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History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan 1914-1938

by Agnes Baldwin Alexander

edited by Barbara R. Sims.
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Chapter 2

2. BAHÁ'ÍS FROM HONOLULU GO TO JAPAN


In God's plan Honolulu, "where the tide moving eastward meets the tide moving westward," was the center from which Bahá'í teachers were prepared for work in Japan.

Through instructions from ‘Abdu'l-Bahá in 1914, two Bahá'í residents of Honolulu went to Japan to spread the Fragrances of God. Dr. George Jacob Augur arrived there from Honolulu in June, 1914, and on November first, coming from war stricken Europe, I reached Kobe.


George Jacob Augur M.D.

Dr. Augur was a homeopathic physician who came from Oakland, California, to reside in Honolulu, where he practiced his profession. A man of independent convictions, he was accustomed to stand alone. In Honolulu he heard of the Bahá'í Message. God endowed him with the gift of insight, and it was with deep understanding he accepted the Bahá'í Faith. He was favored with six Tablets from ‘Abdu'l-Bahá. Concerning the first one, he told me the following: "I wrote to ‘Abdu'l-Bahá asking him for an explanation of the words in the Bible, 'Christ was tempted in all points like as we are yet without sin.' I could not understand how that could be, for to be tempted means to desire to do something one ought not to do and Christ was God and you cannot tempt God." ‘Abdu'l-Bahá answered him:
O thou who seekest the Kingdom of God! Your epistle was received and its contents became evident.
The Holy Manifestations of God possessed two stations; one a physical station, and the other a spiritual station. In other words, one human and the other a station of the Reality of Divinity. If trials come they befall the human station and not the Reality of Divinity, and these trials are seemingly according to the perceptions of men, i.e. it appears that the humanity of the Holy Manifestations is apparently tempted and when firmness and steadfastness become manifest with the utmost degree of power and might (on the part of the Prophets), the rest will be admonished thereby and will be awakened to the fact that on occasions of temptation how firm and steadfast they should be. For the Heavenly Teacher must teach both by words and deeds, and must point out the mighty way and the straight path. As to my station, it is ‘Abdu'l-Bahá the manifestation of servitude at the Threshold of the Beauty of Abhá. Translated by Dr. Fareed, Feb. 24, 1909.

In regard to the second Tablet Dr. Augur received, he said: "It answered a letter I wrote ‘Abdu'l-Bahá in which I said, 'To me Thou art God. The world will never know God more accurately than Thou art reflecting Him. The utmost stretch of imagination cannot belie Thy magnitude.'" ‘Abdu'l-Bahá answered him:
O thou who art firm in the Covenant! Thy eloquent and beautiful letter was received. His honor, Mr. Remey, is indeed a believer and assured.
His face is illumined with the light of guidance and his heart is in the utmost vibrations from the Divine Glad Tidings. Therefore he is the cause of joy and happiness in every city he travels and wafts the fragrance of life. Unquestionably he will consider your wish and stay there a few days
(Honolulu). But he should travel to other countries too, in order that he may call to the Kingdom of God. As to thee, grieve not on account of calamities and troubles. A tree that has a firm root resists every wind. Every ship that is strong and solid withstands the dashing of the waves. Every building that has a strong foundation is free from accidents and wrecking of beams. As thou art firm in the Covenant, therefore rest assured that these glooms of calamities will be changed into the light of Providence. Utmost joy and happiness will be obtained.
Concerning the question of the Reality of Divinity, it is as I said before and thou hast well understood. The Reality of Divinity is holy above the comprehension of the learned ones and sanctified from being surrounded by the human minds. Man has no road to this station. He is helpless. For example, this tree which is from the vegetable kingdom, no matter how much it progresses and acquires softness and delicacy, it is uninformed of the human world. This is above its comprehension. Thus because of the differences in degree in the world of creation being the preventors from comprehension, that is, every lower degree is unable to comprehend the higher one, and impossible, and cannot be, then how can the human mind comprehend that Reality which is holy above all the attributes? Hence for the souls there is no refuge save the Holy Realities. They must turn to the Holy Manifestations of God, otherwise they are worshipers of superstition, for the Reality of Divinity does not come within the human imagination. Every Divinity which man imagines is a superstition. Thus it is evident that the souls who do not turn to the Holy Manifestations are worshipers of superstitions. Therefore all must turn to the Blessed Beauty and become ignited with the fire of His love and submerged into the ocean of His guidance. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá is His servant and the Herald of His Kingdom.
Translated by Dr. Zia M. Bagdadi, Chicago, Ill. Oct. 27, 1913.

Dr. Augur was a man of few words, but his love for ‘Abdu'l-Bahá and insight into His station gave power to his words. Refined in his taste, he had great appreciation of Japan. The small garden at the back of his home in Honolulu, he had designed in the form of a Japanese garden. After a visit to Japan, he had a desire to return there and practice his profession if it were possible. He told me the following in regard to the third Tablet he received from ‘Abdu'l-Bahá: "I wrote ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, and as I remember, I did not ask Him if I could go to Japan to teach, but I did ask that if it was his wish, I would like to go to make an indefinite stay, which shows that ‘Abdu'l-Bahá knows us better than we know ourselves." The Tablet follows:

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O thou dear son! From thy letter the fragrances of the rose garden of significances was inhaled, that praise be to God, thou art assisted by the Divine confirmations, hast found the way to the Kingdom of God and thy heart and soul are quickened. Arise thou to perform the blessed intention thou art holding and travel thou to Japan and lay there the foundation of the Cause of God, that is, summon the people to the Kingdom of God. Japan has great capacity, but there needs be a teacher who will speak by the confirmations of the Holy Spirit. I hope thou wilt become assisted in this. Translated by M. Ahmad Sohrab, Nov. 21, 1913, Ramleh, Egypt.

Again ‘Abdu'l-Bahá wrote in the fourth Tablet addressed to Dr. Augur:
O thou who art advancing toward the Kingdom! Thy letter was received. It indicated, praise be to God, that in the matter of advancing toward the Kingdom of God thou art firm and steadfast and thou hast resolved to go to Japan to spread the Divine Teachings. This lofty magnanimity befits praise. I hope thou mayest become confirmed therein and in the affairs of the Kingdom thou mayest follow the inspiration and the teachings of God and not any human suggestion. Rest thou assured that thou wilt become assisted. Translated by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, Mt. Carmel, Haifa, Feb. 12, 1914.

Preparation for Work in Japan

In a mysterious way God prepares souls for the work which He destines for them in His service.

Miss Ume Tsuda, who passed through Honolulu on a lecturing tour, aroused in me the first enthusiasm for the country of Japan. When seven years old she came to the United States with the first company of Japanese girls sent by the Japanese government to be educated in America. After graduation from Bryn Mawr College, she founded in Tokyo an English School for Japanese girls. A wonderfully alert and enthusiastic little lady, from the night I heard her speak I was captivated with interest in Japan.

Then I began to search for books about the country, taking notes on its history, religions, and culture. Little did I dream that it was the guidance of God which was preparing me for future work in that country. During those days an inspiration came to me that I would go to Japan, but it did not occur to me that it would be to teach the Cause of God. Afterwards circumstances were such that the way did not open for me to go, and I wondered why the inspiration had come, and spoke of it to a friend. She said, "It means you are going but it is not yet the time."

One day in my presence my dear father said, "Agnes is to go to Japan and I have put the money in the bank for her when the right time comes." Although the spiritual veil was not lifted from his eyes, he was often inspired to guide me.

A year or more passed when suddenly, on February 22, 1913, my dear father was called from this world, and six weeks later my dear mother joined him in the heavenly realm. Then my sister, the only remaining member of the family at home, sailed for California and the home where I was born was broken.

My sister wrote me from California that she wished I might go to Japan because it was our father's wish and I was so well prepared. In God's plan however, there was a spiritual preparation which I was yet to experience. Torn from the home I loved, the only desire I had left in life was to serve His Cause. I had read words of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá spoken in England in which He said, "I have a lamp in my hand searching through the lands and seas to find souls who can become heralds of the Cause. Day and night I am engaged in this work." The words rang in my ears and I supplicated that His lamp might find me. One morning the Master seemed very near and a joy filled my heart with the inspiration that I was to go to my beloved spiritual mother, May Maxwell in Montreal. I felt a Tablet was coming to me and later that day it was received. The Master did not write, though, that I was to go to Montreal, but the inner guidance had come. When I met the beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, in Haifa, in 1937, and spoke of the inspirations which came to me at times, he replied, "It is the Master."

May Maxwell had once written me that some day I would come to her home. At the time, during the life of my parents, it had not seemed possible, but now the way opened, and in October, 1913, I left Honolulu. In the Maxwell home, which had been blessed by the presence of the Master, I spent a month. May was then the mother of a little girl whom ‘Abdu'l-Bahá called His child. One day while there I read His words in which He said the believers should learn Esperanto. From that moment there was ignited in my heart the desire to obey His request.

The winter of 1914 I spent in Brooklyn, N.Y. where through association with the beloved Bahá'ís, I received spiritual reinforcement and a new bond of love and unity came into my life. While there a Tablet from the Master reached me which contained the first intimation that it was God's plan for me to go to Japan. He wrote in part: "O thou dear daughter, thy letter was received. It became the cause of infinite rejoicing for it expressed eloquently thy faith and thy turning thy face toward the Kingdom of God. This light of guidance which is ignited by the lamp of thy heart must become more brilliant day by day and shed its light to all parts. Therefore, if thou travelest toward Japan unquestionably divine confirmations shall descend upon thee . . ."

My father's youngest sister and her Italian husband had invited me to their home in Milan, Italy. As it was traveling "toward Japan," I accepted.

One evening before leaving Brooklyn, I was invited to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Rufus W. Powell, Bahá'ís who were interested in Esperanto. There my desire to learn the language was fulfilled, and I received my first instruction in Esperanto, which Mr. Powell said would be very helpful to me in Japan. From that time I began to study the language by myself.


Toward Japan

In early May, 1914, I sailed from New York direct to Genoa, Italy. Among the friends who came to the steamer to see me off was dear little Mrs. Rufus Powell from Brooklyn. She brought me an Esperanto student book, which she had covered with linen on which she had

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embroidered a green star. The precious little book which traveled with me "toward Japan," gave me the foundation of the Esperanto language. Others among the New York and Brooklyn Bahá'ís brought me remembrances, and in my stateroom I found flowers. The love of the friends remained with me as I sailed away. While many of the passengers on the steamer read guide books, I found my joy in reading ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's words, which were a spiritual guide book. To a dear sister in Brooklyn I wrote: "Cunard R.M.S. 'Ivernia,' May 19, 1914. When the steamer sailed out, I lost sight of you dear friends, but after all it did not matter for your love was with me and I felt it. . . . On Sunday I was feeling that ten days had gone by and I had apparently accomplished nothing when after dinner the young lady who sits next to me asked me what my religion was. She was tremendously interested and I gave her everything in one dose as we sat under the stars on deck. She is a wonderful soul and was able to grasp all I gave her, only she says she has no faith. . . . We have stopped at Madeira and Gibraltar and on the shores of Madeira I said the Greatest Name. We have in Honolulu two Portuguese ladies who are interested in the Cause, and their parents came from this Island and were of those who left and helped to form a colony in Jacksonville, Illinois in order to obtain religious freedom. A number of times on this voyage have passengers called out to look at a rainbow, and then the deep realization of the meaning of the rainbow has come to me, that it stands as the sign of the One Who is here now in flesh and blood!"


Arrival in Italy

To dear Mrs. Lincoln and her daughter Della I wrote: "7 via San Vincenzo, Milan, Italy, June 8, 1914. God's love and mercy is most wonderful to me, and oh, that I may be worthy of it! Even though you are not the one who is traveling, yet you are doing a great work for you are helping this instrument, and God grant that it may accomplish something for the Cause. My Aunt met me the morning of May 21, at Genoa, and my Uncle came later and together we came to Milan. The first church we entered in Genoa, such a restful feeling came over me as I said the Greatest Name. I spoke of the uplift I felt to my Aunt and she said, 'It is because so many prayers are said in these churches one feels the atmosphere, . . . ."

On May 23, I gave the Message to Miss Lizy Amport, the young lady who lived with my Aunt. I spoke in French and I was so eager to tell her that the words seemed to come and she understood all I said. As my Aunt was the President of the Rudolph Steiner group of Milan, I found her friends ready to listen to the Bahá'í Message and every one heard something of the Cause.

I wrote: "The first of July my Aunt and Uncle may be leaving for America on their way to Honolulu. I have no plans as yet but God will surely guide me. I can trust Him, can I not?" When asked by my Aunt where I would go, I suggested Stuttgart, Germany, where there were Bahá'ís, and so my trunk was sent by slow freight directly there.

On July 1, I left Milan with Lizy Amport. We stopped in Locarno on Lake Maggiore, where I waited to hear from Mme Forni, a Bahá'í whom I expected to meet there. I wrote to Mrs. Joseph Hannen: "Locarno, July 3, 1914. I had hoped to join your sister (Alma Knobloch in Germany), but the time was not ripe. I have not yet received any word from ‘Abdu'l-Bahá and I await His bidding before going farther. . . . I am studying Esperanto and have joined the Association (U.E.A.). It gives one many opportunities in traveling to spread the Cause."

After two weeks, word came from Mme Forni, who was at a Pension called "Monti Verita," where I joined her. Unaware that "an unforeseen calamity" was on humanity, we called in the Greatest Name on the mount. The power of those prayers must have brought protection to us. In a letter of September 6, from Geneva, Switzerland, to the dear Brooklyn friends I wrote: "I have been wonderfully guided and cared for by the Hand of God. I wrote you from Locarno where I was waiting to meet Mme Forni. One day the telephone rang to tell me Mme Forni was at Ascona, the next village and wanted me to come to lunch. Strange to say she was at the very place my Aunt had wanted me to go to at first, as Frau Hofmann, the manager, was a friend of my Aunt and she spoke to me in the telephone saying she was my Aunt's good friend and my Aunt had written her of me. I cannot tell you how good it sounded to me, for I had come to the point where I longed for a loving heart and the sight of a Bahá'í. Though it was pouring it did not take long to go to the funicular railway and down Locarno Monti, then by automobile stage four miles to Ascona, and then a climb up another mountain to Monti Verita. There on entering the dining room the first thing I saw was The Star of the West, on the table. It seems it had long been Mme Forni's wish to make this place a Bahá'í center for Switzerland and they had first ordered the magazine. I had to return to Locarno that night but the next day I went again and had a wonderful time with Mme Forni and Frau Hofmann. They joined me in saying the Greatest Name 95 times for God's blessing on that mountain (may it indeed become a mountain for Truth!) . . . Mme Forni is Polish-German, but married to an Italian. She has had a wonderful life and marvelous experience in healing the sick. The next day I moved to Monti Verita and Mme Forni left for her mountain home the following day, expecting to return to take me there in a week, but it was not in God's Plan. Suddenly the war broke out and I found myself without money, as the banks refused to cash anything. Through prayer I was led to come to Geneva with some French people and have been wonderfully cared for. I came to see the American Consul and he has been my best friend, but I was not able to cash my money until after I received this Tablet." The Tablet follows:
O thou my dear daughter! Thy letter was received. It imparted great happiness. Praise be to God that dear daughter is sacrificing herself in the Path of Bahá'u'lláh and enduring every difficulty. It is now more advisable for thee to depart directly to Japan and while there be engaged in the diffusion of the Fragrances of God. . . Today the greatest of all divine bestowals is teaching the Cause of God for it is fraught with confirmations. Every teacher is confirmed and is favored at the divine Threshold. In the estimation of the Ideal King, the army which is in front of the battlefield is encircled with the glances of His mercifulness and in the sight of the divine Farmer, the sower of the seed is accepted and favored. I hope that thou mayest be like a realm conquering army and a farmer, therefore thy voyage to Japan is preferred to everything else. Still thou art perfectly free.

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The Tablet was dated Mount Carmel, Haifa, August 4, 1914, and was received by me in Geneva on August 22 1914. The letter of September 6, to the friends continues: "My trunk was in Stuttgart where it had gone before me from Milan. I was ready, though, to go to Japan without it, as ‘Abdu'l-Bahá wrote, 'thy voyage to Japan is preferred to everything.' Everyone here said it was impossible for me to get my trunk, but I knew there was a spiritual power they did not count on. I supplicated ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, if it were His will I might get it, and in a few days I had it. It was a wonderful proof of the power of the Center of the Covenant. Consul Keene telegraphed for me and it came. I felt I had to fall on my knees and thank God, it was truly wonderful. Then all my money affairs are arranged and I can go easily to Japan. When ‘Abdu'l-Bahá wishes us to do anything and we are ready, the means are also ready. Now I am only waiting for the steamer. I hope to sail September 19, from Marseilles, but have no word yet from London. You may know I am eager to do His bidding. You see dear, as have felt and once dreamed, as I told you, it is not the time for me to go to ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, and I have found the fact that I have not seen Him an aid to my teaching. That is not necessary. It is only faith which counts. Thank God for His wonderful love and mercy to me that I am permitted to so go forth, and dear, never forget that you share in everything with me. P.S. I wrote especially about Monti Verita for I have a wonderful feeling about the place and have written ‘Abdu'l-Bahá for His blessing on it. You may hear of it again sometime."

While I remained in Geneva I visited the rooms of the Universal Esperanto Association which I had joined. There I met a Russian lady Esperantist. When she heard that I was going to Japan, she told me of a blind Russian young man, Vasily Eroshensko, an Esperantist who was there and asked me to look him up. This was the opening which brought great blessings into my life through friendship with the blind. The Russian lady took me to her home where I gave the Message. She said she would tell of it in city and town. She translated part of the Honolulu Unity Calendar into Esperanto and gave it to me to take to her blind friend in Tokyo.

After the letter, which I have quoted, was written, a telegram came from the London Steamship Office informing me that all accommodations on the steamer to Japan were taken. Then I telegraphed to the American Consul in Marseilles, where I expected to take the steamer, and asked his help in securing passage for me. He replied that there were no vacancies on steamers to Japan until November. As a last resort I wrote a personal letter to the agent of the Steamship Company in Marseilles, and said I would accept anything if he could get me on the steamer. No answer had come and it was only a few days before the steamer was to sail. I felt then that I must be wrong myself. As I was repeating the prayer of the Báb, "Is there any remover of difficulties . . .", a knock came at my door. A telegram had come from the agent in Marseilles informing me he could get me on the steamer if I would answer and come immediately. I hastened to reply that I would accept and come without further delay. Again difficulties came in my path. I was told I could not take a trunk on the train, and it was even uncertain whether I could reach Marseilles, as the trains were being used to convey wounded French soldiers to southern France, and often the passengers were left at stations where there was no food, that the trains might be used for the soldiers. When I spoke to the American Consul, he advised me to try and check my trunk and see if I could not get through. This I did and started on the train. Although we saw wounded soldiers and nurses in the stations in Southern France, our train went through without interference, and I reached Marseilles the day before the steamer was to sail. I went immediately to the American Consulate to have my passport visaed. When I told the Consul I had come with my trunk and would sail the next day, he said, "Your trunk can never come through to sail tomorrow." Returning to the hotel, I found it had already arrived! Then I went to see the steamship agent. He explained to me that a German lady had engaged her passage six months before, but now France and Germany were at war, and he said, "I can give you her place and if she should come I can have her arrested." Thus through the power of the Covenant of God, the way opened for me to go to Japan.


Voyage to Japan

The next day when I boarded the steamer, a French lady, Mme Casulli, was the only other passenger from Marseilles. Like most of the passengers, she had engaged her passage six months in advance. We were to be cabin mates. The steamer was not large nor elegant, but there was not a better cabin on it than ours. How great are the favors of God if only we have faith and obey!

Port Said was the first port at which we were to stop. There I hoped to meet the Bahá'í brother, Mírzá Yazdí, who later married ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's youngest daughter. I felt obliged to make some explanation of my cabin mate, Mme Casulli, about my Faith, but did not think she would have any interest in the Cause. On the steamer was a Greek young man who was often with us, as he spoke French and Mme Casulli knew very little English. He had been obliged to leave Belgium, where he had been in business, and was returning to his home in Port Said. As we three were together on the deck I told Mme Casulli that I was a Bahá'í and asked if she knew of the Faith. She replied "no," but the young Greek immediately became aflame to know of the Cause. I gave him some pamphlets and he said that he would translate the small booklet which contained the Bahá'í principles into Belgian and after the war he wished to return there and spread the Teachings. As he knew Mirza Yazdi, whom he said was a very good man, he accompanied me ashore to his store.

At Port Said the captain received orders to stop at Aden, Arabia, because of the hazard of sailing in the Indian Ocean where the German cruiser "Emden" was operating. At Aden we remained for five days before permission came to continue the voyage. It was a thrilling experience for me to go ashore in Arabia and touch for the first time holy ground where a Prophet of God had lived. Unaware of the reality of Muhammad, most of the passengers were not interested and I was the only lady to go ashore twice. From Aden we proceeded without lights, except shaded ones at night, until we reached Hong Kong.

One evening as I sat with Mme Casulli, I saw she was looking at my Bahá'í ring stone. I told her it was a Bahá'í stone and she replied that she had thought so. Then I began to tell her of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá. She listened and said it was the message she was waiting to hear. God assisted me to speak in French, which she said

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came almost perfect as I told her the Message. From that time we were united by a new spiritual bond. She told me that as she was French, people generally spoke with her of material things, but she said that I was different and did not speak of clothes. After reaching Japan, in a letter to the friends I wrote: "For a roommate I had a French lady from Hong Kong, and she became a wonderful Bahá'í. We were so happy together and every morning and night translated the Hidden Words into French. We were truly traveling in dangerous times . . . but Mme Casulli and I were without fear and happy and contented, which was noticed by the passengers. God granted me the great privilege of giving the Message to other souls on that eventful voyage."

As Mme Casulli and I were always together, (she was the only French person and I the only American on the steamer), we attracted others and an English lady who spoke French fluently soon joined us and became deeply interested in the Cause.

One evening Mme Casulli left me to write. When she returned she asked me if I knew to Whom she had been writing. Then she showed me the beginning and the ending of her letter which was in French. Translated it began, "To Thou Prophet Whom I seek," and ended, "I hope to attain the highest and say I am a Bahá'í." At Hong Kong dear Mme Casulli left me. There we learned that while we were passing through the Indian Ocean, the "Emden" had captured five vessels. Before we parted, as I was writing to ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, I asked her if she wished to add anything. She replied, only that she might have a Tablet from Him, and that when her husband's contract would be up in Hong Kong, that she might return and try and teach the Cause of God. From Japan I wrote to the friends: "I have had a letter from my French friend, Mme Casulli, in Hong Kong. She writes me: 'I translated with much pleasure the Tablet that you sent me with your last letter and I wish to receive one for myself, for I am certain that ‘Abdu'l-Bahá is with me.'" (Translated from the French.) It made me so happy to have her write me these words, and I wrote her that even if she had no French literature, which she longed for so much, or did not receive a Tablet, she had the greatest gift in knowing in her heart ‘Abdu'l-Bahá.


click for larger photo


Christmas party for the neighborhood children, Yotsuya, Tokyo, 1920. Mrs. Finch and Miss Alexander can be seen at the upper left.

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