Bahai News -- Baha'i members celebrate diversity

Baha’i members celebrate diversity

By Nammi Bhagvandoss
Globe Staff Writer

Amid the strains of a local marimba band and the aroma of grilling chicken, local Baha’is welcomed participants to a Race Unity Day Picnic on Sunday afternoon at Ewert Park.
People were asked to bring a picnic lunch. The local Baha’is provided drinks, along with literature about their faith and a message about celebrating diversity.
“It’s good to see stuff like this go on in Joplin,” said Ryan Sheffield of Carl Junction. “I grew up here thinking it was conservative and very little racial integration. Backward isn’t a good word to use — behind. It’s nice to see people hanging out with people.”
Sheffield, 20, and friends Brent Snyder, 19, and Jared Blackburn, 20, also of Carl Junction, grilled chicken and corn on the cob during the picnic while the band, Kufara, played.
Barry Delaney, 51, said the Joplin area has about 25 active Baha’is, and local Baha’is have observed Race Unity Day here for 20 years.
The Baha’i National Assembly started Race Unity Day in 1957. It usually is observed the second Sunday in June, Delaney said.
“It’s an independent religion that started 160 years ago in Persia (now Iran),” Delaney said. “The founder of the Baha’i faith was Baha’u’llah. His name translated into English is ‘the glory of God.’
“The Baha’is believe that all (people) worship the same god. We believe in Christ, Buddha, Mohammed. We believe the last teacher from God was Baha’u’llah.”
Delaney said the main tenet of the Baha’i faith is unity.
Fundamental teachings of Baha’u’llah, according to a pamphlet about the religion, include:
n “There is only one God.”
n “All religions share a common foundation.”
n “Humanity is one. People of all races, nations, economic groups and religious backgrounds are equal in the sight of God.”
n “Each individual is responsible for investigating truth independently.”
n “Science and religion are in harmony. Science without religion is materialism. Religion without science is superstition.”
n “Women and men are equal, like the two wings of one bird.”
In Joplin, Baha’is meet Sundays for an informational study group at Children’s House, a day-care center at 2318 E. 20th St., Delaney said. They also meet every 19 days for what is called a “spiritual feast.”
Baha’is observe the “spiritual feast” based on a Baha’i calendar that has 19 months with 19 days, Delaney said. Each month is named for an attribute of God, such as honor, knowledge and splendor. The four extra days of the year are for parties, gift-giving and acts of kindness.
“One of the major legs of the Baha’i faith is to be of service to mankind,” Delaney said.
One of the ways local Baha’is served others recently was to use Delaney’s earth-moving equipment to assist victims of the May 4 tornado in Carl Junction.
Joy Goepfert, 30, of Joplin said she met Delaney through her landscaping business, and he introduced her to the religion.
“I investigated it on my own and found it answered a lot of my questions, and it just made sense to me, the principles of the faith itself,” Goepfert said. “I couldn’t find anything negative about the faith. Everything seems to be positive and moving in a good direction.
“I’m still a Christian. I was born and raised a Christian, and I still believe in Jesus Christ.”
Goepfert said the Baha’is in larger cities like Chicago have schools, summer camps for children and other activities for followers.
“This is our big thing,” Goepfert said of the Race Unity Day Picnic. “This is what we like to concentrate on every year. Because we’re such a small community, we tend to concentrate on race unity.”
Ann Hampton of West Fork, Ark., was among the Baha’is who came to the picnic from Northwest Arkansas. Hampton said Baha’is have a center at Springdale, Ark., for study circles, worship services and activities.
“We have more people, but each community is distinctive,” Hampton said.
For example, she said, the Baha’i center at Springdale has many Baha’is from the Marshall Islands.
Hampton said India has the largest number of Baha’is in the world, and there is a temple shaped like a white lotus in New Delhi.
Delaney said each continent has a temple, and the North American temple is located in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Ill.
“All of them have nine sides and nine doors, and each of them is typical of the culture of the continent like the lotus in India,” Hampton said.
Since 1978, the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette has been on the National Register of Historic Places, according to a pamphlet about the faith.
“Baha’i faith is probably the most diverse faith you’ll find on the planet, and we find our strength in our diversity,” Delaney said.
Delaney said people who become Baha’is do not leave their old religions behind.
“We believe in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism,” Delaney said. “You’re adding to it.”
Those interested in the Baha’i faith may visit a Web site, Delaney may be contacted at (417) 626-7248.

©Copyright 2003, The Joplin Globe (MO, USA)

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