Bahai News - Bringing Baha'i experience home
Bringing Baha'i experience home
June 23, 2001
Chris and Lori Vodden lived in Haifa, Israel, for the decade that the
19 garden terraces were being created on the side of Mount Carmel above, at
and below the Shrine of the Bab.
But they watched the gardens' dedication through a satellite feed May 22 at
the Springfield Baha'i Center.
The Voddens and their two boys, Dalton, 10, and Devon, 5, arrived back in
the states on Dec. 31. The two employees of the Baha'i World Center were
told it was time for them to go home, so they headed to the Peoria area to
be with a dying member of their family and fellow Baha'i, Bob Gray.
"The whole deal of the will of God is so amazing," Lori Vodden said of the
Gray died a few weeks later. The Voddens have settled into a new house in
Bartonville, but they've brought along with them photos and memories of the
time in Haifa.
Photos and memories of, especially, the beautiful terraced gardens that climb
up to and beyond the Shrine of the Bab, a memorial housing the remains of
the precursor of the Baha'i Faith. The terraces start at the foot of Mount
Carmel and stretch a kilometer to the crest of the mountain.
"They were just putting the finishing touches on as we left," Chris Vodden
said. "It was sad for us to leave before the final opening ceremonies."
The terraces and two new administrative buildings were built over 10 years
for $250 million - all raised in voluntary contributions from Baha'is around
the world. All 19 terraces are open to the public for free, with group-size
restrictions at different levels.
"They've got a sophisticated system to make sure tourists don't damage the
gardens," Chris Vodden said.
He has particular ties to the terraces. He was security manager for the
Baha'i Center, but also had to deal with contractors working on the terraces
and gardens. His office was in a building at the foot of the terraces and
had to be knocked down for the construction.
Chris Vodden and the former Lori Ubben met in Haifa and married there. Lori
Vodden, originally from the Peoria area and a graduate of Illinois State
University, spent 15 years there working in the Baha'i archives. Chris Vodden
was there for 12 years after careers in his native Yorkshire, England, as a
policeman and school teacher.
For most of their time there, only about 300 Baha'is worked at the center.
Now, with the opening of the terraces, there are about 900, representing 50
to 60 nationalities, according to the Voddens.
"It's a wonderful demonstration that people can get on together," Chris
Vodden said, making a reference to one of the main Baha'i tenets - the
unification of humanity.
"We just never dreamed we'd see this," Lori Vodden said. "It seemed so far
off. All of this coinciding with the turn of the century. I think it's a
push for world peace."
Haifa became the Baha'i center after the faith's founder, Baha'u'llah,
visited Mount Carmel and told the city officials that the Bab would be buried
there and the world administrative center of the faith built there.
Baha'u'llah's son, Abdul Baha, oversaw the construction of the shrine of
the Bab and started work on surrounding Justice was built at the site, with
other facilities being added. In 1987, it was decided that the terraces
should be built to enhance the shrine's beauty.
"If you have a diamond on its own, it doesn't do much, but if you put it in
a golden band, it sets it off," Chris Vodden said, adding that that's what
the terraces do for the shrine.
Baha'u'llah, Chris Vodden said, had said that the kings of the world would
approach the shrine by coming up terraces on foot and pay homage to the Bab.
Tourism to Haifa is expected to triple to 1.2 million annually thanks to
the terraces and other recent improvements to historical sites.
The four Voddens expect to be four of those tourists or, more accurately,
pilgrims. They already have their names in for a pilgrimage to Haifa in five
Michael Miller covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in
care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call him at
(309)686-3106, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Copyright 2001, Peoria Journal Star
Page last updated/revised 071101
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