Elders are respected in Fiji. Ludi Johnson freely acknowledges that such respect, and the trust that goes with it, has enriched her service as a short-term Baha’i pioneer and traveling teacher in the Sigatoka Valley.
A special bounty, though, emerged earlier this year in her latest six-month stay in Fiji. She played a role in bringing together women and children from two sometimes-estranged ethnic groups to pray, socialize and consult on community improvement.
“I am so happy and grateful to Baha’u’llah for His bounties and especially for finding this special opportunity to serve in this unique way,” Johnson wrote in March to the Office of International Pioneering. “This is my niche.”
Johnson, back at her home base in Maine, celebrated her 90th birthday this summer amid an appreciative gathering of family and friends.
Plans are already in the offing for her to return to the Pacific island nation early next year. Still in email correspondence with ethnic Fijian and Indian friends she made there, she relishes hearing how the Wednesday afternoon gatherings are still going strong.
She and one of her hosts, Kim Bowden-Kerby, have been given the honor of being adopted as sisters to men in the families they have been contacting. “There is much warm feeling among all of us, like real family,” she shares.
Johnson’s extended visits to Fiji in early 2011 and 2012, hosted by longtime pioneers Austin and Kim Bowden-Kerby, don’t represent her first major efforts to serve the Baha’i Faith — not by a long shot. She spent 12 years in French Polynesia up until 2007, and earlier had served the Faith for 15 years in Martinique. Within the United States she has participated in and organized collective efforts to teach the Faith in several states, and relocated to various places to support Baha’i communities in need.
Still, she has kept building her capacity in recent years by participating in the training institute and carrying out associated services such as devotional gatherings, home visits and study circles — all essential for community building, whether at home or overseas.
At her first stay on the Bowden-Kerbys’ farm in Fiji, friendships were made easily among the Indians who were their neighbors. A few joined a study circle that Johnson tutored weekly.
By the time she returned stateside for the last half of 2011, the Baha’is were making contacts with Fijians from a village more than a mile away. The Bowden-Kerbys had held one prayer meeting with people from both groups, but participants were few. In the meantime, the family’s Indian friends continued their weekly visits and enjoyed sharing prayers, especially chanting a long healing prayer revealed by Baha’u’llah.
Johnson, returning to Fiji in early 2012, found that people from both ethnic groups were enthusiastic to see her. So the Baha’is extended an invitation among both Indians and Fijians, expecting that only a handful would again arrive.
When the number of visitors rose to 21 women and six children, plans had to be hatched quickly to provide fitting hospitality.
“I was nonplussed as to what to do for a program,” Johnson writes. But calling on her “schoolteacher skills,” she got the visitors talking about their hobbies, favorite colors, and so forth. “Then Austin gave a talk about how we can all work together to improve the community. … It was great to have representatives from both cultures.”
Certainly, she adds, conditions in the community need improvement — roads, schools, sanitation. All was set back by flooding from heavy spring rains. To make a start, a fundraiser was planned. “We are so excited about this merging of cultures that we ask prayers for our little community,” Johnson notes.