TEACHING in the 70’s in NZ
Teaching has always been uppermost in my mind and has been all of my Bahá’í life.
Back in the late 70’s, I remember the following incident while attempting to teach the Faith in Christchurch, New Zealand.
On numerous occasions, I would try to think of unusual ways to attract the hearts of the sincere. One such idea that sprung to mind, was getting my kids off to school and then hopping on a city-bound bus and traveling around and around the city several times each day. Of course, I carried with me the book “Bahá’í World Faith” and sometimes I would open up the book and actually read something, however, I often just placed it strategically on my lap so that whoever sat beside me would see it. I would then just stare out the window and wait for someone to ask if they could have a look at the book. I cannot remember if that ever happened, but I remembered Hand of the Cause of God, William Sears, talking on a tape about doing something like this, so figured if He can do it, it might work for me too. But that was not my first and foremost aim; it was more to make the name Bahá’í become familiar to people. Of course, I was willing to give away the book to anyone who was willing to open their hearts and minds to the Cause of the Blessed Beauty.
Every opportunity was taken to have conversations with folks, and it didn’t matter what subject, I could always swing the conversation around to the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. It would be many years till the term “elevated conversations” became vogue, but I could be found discussing any topic and giving it a different perspective.
“Among the miracles,” ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá Himself has testified, “which distinguish this sacred Dispensation is this, that women have evinced a greater boldness than men when enlisted in the ranks of the Faith.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Quoted by the Guardian in The Advent of Divine Justice)
On one such occasion, I was bored with bus trips and decided to go into the Christchurch Business District, sit down on the steps and just wait for a sign, if you like, from God as to what to do next. I hadn’t been seated very long and was relaxing back on the steps, when ‘the Bible Lady,’ a well-known Christian woman who played the violin, came and planted her stool right across my ankles at the bottom of the four or so steps in front of the Christchurch Cathedral. I was not aware that she was there until she climbed onto her stool; the shadow went across my face, and I opened my eyes to see her sitting there with her violin in hand. I never moved, but just watched as God seemed to be doing something, I figured; “But what?” I thought.
The music started, and I just closed my eyes once again in the heat of that amazing summer’s day in the middle of Christchurch central city not far from the Cathedral. At one point, the Bible Lady stopped playing in the middle of her tune, and I opened my eyes to see what was happening. There she was pointing her finger at my face, and she asked, “Are you a Christian?” Immediately I replied, “Yes!” using double fisted hands to put emphasis on this statement of mine, which seemed to take the Bible Lady completely by surprise. She started playing her violin once more. I was intrigued at what she was doing, so I remained alert. A little while later, the music stopped once more, “Are you a Born Again Christian?” she asked. Again I immediately replied in exactly the same light, with my clenched fists forcefully brought together, “Yes!” and again she showed surprise and again the music resumed playing. At one point the lady asked “Which church do you belong to?” and again I replied with that two-fisted dramatization accompanying my reply “None!” Well, that was enough to cause a ruckus. The lady put down her violin and said, “But you cannot be a Christian and not belong to a church!” I sat up from my reclined position completely unaware of the crowd that was gathering around us, “Yes, I can!” I replied again with fists clenched. This seemed to peak her interest.
This when on for nearly 30 minutes – questions, followed by my reply and then music. “What religion do you follow?” she asked inquisitively. Of course, still unaware that anyone else was listening, I replied, “I am a Bahá’í!” Well, it was like all in hell broke loose at once, and suddenly the Bible Lady got off her stool, and yelled at the top of her voice… “My son was a Bahá’í and I went to America to drag him out of it. It is evil and hateful and it is satan’s church!” All I could think of saying was, “But I love you (name?)!” to which she responded “Don’t say that!” Her face told it all. Her hate of the Faith was such that it was almost tangible. I went on to say that, “Nothing you could say to me would change my mind!” about my love for her. At this point, I suddenly became aware of the crowd that had gathered behind me when someone remarked: “Yes, give it to her!” It seemed that around 200 people were standing behind me and oh goodness, now what was I to do. My first thought was to move away from the situation; I didn’t want to be the cause of any mass hysteria. As I stood to step away, people started coming up to me asking, “Can you tell me what you believe?” and “Can I come and hear about the Teachings you follow?”
That one encounter began several months of amazing firesides in my home and led to 14 declarations. It was an extraordinary, unforgettable experience.
“O Friends! You must all be so ablaze in this day with the fire of the love of God that the heat thereof may be manifest in all your veins, your limbs and members of your body, and the peoples of the world may be ignited by this heat and turn to the horizon of the Beloved.” (Unpublished compilation, National Archives Committee, no. 27, p. 394.)