Saturday, December 30, 2006

Black Men's Gathering: America To Africa, Africa To Israel

I have returned from my epic journey to Africa and the Holy Land and as promised I'm going to tell my readers what happened. The following is a journal version of the story which of course cannot do justice to everything that I experienced, but will provide a thumbnail sketch. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 9th
The journey began at the Baha'i National Center in Evanston, Illinois. 32 African American men from across the country assembled to prepare for service in Ghana through prayer and study of important guidance given to the Baha'i World by the Universal House of Justice, the International Governing Council of the Baha'i Faith. We were then honored with an invitation to have tea with the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of The United States who were meeting that weekend. The Assembly greeted us with a love which is not of this world. During this significant and joyful gathering, we receive the rare privilege of being able to pray with the National Spiritual Assembly in its counsel chambers. As we departed, the Assembly burst into a spontaneous singing of 'Allah'u'Abha (meaning God is Most Glorious) and we each received a hug and kiss from Secretary General, Dr. Robert Henderson as we left. It was a magnificent, soul-stirring send off for our trip to the Motherland.

Sunday, December 10th
The men of the Gathering visiting the Mother Temple of the West in Wilmette, Illinois to beg for divine assistance for our service in Ghana. It was a very cold day, but inside the Temple we felt the warmth of God's love and the power of prayer. We were so moved that we could scarcely leave that blessed spot and gathering beneath the entrance, gazing up into the Temple dome and sang out, 'Allah'u'Abha, 'Allah'u'Abha!

Monday, December 11th
We arrived in Ghana and were greeting by members of it National Assembly, as well as Counselor Agatha Nketsiah and members of the Auxiliary Board. We enjoyed our first experience of Ghanaian food and hospitality and were then divided up into teams and dispersed across the Capital, Accra.

Tuesday, December 12th
The highlight of the day was a visit to Cape Coast and a tour of the slave castle there, were many of our ancestors may very well have been kept before enduring the horrors of the Middle Passage. This inspired deep reflection about the suffering of these men, women, and children and it similarity to the sufferings of Baha'u'llah, Himself during His earthly Ministry. Our spirits were lifted through a visit to the energetic and good-humored Cape Coast Baha'i Community who taught us a popular song among African Baha'is called, "Everywhere You Go, Baha'is They There". This became our personal anthem for the rest of the trip.

Wednesday, December 13th
The team I was assigned to joined with one of the teams concentrating on Greater Accra and visited a neighborhood called Domi where there was an effort to introduce the Baha'i Faith. We visited with several receptive souls in that neighborhood. I visited three women who were interested in the Baha'i Faith and engaged in a lovely discussion about the progressive nature of revelation, the equality of women and men and the importance of providing moral education for children and youth. All three women expressed interest in becoming Baha'is. We then met with a new Baha'i in that neighborhood who had many questions and wished to have his faith strengthened. We deepened his knowledge of fundamental verities of the Baha'i Faith and shared prayers together that brought this precious man to tears.

Thursday, December 14th
My team of four African American men left Accra and began our adventures in earnest, traveling to the Eastern Region of Ghana. This first day we visited Gyankana, Katase and Aburi and were ably guided by a great teacher of the Faith and excellent interpreter named John who lived in that area. After first paying our respects to the chief who ruled the areas we would be traveling in, we visited several Baha'is who needed spiritual support and encouragement. We then had the delight of visiting a public school where the Baha'is have been providing moral education classes for children in that community. It was a huge, loud, vibrant celebration with 200 children dancing and singing. I was honored with an opportunity to address the children, teachers and parents, bringing a message of love from black people in America and emphasizing the Baha'i view that children were like a treasure of precious gems that could only be discovered and polished through education. This received an enthusiastic response and we shook hands and encouraged each child who was present. That evening we spent time at John's home, which not surprisingly, was a center of Baha'i activity in this village. Children, youth and adults all came over and our team provided them will spiritual education and training in skills of community service.

Friday, December 15th
We continued our journey further into the mountainous eastern region which shares a border with Togo. We visited the capital of that region, Koforidiua as well as the villages of Perche and Obowule. We were once again ably guided by a young member of the Regional Baha'i Council of the Eastern Region named Emmanuel who acted as our interpreter. Given his name means "God With Us", I was confident that we were in good hands! We were initially greeted by members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Koforidiua and shared fellowship and prayers with them. We then paid our respects to the local chief who explained that many of his subjects were Baha'is and he knew a bit about it. After visiting this chief, we visited the truly awesome Baha'i community of Perche who are having a class at their Baha'i Center. This was a joyful group of excellent singers who taught us songs in their native language as well as English. We next traveled to a village where there were no Baha'is, called Obowule. A radiant Baha'i woman and two beautiful Baha'i girls joined us on this trip. A large portion of the village assembled on benches outside, about 20 people, men, women and children and we taught them the Baha'i Faith for about an hour. This was a highly intelligent and thoughtful group who challenged us with many questions about the Baha'i Faith, Christianity and the Bible. By the end of the hour, there was much smiling, laughter and the Holy Spirit was clearly present. The villages requested that more Baha'i teachers come so that they could learn more about this new Faith.

Saturday, December 16th
We had the opportunity to teach the Baha'i Faith to students at the University in Koforidiua. We divided into small groups on the porch outside their dormitory and did rapid fire presentations about the Faith. The receptivity was very high and one of the youth decided to become a Baha'i right on the spot! We next visited with the LSA of Koforidiua and other members of the surrounding community for prayers and consultation about the what we were learning about the growth of the Baha'i community in the United States. We were fortunate to have members of our team from Baha'i communities at different stages in the growth process. We shared both our challenges and victories and offered encouragement. This meeting was both joyous and informative. We posed for a group photo and shared laughter and tears. It was hard to say goodbye to that community.
We next returned to Accra where we acted as assistant teachers at the home of Professor Ben Asare and Beatrice Asare. Their daughter Christine was also a teacher. We were joined by one of the teaching teams that had concentrated on the Accra area. Thirty bright eyed children enjoyed stories, songs and games and capped it off with spontaneous drumming and dancing. That evening we went to a dinner at the home of Agatha Nketsiah, the new Counselor where several men of the Gatherings shared their artistic talents in collaboration with local Baha'is and their friends. It was a beautiful exchange of cultures among people of African descent. The highlight of this day of victories was that our driver Noah was moved by the Holy Spirit to also embrace the Baha'i Faith.

Sunday, December 17th
On this final day of our trip we joined Bahá'ís and others for a lunch at the home of an African American Baha'i woman from Memphis who had lived in Ghana for many years. As usual the children stole the show, singing a song based on Baha'i Scripture about the midnight sighing of the poor. This song was a poignant reminder of the need for global transformation which is the mission of our Faith as well as the Black Men’s Gathering. We ended the day with a celebration at the Bahá'í National Center, featuring a drum and dance group from the Volta region, as well as another artistic exchange with brothers from the Gathering. It was an evening full of emotions as we embraced the Ghanaian Baha'is and said our farewells. Many of us made vows to return to Ghana and continue advancing the Cause in that beautiful country.

Wednesday, December 20th
After a day and a half of travel we arrived victorious at the Bahá'í World Center where we would visit the Holy Shrines and ask that our services be accepted at the Sacred Threshold. We were honored with a meeting with Universal House of Justice members Mr. Glenford Mitchell and Mr. Kiser Barnes. Both emphasized the spiritual significance of our teaching work in Africa and contrasted our victories in Ghana with the crises facing the noble, long-suffering Bahá'í community in Egypt.
We then had the inestimable blessing of praying at the Shrine of Baha'u'llah for the first time of our three day visit. To share in laying my head on the Sacred Threshold with my distinguished brothers of the Gathering was very special to me and surpassed even my experience of Pilgrimage two years ago. The sheer beauty and power of that place and these people will long linger in my memory. An already amazing day ended with evening of presenting our experiences to staff at the Bahá'í World Center (some 700 people) in the seat of the International Teaching Center. All 32 members of the Gathering shared their stories of teaching the Faith in Ghana. The love and true respect shown to these black men by Bahá'ís from all other the planet was truly impressive and offered me a glimpse of what the world will be like when all humanity recognizes the station of African people as the "pupil of the eye". There was also a great deal of laughter to complement all the love in the room, a room filled with spiritual energy.

Thursday, December 21st
We continued our much too brief visit to the holiest places in the world with visits to the Bahá'í Cemetery, the Shrine of the Báb, and receiving a tour of the Ark on Mt. Carmel. The highlight of that blessed day was a visit by Universal House of Justice member Mr. Hooper Dunbar who took the time to come to the hotel and visit with a few brothers and share in the excitement that the Gathering had generated at the Bahá'í World Center. Eyes filled with love that was not of this world, he embraced each of us as he departed.

Friday, December 22nd
We ended our stay at the Bahá'í World Center with visits to the magnificent terraces and the monumental gardens where we prayed at the resting places of members of Baha'u'llah's family and we were able to visit His Holy Shrine one last time. I spent a full hour circumambulating the Shrine of the Blessed Perfection, my prayers enhanced by the sound of my feet on the gravel path, the singing of the birds, the breath of a warm breeze and the heat of the midday sun. I focused much of my prayers on the advancement of the Cause in Ghana, throughout Africa and in the Boston Area. That evening we had the further blessing of being invited to dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Barnes. Mr. Barnes addressed us for a second time telling several hilarious African stories and emphasizing the spiritual and historical significance of people of African descent travel teaching in Africa and in Ghana especially because of its historical significance to the Cause of freedom in Africa and the United States. We then hastened to the Shrine of the Báb one last time to lay our heads at the Sacred Threshold and beg for confirmations from the Abhá Kingdom. Just then it seemed that we would burst from all the blessings we received, we were given the special gift of rose petals from the Shrine of the Blessed Báb and bookmarks with photos of the Shrine that were made by one of our greatest "fans", Brigita Aiff, a beautiful German lady who was raised in Namibia and who has long served at the Bahá'í World Center. We surrounded her with love and singing of an old African American spiritual “Hush, Somebody’s Callin’ My Name.” We then loaded up our gear and began the journey back the United States.