Mel Allen Silva: A Preacher and the Persian Girls

Mel Allen Silva: A Preacher and the Persian Girls

Mel Silva is right of the person with the black shirt and behind the person holding the left-side of the banner. (our left)

It was April 1981 when I found myself, once again, on the island of Antigua Leeward Islands. I had celebrated my 18th birthday on the island just a few short years before. I recall carrying a note in my pocket from my mother giving me permission to travel outside the United States on my own.  On that day, I took the note out from my pocket and deposited it into the garbage, whereby declaring myself a free man. That was a magical trip, of which I will write about at another time.


There had been an appeal from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the Virgin and Leeward Islands for Baha’is to come and help with the formation of a new national jurisdiction of the Windward Islands autonomous from the Virgin Islands. At the time, I was serving as a pioneer to Puerto Rico. A fellow Puerto Rican pioneer by the name of Bob Bolta and I traveled to Antigua to aid in the election of the Local Spiritual Assemblies of the island.


Ruhiyyih Khan

In order for there to be a separate national jurisdiction there had to be a minimum number of local assemblies formed and reformed by Ridvan of 1981. Amatu’l-Bahá RúhÍyyih Khánum (Hand of the Cause of God and wife of the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi) was to attend the National Convention on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, so you can imagine there was no pressure to achieve these goals.


For the most part, everything went very well. We met with the Baha’i communities beforehand and planned a time and place for the election of the various Local Spiritual Assemblies.


Afsaneh Mouzoon, Mahvash Musaghi, Seema Aidun and Mel A. Silva (not in order)

There were two wonderful Baha’i Pioneers to Antigua by the names of Afsaneh Mouzoon and Mahvash Musaghi, who had pioneered to Antigua just after the revolution in Iran in 1979. These two angelic young women could light up any gathering with their love of the Baha’i Faith as well as any seeker they came in contact with.


The three of us had been working in the various villages around the island.  I must say, being in the presence of such remarkable servants of Baha’u’llah, to this day, brings a tremendous smile to my face and the realization of this splendid bounty rewarded too few.


One afternoon, we had finished with our work in the villages on one side of the island and were on our way to the other side of the island, so we took the liberty to stop in St. John’s to have lunch at a restaurant that we all liked; it was just a couple of short blocks from the National Baha’i Center. In particular, I love their papaya milkshake. As a kid coming from an Indian reservation in Southwest Colorado with no papaya to be found, it was like an exotic manna from heaven.



St. John’s, Antiqua

We entered the restaurant and found a table, and immediately placed our order, including papaya milkshakes and conch chapatti. The family who owned the restaurant were East Indians who we had become very good friends with and we always enjoyed their company. By now, it was a little after lunchtime, so there were only maybe three tables of customers – all West Indians except for us.


What a great memory to think back to a time when we were so young and so full of love for our Faith. I still remember that day being in the presence of these two remarkable Servants of Baha’u’llah, I remember it as if it was yesterday, their beauty surpassed only by their spiritual radiance.


We talked and laughed and enjoyed the wonderful day of service that we were afforded by the Blessed Beauty.


All of a sudden the girls looked down and turned their faces away; it was quite shocking and I asked what’s the matter. They immediately said, “Don’t say anything, don’t talk to him!” I asked, “who?” They turned their eyes towards the door and said, “Don’t say anything”. I looked towards the door and saw a nondescript middle-age West Indian man coming through the door. Under their breath they told me, “He’s a minister of a church and he always attacks us, so don’t say anything to him!” The man walked up to our table, gave us a harsh look, and then sat down at the table nearest to ours. He looked at me and he asked me, “Are you a Baha’i?” I took the cue from the girls and decided not to engage him. I looked at him and responded in Spanish. He immediately jumped out of his seat and said “Oh, so you don’t speak English”; then he launched into a diatribe against the Baha’i faith, jumping up and down shouting at the top of his lungs all sorts of ridiculous lies about the Faith. Everyone in the restaurant began to look at him, and from the looks on their faces they thought he was Looney Tunes.


It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. The girls kept their face turned away from him, as I stared at him with a smirk of what must’ve been disbelief, and with a sense of – this can’t really be happening.


He continued ranting and raving against the Faith, jumping into the air, waving his arms and pointing his fingers.  Then, he said something that was totally unacceptable to me and proved just how far away I still was from achieving a Baha’i perspective. He pointed his finger at the girls and said, “…and these Baha’i girls sleep with the West Indian man in order to turn them into Baha’is”. I came out of my seat, took two steps towards him and said in perfect English, “You can say anything you want about the Baha’i faith, but if you say one more word against these girls you’re going to deal with me!” He immediately took two steps back and I could see that he was frightened to discover that I understood everything he was saying. The girls came out of their seats and jumped on me, one on each side, holding my arms down and pulling me backwards. Thank God for their Baha’i behavior.



Now, I can tell you that it would have been very bad for me to beat up a minister of a Christian church on the island of Antigua. In that community, it would have taken 15 minutes for everyone on the island to know that Baha’is beat up Christian ministers.


As the girls held me back while begging me to stop and to let it go..a young West Indian, sitting with his girlfriend a couple of tables away, stood up and walked over to the minister. He told him, “Why don’t you leave these people alone! They haven’t done anything to you”. The minister started yelling at the young man, telling him how bad the Baha’is were. The girls seemed to have been given superhuman strength.  All I wanted to do was teach this guy a lesson, but I could not get loose from them. The preacher launched a myriad of insults at the young West Indian, and told him he was going to go to hell for sticking up for the

1981 First convention Leeward Islands: Mel Silva, Back row, second from the left.

Baha’is. The young West Indian man took his glasses off and set them on a nearby table, once again telling the preacher to shut up or else. The minister began to insult the young man and wave his hands in his face. The young man then stepped forward and threw one punch, knocking the minister unconscious.


The girls were beside themselves and tried to rouse the preacher. The young West Indian man told us we should go. I thought that was a good idea, so I took each of the girls by the arm and escorted them out.



Ruhiyyih Khanum and Violette Nakhjavani courtesy of

We spent the rest of the day on the other side of the island raising the requisite number of Assemblies to form the new national jurisdiction.


A few days later, we accompanied Amatu’l-Bahá RúhÍyyih Khánum and Mrs. Violette Nakhjavání (wife of Ali Nakhjavání, member of the Universal House of Justice between 1963 and 2003) back to Puerto Rico, after successfully forming a new national identity. Sometime later, I asked the girls if they had experienced any more trouble from the minister, and they told me – not a peep.





Tricia Hague-Barrett: To Fulfill A Dream (2004)

Tricia Hague-Barrett: To Fulfill A Dream (2004)
Recording radio programs for Marshall Islands, 2004.

Just recently I have come to realise just how important it is to record the stories of some of the adventures we have
had during our time as Bahá’ís. Time is slipping by and those memories, if not recorded,
will be very difficult to work out later on by historians of the future. 


  (52 Radio Programs in a month)


Back in 2004, I was invited to go to the Marshall Islands to record 52 x 15 minute radio programs based entirely on the book The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh.  The national Bahá’í governing body (An elected Institution) had compiled the 52 radio scripts, each of which included approx 6 Hidden Words for each programme, and they were topic related.  The rest was up to me.  What they required was a method to properly record and compile them.  Each programme was on a theme.  The virtues were chosen.  e.g., Justice, Compassion, etc.


Previous Methods:

The recordings they had tried to make in the Marshall Islands were very difficult to create on a tape recorder.  We tend to forget that recording with the old equipment was very difficult for a number of reasons.  A person would start to read, make an error, then stop, rewind the tape, and then have to do it all again. Sometimes, by accident, they would overwrite the previous recordings of somebody else.  I would imagine that would be very frustrating.   At first I suggested that they send someone to New Zealand to live with us to learn how to create the programs so they could take that knowledge back to the islands, but this was not to be the case.  Instead, they invited me to come to the Islands and record each person in English and in Marshallese.  Not knowing the language would slow me down somewhat, it was a wonderful opportunity to serve the Faith in some small way.   I left New Zealand on a cold winter’s day in August 2004.

        Image result for Where is the Marshall Islands located on the map?

The Marshall Islands:

Atoll – coral rim that encircles a lagoon partially or completely

To give you some information about where I went, I gathered and edited the following information from Wikipedia, as my memory is not as good as it was back then.  There are 29 atolls (each made up of many islets) and 5 islands, which can be divided into two island chains, Ralik Chain and Ratak Chain. Along with other Pacific Islands, the Marshall Islands were then consolidated into the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands governed by the United States. Self-government was achieved in 1979, and full sovereignty in 1986, under a Compact of Free Association with the United States.  

This island group consists of over a thousand flat coral islands with white sandy beaches and turquoise lagoons.  They are situated between Fiji and Japan.  


On My Way:

I traveled firstly to Fiji, where I stayed overnight, the change in temperature was very noticeable.  I went from 8°C (46.4°F)  to 31°C (87.8°F) in Fiji, and I remember getting on the plane and all of my pores opening up, and boy did I perspire.  (Men sweat, ladies perspire eh?) I slept fitfully while I listened to the frogs outside and saw geckos up close and kinda personal in the hallway to my motel room.  A very early start the following morning I boarded a plane to my destination, Majuro.  All I had seen from the plane on the way to Fiji was vast ocean.  I was going to be in for a wonderful surprise after take off.  The back 10 seats on either side of the small plane was loaded with boxes piled one on top of the other and tied down in a cargo net.  I found out later that these were supplies for one of the outer islands.


Oh the gorgeous views

These, as I was too soon discover, were truly magnificent Islands, beckoning visitors with all the promise of a tropical paradise. My view of many islands from the air after leaving Fiji, proved that.  However, I was not there as a tourist but given a missionary status on a temporary 31 day visa.  I would have no time at all for sightseeing.  


Picnic on the Beach

A picnic by the sea, Marshall Islands August 2004

On my arrival in Majuro, I was taken to a picnic underneath the trees near the National Bahá’í Office on the largest and main Island of The Republic of Marshall Islands.    The picnic area was very close to the lagoon and even the shade was hot. The whole time I was there the temperature never changed.  


The National Baha’i Office

The building was a two-story building close to the Lagoon.  (Plans were in the making for a new building and may have been built by now). It was a very small place and it was situated close to the airport.   


Food Poisoning:

I was quite concerned about eating food that I was not accustomed to, having been warned to only eat what I prepared for myself, but at the invitation of the Friends, I ate a spoonful of the raw fish which was in some kind of sauce included with some breadfruit. That turned out to be the worst thing I could have done.  I became very ill that evening and for the next 10 days I had a stomach bug and ended up vomiting, along with other associated problems.  I had to fight to keep working on the project from day one. Talk about being tested, but like all things hard to do, I remembered the book written by Mr. Faizi about the passing of The Beloved Guardian, and the story of Magellan and the statement, “Carry on, go forward!” paraphrasing as I cannot find the book to quote it.  

On my arrival:

I was very tired, and the conditions under which I stayed were made bearable with a cooling unit in the motel room that they put me up in, although the first morning I awoke frozen after having slept with the cold air wafting over me all night. I brought my computer to the islands, along with CDs full of Baha’i songs and music, microphones, cords and empty CDs.  The Bahá’ís of Majuro had purchased a brand new computer which I was able to use as well.  


The weather 

Well, the weather was amazing.  From clear blue sky to raining many times a day leaving puddles in the street (there was only one street).  I was amazed that the puddles would dry up in such a short amount of time. The biggest problem for me, apart from my illness, was the heat and I just did not become acclimatized to it while there.  


The National Council had asked me to record all of the Hidden Words during my stay and were expecting me to record everybody, take all the recordings back to New Zealand and make the programs for them. Working with radio since 1999, I had enough experience under my belt to know just how long it takes to make a radio program. The programs that we were making were 2 hours long in New Zealand at that time, so I was quite confident that I could not only record all the programs but complete them while I was there. as long as nothing went wrong. My first job was to put together a sample of how it would go together, which I accomplished in the first week. (Sick as a dog)

On the first night, I went to my motel room and I could hear someone singing along with a guitar. I went out onto the porch and, lo and behold, there was a group of children sitting below my deck singing beautifully. I stood there for a long time listening. At the end of the last song someone said, “Allah’u’Abhá!”. “Oh my goodness me!” I leaned over and saw the children chattering away to themselves in their native language.  I couldn’t help myself,  I said “Hello how are you!” and asked, “Are you members of the Baha’i Faith?”  “Yes!” someone replied in English.   I asked if there were many Bahá’ís in the area and they said, “Yes!”  that nearly every home in this area was a Bahá’í home and that there were about 500 believers.   


I realized that I would have to go in search of Voices to record.  At that stage, I didn’t have the programs and did not know the format. The secretary gave me 6 of the projected programmes and I started work.  I stayed in my motel room much of the time, and just put my back into it, so to speak.  I did have the opportunity to attend a Feast at the home of Irene Taafaki, the wonderful soul who had instigated this project.  She and her dear husband lived opposite the motel.  The warmth of these Island people was amazing, the joy they bestowed on me was heavenly.  


After a total 7 days of no recording, suddenly everything started working. As difficult as it had been to get people to start recording for me, we were now ripping through the Hidden Words.  I was excited to be able to attend a cluster meeting and hear all the conversations going on. The women made an amazing crown for my head out of the beautiful flowers they had collected and put it on my head at the end of the cluster meeting.  Quite an emotional trip this was turning out to be.


Baha’is were dropping in to start recording all day long. We recorded in both English and Marshallese. These generous souls were giving their time and effort to the Blessed Beauty. Thank God I was almost at the end of my illness.  Now it was full on, day by day until all 153 Hidden Words had been recorded.  I fell in love with these absolutely beautiful people.


I had the honor of meeting the very first believer in the Marshall Islands, and recording a conversation with her, although she became a Bahá’í while nursing in Fiji.  Unfortunately I cannot remember Betra’s other name now, but she wrote in my book, “Trish, I learned a lot from you within a few moments. I shall cherish all our moments, and working together for the Blessed Beauty.” Betra.
This wonderful singer would sing on the landing outside my motel room, and I recorded their music. One day I shall share them in a video presentation perhaps.


All I had to do was choose the music, and set up and record all of the introductions, in both languages, and finalize the programs and write the CD’s. You can watch a couple of samples of the radio programs on my YouTube channel here.  


Farewell Party

On the last night of my adventure, they put on a farewell party for me. As far as they were concerned, I had recorded all of the Hidden Words and they were being taken back to New Zealand to be created as radio programs. I finished the CDs and boxed them and tied them up with a ribbon and still had 15 minutes till the party began.  You see, as each program was finished, developed, and placed onto a CD and by the time the 31 days were up, the last program was completed.   I could hardly wait to see their beautiful faces upon receiving them.


An assortment of beautiful Marshallese Art

And what a farewell party that was. In addition to the Chairperson and Secretary of The National Spiritual Assembly of The Marshall Islands, a number of other people spoke in Marshallese which I didn’t understand fully. I was given a seat in the middle of the room, and slowly the friends got up and came and pinned their gifts on me.  Some necklaces were put around my neck, and other items were pinned to my dress.  Some of the most extraordinary artwork from their country including small bouquets of flowers were gifted to me, even Island dresses were given to me by one handmaiden of Bahá. They each hugged me as they said their farewells.  I was so overwhelmed with their love.


A necklace of shells


When it came time for me to present to them what they had achieved, I commented about their hospitality. love and willingness to serve Bahá’u’lláh along with a number of other things that I now cannot remember.  I gave a gift from the Hamilton Baha’i community which was a beautiful blue and green glass koru for the National Baha’i office and presented to the Secretary the box of the programs for a year.


A bread tray

I was truly overwhelmed by the love that they showed me and I was so excited about having completed the work that I had set out to do.  Tears were shed by me, and by many of the friends that evening.


I was to fly home the next day. One of the gifts that I received from one from the friends was 3 Birds created out of woven flax from the coconut tree I believe. The large bird was to ensure that I was safely returned to my home. The two baby birds were given to me to bring me back to the Marshall Islands in the future.


Oh how I wish I could go back there. I left my heart there amongst the friends in my newly found family.


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