After steadfastly serving at her pioneer post in Tokyo, Japan, since the beginning of the Ten Year Crusade (1953), Barbara Rutledge Sims ascended to the Abha Kingdom on April 24, 2002, at the age of 84. At that time she was the National Bahá'í Archivist and had just published her personal memoir, In the Light of the Rising Sun: Memoirs of A Bahá'í Pioneer to Japan.
The Universal House of Justice wrote the following tribute:
25 April 2002 To the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Japan
We were deeply distressed to learn of the passing of dearly-loved Barbara Rutledge Sims, whose devoted services to the Cause over a period of more than five decades will long be remembered. The distinguished record of her many contributions to the development of the Japanese Bahá'í community since her arrival in 1953 can well be a source of inspiration to the friends in Japan.
Among its outstanding features was her membership of the National Spiritual Assembly of North East Asia, and subsequently that of Japan, for a total of 36 years, including an extensive period of service as Secretary. She authored several books setting out the history of the Faith in Japan, Macau, Korea and Taiwan, culminating in the publication of her memoirs early in 2002. She was well known for her devotion to the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh and her unswerving commitment to the promotion of its interests.
Kindly convey to her family and friends our condolences and the assurance of our prayers in the Holy Shrines for the progress of her luminous soul in the worlds beyond. You are advised to hold memorial gatherings in her name in your principal Bahá'í Centres.
The Universal House of Justice
Mrs. Sims' books on the history of the Faith in Asia are widely read and have been placed on the World Wide Web at bahai-library.com/east-asia, where they are among the most downloaded material on this site. When no funds were available, she published the books at her own expense after approval by the National Spiritual Assembly of Japan, then donated copies to the countries discussed. Therefore some works are self-published and others have been issued by a Bahá'í Publishing Trust.
In addition to her personal memoir, her publications include:
Agnes R. Alexander (Edited by Barbara Sims). (1977). History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan 1914-1938. Tokyo: Bahá'í Publishing Trust of Japan.
Barbara R. Sims. (1989). Traces That Remain: A Pictorial History of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Faith among the Japanese. Tokyo: Bahá'í Publishing Trust of Japan.
Barbara R. Sims. (1991). The Macau Bahá'í Community in the Early Years. Tokyo.
Barbara R. Sims (Compiler). (1992). Japan Will Turn Ablaze: Tablets of 'Abdul-Baha, Letters of Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice, and Historical Notes about Japan. Tokyo: Bahá'í Publishing Trust of Japan.
Barbara R. Sims. (1994). The Taiwan Bahá'í Chronicle: A Historical Record of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Faith in Taiwan. Tokyo: Bahá'í Publishing Trust of Taiwan.
Barbara R. Sims (Compiler). (1994). Selected Communications from the Universal House of Justice Concerning the North East Asian Area Including Japan. Tokyo: Bahá'í Publishing Trust of Japan.
Barbara R. Sims. (1996). Raising the Banner in Korea: An Early Bahá'í History. Tokyo.
Barbara R. Sims. (1998). Unfurling the Divine Flag in Tokyo: An Early Bahá'í History. Tokyo: Bahá'í Publishing Trust of Japan.
Mrs. Sims was also an active supporter of the Associations for Bahá'í Studies, and presented papers at conferences in both Japan and North America. At the first conference of the Association for Bahá'í Studies (ABS)-Japan (December 21-22, 1991, Tokyo Bahá'í Center), she gave a paper titled, "Early Bahá'í History in Japan." This was published in 1993 in Bahá'í Scholarship: Proceedings of the 1st Annual Conference (Tokyo: Association for Bahá'í Studies-Japan).
At the second conference of ABS-Japan (February 20-21, 1993, Tokyo Bahá'í Center), Mrs. Sims presented a tribute to the Ainu Bahá'ís, "My Personal Recollections of the Early Ainu Believers: Chief Takeichi Moritake (1902-1976) and His Son, Mr. Kazutomo Umegae (1924-1992)." This talk was published in 1995 in Conference Proceedings, Combined Volumes Two and Three: Volume Two: The Vision of Bahá'u'lláh. Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Conference (Tokyo: Association for Bahá'í Studies-Japan).
She also gave three presentations at the annual conferences of the Association for Bahá'í Studies, North America (ABS NA). In 1995 she spoke on "Hand of the Cause, Miss Agnes Alexander (1875-1971)" at ABS NA's 19th annual conference (October 12-15, San Francisco). We are fortunate to have her abstract for this talk:
'Abdu'l-Bahá called her "Daughter of the Kingdom;" the Guardian said she was an exemplary pioneer. Her life, demeanor, behavior and spiritual qualities, which were quite in advance of her time, were observed by the author, who was a personal friend of hers. They were both pioneers to Japan in the 1950s and 1960s and served together on the National Spiritual Assembly of North East Asia for many years.
Miss Alexander, while living in this world, often seemed to function on another plane of existence. For example, she considered herself a shy person and certainly not a speaker and yet, because it was necessary at times, she could speak extemporaneously before hundreds of people, mesmerizing her audience.
For a shy person with a genteel upbringing, to go alone and live for years in Asia in the early 1900s, where her blue eyes and tall stature were so unusual as to attract attention wherever she went, could not have happened without deep inner spiritual security. There was no Bahá'í group, friends or administration to fall back on. An occasional Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Bahá and letters from the Guardian were her sources of worldly and spiritual strength.
Miss Alexander used Miss Martha Root as an example. For instance, she saw how useful Esperanto was for Martha her sojourns around the world, meeting and connecting with people, so she also learned it and put it to excellent use in Japan and found it opened many avenues. With the few resources she had at hand she did what we now call proclamation on a remarkable scale.
The Guardian made references to the future when he said her name would always be associated with the rise of the Faith in Japan. He also called her a radiant herald and said that, "Japan owed her a great debt of gratitude."
The following year, 1996, she spoke on "Early Ainu Believers of Japan" at the 20th annual conference of ABS NA (September 26-29, Edmonton, Canada). The abstract for this talk is given below:
The Guardian directed the Bahá'ís to make contact with the indigenous peoples of the world, writing that they had the right to hear of the healing Message of Bahá'u'lláh. The first contact with the Ainu of Japan was in the late 1950s. When this was reported to the Guardian, he was "greatly pleased to learn of the contacts which have been made by the friends with the original natives of Japan, namely, the Ainu people."
Among the first Bahá'ís were a village headman, Mr. Takeichi Moritake, and his son, Mr. Kazutomo Umegae. Chief Moritake was pure Ainu, of which he was proud. His son, Mr. Umegae, had a Japanese mother but considered himself an Ainu. Both men were natural leaders attuned to the culture of the Ainu. The father, with special sensitivity, wrote poetry, primarily about nature.
The lives and times of these men will be discussed, particularly their contribution to the development of the Faith in Hokkaido.
In 1997 she participated in a special colloquium consisting of two panels discussing the Spiritual Axis in Asia Pacific at the 23rd annual conference of ABS NA (November 14-16, Washington DC), with Graham Hassall, Humaida Jumalon, Katayoun Hassall, Stephen Friberg and Sandra Sims Fotos. Speaking on the first panel, "Historical Background and Overview of Human Rights Development along the Spiritual Axis," her presentation was titled, "The Significance of the Spiritual Axis and the Development of the Bahá'í Faith in the Asia-Pacific Region." The abstract for this talk follows:
As the opening talk of the colloquium, this presentation will provide the framework for the themes addressed in the subsequent papers. The concept of Spiritual Axis will be introduced and its development from the time of its first mention by Shoghi Effendi in the 1950s up to the present will be discussed. Particular attention will be given to Shoghi Effendi's 1957 statement regarding the "spiritual equilibrium" which will effect the destiny of the Faith in the Pacific area. Historical highlights of the establishment of the Bahá'í Faith in the Spiritual Axis region will be reviewed, with special emphasis on the rise of the Faith in Australia and Japan, the two poles of the Axis.
This paper was Mrs. Sims' final presentation, although she attended the 6th conference of ABS-Japan (December 19-21, 1997, Tokyo), and the 9th conference (March 23-25, 2001, Tokyo).
During one of her visits to Japan, Hand of the Cause Ruhiyyih Khanum, who frequently corresponded with Mrs. Sims and gave her little gifts, joked lovingly about Mrs. Sims steadfastness: "Barbara is just like Mount Fuji always here!"
Although no longer with us physically, her spirit will continue to inspire us through her many contributions to Bahá'í scholarship in Asia Pacific.