Indigenous people worldwide have rich spiritual traditions that emphasize the oneness of humans with each other and with Mother Earth, a tenet shared with the Bahá’í Faith. Recognizing this commonality, some Native people have become Bahá’ís, making enormous contributions to the community—for instance, in the United States, the late Kevin Locke (Lakota) and his mother Patricia Locke (Lakota) were spiritual giants.
Yet, much work remains to strengthen the connections between Indigenous and Bahá’í teachings. A new task force based in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, is diligently carrying out that work.
Reading through the archives of this blog, which I started in 2013 to document my life in Haifa, Israel, I am struck by the changing of life phases. My commitments were few when I arrived in Haifa fresh out of college—no spouse, no career. The job I held there, a secretarial position that mostly entailed cataloguing things, left me creative energy to write and do the occasional art project.
In western Michigan, two very different locales just 30 miles apart illustrate the possibilities of outreach to neighbors. Grand Rapids is a bustling city with a million people in its metropolitan area. To the west, Grand Haven is a picturesque town on the shore of Lake Michigan. In both these “grand” places, Baha’is are working to enrich the spiritual lives of their neighborhoods.
In 2016, Jennie Colbert-Kennedy and Dennis Kennedy celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. That was also the year that they became Baha’is. The spiritual journey that ultimately led this loving couple to embrace the Baha’i Faith began in their childhoods, when they attended Baptist churches in Augusta, Georgia, one of which was a church Jennie’s great-great-grandfather founded and pastored.
“As a youth, it’s very impactful to be able to feel that you’re doing something good,” says Issa Masumbuko, a high school student in Durham, North Carolina. “It’s kind of like we’re being held back by society, but when we’re given the opportunity to contribute, we start to see our importance in the world.”
Although Jaron Myers’s story unfolds in the desertscape of central Arizona, it actually starts 1,500 miles away in Minnesota. At 18, Myers was a college student and churchgoer there. But he wasn’t satisfied with his spiritual life, feeling a disconnect between the rituals of religion and the call he felt to serve society.
A Baha’i teen who organized a school-based Social Justice Club has earned national recognition. Adib Rabbani won a 2021 Princeton Prize in Race Relations, an award from Princeton University “to support and encourage young high school students committed to fostering positive race relations within their communities,” according to their website. Rabbani was among 29 winners in 2021, taking home the award for the Kansas City Region.
Growing up in a small town has its benefits: kids often enjoy a tight-knit community and relative safety. But they may not have as many opportunities to expand their horizons as their urban peers do.
Take Federalsburg, Maryland, a town of 2,700 nestled near the center of the Delmarva Peninsula between Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. “Federalsburg is a town with a lot of children and not much to do,” says high school student Joseph Foster. “They get bored and turn to other stuff.”
A strong-willed leader and organizer, and a seeker forever pursuing the mysteries of divine love; an insurance salesman and an artist of page and stage who composed poetry and prose, sang and acted; a man who wrestled with a wariness of women and a unifier of contending personalities: this was Thornton Chase.
While winter and pandemic hibernation may seem far in the past, several initiatives originally undertaken during the previous winter months have blossomed. Though diverse in focus, these initiatives shared a common thread of building networks of people in the Midwestern states dedicated to sharing Baha’u’llah’s teachings in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio.