September 26, 2011

hospitality ~ serving others

we have been working with 2 carpenters to order and receive furniture for a few months: Ephram and Ada.  last week was our final delivery.  they brought the items in a pick-up truck and brought them inside.  once they were finished setting things up, they sat down to write the receipts and settle the payment.  i asked them if they would like some tea or coffee.  this is a question i ask each time but it is not easy for them to accept the request.  after their pause i commented, 'That means yes!'  i knew they wanted to accept the offer because of their silence instead of an instant 'no'.  i brought them some tea on a tray with some leftover doughy rolls from breakfast.  next i came with 2 small plates, each with a little jam to spread on the rolls.  one of them never ate jam before..
the tv unit, center table & bookshelves..all made by Ephram & Ada
after settling the bill, they began talking in twi, their mother tongue.  Ephram then began speaking on behalf of Ada (who speaks less English that he does).  he explained that they have never met anyone like me -- a white person with some wealth who has been so kind to them.   the way it was explained was very touching and brought a tear to my eye.  my response was explaining that this is what my love for Baha'u'llah does, and this is our way of life because of Him..that we see the beauty of God in each soul through His Teachings.  we respect each soul.  we don't think anyone is more important than anyone else.

we cannot measure how much our simple acts of service or hospitality are touching people's hearts.  the remnants of racism and prejudice are carried like a heavy burden and buried deep inside many black people's hearts as a result of their life experiences.  it sometimes takes a long time for acts of service to easily be received as genuine from white people.  Ephram said that clients do not offer even a cup of water to them when they deliver the furniture.  i know that it's more than just being deprived of a quenching drink that he's conveying.  it's just an example which demonstrates the overall the lack of genuine kindness shown to them.  it's insulting and cold, especially to the African culture of always offering whatever you have to make the person in your home welcome after their journey to come see you. 

every person in this world can make a difference, every day, every moment -- just by offering simple acts of generosity, helpfulness, thoughtfulness or kindness.  all of these are universal qualities, simple virtues.  but unless one's heart is like an empty receptacle of God's love, that love we have for Him cannot be channeled and translated into service.  i wasn't 'trying' to be of is a natural impulse that bursts forth as a way to express my love for God, for His people -- we are all His people, His servants, created out of His love.  there's no ulterior motive, or hope for reward or recognition.  the moment those impurities creep in, the spirit is removed from any act of serving.  as we spread the Teachings of Baha'u'llah which open one's heart to this limitless sense of seeing the world under the banner of Oneness, and each living thing as part of each other, connected beyond what we can describe, then this way of serving one another -- without any barriers which currently create estrangement, pride, arrogance, fear, greed, selfishness, jealousy, envy -- will be discovered as the key to happiness.  true happiness is nearness to God..and the best way to grow closer to God is by serving humanity for His sake, not our own.

Ephram has taken 6 Baha'i books up to this point.  he likes to read and investigate.  he knows that we are Baha'i.  he is rooted in Christianity yet is very interested to know Who Baha'u'llah is in relation to Christ.  he is reading 'Some Answered Questions' and 'Christ and Baha'u'llah' among others like 'Thief in the Night'.  aside from any books he is reading, i realize that it is our family life, our innermost thoughts and intentions, the purity of our hearts, and the radiance of our faces that will connect his heart with the spirit that is in Word of God that he is reading.  this is our daily striving and supplication..

September 08, 2011

the 'fourth step' of prayer

Baha'is have been provided some notes for prayer.  they aren't considered part of the Holy Writings or with any authority, but since they are helpful, we refer to them for guidance.  today i feel like the spirit of the "Fourth Step" has permeated my entire day:
Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle or the right book will be given you. Have confidence, and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the fifth step.
(Compilations, Principles of Bahai Administration, p. 90)
2 days ago i was in a state of despair and sunk in sadness.  i immediately called out to God in prayer.  i knew the situation was a test.  i intuitively knew there was no other response but to call upon His assistance.  this is how we grow spiritually, drawing upon our spiritual powers in times of tribulation.  i felt so quiet and needed to empty myself of all negativity toward others.  it was the ultimate test because i was drawn to blame, to estrangement, to mistrust, and to coldness.

my first inclination was to call Dashiel.  he wasn't answering his cell phone.  my next thought was to call Mrs. Asare.  as soon as she and the Professor sat down i began to feel that answer to prayer.  later in the day i spoke with Dashiel and he provided that spiritual insight and vision for the blessings in disguise.  by yesterday morning, the 'fourth step' began to enter my consciousness.  it was mid-morning and the thought came to me to bring some seeds to one of the families who grow corn in their yard.  i purchase eggs from them & have come to admire their way of life.  when i arrived the kids were sitting on benches behind the tall wall where they have a table of groceries for sale.  i didn't realize it but i was in another family's courtyard where i entered.  the couple came outside and were very interested in the seeds and my interest in coming to visit.  it isn't common for people who live in big homes to walk and have genuine relationships with people who live in small homes.. or for people with $ to be close friends with people who don't.  it is the silent prejudice that keeps people apart..

going to visit the neighbors was followed by hanging out late in the afternoon just outside of their home while the kids played together.  as soon as i entered the dirt road i saw the little boy from that family at the end of it, standing by his wall.  he started running toward me and jumped up into my arms!  it was priceless and precious.  this was the first time he initiated the affection.  i've been all over his cute little self, but now he was reciprocating it instantly.  such a sign from God.  i sat on a rock and prayed, greeting passers-by with the local language and a smile.  i saw one guy that we play soccer with.  i listened to a born-again Christian expound his beliefs while inviting me to attend his church services.  and i was bitten continuously by little ants that kept crawling onto my sandals.  at the exact moment we were walking home i see the woman who was asking me about the Baha'i Faith this past weekend -- she and i met at that same neighbor's home when i first bought something there, and so we arranged for her to come today to teach me how to make a traditional ghanaian tomato sauce.  it was simply divine because i haven't been able to call her; somehow i had entered her # into my phone incorrectly.

so today began with this woman's visit.  i wish i had taken a photo of this sauce, or a video of the process.  it was thrilling and beautiful.  we shared a great time together.  later i received a surprise knock at the door from the woman i met where seeds were offered yesterday.  she came to return the bucket that we had filled with cow dung and chicken fertilizer.  she came inside with her baby and asked if i needed anyone to do the cleaning for our home.  i apologized and said i didn't but that we could have a relationship that wasn't around her being my worker.  it could be around sharing, learning from each other, supporting each other, trusting each other.  she opened up to me about her mother and her life of suffering in a way that was a divine message to me: 
The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.

(Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)
Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth.

(Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)
this 24 year old mother expressed her suffering with a pure heart, without intending to do so.  i knew i was supposed to be the recipient of her heart's pain.  it touched my heart deeply.  i knew this wouldn't have happened if the crisis with the owner of this compound hadn't occurred.  in fact, everything to do with my neighbors now is a result of that crisis.  it has prompted me more than before to visit and reach out and be a neighbor.

the same confirmation came later this afternoon when we decided to bring banana bread to the woman who taught me how to make the sauce.  we brought enough for her neighbor who is next to us across the street -- a family with 3 children with whom i visited the evening of the incident.  i ended up meeting the woman's mother, walking back up the road to see Mrs. Asare in her car who stops and greets us in front of the other family's house -- the woman's mom then greets Mrs. Asare and they begin speaking in Twi about the banana bread and us knowing each other as Baha'is.  and then we see Mrs. Asare talking with the guards in front of our complex about how to direct the owner to her home for the consultation.  all within 10 minutes time!  so many connections and spiritual forces at work from a simple decision to visit 2 neighbors.

the last sign that occurred today was which book Domani chose for me to read to him tonight.  it was a Max Lucado book, "Just The Way You Are".  it brought tears into my eyes.  i felt like the little girl in the book who feels she doesn't have a special talent, only a good heart.  she ends up to be the one that the king likes immediately.  sometimes i feel so inadequate, so limited in capacity to serve humanity..but i can feel my heart bursting with love for people.  i'm not eloquent or wise or full of knowledge but i love people.. this entire situation has resulted because of my love for the children.  it created a little shaking up of old world standards and is gradually leading the way to an agreement and new possibilities outside of the compound that would not have occurred as quickly or as magically as i feel they are now.

no local children wanted in the compound

we started meeting children in east legon as soon as we went to play soccer and take a walk in the neighborhood.  dyami and domani naturally attract boys through play, while ayana naturally attracts girls through fascination.  the process of getting to know the children has been gradual and focused on joy, good manners and friendliness.  we faced initial requests to come over but at first we said no.  we waited until we had seen the same kids a couple of times while hanging out.  soon we were inviting kids to come and play in the compound.  additional children sometimes came with those we had known.  at the same time we continued to meet children and would let them know they could come by and visit us.  it averaged 6-8 kids at a time.
our empty compound was buzzing with life.  the boys would play hide-and-seek, soccer or penalties.  ayana would roller blade, paint nails, play cards or teach the girls how to make a paper origami basket.  it was innocent and fun.  each time something new was learned, like how to ask politely for water or show their appreciation, or be gentle with the plants.  we talked about having Baha'i classes like Gramma Asare (who some of them know and already attend her classes) and about learning how to read.  before long they were eagerly asking when class would begin or if they could read a book.
most of the time the guards would regulate who could enter and for how long.  at this time no other families were living in the compound.  my kids would come and tell me that the other kids weren't allowed to enter so i had to come and explain that it was ok if there were a lot of them and that i didn't mind.  i argued that no one lived here yet and that they were doing no harm.  i was often compromising for how long they could stay but i insisted that all who were interested in coming in were welcome.  sometimes they were yelled at and denied entering because they weren't considered clean enough.
once one of the families began moving in, we instilled the rule that there would be no hide-and-seek or running around; all of the kids were now staying in our square lot.  the exception to this was this past weekend when this family wasn't yet moved in but stopped by to do some work on the house and observed a group of girls in the pool.  apparently they made a complaint and it was told to me that no black children from the neighborhood would be allowed in the pool, only white children.  this comment infuriated me.  i had spoken to the owner who warned against any danger around the pool, but that it was ok as long as i was there.  i wasn't sure who was complaining -- was it the neighbor, the agent who brought them, the guards or the gardener.  all i knew is that i was complying with safety in numbers and rules by the pool, and was not accepting this imposed prejudicial view on who i can invite to come swim with my children.
on monday, the kids who were regulars were calling for us outside of the compound, wanting to know if we were available -- but they also started to climb the wall and reach the point where the metal security wires are secured.  the gardener and guards came and yelled at the children saying they were not allowed in because of this unsafe act.  i had to once again come outside of the gate and try to explain that even my children make mistakes -- they need a warning to say that if they did that again, then they would not be able to visit.  it felt like the workers were finding an excuse to keep them out.  my view was that the children now know not to do that again or else they will be yelled at and made to go away, so they won't do it again.  the gardener complied and the children were let in to play.  before they left on monday i explained that tuesday was the last day of vacation for my children and that we should have a celebration, however minimal.  so they knew to come around 2pm to enjoy one last afternoon together.
on tuesday, september 6th, 2 children we are closest to came by around 1pm to hang out.  they live next to us and were let in easily.  i had baked brownies and the kids filled up some water balloons.  about 2pm my kids came running inside complaining again that our friends were not being let in and they were being told to go home.  i came outside and listened without understanding the local language while one of the guards spoke seriously to them.  there were atleast 10 of them.  after listening i asked what he said and someone said they were told to go home.  i walked outside, pulling the gate closed behind me and jammed my finger in the doorway.  i was angry.  i asked them to wait patiently while i called the owner.  the gardener was telling me that the owner said i could no longer have any local children come to visit.  i argued that this isn't true; this isn't what she and i talked about; she said i could have them stay in my area once the neighbors started moving in, which i was doing.
as i walked away to call her the gardener handed me his phone.  he had called her for me.  i walked to my backyard and said hello.  when i answered that i wasn't doing well because of what i heard from the gardener, she started yelling at me.  she said she's a business woman and i'm causing her a lot of problems.  she said i'm stressing the guards..the neighbor has complained that many kids were running around..that i shouldn't be having so many kids in the compound..that we in ghana have a standard..that i can invite kids from school over but not these poor children.  she went on and on about issues of unruliness, crime, disease, and trouble to the other families that they'll bring.  she said she wrote a letter for me and she'd like me to leave.  she doesn't want this trouble anymore.  she then stressed that if i want to educate these children i must do it somewhere else.
all of the yelling and images of those children's faces outside of the gate made me overflow with tears as she spoke.  i was being accused of many bad things; i was the person who was causing trouble instead of being of service.  i was the trouble-maker.  my heart was aching with sadness and helplessness.  i felt betrayed, imprisoned, misunderstood, and worst of all unable to serve the children by sharing our life with them.
when the owner finished telling me what she didn't like and how she'd prefer i leave, i asked her if she would please stop yelling at me.  i told her i don't want to leave and that i want to find a point of agreement.  but it only led to her bringing up everything that i was doing wrong.  i said i was willing to cooperate and abide by rules like no one coming over to swim but she insisted on wanting to bring by the letter and then we could talk.
i hung up and wasn't able to talk or look at any of the workers.  i went inside and put some brownies in a ziploc.  i walked through the gate to talk with the children.  i asked them to come around to the side of the compound where no one could see us because everyone was up in my business.  while crying i tried to explain that they weren't allowed to come today and that i didn't know what would happen but that i was very sorry.  i gave them the brownies to share and went inside.  they all looked at me with wonder, not really knowing what i was talking about and happy that i had something sweet to offer them.  a few of them were jr. youth whose mother sells the eggs i buy; it was their first time coming by.  i've seen them everytime i buy the eggs but they hadn't wanted to come for whatever reason -- i had seen them earlier that day and invited them to our 'celebration'.  it broke my heart that this was their first time coming and they were yelled at and not allowed to enter the compound.
once inside the house i really cried.  i cried out to God and with that all-encompassing beseeching for divine assistance.  i was immensely overwhelmed by sadness and helplessness.  i called mrs. asare but i couldn't speak.  she said she would come by immediately.  she and her husband's presence in our home was most comforting.  they have a lot of experience and were very loving and wise.  they said they will talk with the owner and that i shouldn't be sad, that something good will come from this.
i spent most of the day today very quiet, reflecting, praying, trying to 'instantly forgive' and purify my heart of the estrangement that crept in toward those that guard and manage the gardens.  all of my bubbly joy and energy of loving-kindness was swept away and all i was left with was that awful feeling of not being able to trust anyone.  later on in the day mrs. asare called to say she had spoken with the owner.  the owner was thankful to hear from her and her husband, prof. asare.  mrs. asare said she listened to the owner's concerns and fears, and then she invited her to visit to consult about how to find a reasonable agreement rather than have me move out.  mrs. asare explained to me that she intends to create understanding of who we are as Baha'is, how we are striving to serve humanity and contribute to peace through the spiritual education of children...