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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.