a channel of grace

dr. shapour javanmardi, October 24, 2005

To be a channel of God’s grace on earth, one must be humble. One must be ready to serve all of humanity without a trace of prejudice. One must have unshakeable faith in the power of divine assistance, and a strong, all-embracing love for all those who may cross one’s path.

Dr. Shapour Javanmardi, who “welcomed all… with matchless hospitality, whose devotion to the Cause was a constant inspiration to greater action, and whose ceaseless encouragement… strengthened and uplifted so many [in their] paths of service”, was indeed a channel of God’s grace to those he knew. Upon his passing in October 2005, the hearts of many opened up in warm and loving remembrance of a soul who had travelled the world to spread abroad the fragrance of God’s love:

“Having lived as a Bahá’í pioneer in Tunisia with his wife Mahin, he settled in Québec forty years ago (1966), and there he sustained the growth of the Bahá’í Faith. His efforts greatly contributed to the development of several nascent Bahá’í communities in Québec, including Victoriaville, Warwick, and Drummondville in the Centre-du-Québec region, as well as the community of Montréal.”

“He was the most loving, warm, and self-sacrificing man I’ve known. He was the grandfather of some very close friends of mine, but he was so kind to all that I often thought of him as my own grandfather.”

“Every time he welcomed me with his warm embrace, I returned home feeling that this was friendship, this was love, this was what it meant to be a Bahá’í.”

“His warmth, his all-embracing love, his passion and courage, and his capacity to encourage, inspire and rally the troops of the All-Beloved were unique and irreplaceable.”

“…we deeply lament the passing of a dear, long-time friend…”

“He was truly a fine man. Anyone who had met him should feel blessed.”

In remembrance of Dr. Javanmardi, I’ll share a story here that I’ve told and retold, about him and his wife, and how great was their faith in the power of God’s assistance.

The Javanmardis settled in the Montréal area in the 1960s, at a time when the Bahá’í community around the world was growing by leaps and bounds. It seemed as though everyone was curious to hear about this new message from God, a message based on unity, love, kindness, justice, and peace. In the interest of sharing this message with as many people as possible, Bahá’ís would often travel to new places, seeking out receptive souls who were waiting to hear.

Shapour Javanmardi and his wife Mahin were no exception. Whenever they had a moment to spare from helping to build and strengthen the Bahá’í community in their hometown, they buckled up for a drive into Québec’s heartland. They criss-crossed the countryside, rolling through villages and towns, stopping to speak with locals in the hopes of striking up a conversation. On one of these occasions, they had been driving around in this way for hours without much success. Tired, they began to consider turning back and heading home. But before heading back, they thought, they should at least stop somewhere and offer prayers. Maybe the prayers would attract divine confirmations and lead some pure soul towards them, towards the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh.

glorious afternoon in victoSo they rounded the next curve and drove over the next hill, and spotted a good place to stop, in a small driveway in front of a farmhouse, surrounded by fields. There they stopped, pulled out prayer books and began to pray: For God’s guidance, for His assistance, and for the triumph of His Cause. Big prayers. Beautiful prayers. The kind that reach down into the core of your being and say, “This is it.” And finally, after a few more moments of reflection, they rolled back out of the driveway and turned back towards home.

Somehow, when humble and pure souls offer prayers to their Lord, He ends up answering those prayers in astonishing ways. And wouldn’t you know it, that driveway they pulled into belonged to a farmer and his wife who, many years later, became the first people in the region to declare their faith in Bahá’u’lláh, in the tiny village of Warwick. More of their family members became Bahá’ís, and soon enough, in the neighbouring town of Victoriaville, a Local Spiritual Assembly was formed, the first in the region. Although his wife had passed away by that time, Dr. Javanmardi, now a member of the Regional Bahá’í Council of Québec, came to visit the members of the Assembly, treating us to lunch and telling us all about this story, the story of how those prayers were finally answered. Fifteen years later, that same Spiritual Assembly still stands, and the community has grown in size and in maturity.

What is this, if not the evidence of Divine grace? Dr. Javanmardi, we miss your warmth and your presence among us, but we honour you and what you were enabled to achieve. May you always be richly blessed, in all the worlds of God.

The original post, dr. shapour javanmardi, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Quotes from doberman pizza, Jeunesse Bahá’íe, and service in zambia. Photo: La Presse, 26 october, 2005.

back from sherbrooke / de retour de sherbrooke

so I travelled down to Sherbrooke this past weekend, to visit my friends – the Baha’i youth – and to welcome back Catherine and Geneviève, who’ve been serving in Gabon for the past eight months and a half. It was a treat and a pleasure to see every one of them – I truly enjoyed myself, and felt none of the anxiety I sometimes experience when I’m in social situations. I think I must truly love these youth. I’m certainly proud of their level of energy, their great love for each other, and their willingness to bend their efforts to fulfill the Plan of God for this Day. Remember the Canadian Baha’i National Convention, where Baha’i institutions announced their intention to establish 40-odd intensive programs of growth across Canada to help meet the goals of the current Five Year Plan given to us by the Universal House of Justice? Sherbrooke’s Baha’i community is among those targeted for growth. And to know the Baha’is who live there, you know they’re ready. The love and devotion expressed in that community is awesome. I just hope I can share a part of their path.

C’était avec une grande joie que j’ai pu me rendre à Sherbrooke cette fin de semaine pour célébrer le retour au Canada de Catherine et Geneviève, deux jeunes baha’ies de l’Estrie qui sont parties au Gabon pour presque neuf mois pour enseigner la Foi baha’ie et servir l’humanité. Il y avait plein de monde là pour fêter leur retour, y compris la famille, leurs amis du cégep et de l’université, et bien sûr une gang de jeunes baha’is. Et bien sûr il y avait plein de bouffe (du barbecue, sous une averse de pluie). On a beaucoup jasé, et puis bien sûr on a pris le temps de regarder tous leurs photos du Gabon en format diaporama, avec leurs commentaires. À la fin de la soirée, on est allé voir des films on s’est loué un X-box on a enlevé les tresses à Catherine et on s’est couché tard. Le lendemain, après un bon déjeûner, du bon jasage et un fracas au Pictionary, moi, David et Karine ont repris la route pour Ottawa.

Ça me fait remémorer mes années de service au Québec de revoir Cat et Gege, de les entendre raconter leurs histoires de bonheur et de malheur. Il y a quelque chose qui se passe quand on est pionnier pour sa Foi qui provoque un changement, non, une transformation profonde, et ce pour tous et chacun sans exception. Ça m’a vraiment touché d’être ramené à réfléchir sur cette transformation en l’observant dans les autres.

Cette transformation intérieure dans nous-mêmes provoque des changements externes, bien sûr – on devient plus à l’aise avec le service parce qu’on connaît ça. On comprend mieux ceux qui souffrent, qui se sentent seuls ou désespérés, parce qu’on a vécu ça. Et, du moins je l’espère, on comprend un peu mieux ce que ça veut dire d’aimer Dieu et de s’en remettre à Lui. Tous ceux qui songent à servir en tant que pionnier, et même ceux qui se demandent s’ils auront jamais la force ou la foi ou le détachement nécessaire pour une telle affaire, faites-moi confiance – allez-y, et mettez le doute à côté. Et ceux qui ne peuvent pas? Participez dans les programmes intensifs de croissance, joignez-vous à un cercle d’étude, ou, si vous êtes animateur, offrez-en un à votre cercle d’amis qui cherchent à connaître la foi baha’ie, ses écrits et ses principes. Chacun de nous peut laisser son empreinte et contribuer au Plan Divin.

C’est tout pour l’instant, mais gardez l’oeil ouvert pour des photos de la fin de semaine sur mon site flickr!

naw-rúz muse (back again)

happy naw-rúz, all. every year at around this time, I generally take the time to muse a bit about the path that my life has taken. I like to think that a new chapter of my life began on Naw-rúz day, 2002, when I left Ottawa to begin two years of service in the Centre-du-Québec area. I’ve been thinking a lot about that service lately. Last Friday, I was invited to attend a gathering for tutors of the courses of the Ruhi Institute. The Institute Board of Ontario (or Canada, maybe?) had asked all study circle tutors and participants to go through the practice component of the first unit of Ruhi Book One—studying prayers with people around them. We gathered to share about how this practice was going, what progress we (and the participants) had made, and so on. We touched on many related topics—home visits, reaching out to people around us and doing real, one-on-one teaching. It was pretty good—inspiring and practical. I like how the Bahá’í community is becoming more and more focused and practical. The more we focus on carrying out the Five-year Plan and its goals, the better.

Anyway, I thought about my first few months in Québec, when I had just arrived from Ottawa with my rusty French and my prayer book. It was so easy to reach out to people! I was pioneering, so I knew I didn’t quite fit in and that was all right—in fact, I played off of that in order to teach. Quickeners of Mankind was constant bedside reading. It was exciting to see the divine confirmations being showered from all sides, sustained by love for Bahá’u’lláh and the Bahá’í Faith. There were lots of adventures and amazing experiences. Then, as time went on, tests came. Financial tests, emotional tests, mental tests, physical tests, spiritual tests… you name it. I had prayed for tests, and got them by the bucketful. I started to feel depressed, weighed down by the difficulties I was going through. The slower I moved, the fewer were the confirmations, and the less I seemed to be able to “quicken” those around me, until I got so depressed that it all just stopped, and the only thing left to do was to cry out for help.

It’s a few years later, and things are better. Much better, actually. There are still downs, like the one I had earlier this winter. But they’re not crippling; they don’t shut me down to the point where I can’t bounce back and start to live life again. It’s clear that some sort of recovery has taken place, allowing me to see the effects of transformation in my life… So I guess what I’ve been thinking lately is: how much longer before I really get my groove back? I mean, that uplifting, exhilirating pioneer type of vibe that comes from putting all of your trust in God, from taking one step and letting Him carry you the next ten. And you know, that’s not a question anyone else can answer for me, nor can anyone decide. It’s up to me to keep doing the work that will take me that many steps closer to Bahá’u’lláh, and enable me to serve the Cause to the utmost of my capacity.

So I guess I’ve answered my own question. When will I be able to reach out to the people around me in friendliness and fellowship, and share with them the most precious gift I have to give*? Whenever I want. As some people have pointed out to me, I already do, but don’t always realize it.

O My servants! My holy, My divinely ordained Revelation may be likened unto an ocean in whose depths are concealed innumerable pearls of great price, of surpassing luster. It is the duty of every seeker to bestir himself and strive to attain the shores of this ocean, so that he may, in proportion to the eagerness of his search and the efforts he hath exerted, partake of such benefits as have been pre-ordained in God’s irrevocable and hidden Tablets. […] This most great, this fathomless and surging Ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life-vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.

Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.326

With that, I’m off to bed. May this new year bring each one of you peace, certitude, hope, and confirmation. Even if I don’t always respond to each and every email these days, rest assured that the little notes and e-cards that pour in with greetings and naw-rúz wishes are very much appreciated.

* See Ruhi Book 6, Unit 1, Section 6.

drummondville, day 1

back at the Lachance family home for the night. The Lachances are awesome people with a storied and colourful past. Nicole and Marc (the mom & dad) became Baha’is in Granby when Denis and Jinous Allard were living there, back in the 70’s. They pioneered to Réunion island (in the Indian ocean) and afterwards to Gaspé (they helped form the first Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Gaspé, ten years after my parents pioneered there). Right now they are hanging out in Drummondville, pioneering yet again, and teaching the heck out of this place. If you follow my blog you’ll know about the many people who’ve been declaring their faith in Baha’u’llah in Drummondville recently. Anyway, I digress.

After a slow, lazy morning of catching up, we had lunch and drove on out to Odanak, a native reserve down by the mouth of the Saint-François River at the St. Lawrence Seaway. Nicole introduced me to a few of her good friends out there. One of them is Nicole O’Bomsawin, general manager of the Musée des Abénakis – a museum devoted to the culture and history of the Waban-aki Nation, as the local First Nations people are known. I also met a couple more of her friends on the reserve, including a very kind elderly couple – the husband went around showing me a whole bunch of family photos. In the middle of our visit, someone else came over to help them clean house – the webmaster of the Waban-aki Nation web site. We talked web stuff for a few minutes; that was cool as all-get-out. Odanak is like a little village, and the people are very friendly. It was refreshing to be among them. The company of aboriginal people is so precious and rewarding. Apparently Nicole and several other Baha’is often make friendly visits there, so the townspeople know them fairly well by know.

Before returning to Drummondville, we bought a dreamcatcher for another friend of Nicole’s, a Congolese guy called Guy. It was his birthday today. (surprise!) We went to bring it to him after dinner. We rounded out the evening by going to visit Natasha, another one of the pioneers in Drummondville, and her three (rowdy) sons. They were delighted, and so were we. We just sat around, enjoying each other’s company, swapping stories, looking at photos, playing rock-paper-scissors, and so on until bedtime. Natasha and company are leaving Drummondville in mid-July to join Jacky, the man of the house, in Tahiti. Jacky is originally from Tahiti, and I believe the two of them met in New Caledonia. I guess their wish to pioneer back to Tahiti finally got the better of them – and all the better. They will be missed here, that’s for sure. There’s always email, and MSN messenger. And of course, who wouldn’t be up for a month-long travel-teaching trip to Tahiti…?

Gabrielle and I just got done talking about pioneering. She works as a costumer (or tailor, or seamstress, or whatever you call it… she has a college diploma in fashion design, anyway), and she’s been thinking of leaving Drummondville sometime after this summer to go short-term pioneering somewhere – maybe Hong Kong, she mused, maybe the Caribbean. She was elected to the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Drummondville this year, but were she to leave, there’d probably be enough people left to keep going, what with the six new adult Baha’is in town. It’s exciting stuff, to be sure. So much movement and growth in this little community, stuck on the highway like a blot between Québec and Montreal, and yet shining like a lamp with the fire of the love of Baha’u’llah. Baha’is here are rising to the challenges brought forth by the Universal House of Justice, and are striving in their own ways to unify humankind, bring together the diverse races, religions and nations, and light the fire of universal love and brotherhood among their friends and neighbours. It’s a privilege for me to be here today. It took me years to get here, and, just for today, I don’t regret a moment of it.

happy weekend after naw-ruz

AKA easter, otherwise known as ‘miscellaneous chocolate holiday‘. It’s been a nice, long, well-deserved, restful weekend, full of friends, spring cleaning, sleeping in, and goofing around. highlights? hung around with old high school friends from St. Peter’s — Matt D. lives across the street from me here, and we just watched movies, ordered pizza and shawarmas, and watched friends getting smoked at cards. It was all good. We finished the evening watching a homespun snowboarding video from the “Wildcats” team – that was interesting… some of it was a little outside my usual taste in movies, but the snowboard tricks were pretty wicked. r0xx0r.

Saturday we had Misagh (aka Mees) over for dinner, to the tune of phat chicken rotini and cheesecake. We chilled, talked about our experiences pioneering and doing periods of service for the Baha’i Faith, life in Zambia, and just simply conversed the whole evening. It’s amazing how similar are the stories of people who’ve done periods of service, whether in Africa, Nunavut, or Quebec. The time one spends in service is always a time of great tests and difficulties, of frustrations and pain, but invariably it’s also sublime, spiritual, invigorating and transformative. Perhaps these blessings are something we bring with us into worlds to come?

Anyway, apparently Vafa had some sort of bad movie marathon at his place that night, but we elected not to go (having myself developed a fatal allergy to the movie Starship Troopers long ago). I’m sure it was just fantastic.

Sunday, Aref and a few other people gathered at his place to wish Aram and Natalia a happy engagement. Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know, Aram and Natalia are getting married. Welcome to the 21st century.

Today, I slept in until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, because I could. It’s Easter Monday. Jesus rose from the dead so that we could stay in bed. Holla back.

Okay, I apologize if I’ve just offended the entire Internet.

This week promises to be nice and busy. Meetings basically all week, culminating in a phat day of youth activities on Saturday. I’ll post more about Saturday’s activities later on in the week, so you can know just what’s going down. Peace.

pioneering & job-hunting

I almost feel like a kid again. I feel like some Huckleberry Finn wandering down the Mississippi in search of I know not what, hoping to be in the right place at the right time. Anyone else would surely look at me and call me insane for doing the things I’ve been doing. I could go back to Ottawa and get a cushy government job with a big fat salary in no time flat, and yet look at me, out in Drummondville, waiting, waiting, waiting for my boat to come in. Oh wait, make that train. There aren’t any boats around here, just trains. Anyway.

The good news is that I found some work — delivering pizza. Now, I know what you’re about to say about how insane that is and how I must be out of my mind — but hey, it’s money, I’m gonna try it out and see if it’s to my advantage to keep going with it. Even though I may feel like a kid, I am a big boy.

Or maybe you’re just laughing at me and saying “that crazy Dan Jones”. That’s perfectly ok. Besides, you’re laughing with me. 😉

The other good news is that I’m making some really super contacts here in Drummondville. On Wednesday I went to see someone at La Tablée Populaire, kind of like a really inexpensive restaurant that’s especially for people who are without work; they also have an internet access centre in the back. I asked the director guy whether he needed anyone to help out with the computers, maybe offer some introductory classes, and he responded with a hearty yes. There are tons of local companies that sponsor the place. It could be very interesting — and besides, it’s good to volunteer. On Thursday, I started delivering pizza, and during my break in between lunch and dinner, I moseyed over to the Centre Jeunesse Emploi, where my very cool and helpful counsellor asked me if I wanted to be part of the conseil d’administration (administrative council) of the Centre. Wow! I said yea verily. That should be quite interesting, and should allow me to increase my contacts quite a bit. And in other news, this morning I called up two places where I had taken tests (in the hopes of getting a job) and reminded them that I was alive. Next week I should start getting replies from them. Yo. Word up.

All in all, this job-hunting experience is going far better than my previous one in Victoriaville. I’m pretty sure it’s because this time around, I’m carrying around the extra one year of experience struggling to find a job.

So, in short? I’m working a part-time job, extremely temporary, but at least I’m making money; I’m making boat– er, trainloads of contacts; and I’m keeping up those contacts that I do have, which will hopefully end up soon with me having a nice, enjoyable, respectable, well-paid job.

Et c’est pas fini, ce n’est qu’un début.