#12 Baha’i Henrico Community

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I was interested in attending a worship service with the Baha’i community to see what it was all about so I went on their website to find dates/times to attend. I soon realized the site doesn’t offer up that information so I called the Henrico county information line to see if I could learn more.

After leaving a message indicating my desire to understand the specifics regarding the Bah’ai faith, I was contacted by a kind woman who generously offered to have me over for dinner to discuss any questions I might have about their religion. I accepted her invitation and last week I courageously drove into an unfamiliar area of Richmond off of Parham road and met her and her husband in their home for a meal.

I was talking to my sister on my cellphone as I drove up to the couples house. While parked in the car outside, my sister had a bit of fun by saying, "hey Jess, if you change your name as part of your religious conversion, just let me know what it is so I know what to call you" I couldn’t help but join in her laughter. The whole thing is a bit funny. It was only 3 short months ago that I wasn’t attending church at all and here I was, on the stoop of a Baha’is house searching for God on their doorstep. Right before we got off the phone, she offered a lighthearted yet sincere warning saying: "Make sure your husband knows where you are and have your phone ready just in case they try any funny business." So I listened to her wise council and called my husband to double check he had the address. I gave him a signal and said, "if I call but don’t say anything, that means to come and save me." He agreed so I made my way to the entrance of their home, with my cell phone tucked away discretely in my sweatshirt pocket. I said a quick prayer that God keep my mind and heart open to their religion, but made Him promise once again to keep close by. Of course, as always, He assured me He would.

As soon as the door opened, I was greeted by "Thelma" who had as friendly a face as she did a voice. She warmly welcomed me into her home with a simple smile. I immediately noticed her and her husband were both barefoot so I asked if she’d like for me to remove my shoes, to which she replied, "please." I wondered if it was because they didn’t like dirty shoes, or whether it had to do with their religion like the Buddhist and Hindu communities.

I couldn’t help but notice as I made my way into the kitchen pictures of almost every mainstream religious leader hung proudly on their wall. A picture of Jesus Christ, Balluha’s son, a Muslim picture, a zen statue, and a Hindu god surrounded their family photos as if they were just another child’s high school graduation picture.

We immediately sat down for dinner which was an Indian chicken cuisine. I thought it was a brave food choice to offer a stranger since Indian is an acquired taste but they were in luck, I was indeed a fan. As we ate, they asked a bit about my background and what had led me to their door. I told them about my search for Truth and attending the different houses of worship. They seemed intrigued and ask for me to share a few of my experiences with them from the past few months which I was happy to.

After some good dinner conversation, they fired up the laptop computer. Thelma cooked us up some hot chai tea while her husband "Edmond" pulled up a very detailed hour long power point presentation about their Prophet Bahá’u’lláh and the Baha’i faith. I was fascinated by all the information they had to offer. It was then that they revealed to me that people aren’t really encouraged to worship with Baha’i’s until they admit that Bahá’u’lláh was a manifestation of God. So this would be as close as I’d get to worship with them until I had made my mind up to become a member of their religion. As questions arose, Thelma would get up from her seat and proclaim with excitement "I have a great book that answers just that!" and she’d run into a different room of the house only to come out with yet another piece of Baha’i literature to read.

When I left that night, some 4 hours later, I had a large paper bag which held 3 Baha’i books, 1 prayer book, 1 plastic Baha’i prayer card, 2 CD’s of Baha’i music and a picture of the Prophets son, framed with a passage regarding the Holy Spirit displayed underneath. Thelma whispered at one point when she realized how much she had given me, "I’m not overwhelming you am I? Am I being overbearing? If so, I’m so sorry. I just get so excited about this stuff but I just realized I’m sending you home with an entire Baha’i library!" I smiled and reassured her she wasn’t. I know that excitement all too well so she certainly wasn’t overwhelming me with her enthusiasm for God.

We spent some time after the presentation talking about our personal relationships with our Creator. At one point when sharing the story about the murder and persecution of their Prophet, Bahá’u’lláh, Thelma’s husband Edmond broke into tears. He apologized by saying, "I’m so sorry for crying." I felt his pain. I tried to console him. "I cry often when thinking about the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross. It’s nothing to be ashamed of" I said. Thankful for my desire to ease his embarrassment he turned to me, smiling through his tears and said, "Thank you, Jessica. But I’m not a little girl. I’m a 260 lb burly man, we’re not supposed to cry like you ladies." We both laughed as we agreed it was not exactly the norm.

The energy and emotion that I felt in the room while worshiping with these two was indescribable. I felt not only welcomed but encouraged to share my story. I felt that I could listen to their beliefs without judgment. I was open to what they were saying about Love and all the religions working toward the same goal: peace, love and joy. I felt understood when I told them that I felt I was being called by God to share the Good News. I wasn’t scared to tell them about my relationship with God because they might think I was a "Jesus Freak" instead, here were 2 people who spent every hour of every day serving their God so nothing I could say could take them by surprise. They welcomed people interested in their faith into their homes, they tithed, they decorated their home in images of gods, they fasted, they tried to be the best they could be by not drinking, or doing drugs, and eating right and trying to be really good to people. They were both fantastic representatives for their religion. Pillars of peace, health, forgiveness, equality, sacrifice and understanding. I loved them! I couldn’t help but continually and silently pray for them as they spoke to me just asking God to fill their lives with happiness. At one point in our conversation I felt so connected and convinced of their cause that my face must have been a tell tale sign of how "into them" I was. I was beaming from ear to ear as they told me about their religion. While nodding in a self assured manner, Thelma leaned in as if she was going to reveal to me a secret and whispered, "you are a Bahai my dear, I can tell. You are very godly. You are a Bahai!" I was thrilled! I was flattered! "They must think I’m very understanding," I thought full of self pride. "THEY LIKE ME! THEY THINK I’M PEACEFUL! THEY THINK IM ACCEPTING AND LOVING!" I’M SO GOOD AND THEY CAN SEE IT!" I silently screamed. When I realized how carried away I was getting in my head, I wondered if they too could see my self-righteousness so I immediately tried to hide it by changing the subject.

We ended the evening with about 45 minutes of meditation and prayer. I felt physically wonderful. I felt very similar to how I felt the first time I was in the Mormon church. I was almost buzzing with Spirit in a manic fashion. I was convinced while in that room that the Baha’i faith had it "right" and that we’re All praying to the same God and that I was a Baha’i because I believe in love and unity and equality. Then, they started to pray to Baha’ullah aloud.

I sat with the two of them on either side of me in their living room, eyes closed and hands clasped as they read Baha’i prayers and I silently chanted "Jesus Christ, Lord of Lords. All glory be to You." There was something about their prayers that just wasn’t resonating with me. I loved their ideas about unification and world peace but when they prayed, I just didn’t feel like.... I just didn’t feel like.... like they were praying to...well, my God.

We wrapped up the night at around 11pm. I hugged both Thelma and Edmond like we were old friends and began walking to my car, bag of Bah’ai trinkets in hand. As I looked at my phone I realized it was on silent and I had been at this house for almost 4 hours and had 10 missed calls, all from my husband. I quickly called him, knowing I must have scared him and apologized for not keeping in touch. To which he replied, "so are you a Baha’i? You better be because you were there forever and scared the crap out of me!" I told him I very well might be and that I had a wonderful experience. When I got home, I thought long and hard about that small home off of Parham road; the pictures on the wall, Thelma and Edmond, the power point, the music, the food, the entire experience just continuously played in my head. But one thing kept bubbling up as an uncertainty, something I wasn’t sure how I felt about. The prayers that concluded the evening left me feeling a bit uneasy. What I couldn’t help but wonder was whether I did indeed believe we were all praying to the same God like Thelma and Edmond had claimed. I decided to give myself a few days to explore their religion and meditate on their beliefs before deciding where I fit into all this.

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6 Comments

  • Anne Gavin

    Anne Gavin April 19, 2010

    Wow! I have had w wonderful time catching up on what you have been doing the last few weeks. As usual, I am in awe over your reflections and experiences and your openness of what is in your heart. Your have visited 3 very diverse faiths and I learned so much about each of them. How blessed we are to live in a country that allows such diversity! Thank you for sharing this experience with us!

  • Jessica

    Jessica April 19, 2010

    Thanks for commenting, Anne!

    These experiences have certainly been life changing. I look forward to the next 9 months. I can’t imagine what else He has in store for me.

  • Janice Dial

    Janice Dial April 19, 2010

    What an interesting dinner you had I love your openess Keep praying and keep your cell phone on love janice

  • Khalilah

    Khalilah July 10, 2010

    God listens to the prayer uttered in the utmost sincerity and God guides whomsoever he pleases and God is aware.

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    essay writing service June 15, 2011

    Thanks for this life and sentimental story. God bless you!

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    custom essays June 24, 2011

    They have a very strong community, but bad organization.

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