In my travels I have had the privilege and honor of meeting incredible people who are doing incredible things in loving and humble ways. Brian O’Toole is one such person I recently met and I’m so grateful our paths crossed. Brian recently put out a book that offers some of his thoughts and honest reflections on the last four decades of development work that he’s been involved with in Guyana, where he has pioneered with his wife. The book is called Educational Leadership: A Guyanese Perspective, and I decided to ask Brian about his book and his work and here’s what Brian had to say:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about the book? What’s it all about?
We have now been 40 years in Guyana having left the UK as a young married couple. Guyana has proven to be a very receptive country to the Faith with Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism well established in the country. By the early 1980s, Guyana had more than 7% of the population as declared Baha’is. My thinking was: if a significant percentage of the population embraces the Faith and nothing seems to change then what is the point? This led us to introduce a number of development projects in literacy, youth leadership, disability and education to see what it means to try and put the principles of the Faith into practice. The book is a reflection on these efforts.
Emogene Hoagg (September 27, 1869 - December 15, 1945). (Photo: courtesy of the Baha'is of the United States, https://www.bahai.us/)
Henrietta Emogene Martin was born in 1869 in California. When her father died early and her mother remarried, Emogene was sent to live with her uncle and aunt. Despite her family’s indifference to matters of religion, Emogene engaged actively with her local church from a young age, and she would later teach her mother, sister and brother-in-law about the Baha’i Faith.
In 1889 she married John Ketchie Hoagg. Nine years after her marriage Emogene Hoagg became the first Baha’i of California, learning of the Faith through Phoebe Hearst, Lua and Edward Getsinger. Although there is no record of his formal enrolment in the Baha’i community, it appears John was financially and morally supportive of his independent wife and her extensive travel for the sake of the Faith. Abdu’l-Baha would refer to him as His son-in-law – the husband of His ‘daughter’ Emogene. Continue reading
Leonora Holsapple Armstrong (June 23, 1895 – October 17, 1980) on board the S. S. Vasari bound for Brazil in 1921. (Photo: courtesy of Kristine Leonard Asuncion Young)
“Leonora, what are you waiting for? Go!” Those were the words of May Maxwell to Leonora Holsapple Armstrong. Leonora wanted to go pioneering to South America but her resolve weakened in the face of her friends’ and family’s concerns.
Leonora, like Dorothy Baker, learned of the Faith from her grandmother and she attended the 1919 Baha’i Convention in New York City when the Tablets of the Divine Plan were unveiled. She wrote to Abdu’l-Baha, expressing her wish to pioneer and be of service. In His reply, He “expressed the hope that she might become a ‘spiritual physician,’ and this hope of His became her highest aspiration.” Martha Root encouraged her to go to Argentina and she began studying Spanish but a contact in Brazil interested in the Faith made her change her plans. Continue reading
Keith Ransom-Kehler (February 14, 1876 – October 23, 1933)
After returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines and the beloved Guardian in 1926, Keith Ransom-Kehler, penned a letter to the National Convention of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada. She had witnessed first hand the terrible burden with which the Guardian was weighed down in the form of hundreds of letters from the American Baha’is expressing criticism of each other. She wrote, “Any one of us is ready to die for [Shoghi Effendi]” and then asked rhetorically, “but can we conscientiously number ourselves among those who are willing to live for him?”
Shoghi Effendi would later write, “The Cause at present does not need martyrs who would die for the faith, but servants who desire to teach and establish the Cause throughout the world. To live to teach in the present day is like being martyred in those early days. It is the spirit that moves us that counts, not the act through which that spirit expresses itself; and that spirit is to serve the Cause of God with our heart and soul.”
Keith Ransom-Kehler would come to be one of those who could indeed “conscientiously number [herself] among those who are willing to live for him”. Thus, though she died quietly in Isfahan, Iran, of illness and exhaustion at the age of 57, she was declared by the Guardian to be the first American martyr to give her life for the Faith. Additionally, on the day after her death, on 24 October 1933, she was elevated to the rank of Hand of the Cause of God. She was the first woman so appointed. Continue reading