and made me more confident in teaching and serving the Cause. He said he will visit Laos within the next few months.

Dr. Muhájir with his frequent visits to Laos in major cities and villages gladly took any available ramshackle means of transportation to rural communities, meeting the believers and motivating them to take part in the field of service.

Laos, being a land- locked country bordering China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, was among the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, colonized by France, and influenced by the United States, was deprived of many common opportunities for development.  Until the 1990s schooling in Laos was limited to primary and a secondary school called Lycée Paves run by the French colonists. Most of the rural areas that comprise 95% of the population were deprived of any schools.  The simplicity of farming life had protected the farmers against materialism and preserved their purity of heart and valuing spirituality.  This was the significant factor that attracted the people to the message of Bahá’u’lláh and declaring that began in 1963 among the indigenous tribes that included the Hmong, Yao, Lao-teng, Lao-Lum and Kha tribe.

MASS-TEACHING AND THE ENTRY BY TROOPS

The entry of the Hmong, Lao-Lum and Yao tribes in Xayaboury and Luang Prabang province reached over a thousand believers in 1965. Then it began in the central and southern provinces of Laos and spread like wildfire to the extent that about one hundred thousand souls had entered the Faith within ten years of 1963-1973.  The large scale of entering the Faith took place when many local believers took part in voluntary and part-time teaching activities. Dr. Muhájir was the chief motivator and mobilizer of the mass teaching plans.

 Firaydun among Hmong Bahá’í Family in Sayaboury, November 1965.

There are many stories of teaching the Faith and the entry by troops in Laos that are beyond scope of this short article to be mentioned. I spent the first year in Vientiane, learning the Lao language and getting acquainted with Lao culture.   In January 1963, I moved to Sayaboury aka Xayaboury where numerous indigenous tribes lived with high receptivity. The tribal people had pure hearts and soon some of them joined the Faith.  A Hmong youth that lived in my neighborhood and was a close friend agreed to take me to visit his home in Ban Namtan village.  Ban Namtan, was a Hmong tribe village located over the hills of Xayaboury. It was reachable within three hours walk. It was the first village that the entry by troops started in Laos. People in Xayaboury villages called me “Bahá’í-teacher” and children simply called “the Bahá’í”.  I didn’t mind that, and took it as a compliment. They had learned to say Alláh-u-Abhá and “Nia” meaning a loving friend.  Almost all were spirit worshipers but were open to accepting the Faith.  They were almost illiterate but educated their children  who lived in a students’ campsite outside Xayaboury town and attended the school.  They could say prayers and explain the meaning to their families.

At this point of urgent need for assistance my close friend, Bijan Bayzaee who had pioneered from Iran to Southeast Asian regions at about the same time that I had come to Laos, joined me in February 1964. The Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia  had advised Bijan to move to Laos to continue his pioneering services. Bijan joined me in Ban Namtan and the two of us, realizing the urgent need of consolidation of new believers, began to focus on teaching and training a number of Hmong believers.  To achieve this, we decided to settle in Ban Namtan which was the first Hmong village that had entered the Faith and was the hub of many surrounding Hmong villages. Since there wasn’t any school for children in Ban Namtan and its surrounding villages, we decided to start with holding children’s classes and the villagers accepted this offer with gratitude. The villagers joined us in building a shelter with bamboo wood and grass roof that could be used for multiple purposes including an attached small room as our living space.  We began working with a few children and made home visits.

Town of Thakhek, Laos in 1966. (L-R)  Yankee Leong, Dr. Muhájir, Firaydun Mithaq and Mrs. Chusiri Faridian.


Bijan Bayzaee (L) and Firaydun (R) in February 1964.

During the one year that we lived in Ban Namtan we saw the expansion of the Faith with several Hmong villages joining the Faith. At this point, The National Spiritual Assembly of Thailand advised Bijan Bayzaee to leave Xayaboury and settle in Vientiane because of the urgent need of the Faith.  After Bijan moved to Vientiane we had reached the point that there was no need for a full time pioneer in Ban Namtan.  It was in the interest of the Faith to move elsewhere. Therefore, I moved to Xayaboury town and took residence in the Hmong students’ campsite and kept visiting the believers in Ban Namtan.  While we were struggling with our limited human resources for teaching, Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhájir was busy recruiting pioneers from Iran, India, Philippines and Malaysia to Laos. By the summer of 1965 a number of pioneers arrived in Laos included Mr. and Mrs. Lee from Cambodia, and Miss Manijeh Javid from Iran. Other notable pioneers that joined the team of pioneers in Laos included Mr. Pol Antipolo and Mr. Roger from Philippines, Mr. Faraj and Hamra Yaganagi from India, Mr. and Mrs. Aqdasi from Iran, Mr. Kanna Baran and Miss Beng Lew from Malaysia, and Mr. Faridian from Iran, and a few other pioneers who served the Faith in Laos in the sixties and seventies.

Lean Beng Liew wearing glasses and seated next to Yankee Leong with some riends in Savannakhet, Laos in 1972.

In summer 1965 an urgent need was felt for a national coordinating body in Laos. This concern was shared with the National Spiritual Assembly of Thailand, and it approved the formation of the National Teaching Committee (NTC) in Laos. Due to emerging complications in correspondence and administration, the Universal House of Justice asked the NTC to correspond directly with the supreme body. The Supreme by Riḍván 1967, The National Spiritual Assembly of Laos was established with twelve Local Spiritual Assemblies.

The expansion of the Bahá’í Faith in Luang Prabang province was promising.  There were about a hundred of Hmong, Yao, Lao-Lum, Lue, and Lao-teng villages. We already had several Hmong, and a Yao village entered the Faith.  Luang Prabang city being the Royal Capital had high governmental institutions and schools where people were more educated and enjoyed higher social benefits.  The distance between Xayaboury and Luang Prabang was about 30 minutes by air; it was also reachable by a full day trip by boat via the Mekong River that I had tried once.  I visited Luang Prabang province several times; and as it showed a promising future I moved there, rented a house for living and gatherings. I got a temporary employment as an electrician working during the day and teaching in the evenings and weekends.  At this point four interesting events emerged. 1) Bijan Bayzaee got married to Miss Manijeh Javid the new pioneer from Iran, 2) Bijan Bayzaee was appointed to serve as the Auxiliary Board member. 3) The first Yao tribal minority in Luang Prabang entered the Faith. 4) The national teaching committee was established.

ENTERING OF THE YAO TRIBE

The mass-entry of the Yao tribe in September 1966 took place in an unusual and unplanned manner when Ms. Orfa Dorothy from Bangkok visited Luang Prabang in the company of Bijan Bayzaee.  One day, as we were going to visit a Hmong Bahá’í village, we got lost in the forest. We prayed for divine guidance and continued walking aimlessly on the path which led to a Yao tribe village that we hadn’t seen before. It looked like a mysterious force changing our plan and leading us to this village. The villagers were kind and hospitable. We spent the whole day and night at this village talking about Bahá’u’lláh and Faith. By the second day all the villagers declared becoming the first Yao village to embrace the Faith in Laos that was aligned with our goals of the Nine-Year Plan.

Encouraged by the victory of the Yao tribe; in February 1966 the NTC drew a one-year teaching and consolidation plan that focused on: Opening the other tribal minorities to the Faith and increasing the number of believers to two thousand, training several full-time teachers. The plan included translation and printing a prayer book and a small compilation of the Bahá’í Writings in Lao language.  We were very happy and proud of this plan and began to work in that direction. In June 1966 when Dr. Muhájir visited Laos, he consulted with the NTC, while appreciating our plan he asked us a question: He said if we had all the required means and material for teaching the Faith, how many people are receptive to enter the Faith?  We thought for a while and said about 500,000. He said: Let’s assume that just 100,000 can be attracted and enrolled within the Nine-Year Plan 1964-73. Let’s do everything in our power to achieve the 100,000 believers. This was a great plan; we took it to heart and began working accordingly. Dr. Muhájir also advised us to include teaching the Faith in villages that were scattered on the Lao side of the Mekong river banks. He suggested buying a locally made canoe with long shaft-propeller for easy sailing. Unfortunately, authorities told us it was not safe for people, including the local people to travel to villages in the river banks.

October, 1966.( L-R)-Bijan Bayzayee, Manijeh Javid Bayzayee, Mr. Samandarí, Yankee Leong, Dr. Mehdi Samandarí and Firaydun.

In 1967, with help of Dr. Muhájir, we made an ambitious teaching plan immediately after the establishment of the National Spiritual Assembly to open the virgin areas in the South that were composed of hundreds of Lao and indigenous villages, towns and cities. Dr. Muhájir said that this plan required a few full-time teachers that could train more local teachers. Turning to us he asked; which one of you is going to be the first full-time teacher?  He suggested that Mr. Florencio Pol Antipolo, who was a new pioneer from the Philippines, moved to Luang Prabang. Mr. Dawood Saadati, from Iran, move to Xayaboury, Mr. Faridian  and his wife Chusiri move to Savannakhet. I was to move to the South and settle somewhere central that could be accessible to many towns and villages. Auxiliary Board member Bijan Bayzaee and his wife Manijeh Javid had to stay in Vientiane Capital and coordinate the teaching activities.  At first, with limited manpower and materials achieving the plan looked impossible.  But Dr. Muhájir, who was a gifted visionary and had experience in teaching the masses in Mentawai Island and other parts of the world, assured us that with the power of divine assistance and perseverance we can gain unimaginable victories.  I acted without delay and made a short trip to Luang Prabang and Xayaboury to acquaint Pol Antipolo with the Bahá’í community in Luang Prabang and Dawood Saadati with the Bahá’í community in Xayaboury. I resigned my job, said goodbye to my friends and moved to the South.

OPENING OF VIRGIN PLACES IN SOUTHERN PROVINCES

People in southern provinces were predominantly Buddhist and required a different approach of teaching from that of the tribal people in the North that are spirit worshipers.  Fortunately, while I was in Luang Prabang city and working with Buddhists, I got interested in researching the Buddhist prophecies about the signs of the coming of The Promised One, the Fifth Buddha.  A learned Buddhist monk offered to help me to get access to the Royal Library that was the only large library in the Northern Province and help in our research.  Prophecies were recorded in ancient Pali language that were engraved on large leaves of about 3×18 inches and bound together. My helping monk knew how to read and translate the Tripitaka and the prophecies from Pali script and translate them to Lao.  That was how we studied the Buddhist scriptures. One amazing prophecy was about the coming of two manifestations that would appear closely in the new era.  No doubt it was a reference to the coming of The Báb  and Bahá’u’lláh that was supported by other prophecies.

On 6 July 1966, I took the bus to Borikhamsay, my first visiting town in the South. Before starting the trip to the south, Mr. Semson Sacsid, the member of our National Teaching Committee, who was the Director of the Post and Telegraph of Laos, sent a cable to all the provincial telegraph offices in southern cities, briefly introducing me and informing them of my friendly visit. This helped in meeting the Provincial Lao officers smoothly. I was introduced to visit Borikhamsai, Thakhek, Savannakhet, Seno, Salavan, Pakse, Champasak, and Sitandon. In Borikhamsai, I visited Mr. Kuen, the head of the Borikhamsai Telecom. He invited me to stay with his family as their guest.  On 6, 7 and the 8  July  there I shared the Bahá’í Message and the brief account of Bahá’í history. The Message touched Mr. Kuen and his wife and nephew’s hearts.  We talked every night for hours till past midnight.  All  three souls declared.  I took this as a sign of confirmation and answer to my humble prayers. The next day early in the morning of 9 July 1965, I left Borikhamsai and took the first bus bound for Commune-Thakhek. I thought I was lucky to catch the first bus not knowing what God had ordained for me to witness on this blessed Day.

After about an hour of traveling the bus broke down since it was an old truck turned into a bus by adding benches for seats. I was at the beginning of my trip and impatient to wait for another bus to come when the driver announced that the bus was not repairable.  I decided to walk on that lonely road hoping to get a ride or to reach somewhere before dark.  While walking, I recalled the event of 9th of July, that was the martyrdom of The Báb when the Bahá’ís commemorate this important event.  I kept wondering why the bus had to break down on such an important day. The July weather was hot and humid. After an hour of walking, I felt a wind blowing and patches of dark clouds appeared in the sky followed by a heavy shower. Walking along the road I called to mind the gathering of friends on this blessed day in Iran.  I could picture the scene of His martyrdom in the square of Tabriz as the historian Nabil has recorded in “The Dawn Breakers”. The recitation of the Tablet of Visitation passed through my mind like a flash of light.  I turned my heart to God praying and beseeching The Bab to assist this teaching trip that I had just embarked and had no idea how to do well.  I remember turning my heart to The Báb saying: Today is Your Day and the Cause is Your Cause, and the Message is Your Message for which Thou hast shed Thine blood. I beg of Thee, to overlook my shortcomings and assist this poor servant to do this work in the manner that Thou please.  Please unlock the hearts and attract the souls.

Soon a strong wind blew followed by a shower. I was soaked but my mind was immersed deep in these thoughts that I heard the footsteps of a farmer behind me.  I slowed down and greeted him.  The farmer asked: ‘Where are you going son?’ ‘The bus that I was travelling with broke down. I am looking for a place to meet people and get some rest’.  I replied”.  The farmer welcomed me to his village, Ban Pasoom.  He led me to the house of the village chief.  The chief was in the field. They sent someone to call him.  Meanwhile, the ladies in the house prepared some rice and soup that tasted good, especially that I was hungry.  Before long the chief came and welcomed me saying, “We have been waiting three days for your coming; we are glad that you are finally here.” The chief went on saying that the buffalo disease had killed many buffaloes and the villagers don’t know what to do about it. Thank heaven that you are here, we hope to stop this unfortunate event before further loss of buffaloes that are essential for plowing the paddy. Hearing this, I realized that the chief has mistaken me for someone else whom they have been expecting.  I had to express my sympathy for their losses and explained that I was not the person that they expected, but I am here with the Message from Bahá’u’lláh to share with the chief and his people.  ‘What is the Message?’  The chief inquired.   I explained that it was the Message of love and unity from Bahá’u’lláh Who is none other than the expected Promised One, Prassi-An, Maitreya, The Fifth Buddha.  The Message was conveyed in some detail and the chief was touched by hearing that and smilingly said “Satoo”, Praise Heaven. It was agreed that the chief would call the villagers to gather tonight to hear The Message.  I was invited to a traditional Lao supper that would be ready in about an hour.  Shortly before sunset, the beating of a bamboo drum echoed in the village, inviting everyone to meet.  Meanwhile, a team of four persons including Jao Muang the Governor, Dasseng the District Chief, a vet and the driver arrived by a jeep and entered the chief’s house and joined us for supper.  Once they saw me they inquired the purpose of my being there.  The chief briefly explained that my intention was to share a Message of love and unity from Bahá’u’lláh the Maitreya, Fifth Buddha-Prassi-An, at the gathering tonight.  Everyone was surprised to see a layman doing religious work. The Governor became curious and asked the details of the Message since he had known that the Maitreya Buddha would appear not before the 5000 years of the Buddhist Era while we are now in the half way of the era.  I was about to give an explanation to that salient question when the village chief who was concerned about buffalo dying, intervened and said let’s talk first about the buffalo problem that was urgent.  Then we can hear and discuss the coming of the Fifth Buddha.

Villagers gathered in the large veranda of the house that was designed for meetings, while many others were sitting outside on the bare ground and were listening to what was going on.  Everyone looked calm and curious. There were about seventy or more people.  As the veranda got filled up, The Chief introduced the guests and invited the Governor to speak.  The Governor, who was obviously a spiritual and curious person, said: “Let this visitor speak first since he has brought a good message to share, I think it is more interesting. We will discuss the problem of the buffalos’ disease later tomorrow”.  Hearing this generous offer, I began with a prayer in Lao reciting loud enough that everyone could hear. Then I explained that the prayer was to seek divine assistance from “Savan” the heaven, to bless this gathering and assist in the removal of problems that the villagers were facing.  I began to present the Bahá’í Message of love and unity and went on explaining the parable of the 5000 years of Buddhist Era.  At first, I asked if they knew about the signs of the coming of the Promised One, Prassi-An, Ariya-Methay (‘Maitreya’), The Fifth Buddha.  I asked if they could identify what the signs were. One said the completion of 5000 years.  Correct, I confirmed and asked if there were other signs?  One person said, “Believers fail to follow the laws and precepts of Buddha”.  Another person said that religion becomes superficial. Another person said, “There will be wars and people will suffer from injustice”. And yet another person said, “Many people will lose their homes and be refugees”.  Another person said, “ When such unfortunate things happen, Passi-An, Ariya-Methay will bring justice. Then unity and prosperity will rule the society.  I confirmed the truth of all the stated signs”.  Then I asked to see if these signs are currently visible and practiced in our society. Is it not the time for the Fifth Buddha Prassi-An, Maitreya’ to come and establish the Ariya Sadje, the day of ruling justice?  Someone in the crowd politely thanked me for the explanations, and asked: How about the question of the 5000-year Buddhist Era?  It was simply explained that the duration of the Buddhist Era was set for 5000 years but it was conditional to believers’ practicing the sacred precepts of Buddha such as the five most basic obligatory laws of conduct that every sincere Buddhist must practice.  I asked, “How many people do you know that are practicing; Banna, Athinna, Gammeh; Mussa, and Surra? Meaning; Thou shall not kill; Thou shall not steal; Thou shall not lie; Thou shall not commit adultery; Thou shall not drink alcohol.  How many sincere Buddhists do you see that follow these laws?  In the Buddhist scriptures Lord Buddha strongly warns that when the believers fail to practice these laws the Fifth Buddha Prassi-An, Ariya-Methay (‘Maitreya’) will appear.  Therefore, this fact overrides the envisaged period of the 5000 years of the Buddhist Era”. Everyone was quiet, thinking and trying to digest this phenomenon. A question was about the Buddhist traditional beliefs? “How about our temple and religious activities and devotion to Monks?”  At this point I quietly prayed and sought divine assistance before addressing these abstruse questions saying,  by accepting Bahá’u’lláh as the promised one Prassi-An, Ariya ‘Maitreya’ we do not turn our back to Lord Buddha because both are the same reality.  We only progress.  Temple is the sacred place for “Suadmun-Atitan, Samati, and Ha Kuam Bolisut”, meaning prayer, meditation, reflection and purifying heart.  Regarding monkhood, the Buddhist sacred scriptures clearly define the qualities and behaviors of monkhood which are purity of heart, praying and service to community.  Obviously, one can manifest these qualities in action.  One  won’t become holy just by changing the external robes.  Bahá’u’lláh teaches that monkhood qualities should not be limited to the small group of monks; rather, everyone must strive to manifest the praiseworthy qualities.

The explanations were satisfactory and convincing. A few other questions were asked and discussed in Buddhism and the Bahá’í perspective.  Every prophecy was supported by the teachings of Buddhism and the Bahá’í Faith.

The gathering of over a hundred persons were so intoxicated with the Message, the Word of God and the stories of Bahá’u’lláh that they forgot all about time and the buffalo disease.  They all raised their voices in gratitude and praised God for having sent Bahá’u’lláh, Prassi-An, Ariya-Methay (‘Maitreya’).  All bowed to Bahá’u’lláh and accepted Him as their Lord and declared their belief.  The gathering met for another two consecutive nights and asked more questions about the history of the Faith, laws, ordinances, and meditation.

The gatherings were certainly inspired by the power of Divine Assistance. I wondered if the breakdown of the bus, the buffalo disease, the coming of the Governor and his men right before the start of the first meeting were simply coincidence or ordained by God. The presence of the Governor and the District Chief at that first meeting was significant in opening the way for further expansion of the Faith in other villages of the province.

A few people from the neighboring villages that happened to be in Ban Pasoom and had attended the gatherings invited me to their villages to share the Bahá’í Message with their people. I gladly accepted and visited them. The teaching trip continued for three months in the South.  The confirmations kept showering and conquering the hearts that within the three months of travel-teaching that approximately eight hundred pure souls in nine Lao villages and five cities and towns entered the Faith. They included three villages in the province of Borikhamsai, five villages in the province of Cammuane. The cities included Thakhek, Savannakhet, Seno, Pakse, and the Champasak city.  These miraculous victories were obviously achieved by none other than the confirmation of God and the Blessings of The Bab.  While in Thakhek I sent a cable to the National Teaching Committee informing the new victories that the Faith had won in the South among the Lao Buddhists. Now the question was the consolidation of the new believers that had to be addressed. Auxiliary Board member Bijan Bayzaee replied by a cable encouraging me and saying: …to continue the teaching trip all the way to the farthest Southern villages and towns as possible.  Meanwhile the NTC reported the news of the new victories to the House of Justice and requested special prayers for the steady growth of the new communities. The House of Justice blessed Laos with an encouraging letter assuring us of its prayers in the holy shrines.

The next step was the raising of more teachers from among the declared believers.  I established myself in Thakhek that was central for reaching the new believers and the nascent communities. Mr. Faiz Yaganagi, a pioneer from India joined me in Thakhek during 1968-69 with joy as we pursued teaching. Faiz got married to Meuangma and moved to Vientiane because of his job.

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY 

The first National Convention of the Bahá’ís of Laos with nineteen delegates elected the National Spiritual Assembly in Riḍván 1967.  Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhájir represented the Universal House of Justice. The feelings of great joy and gratitude waved throughout the convention.  The convention was graced by several guests including: Mrs. Shirin Fozdar and Mr. Su-Wang represented the National Spiritual Assembly of Thailand and Mrs. Parvati Fozdar represented the National Spiritual Assembly of Vietnam. Other valiant gusts present at the convention included members of the Auxiliary Board Mr. Yankee Leong and Mr. Bijan Bayzaee.  The national spiritual assembly consulted with Dr. Muhájir updated the national teaching plan and appointed several coordinators to work with local spiritual assemblies in each province for the execution of the plan.

In September and October 1967, at the behest of the Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhájir I undertook a 56-day teaching trip in India that was helpful to me at that stage of development of the Faith in Laos. It opened a new world of understanding about teaching and serving the Cause in Laos.  In October 1968 I got married to Giti Maani in Tehran.  She moved to Laos and joined me in the teaching and consolidation activities in Thakhek, Xayaboury, Luang Prabang, and finally in Vientiane. By this time the local Spiritual Assemblies and the local teachers in the South had gained teaching skills and coordinating experience to be able to function on their own.  Time came for the pioneers to change their locations of service to support the communities. The adjustment included: Mr. Pol Antipolo to move from Luang Prabang to Savannakhet and Dawood Saadati moved from Xayaboury to Thakhek.  During 1969-72 Giti and I, with our baby Sahba moved to Thakhek, Xayaboury, Luang Prabang, and finally settled in Vientiane.  Faramarz Mithaqiyan (my brother) pioneer to Laos from Iran in 1970 to1975 and served in Savanakhet and Sitandon with zeal and sacrifice.  The move was based on the community’s needs for growth. Giti often sat on the back of my motorcycle, going around meeting the believers in villages and towns.  Unfortunately, due to rough and bumpy roads she had a miscarriage and was hospitalized.

I had to travel and visit the communities in other provinces since I had been appointed to serve as the Auxiliary Board for protection in 1969 replacing Bijan Bayzaee who had moved to Iran because of family needs.

In 1974 according to statistics, there were about one hundred thousand believers in Laos. Working on the sustainable growth of the Faith was essential. Therefore, the National Spiritual Assembly and the National Teaching Committee drew a detailed comprehensive plan for teaching, consolidation, and developing human resources. A mobile institute was created that would travel to all the communities for deepening and training teachers of the Faith.

In May 1975 a socialist form of government, the (Lao P.D.R) replaced the royal monarchy.  The new government stopped all thereby, all the religious activities were shut down. Consequently, with no alternative, most of the foreigners including pioneers left Laos.  From 1975 to 1990 the affairs of the Faith in Laos was discreetly managed by the few members of National Spiritual Assembly that were elected in 1975.  Communication with local spiritual assemblies was completely stopped. Visiting the communities outside the Vientiane capital became restricted and only because of family visits a few believers could get the traveling pass to go and meet their fellow believers and bring back some news.  To understand the wisdom of this tragic happening has not been easy.  Although we knew it was going to happen, we did not know the extent of its severity that would shut down the Bahá’í activities for a long time and would make our large-scale teaching plans and programs unachievable.

In November 1975 by the instruction of the House of Justice I had to get out of Laos in order to be able to continue carrying out my responsibilities as the counsellor. In obeying the House of Justice my family and I moved to Thailand and then to Hong Kong for nearly two years. In 1977, following the advice of the Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhájir, with the approval of the Universal House of Justice, moved to South Korea and served the Faith there for nine years. Then by 1986 when the flame of persecution spread and engulfed the Bahá’ís; in other countries due to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran; the Iranian embassy revoked our passports and forced us to go to Australia under the UN refugees program.  After four years of staying in Australia we decided to return to Korea for another five years before moving to China to serve the Faith for the next seventeen years. Finally, we settled in Thailand.

After the new government recognized the Faith in Laos in 1991, as one of the five major religions in Laos it gave the freedom to hold gatherings for prayers in Vientiane capital and in Savannakhet the second largest city.  Then, following the advice of the House of Justice I kept visiting the Bahá’ís every year in cities and some village communities in Laos.  Currently, the central government has an amicable relationship with the Faith and invites the Bahá’ís to participate in the annual national prayer events in spacious government halls along with other religions. Bahá’í gatherings and activities are held in most of the cities and some rural Bahá’í communities. The growth and progress of the Bahá’í Faith are indeed promising.

From  1980 to 1983 when I was still living in Korea and then in Australia, with the grace of God I had several assignments with the World Health Organization (WHO) as the short-term consultant that gave me the chance to visit Laos with 30 days entry visas.  These visits provided the opportunity to meet the believers in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and their neighboring villages.  I could send and receive letters addressed to individual members of the House of Justice such as Mr. Fatheazam through WHO diplomatic pouch and shared with the House of Justice my observations about the conditions of the Faith in Laos. In this capacity, I visited Laos three times in 30 days each time.

When we obtained our Australian citizenship in 1993 we returned to South Korea. While I was preparing to return to Korea, I received a telegram from the International Teaching Center, saying:  “Convey to Mr. Mithaq the request of the Universal House of Justice that he visit Laos on the way to Korea and advises following his observations there, what signs of receptivity he sees for mass-teaching there, as there have been intimation that the country may be opening up to such an approach……. The International Teaching Center.

Therefore, I changed my flights and went to Laos for ten eventful days meeting the believers that could come to Vientiane for consultation. My observation was not encouraging because the restrictions were still enforced. All I could do was to pray with them and encourage the friends to hold family devotionals, do home visits of close friends, and help each other.  I sent the report of my observations to the Supreme Body as soon as I reached Korea.

Like Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia and several other countries that the believers had to face numerous restrictions and hardship; Laos was not spared from having their share of tests and trials. The Lao community had to face and endure hardship and persecution in the rural Bahá’í communities.  During the eighties and nineties several believers who were identified as Bahá’í teachers or the members of the spiritual assemblies were arrested, tortured and imprisoned for years. Later on, when they were released their health was so impaired that they passed away after a short time. There are too many stories to share but for the sake of brevity, one episode of a valiant Lao believer, Mr. Duangtha Arinhavong, who devotedly served as the secretary of the LSA (will be mentioned).

Mr. Duangtha Arinhavong was the first secretary of the Governor of Cammoane province.  He had a good command of English and the recognized translator. I met him in December 1966 before he heard about the Bahá’í Faith.  I sought his assistance to translate the Bahá’í Short Obligatory Prayer, a few quotations and the Hidden Words.

Duangtha was fascinated by deep meanings of the short obligatory prayer.  He investigated and embraced the Faith after a few months.  He served the Faith until the middle of 1968 when he died in a shocking accident.  He used to say he wanted to share the Message of Bahá’u’lláh with his relatives and friends in his hometown and was waiting for an opportunity to take a leave from work to do that. Finally, when the opportunity came to visit his hometown, he joined his uncle traveling to their hometown; he died in a car accident.   Mr. Arinhavong served as the secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Thakhek.  He refused to take money for the translations saying that it was a service. The news of Mr. Duangtha Arinhavong’s passing was communicated to the World Centre and the Universal House of Justice in a letter sent to the National Spiritual Assembly of Laos conveyed their sorrow about the passing of Duangtha Arinhavong, consoled his family and friends and assured them of their prayers in the Holy Shrines.  His funeral was attended by a large crowd of people and believers including government officials and the prominent half-brother of the king of Laos who was the figurehead of Champasak province. They said farewell to Mr. Arinhavong with wet eyes.   At that early stage of development of the Faith, the Bahá’ís could not convince his family to give him a Bahá’í burial. Therefore, the Bahá’ís offered prayers while his body was cremated.  The Auxiliary Board member Bijan Bayzaee  adds the following detail to this sad tragedy saying: “Mr. Faiz Yaganagi was present at Duangtha Area Wong’s funeral and  placed the Greatest Name  that he had in Duangtha’s mouth before his cremation.  

In conclusion, we have seen the Faith advances through crises and victories. We have also seen that any effort rendered with love in the path of service, no matter how insignificant, will attract divine assistance and the concourse on high will come to our aid.

Throughout my years in Laos and other countries, I gained invaluable lessons. Whether in the sixties as a traveling teacher or in the seventies as an Auxiliary Board member, Counselor, and resource person following the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, every moment was a blessing for which I cannot thank God enough.


Conference on Ḥuqúqu’lláh held in Vientiane in October 2012. Firaydun is seated second from left.

Dr. Firaydun Mithaq
Chieng Mai
Thailand
30 June  2024

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