Hands of the Cause of God:
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My first contact with Hand of the Cause William Sears was in January 1963 when he came to Australia in the closing months of the Ten Year Plan to assist the community there in achieving its goals. Many of the world communities at that time had either accomplished their goals or were well on their way to achieving them. Two national communities were lagging behind: Australia and Canada. Bill Sears had been sent by the Hands in the Holy Land to vitalise the Australian community, to ensure that all the goals were achieved before the end of the Plan. During his visit he travelled to and spoke at all the mainland capital cities. I was living in Darwin at the time but was visiting Melbourne, Victoria, when Bill Sears arrived there and had the great bounty of driving him around the city to attend gatherings of what was then a fairly small community and to visit some of the friends who were not able to attend the meetings.
The car I drove in those days was a Volkswagen ‘beetle’ and it seemed filled to capacity – to overload – by the immensity of his person, physically and spiritually. Such a space could not contain him, nor the exuberance of his voice. He seemed just too large for life, for reality. And, knowing him as a Hand of the Cause, caused me drive with unaccustomed care in that city traffic, dreading the thought that my carelessness could well lose us a person of such importance and value. It was a heavy responsibility.
Prior to that time the name of ‘Bill Sears’ conjured up memories of reading his books: God Loves Laughter and Thief in the Night, and meeting with him confirmed the impression that one receives of the author while reading his books. He had a great enthusiasm for life, a tremendous energy that left one happy but exhausted. I recall sitting with some of the friends at the airport, waiting for his departing flight, and he remembered he had not taken his pills that day – nor perhaps the day before; I do not know what they were for but he obviously needed some medication to keep him moving at the pace he did. We could see him mentally calculating how many he needed to take – perhaps to make up for ones forgotten – and he emptied half the bottle into his hand and gulped them down, saying: “That should be enough!”
Also on that occasion one of the friends had asked him for his signature as a memento; he acceded warmly to her request but when she drew out a prayer book from her handbag, he immediately declined, explaining that he always felt reluctant to sign a book of the Writings – his own books were, of course, different – as he felt it to be inappropriate. For all the fun he exuded from his very being, there were bounds where spiritual limits had to be recognised. On that day, his signature on a carefully folded paper napkin had to suffice; he did not like to disappoint any soul.
His visit to Australia at that time was like a whirlwind; it left us spinning – but it certainly did help the believers throughout Australia, and the goals were achieved. He really inspired the community to reach beyond its limit of capacity, reach out to attain goals never dreamt of. He addressed a very large – for those days – gathering in the Nurses Hall on St Kilda Road, Melbourne, and he rather shook up that staid audience with his stories and antics on the stage. His explanation of why he was then wearing broken spectacles – something about dancing at a Navajo Indian reserve – provided an entry into a talk about issues of great spiritual significance, while the audience were not sure whether this man was a comedian or a great religious leader. His approach was certainly different from that of any other visiting American evangelist they had heard – and this was around the time of the visit to Australia of Billy Graham and others of that ilk, who were drawing very large crowds.
His was the main address at that meeting, following a talk by Eric Bowes, who before becoming a Bahá’í had been a Unitarian minister and spoke in that manner, and it is interesting to observe audience reaction: some years later I met a believer who, as a young man, had joined the Faith immediately after attending that meeting, and I said that Mr Sears certainly exercised an attraction on his audience. He replied that it was not Mr Sears’ talk that attracted him, but the talk of that other fellow whose name he could not recall. This brings to mind Violette Nakhjavani’s comment in her ‘Amatu’l-Bahá Visits India where Rúhíyyih Khánum tells her that in every audience there are people that one speaker can reach and others that cannot be reached, but another person can do so.
Mr Sears brought exciting news from many countries he had visited recently. Meeting with the friends, he said that “all over the world, communities are coming to life. In 1937 the Guardian prepared us for this by telling us not to attempt to deepen people in the Faith before enrolling them. The Faith will deepen them through contact with the spirit of the Cause. We must throw open wide the doors into the Faith, and let the communities grow through their trials in consolidation …”
Speaking about Africa, he said: “The secret of success there was basically in the concentration of effort rather that any increased receptivity of the people. Near Johannesburg, where my wife and I lived, people would come and stay several days at our farm. Every morning and afternoon we had … study classes. We would eat together and laugh together. The loving atmosphere there was most important. In a few days they learnt more than many of us learned in a much longer time. They were aflame with the Faith, and anxious to go out and teach.”
“To paraphrase the words of the Guardian, we must be as an acetylene torch burning away the flame of resistance through the power of love. When a person first hears of the Faith and is attracted to it, he is as if transported to another world … To such a person, thirsting for the Word of God, we must not say: ‘Come back in a fortnight for another fireside and hear some more.’ This person is athirst and yearning to be satisfied; leaving him waiting is to let the embers of love die down to ashes … we must fan the embers, so that the flame of the love of God burns bright. If we let the fire go out, through teaching delays, it is so much harder to start again. Find the receptive souls, and help them to attain the Kingdom. Offer the Faith humbly as one would offer a gift to a king.”
It was the sort of guidance the friends in Australia really needed and they responded to his call. With that vital encouragement from Mr Sears – encouragement that only a visiting Hand of the Cause, a person of his spiritual stature, could give – the goals of the Plan were achieved.
The next opportunity to meet with Mr Sears was in Japan during the mid-seventies. One of his visits was at Ridván and he was able to attend the national convention, his talks inspiring the friends as always. On that occasion, I remember, Hiroko was one of two translators assigned to convert Mr Sear’s address into Japanese – usually one instantaneous translator was sufficient but for Mr Sears two were needed because of the speed with which he spoke, due to the years he worked as a sports announcer on radio. Even then they were struggling to keep up and at one point, glancing in their direction, he broke off and said: “I will pray for you!” – and immediately went on, without any lessening in the speed of his talking.
Following that visit to Japan, he and Mrs Sears who was accompanying him went on to South Korea, and I had the bounty of being there for the period of his visit and the joy of listening to him again. On that occasion one very proficient translator was used, but not simultaneous as it was a more relaxed gathering in the Seoul Bahá’í centre. Mr Park had had long experience translating for Americans at the army base there and from the beginning of his talk the translation went very smoothly. But as it proceeded, the translation seemed to be taking much more time than the talk itself – until at one point it became obvious that Mr Park’s translation was going well beyond what was necessary. Mr Sears gently drew this to his attention, and his response was that the friends needed some background explanation – that was all. Mr Sears said no more, but the withering look that he gave Mr Park was quite enough; a simple and direct translation shortened the rest of the talk considerably.
On that occasion the friends, wanting to make Bill and Marguerite Sears feel comfortable and aware of the many years they had spent in Africa, planned a visit to the local zoo – feeling that meeting up with ‘old friends’ there, such as lions and elephants, would make them feel more at home. The visit went very well and they seemed to enjoy it thoroughly, and were touched by the thoughtfulness of the friends in making the arrangements. As we walked around the zoo – a small group of friends had accompanied them there – Mr Sears, wandering a little way off to make acquaintance with some animal, was accosted by a stranger seeking a little financial assistance; they were obviously America tourists with Mr Sears clad in a loudly-checked suit, and such visitors were easy prey for the local con-men. Mr Sear’s face lit up in surprise, as only his face can, and he responded to the request vocally in fluent French. The man, not understanding a word of it, shrugged his shoulders in disgust and walked away. Mr Sears came back to the group with a huge smile on his face; he had disarmed the situation with no really hurt feelings.
Here too Mr Sears vitalised the friends with his encouragement. Speaking in a similar vein, he told a group of youth that when someone shows an interest in the Faith, “Do not wait for the next fireside; act straight away, invite them to dinner, invite them to breakfast even – if it is early in the day – and fill their spiritual needs immediately. Do not wait.” He spoke with the same sense of urgency and excitement, and it was very infectious. His great love for the Faith and his eagerness to share with the believers some fragments of what the beloved Guardian had told him while on pilgrimage, was like some torch, some banner that he carried with him everywhere. That – and his inexhaustible enthusiasm – was what we remember so clearly.
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