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Bringing Baha'i experience home

June 23, 2001

Chris and Lori Vodden lived in Haifa, Israel, for the decade that the 19 garden terraces were being created on the side of Mount Carmel above, at and below the Shrine of the Bab.

But they watched the gardens' dedication through a satellite feed May 22 at the Springfield Baha'i Center.

The Voddens and their two boys, Dalton, 10, and Devon, 5, arrived back in the states on Dec. 31. The two employees of the Baha'i World Center were told it was time for them to go home, so they headed to the Peoria area to be with a dying member of their family and fellow Baha'i, Bob Gray.

"The whole deal of the will of God is so amazing," Lori Vodden said of the timing.

Gray died a few weeks later. The Voddens have settled into a new house in Bartonville, but they've brought along with them photos and memories of the time in Haifa.

Photos and memories of, especially, the beautiful terraced gardens that climb up to and beyond the Shrine of the Bab, a memorial housing the remains of the precursor of the Baha'i Faith. The terraces start at the foot of Mount Carmel and stretch a kilometer to the crest of the mountain.

"They were just putting the finishing touches on as we left," Chris Vodden said. "It was sad for us to leave before the final opening ceremonies."

The terraces and two new administrative buildings were built over 10 years for $250 million - all raised in voluntary contributions from Baha'is around the world. All 19 terraces are open to the public for free, with group-size restrictions at different levels.

"They've got a sophisticated system to make sure tourists don't damage the gardens," Chris Vodden said.

He has particular ties to the terraces. He was security manager for the Baha'i Center, but also had to deal with contractors working on the terraces and gardens. His office was in a building at the foot of the terraces and had to be knocked down for the construction.

Chris Vodden and the former Lori Ubben met in Haifa and married there. Lori Vodden, originally from the Peoria area and a graduate of Illinois State University, spent 15 years there working in the Baha'i archives. Chris Vodden was there for 12 years after careers in his native Yorkshire, England, as a policeman and school teacher.

For most of their time there, only about 300 Baha'is worked at the center. Now, with the opening of the terraces, there are about 900, representing 50 to 60 nationalities, according to the Voddens.

"It's a wonderful demonstration that people can get on together," Chris Vodden said, making a reference to one of the main Baha'i tenets - the unification of humanity.

"We just never dreamed we'd see this," Lori Vodden said. "It seemed so far off. All of this coinciding with the turn of the century. I think it's a push for world peace."

Haifa became the Baha'i center after the faith's founder, Baha'u'llah, visited Mount Carmel and told the city officials that the Bab would be buried there and the world administrative center of the faith built there. Baha'u'llah's son, Abdul Baha, oversaw the construction of the shrine of the Bab and started work on surrounding Justice was built at the site, with other facilities being added. In 1987, it was decided that the terraces should be built to enhance the shrine's beauty.

"If you have a diamond on its own, it doesn't do much, but if you put it in a golden band, it sets it off," Chris Vodden said, adding that that's what the terraces do for the shrine.

Baha'u'llah, Chris Vodden said, had said that the kings of the world would approach the shrine by coming up terraces on foot and pay homage to the Bab.

Tourism to Haifa is expected to triple to 1.2 million annually thanks to the terraces and other recent improvements to historical sites.

The four Voddens expect to be four of those tourists or, more accurately, pilgrims. They already have their names in for a pilgrimage to Haifa in five years.

  • Michael Miller covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call him at (309)686-3106, or send e-mail to

    ©Copyright 2001, Peoria Journal Star

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