Baha’i since June 2007
By the age of 8, Melissa concluded there was a God. Her parents were from a Christian background, but were noncommittal about religion and didn’t rear their children in a faith. The most religion she received was from going to church once a month with her grandmother.
If there was a God, she should pray to Him, Melissa reasoned. So that’s what she did as a child before going to sleep.
“I was careful not to pray for toys and other such things,” says Melissa, 23, who lives in Madison, Wis., where she works full-time and is finishing up a bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin.
“I tried to focus instead on praising God,” she says, “and praying for the well being of friends and family.”
Believing that spirituality is an essential part of life, Melissa continued to puzzle out the nature of religion, how she and others fit into the scheme of things and what direction her spirituality could or should take.
“When I turned 15 and could think more abstractly, I went to the library and checked out books on religion,” Melissa says. “The religion section was small, but I found Baha’u'llah and the New Era. I felt a strong pull immediately, but I also thought the names were funny and the ideas strange. I didn’t know how to deal with that.”
Then she explored the Unitarian Church, which kept her interest for about two and a half years. But she didn’t feel comfortable with all its teachings, she says, so once again she became a seeker.
“I looked at a variety of religions and went back to studying the Baha’i Faith,” Melissa says. “This time I was ready for it. I had done what the Baha’i Faith encourages: independent investigation of truth.”
And this was before she officially became a Baha’i. That didn’t happen until the summer of 2007, after she spent the summer between her junior and senior year in Uganda, where she visited the House of Worship, located just outside Kampala.
“I’m halfway across the world and enjoying the cultural differences,” Melissa remembers, “but I’m also seeing that the Baha’i Faith is the same wherever you go. After about three weeks, I decided I couldn’t stand not being a Baha’i, so I decided to formally join the Faith.
“Being a Baha’i has improved my life in so many ways,” Melissa says. “I’ve become so much better at dealing with arguments and conflicts — not getting angry and frustrated, or emotionally attached to things that don’t matter. I can now take a step back.”
Melissa says she keeps Baha’u'llah’s guidance on detachment in mind when she gets into a sticky situation:
“…must, before all else, cleanse his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge…that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth.”
As she contemplates her career after graduation, Melissa knows it will involve the betterment of society, in alignment with the Baha’i Faith’s belief that a profession carried out in a spirit of service to humanity is considered the highest form of worship.