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When I was young I loved reading “The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met” stories in my mother’s Reader’s Digest magazine.
Thinking back over a life of more than 75 years I realize that I too have encountered some pretty unforgettable characters.
The first one that comes to mind is a young Nigerian man, Joshua Akintayo. The year was 1969. The place was Surulere, Nigeria, a suburb of the sprawling city of Lagos.
In those days our home was a hub of Baha’i activities. My wife and I were the only non-Africans in the entire area. Since we have no clergy in the Baha'i Faith, when we had an event planned we all pitched in to select scriptures, prepare the food and arrange the furniture.
No one was more prompt, more industrious, or more joyful at every moment than Joshua. He was unmarried; a very humble unsophisticated man who lived in the worst dregs of poverty. His only clothing consisted of a t-shirt and tattered trousers. His sole possession was a worn out bicycle on which he pedaled for miles to come to our house. He was always the first to arrive and the last to leave.
One day Joshua asked my wife and I to help him understand a very vivid dream he’d just had. A heavenly angel—really a vision of Abdu’l-Baha—appeared in his dream and commanded him to come up higher. This was a puzzler. Joshua explained that he lived on the top floor of a four story building. We had no advice for him. A short time later we learned that he had died of a brain tumor. Now we understood! That humble soul was now soaring in the Heavenly Realms; a beloved servant, an honored guest who now dwelt in one of God’s many mansions spoken of by Jesus Christ.
My next angel is Marian Kadrie of Fargo, North Dakota. Marian is still alive at the age of 88—and still taking in orphans and foster children as she has done for more than 30 years. Marian’s home has been the tent pole hub of Baha’i activities in Fargo for going on 60 years.
Marian’s father was a Syrian Muslim who emigrated to America and homesteaded a farm in North Dakota. As there was no mosque for his three children to attend their father sent them to the local Protestant church. After Marian’s confirmation the pastor took her aside and said now she was a Christian she must teach her parents about Christ, “Since they are pagans and don’t believe in Christ.”
Marian was aghast! She determined never to mention this to her beloved parents. She later encountered the Baha'i Faith and embraced it wholeheartedly. When she told her father about her conversion he “smiled, patted her lovingly and said, “That’s good, Babba. Be a good Baha'i.”
Marian raised four wonderful children. I know, because for a time my wife and I were part of the Fargo Baha'i community when they still lived at home. I very recently visited Fargo and was a guest in Marian’s home. She had two foster children living with her. She holds Baha'i study classes in her home each week. Marian’s two daughters and their children each live in homes scarcely more than a block from Marian’s house.
A North Dakota congressman recently nominated Marian as a Congressional honoree of the 20th annual Angels in Adoption conference in Washington DC.
I once read about another such Baha'i woman as Marian Kadrie. Her name was Victoria Bedikian (1879-1955). “Auntie” Victoria, as she was affectionately known, cared for orphans and did beautiful drawings featuring the Baha'i House of Worship. Abdu’l-Baha once wrote to her: “None is more favored in the…Kingdom [of Heaven] than thee for the work thou hast done for the children.” – The Baha’i World, Volume 13, p. 884.
I recall this counsel of the Bible, which is an admonishment to us all: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” - Hebrews 13:2.
In the same way, the Baha'i teachings ask us to consider no one a stranger:
For this reason must all human beings powerfully sustain one another and seek for everlasting life; and for this reason must the lovers of God in this contingent world become the mercies and the blessings sent forth by that clement King of the seen and unseen realms. Let them purify their sight and behold all humankind as leaves and blossoms and fruits of the tree of being. Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help. Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends; regarding the alien as an intimate, the stranger as a companion, staying free of prejudice, drawing no lines. - Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, pp. 1-2.