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TAGS: Abul-Qasim Faizi; Agnes Alexander; Ali Akbar Furutan; Amatul-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum; Clara Hyde Dunn; Collis Featherstone; Enoch Olinga; Hands of the Cause; Jalal Khazeh; John Robarts; Leroy Ioas; Rahmatullah Muhajir; Ugo Giachery; William Sears
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Hands of the Cause of God:
Personal Recollections

by Bill Washington

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Chapter 10

Agnes Alexander

Planning a trip to Japan in 1964 and knowing that Agnes Alexander was living in Kyoto, the city I would be visiting, I had secured from Collis Featherstone an address, which proved to be the address of another gentleman who knew where Mrs Alexander was living – residential addresses in Japan are very complicated and finding anyone is usually fairly difficult. But through this person I was able to meet up with Miss Alexander in the very small apartment where she had been living for some years.

Perhaps ‘tiny’ is a more appropriate description – her apartment was so small that more than two visitors created a ‘standing room only’ situation. Her living room was filled by several chairs and one small table, absolutely smothered in letters, cards and other correspondence through which she would shuffle when she needed to show a visitor some letter she had received, while other letters would inevitably drop to the floor. Beneath them all and occasionally visible was a small typewriter. Off this was a ‘kitchen’ – more like a walk-in pantry, in which one person only could sidle in but turn around only with great difficulty – where she would prepare her meals and refreshments for visitors. Somewhere adjoining was, I understand, an equally small bedroom. There was no washing facilities; she shared a Japanese-style bathroom with other tenants in the building.

I relate this in some detail because it speaks volumes for the person and the day-to-day sacrifice she had made in pioneering for so many years in Japan and Korea. Initially she had lived in Tokyo, probably in equally confined surroundings – she went to Japan in November 1914, on the suggestion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with Whom she was corresponding, and she was there during the 1923 earthquake that devastated the city and returned there in 1950 after the war. In 1937 Agnes Alexander had made her pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the Guardian had advised her not to return to Japan; instead he directed her to visit the Bahá’ís in various countries in Europe and then the United States. At the end of her pilgrimage in 1937, the Guardian had “told her, ‘The immediate future in Japan is very dark. Japan is going to suffer. The time is not now for great headway. The Pacific will become a great storm center in the coming war, great suffering.’ … The Guardian’s words were soon to become truth” (Traces that Remain, by Barbara Sims) and, except for those war years, she had remained at her post. She was a true pioneer.

My visit to Japan at that time was to meet someone with whom I had been corresponding for some time; before the end of my visit we had married, and so Hiroko was also able to meet with Agnes Alexander, as we visited her several times during those weeks and she was one of the two Bahá’í witnesses for our wedding. We had a Shinto (Japanese) and a Bahá’í wedding in the same location and, as she had never had the chance to attend a traditional Japanese wedding in all those years, she was really looking forward to the experience. During the rather noisy parts of the Shinto ceremony, with much banging on drums and blowing on flutes, she was looking to and fro – I could see her out of the corner of my eye – taking in all the colourful proceedings. She had a natural curiosity for all things and was intrigued by the ceremony; for my part, it was an immense honour to have her there as part of my ‘family’.

During those weeks we called several times to see her and always it was a great learning experience. Often she would dig around on the table to find some letter she had received from a Bahá’í somewhere and share its message with us, almost as if we must know the people who had sent it. We heard news from other pioneers around eastern Asia whom I knew only by name, and you could see that each one of them was as her family; she lived their experiences with them and suffered their trials. And she would bustle about in her tiny ‘kitchen’ and serve refreshments as though we were honoured guests. Even in that there was a lesson for me: once she served us some jasmine tea – luke-warm with some ice in it – that she had received from one of the Bahá’ís in Hong Kong. It was obviously a special treat. It was not really to my taste – I’m not even fond of ordinary tea – but I gulped it down with apparent relish, so as to deal with it as quickly as possible. Noting my eagerness, she asked if I liked it and I replied that it was delicious. That was my error; she then served it each time we visited. It was a great lesson in the wisdom of always telling the truth, and I long remembered it.

Our brief meetings with Agnes Alexander were special, and remain clear in my thoughts after many years. Knowing something of her history of service to the Cause as a pioneer – first in Hawaii and later in Japan and Korea - and aware that she had been mentioned by name in the Master’s Tablets of the Divine Plan, I had expected to meet a rather imposing figure. But it was quite the opposite; she was to all appearances a simple old lady – she would have been 89 years old at that time – that one would be proud to have as one’s grandmother. Her kindness and consideration for others was obvious in her every word and action, her love for humanity in the wider sense also. And as she spoke you became more aware of her deep understanding of human nature and the things of this world, as well as the conditions of the next. But she remained a simple person, really down to earth in her awareness of the good and the foibles in people. She was also losing some of – not her memory which was sharp and vivid; you could feel that when she spoke of past times and people – but her ‘grip’ on every-day life. One of the friends there who was the other witness for our wedding, Odani-san, told us that sometimes she would be right on time for some appointment, but a week early or a week late. Those little details of life were slipping past her.

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