Dear Co-worker (Messages to the Benelux countries)
Category: Bahá’í
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Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg).

Dear Co-worker

Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the Benelux countries

Shoghi Effendi


Preface

The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith set foot on Benelux soil at least once. Together with Rúḥíyyih Khánum, probably after World War II, he made a short stopover at Schiphol Airport and from there dashed off by taxi to the Rijksmuseum in nearby Amsterdam to see De Nachtwacht (‘The Night Watch’), Rembrandt’s famous painting.

As far as we know, the Guardian did not meet any believers on that occasion. In fact he never journeyed to officially meet with the Bahá’ís. He chose instead as an important means of guiding the worldwide Bahá’í Community an extensive correspondence, ranging from short cables to extensive monographs, well over 17,500 in total. The present book offers, for the first time, a compilation of his letters which were sent to Bahá’ís living in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

The plan to compile these letters originated in Belgium during the Bahá’í Summer School of 2004, when Mr. ‘Alí Nakhjavání, a former member of the Universal House of Justice, suggested the idea to an attending Dutch Bahá’í. A few months later, the National Spiritual Assembly of Belgium presented the delegates to the 2005 Belgian National Convention with a small compilation. When the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the Netherlands received a copy of this booklet, it was impressed and took up Mr. Nakhjavání’s idea.

A task force was formed with members from the three National communities. It was charged to collect as many of Shoghi Effendi’s letters to the Benelux as possible and to give honour to those early pioneers to the Benelux and the first native Bahá’í’s for their memorable services. It is our hope that this book will connect us with those days, when, in accordance with Shoghi Effendi’s instructions, the foundation was laid for all our present Bahá’í work.

We feel honoured that the introductions were written by Mr. Hénuzet, one of the last living native Bahá’ís from that period and an active “co-worker” to this day, and by Mr. Nakhjavání who gave the impulse for this book. This compilation is the result of a special spirit of love, with wonderful assistance from the World Centre, the United States Archivist, and from individual friends both within and outside the Benelux. We are grateful to all those who contributed.

We hope that this book will be an inspiration for the Bahá’í’s living in the countries of the Benelux today. In 2001 the Universal House of Justice announced that the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh had entered the fifth epoch of its Formative Age, a “milestone [that] falls within the patterns established by Shoghi Effendi for marking measures of time in the history of the Cause”. Under the inspiring guidance of the Universal House of Justice and the International Teaching Centre, the Bahá’í World has since then been engaged in a series of Five Year Plans aimed at the promotion of “entry by troops”, leading to the centenary of the Formative Age.

It is inspiring to read now what Shoghi Effendi wrote to the very first Regional Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’í’s of the Benelux (elected by delegates of four Local Spiritual Assemblies) in a letter of July 5th 1957 about our three “newly emerged, wholly dedicated, steadily unfolding, highly promising communities” “The spirit, … that so powerfully animates them in the discharge of their sacred and inescapable dudes is such as to ensure, if they persevere along the path they now tread, their complete and total victory.”

On November 4th 1957 the Bahá’í World suffered an indescribable loss when our beloved Guardian suddenly passed away. How much we wish that Shoghi Effendi could have witnessed the formation only five years later of the National Spiritual Assemblies of our three ever-growing Bahá’í Communities that together comprise 45 Local Spiritual Assemblies at this time.

May we finish this preface with the moving words of Shoghi Effendi concluding that letter of July 5th 1957: “That they may prove themselves worthy of their high calling; that they may rise to such heights as to excite the unqualified admiration of their brethren not only in the European continent but throughout both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres; that they may through the range and quality of their concerted exertions, draw forth a measure of Divine bounty adequate to meet the pressing needs and manifold requirements of their glorious mission is my ardent and constant prayer for them all as I lay my head on the threshold of His Most Holy Shrine. Shoghi”

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Belgium
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Luxembourg
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of The Netherlands


The Mail

by ‘Alí and Violette Nakhjavání

After arriving in Haifa following the passing of the beloved Master, Shoghi Effendi set himself the task of translating into English the text of the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and of writing, in collaboration with Lady Blomfield, an account of the events leading to the Masters passing and of the funeral ceremony that followed. It was early in 1922 when he started corresponding with the friends in the East and West. For two years, from 1922 to 1924, for the most part he wrote his letters himself to the institutions and the friends.

As his work increased he developed the method of asking secretaries to write letters on his behalf, conveying his instructions and thoughts in response to reports received or questions asked. For sixteen years he regularly used three secretaries from among members of his family for correspondence with the friends in the West. These were two of his cousins, Rúḥí Afnán and Suhayl Afnán, and one of his brothers, Ḥusayn Rabbání. He always opened all correspondence addressed to himself, and when time permitted he would instruct his secretary on how to answer the points raised in each incoming letter. After reading and approving a drafted response, he would often append a few words of his own followed by his signature.

In one of the letters written on his behalf we read the following postscript in his own hand: “Whatever letters are sent on my behalf from Haifa are all read and approved by me before mailing. There is no exception whatever to this rule.” (Principles of Bahá’í Administration: A Compilation. London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976, p. 89)

Gradually the regular English-speaking secretaries, namely, his two cousins and finally his brother, all broke the Covenant and disqualified themselves from membership in the community. It was then, in 1940, that Shoghi Effendi called on Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum to serve as his secretary for the West. From what Violette heard several times from Rúḥíyyih Khánum, Shoghi Effendi had told her that she was the best of all his secretaries and that he was very pleased with the manner in which she was able to faithfully convey his thoughts, wishes and instructions. Rúḥíyyih Khánum did relate that in some cases the Guardian felt her drafts were too wordy, and he would instruct her to write more briefly and concisely.

There is an anecdote that Rúḥíyyih Khánum quite often recounted. She said that her writing was never up to calligraphic standards, and when Shoghi Effendi was reviewing her drafted letters, he would often find that he needed to cross her “t”s and dot her “i”s. Rúḥíyyih Khánum carried out her responsibilities until the end of Shoghi Effendi’s earthly life.


Short history

by ‘Alí and Violette Nakhjavání

The Benelux countries, namely, the Central Organization for a Durable Peace, which was based in The Hague, feature early in the history of the Bahá’í Faith. It was on 17 December 1919 that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent a detailed Tablet to that Organization outlining the basic Teachings of the Faith as they bear upon the establishment of universal peace. The Hand of the Cause of God ‘Alí-Muḥammad Ibn-i-Asdaq and Mr. Aḥmad Yazdání, a devoted Bahá’í Esperantist, were asked by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to carry this Tablet to the Organization’s Offices in The Hague.

After ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, the beloved Guardian closely followed and encouraged the development of the Faith in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, directed travelling teachers to visit those countries, took an interest in and even helped financially with the publication of Bahá’í literature in the local languages, and corresponded with visiting Bahá’ís as well as early native believers, stimulating and inspiring them to promote the interests of the Faith in these countries. Outstanding among the travelling teachers that visited Belgium in 1936 were Mrs. May Maxwell and her daughter, Mary Maxwell, who later became Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum. Mrs. Maxwell’s visit was in response to the beloved Guardians wish that she should visit Belgium and stimulate the teaching work in that country.

It was in April 1946 that the beloved Guardian called on the American and Canadian believers to direct their efforts and their human and other resources to the Continent of Europe, the “cradle of world-famed civilizations”, as he described that Continent. He included this goal as one of the main objectives of the second Seven Year Plan of the National Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada.

As a result of these activities, the beloved Guardian determined that the foundations which had been laid since 1946 were adequate enough to justify the formation of an interim Regional National Spiritual Assembly for the three Benelux countries at Riḍván 1957.

Five years later, at Riḍván 1962, the number of Local Spiritual Assemblies and new believers had reached a point when it was possible to establish independent National Assemblies for each of the three Benelux countries. The story of these developments can be traced and better understood through the perusal of the letters of the beloved Guardian in this compilation.


Short history

by Louis Hénuzet

The period from 1946 to 1957 corresponds to the growth of Bahá’í communities within those countries of Western Europe where this had not yet taken place. From the birth of the Faith up until 1946, structured communities had been built in Great Britain, France and Germany. Due to its interdiction under the Nazi regime in Germany, this latter community had to reform after World War II. In other countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, the Faith had only touched a few individuals who had encountered it on their travels or in the context of conferences organized by the Esperantist League at which Bahá’ís participated.

In 1946 Shoghi Effendi launched the second Seven Year Plan, one of the main objectives of which was to introduce the Faith into ten European “goal” countries. These were the three Scandinavian countries, the three Benelux states, the two nations of the Iberian Peninsula, and Switzerland and Italy. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States of America, under whose aegis the achievement of this goal had been placed, decided to form a European Teaching Committee, which would dispatch pioneers into each of these goal countries.

The first Local Spiritual Assemblies were rapidly formed in the capital cities of these European countries. By Riḍván 1949 there were Assemblies in Amsterdam, Brussels and Luxembourg. These very young communities all felt the need to collaborate and decided initially to pool their efforts by exchanging public speakers.

This collaboration received a new impulse in December 1951 with the formation by the European Teaching Committee of a Teaching Committee for the Benelux, composed of Rita van Bleyswijk Sombeek and Theo Beets for the Netherlands, Leá Nijs and Louis Hénuzet for Belgium, and Suzette Hipp and Claude Lévy for Luxembourg. The tasks assigned to this committee were the organisation of an annual teaching conference and the exchange of public speakers, as well as the creation of publicity materials for public talks.

The first annual conference took place at the Brussels Bahá’í Centre from 11 to 14 April 1952. Each country presented a report of its efforts to create other local communities where already a centre or group of believers existed. In Belgium, such centres could be found in Antwerp, Ostend, Courtrai and Liège. However, it was decided, following the guidance of the European Teaching Committee, to concentrate on a single city. Antwerp was chosen.

A second conference was convened for 1 and 2 November 1952 in Antwerp at the “Hôtel de Londres”. This was the occasion for studying Shoghi Effendi’s message of 23 August 1952 announcing the formation of Regional Assemblies as a prelude to the formation of National Assemblies. And, of course, included among these Regional Assemblies was one for the Benelux. I can clearly remember the enthusiasm of the participants at that conference. Certainly our communities were still weak and numerically small, but we possessed the certitude that everything would consolidate in time to permit the election of this Regional Assembly by the planned deadline of April 1957.

From 1952 to 1957 cooperation between the three Benelux nations was intense. In 1954 the conference was held from 6 to 8 June near Arnhem in the Netherlands, and it was followed by a Summer School from 9 to 13 June. These enriching experiences were henceforth to be renewed every year in one or other of the three countries, most notably on the Belgian coast.

However, as the efforts so unconditionally expended for the formation of the other Local Assemblies were nevertheless unsuccessful, the four Local Assemblies elected in April 1956 (The Hague, Amsterdam, Brussels and Luxemburg) were finally deemed sufficient to form the Regional Assembly of the Benelux. The Regional Convention was held at the recently acquired National Bahá’í Centre at 54, Rue Stanley in Brussels, in the presence of Mr. Borrah Kavelin, representing the National Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States of America. Bob van Lith and Jan Sijsling from the Netherlands, Claude Lévy from Luxemburg, and Jean and Leá Nijs, Roger Swinnen, Fernand Radar, Elsa Dekoninck and Louis Hénuzet from Belgium were elected.

And this Regional Assembly of the Benelux would continue to guide the destiny of our three countries until the election of independent National Spiritual Assemblies in April 1962.


Messages

- 1 -

14 April 1932
To Louise Drake Wright

Dear Miss Wright: Shoghi Effendi wishes me to drop you these few lines to acknowledge the receipt of your cable asking his advice concerning your teaching tour. He believes that the most advisable thing is to concentrate upon northern Germany and Holland. He has already asked Miss Jack to stay in Sofia and Mr. Benke is going to join her. Mrs. Gregory and Martha are to devote most of their time to Central Europe especially Hungary, Austria and Poland. This makes Eastern and Central Europe well provided for. Shoghi Effendi therefore believes that you could render greater services if you visit the centers in Germany especially the northern part and also include Holland.

As far as we can learn through the correspondence we receive, the greatest amount and most lasting work has been achieved by those teachers who instead of covering much ground stay for at least a few weeks in the same city and try to confirm those whom they interest. Mere meeting the people and speaking to them about the general aspects of the Cause does not generally produce a lasting result. So if you chose some of the towns in Northern Germany and Holland and stay at least a few weeks in each place you could achieve more. Holland is a totally new country to the Cause so it will be true pioneer service. We do not know how receptive the people are but through the grace of God some real opening could be made.

We have only one Bahá’í there and his name is: Herr G.I. Bertelink, Hoogstraat 3, Enschede, Holland. Perhaps you could use his help; otherwise you will have to rely on your own resources and divine help. Anyhow Shoghi Effendi hopes you will succeed and create a new and prosperous center in Holland.

Assuring you of his prayers and best wishes I remain.
Yours ever sincerely,
Rúḥí Afnán


- 2 -

30 July 1932
To Louise Drake Wright

Dear Bahá’í Sister,
It was with a great sense of appreciation and joy that Shoghi Effendi received your letter of July 5th, 1932 which he read with deep care and interest, and he has directed me to address you these lines expressing his heartfelt thanks for your manifold services to our beloved Faith.

The detailed narrative of your most interesting experiences throughout your visits to the different European countries, the many contacts you made with both Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’í’s and especially with some distinguished University professors such as Dr. Fisher of the department of Oriental studies in the University of Leipzig, filled our Guardian’s heart with thanks and joy and confirmed his hopes for the future of your pioneering work in the many countries you visited.

I need not assure you how appreciative the Guardian is of all the precious efforts you are making for the spread of the Bahá’í teachings. He cherishes the brightest hopes for the future of your work. Your literary and intellectual power, your devotion and invincible faith as well as your perseverance and constancy, all these qualities of your heart and mind make you assuredly equal to the noble and most delicate task you have set yourself to achieve.

However meagre the immediate results of your efforts may be, however sceptical nay cynical the attitude of the public may seem to appear, you should always be confident that wherever you may go and to whomsoever you may speak the Hand of Divine Guidance is with you and will always lead you in the right path.

Shoghi Effendi will be always delighted to hear of your news and he wishes you to keep him in touch with your activities. And be assured that he will be always glad to give you any advice or help you may need. In his moments of meditation and prayer he will always remember you and ask the Almighty that He may cheer and comfort you and give you the necessary strength for the fulfilment of your most precious task. Yours in His Service,
H. Rabbání

Dear and valued co-worker:
Your
message of sympathy cabled in connection with the passing of our beloved Khánum has touched me and relieved the burden of grief that weighs so heavily on my heart. Our loss is irreparable, our grief immense. The example of her saintly life will inspire us to follow in her footsteps. Your pioneer services in Holland are highly meritorious in the sight of God and I wish you to persevere in your noble task and not to allow either grief or the apathy of the people to deflect you from your high purpose.
Your
true brother,
Shoghi

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