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There seems to be no limit to the number of ways friends of the Faith are contributing to Baha’i-initiated community-building efforts in West Lafayette, Indiana.
That level of participation represents “a beautiful weaving together” of efforts to share the Faith’s teachings with an expansion of community-building activities and “loving friendship,” says Johanna Merritt Wu, vice chair of the Local Spiritual Assembly, the Baha’i governing council for West Lafayette.Abhi Reddy (second from left), district director for U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, meets with Bahá’ís (from left) AJ Lucky, Caity Parsons and Johanna Wu. Photo courtesy of Johanna Wu
One friend of the Faith even joined a delegation of Baha’is in Indiana’s 4th Congressional District when they met with U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita’s district director to request support for a resolution decrying persecution of the Baha’i Faith in Iran.
The delegation included Wu, Caity Quinn Parsons and AJ Lucky, who recently became a Baha’i after being in a play Parsons directed at Purdue University.
Visiting the congressional office along with the Baha’is was a man who had been imprisoned and tortured in Iran for organizing protests. Wu says “innocent Baha’is who happened to be nearby” were arrested as well but not released with him.
West Lafayette Baha’is met the man a year ago and he has regularly attended Baha’i fireside talks ever since, as well as participating last October in events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Faith.
The friend’s wife and son went to the Indiana Baha’i Summer School in July 2018, and she is now helping to teach a Baha’i neighborhood children’s class.
That class is held in the home of another friend of the Faith, a “spiritual but not religious” woman who met the Baha’is through a Muslim who invited her to the Baha’i community’s regular devotional gathering.
And that’s not all, says Wu.
Billy Baker, a Baha’i, organized a class at a Unitarian church to study Reflections on the Life of the Spirit from the Baha’i-inspired Ruhi Institute curriculum. The women who participated in the class now regularly attend the devotional gathering. Baker is setting up a children’s class at the church as well.Participants in a junior youth camp in West Lafayette, Indiana, which includes Baha’is and their friends, perform the play “O, Will You Take This Rose?” that explores themes from the junior youth text The Human Temple. Photo courtesy of Caity Quinn Parsons
The Baha’i community’s weekly youth group is expanding to include Purdue Baha’i College Club members — only some of whom are Baha’is. The idea came from a student who is a friend of the Faith and participated in the youth group the past two years. Another friend of the Faith who wants to participate is the daughter of Baha’is in a different area of the state.
Also on the horizon are two more study classes, including one on Teaching the Cause from the Ruhi curriculum, and new junior youth groups that will be facilitated by two college students.
The “weaving” continues.
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George W. Hatcher is a candidate to become one of the first residents of the planet Mars. His Bahá’í Faith factored into his decision to volunteer for a one-way trip to another planet. Hatcher, an aerospace engineer, worked as a NASA engineer at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida for 13 years. Here is his story:
I grew up in rural Tennessee on the family farm thirty miles south of Nashville. When I was a child, I would play for hours in my attic bedroom with a spaceman LEGO set. By the time I was three, I told my mother I wanted to be an astronaut.
My parents are devout Protestants. We attended the local Church of Christ three times a week. I became disenchanted with Sunday school when my logical questions were either dismissed or ignored.
I was confused and conflicted, wanting to be an obedient son, but unable to commit to something that made no sense to me and that I didn’t truly believe.
By sixth grade, my love of airplanes and space showed no signs of letting up, so my parents sent me to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. A goal crystallized in my mind. I made a sign: “George Hatcher’s goal: to be the first person on Mars.” I hung it on my clothes rack and read it every morning.Aerospace engineer, George W. Hatcher, with daughter, Io, presents at a STEM-oriented event for families at the Baha’i House of Worship. The two-day event, sponsored by Illinois Institute of Technology and Brilliant Star Magazine, provided more than 100 kids with 40,000 LEGO blocks to build “cities” based on spiritual and scientific concepts. Photo by Mojdeh Stoakley
When I was 15, a new teacher named Mark Baker arrived at our rural, mostly white and Christian high school. With his long hair, engaging style, love of history and literature, and time spent teaching on Indian reservations, he was more than a bit of an iconoclast. Mr. Baker became my favorite teacher and a lifelong friend.
He turned our 10th-grade English class into a survey of world religions. My entire worldview was upended. My life had been so sheltered and homogeneous up to that point that I was convinced that Judaism (which I only knew of through Old Testament references) was largely defunct and that Christianity was the only religion in the world. Imagine my surprise to learn of the existence of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Sikhism, and Islam.
That same year, one of my best friends in high school, Lacey, became a Baha’i. That was the first time I heard the word, but I never asked her anything about it.
My parents provided me with opportunities to explore my newfound hunger for philosophical and religious knowledge. They paid my tuition to the Youth Theology Institute at Emory University in the summer of 1996 and the E Pluribus Unum program at American University in 1997. I made friends from other religious backgrounds and gained crucial exposure to new and inclusive ideas.
I had enrolled in four years of JROTC in high school, eventually rising to second-in-command of our student battalion, in preparation for what I thought would be my path to NASA’s astronaut corps–becoming a military pilot.
I was offered full college scholarships by the Army, Navy and Air Force, but turned them all down when I learned none of them would train me to fly due to my nearsightedness. Instead, I accepted an in-state scholarship at the University of Tennessee Knoxville to study Aerospace Engineering. If I couldn’t fly aircraft, I was going to learn how they worked.
I stuck around for a Masters in Aerospace Engineering, and after seven years in Knoxville, I was incredibly fortunate to get a job with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center.
Shortly after I settled into Florida life, my friend Lacey made a trip to Orlando for a Baha’i conference and invited me to join some of her Baha’i friends for dinner. Conversation was fluid and easy. I was intrigued by the high level of discourse.
When the topic turned to philosophy, I began to share a few ideas I’d gathered over nearly a decade of search. Midway through each sentence, someone would finish the thought with astounding clarity and in language I couldn’t hope to aspire to. “’Abdu’l-Baha said that,” they’d add. Or, “That’s a quote from Baha’u’llah.”
I spent the next two years investigating the Baha’i Faith, trying to find the catch.
I was on my way to visit friends in Chicago when my plane was delayed by snow. I had several hours to kill at the airport and had some Baha’i books in my bag. I remember as a kid wishing I could sit down and have a conversation with Jesus. As I read the Seven Valleys, I felt like I was having a conversation with Baha’u’llah. I would read a page, and a question would arise in my mind. On the next page, the question would be answered. I alternated between laughing out loud and crying.
By the time I finished the book it was clear. I was a Baha’i.
Growing up in a society obsessed with conflict between science and religion, I had been led to a religion that held science to be equally as important, and even yielded to science on material matters.
I champion the independent investigation of truth. There is no escape from the great questions of life; we are forced to face them. All of my major questions had clear, logical answers.
Baha’u’llah has removed my overwhelming fear of death. I do not worry that my children or I will die “too soon”. I can speak with my parents about religion without conflict and with the love of Christ in my heart.
The Faith has put the events of my life into perspective. It has provided me with a standard of conduct to strive for. I know that there are spiritual solutions to the social ills of humanity, and am blessed with knowledge of a framework of action that will bring about change.
As we were getting to know each other, I told my wife Lorenia (who is also a Baha’i) that if given the chance I would gladly risk my life to travel in space. She agreed to marry me even with such an outlandish dream, as long as we had kids before I left Earth. Lorenia and I were married in 2008. Our family has since grown to include three children.
In engineering school, I had heard about proposals for one-way trips to Mars but always dismissed them as crazy. As time passed, however, I learned that because of the expense, complexity and dangers of a return, one-way trips had vastly lower risk and up-front costs. The catch is that space travelers would have to be willing to live the rest of their lives on Mars.
The prospect of a one-way trip to Mars became real in 2013 when Mars One announced plans to settle the planet by groups of four and opened the door to anyone over 18 in good health. More than 200,000 people worldwide began the application process; around 2,700 people completed their applications and submitted the required fee. As of September 2018, I’m one of 100 candidates remaining. The final selection round is designed to whittle the number of hopefuls to 24 or fewer before offering them full-time employment with Mars One to begin training. This selection round is currently awaiting funding.
Had I not been a Baha’i in 2013, with the perspective that this life is but the blink of an eye, that my soul will ultimately be reunited with my family, that I can intercede on their behalf if I die, and with the assurance that I have been created to help carry forward an ever-advancing civilization, I probably would not have applied for Mars One.
No one knows when they will die or under what circumstances. I would rather die pursuing a goal I have worked toward my entire life—while advancing humanity’s ability to survive long term away from the Earth—than to spend the rest of my life in relative comfort.
The Baha’i Faith has given me an assurance and happiness that cannot be taken away, no matter what may befall me. Becoming a Baha’i is the single most important thing that has ever happened to me. It is my bedrock identity and the framework of my reality.
Dozens of people, with the help of four Baha’i authors, encountered and reflected on fresh ideas about human nature and relationships at the “Conversations of the Heart” gathering at Green Acre Baha’i School in Eliot, Maine, this past April.
And some of the connections made there are still vital. “Some participants felt so inspired and empowered that they started to make plans with each other,” says Martha Martinez, program coordinator at Green Acre. “Real connections were made and from our follow-up these connections have stayed strong.”
This response has been so encouraging that at least one follow-up has been planned.
The gathering originated from a question the programming team at Green Acre asked itself: “How can we generate elevated and meaningful conversations around spiritual and social concepts that relate learning to everyday life and include the whole community?”Janet Ruhe-Schoen refers to a story from the life of Tahirih in her presentation during the “Conversations of the Heart” program at Green Acre Bahá’í School. Photo by Nat Yogachandra
Consultation on that question led the school to collaborate with the U.S. Baha’i Publishing Trust on developing the program. They chose authors to invite for learning, exploration and reflection, and ultimately attracted 50 participants, including Baha’is and their friends from the local area as well as other states.
The entire program was designed “to set the individual, whether Baha’i or not, on a path to understand the nature of our relationships with one another as we all labor together to build a peaceful community,” says Nat Yogachandra, general manager of the Baha’i Publishing Trust.
- “Mind, Soul, and Relationships: Healing from the Inside Out” with psychologist Patricia McIlvride (who has been published as Patricia Romano McGraw). This discussion of the neurobiology of healing drew on cutting-edge brain science and Baha’i writings on the health of the soul.
- “Beyond Barriers: Overcoming Racial and Gender Stigmas to Conquer Fear and Function as a World Citizen” with Janet Ruhe-Schoen. This conversation focused on the living legacies of Louis G. Gregory, 20th-century African American lawyer and pioneer of racial integration, and Tahirih, 19th-century Iranian champion of women’s freedom.
- “The Power of Stories: Connecting to Virtues and Building Community” with Amy Renshaw, senior editor of Brilliant Star children’s magazine. Stories from her book Voyage of Love: ‘Abdu’l-Baha in North America and other sources inspired explorations of how stories touch people’s hearts and help them connect with others.
- “Abraham: His Life and Legacy” with Frances Worthington. The author facilitated a discussion of how followers of different religions have more in common than they may realize, with stories and ideas from her book Abraham: One God, Three Wives, Five Religions.
Even during the generous breaks between these sessions, Martinez recalls, “No one was sitting alone — everyone was talking with someone.” Guests who had never been to a Baha’i event before “indicated that having the time and space to talk to the authors was a highlight … a rare gift to actually have so much access to the presenters.”
Since then, she adds, two nearby residents have become committed to attending weekly programs at Green Acre that invite people from the area to explore locally important issues together.
Two other attendees, feeling they had made lasting friendships with Baha’is during the weekend, returned to their homes in Florida and Illinois and began attending Baha’i devotional gatherings — even hosting in one case.
“I sensed a spirit of optimism and hope,” Yogachandra says, adding that “The environment … created spaces where justice, fairness and inclusiveness were exhibited.”
See more information about Baha’i centers of learning and their programs.
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