A globetrotting Baha’i reflects on four decades of spreading love
To the hundreds of Baha’is who are relocating or traveling to aid community-building efforts, Noushin Ehsan has a message:
Listen more than talk. Know your gifts and shortcomings. Be alert to the most unexpected opportunities. Above all else, let a love for everyone shine through your eyes.
For more than 40 years, the New York City-based architect has crisscrossed the globe for her work. Everywhere she goes, whether on another continent or just across the state line, she puts herself at the disposal of local Baha’is for whatever form of service they need.
On the eve of her first trip, though, she confided to a friend serving at the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel, that she didn’t feel up to the task.
As Ehsan recalls, “[She] took my hand from the other side of her desk, looked into my eyes and saw how emotional I was, and said, ‘If you allow your pure heart to be reflected through your eyes, you can touch the hearts of others, as this is what a travel teacher can do, even if you cannot speak their language.’
“This comment and my abundant prayer throughout the 11 days in Haifa became my support system, preparing me to go to Africa.”
It was a support system that continued to buoy Ehsan after she landed in Nairobi, Kenya, and embarked on what turned out to be a 14-hour ride as one and then another bus broke down before a van packed with people and animals bore her the rest of the way.
In the home of her host, Ruth Vuyiya, Ehsan was able to explain to a large number of villagers the teachings of Baha’u’llah, Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, on the oneness of humanity.
“I would say a few words in English and Ruth would translate into longer sentences that I could not understand,” she relates. “I felt an immense amount of warmth and reciprocity from all those listening. … We learned deeply from one another by just looking at each other, and I will not forget the love I felt from everyone.”
Later, a trip to Jamaica cemented for Ehsan the belief that “you can make a sort of deal with God: You give a little bit of your time for service and you gain much in return.” Upon landing she had looked up the local Baha’is and found out their venue for large gatherings suddenly wasn’t available. So she offered the home where she was staying.
“Every night we had fireside gatherings of 20 to 40 people of all different backgrounds and echelons of society. The mixture of these people in this beautiful setting, as well as abundant food prepared by the chef and live music and prayers, made these gatherings magical, and made us all closely bonded,” says Ehsan.
On the last evening, Winsome Linton, a young girl who lived in the area, stood up and declared her belief in Baha’u’llah. Not hesitating for a moment, Ehsan placed around Winsome’s neck a Baha’i necklace she had purchased “without knowing who exactly I bought it for. I still remember her joy.”
“A few years later Winsome moved to New York and began serving in the Baha’i community of Manhattan; she is still here and is a valuable asset to our community,” says Ehsan. “When I reached out to the local Baha’i community in Jamaica I had no way of knowing that there would be such a joyful outcome.”
Ehsan has many such stories, including from the small communities in the hills of northwest Connecticut.
In Torrington, Connecticut, hometown of eminent early 20th-century Baha’i Horace Holley, she bought two rental buildings to get to know neighbors and hold the core activities of Baha’i-initiated community building.
“I have had many large and small devotional gatherings, firesides, and now study circles,” she says. “With the help and devotion of a few other Baha’is nearby, the messages of Baha’u’llah have uplifted many souls.”
In nearby Cornwall, she has owned a country home for three decades and has found that many people there receive the Baha’i teachings only intellectually. “It’s very hard to get into their souls,” she says.
But not impossible. It was in Cornwall that a woman Ehsan hadn’t pegged as someone interested in the mystical works of Baha’u’llah came up to her after a devotional gathering that had featured readings from the Seven Valleys. The woman was so taken by them that a local Baha’i handed her a copy.
“She called the next day to say she read it all the way through and was exhilarated,” which Ehsan says was another lesson for her to “be brave and be open and allow moments to lead you.”
Cornwall was also where the power of prayer was once again brought home to Ehsan. As she tells it, nearby Baha’is were staffing a booth at an event in the white-steepled Congregational church but became disheartened when person after person passed them by.
“So we went down to the river and prayed,” she relates, and when they returned to the church “everyone stopped at the booth and all the materials ended up being taken.”
The arrival of another Baha’i family to the area has reinforced in Ehsan as well the value of working as a team. “I’m a good door opener but not a great nurturer,” she says. “People have different strengths and, working together, things happen.”
As they have for more than 40 years in Ehsan’s collaborations with Baha’is all over the world.