Year of the Dragon 2012, Day 3
One of the great teachers of the Faith in Nigeria was Mr. William Atiyama. You may have heard me speak about him. He was a very dignified man, noble in his bearing, big and tall. He was a farmer and a small trader. It was a pleasure to collaborate with him in teaching and consolidating the Faith in many villages. Much was learned about service and the dignity of humanity from him. It’s one of the crimes of our age that a person with such potential, who might have succeeded in any professional career, was uneducated. Because his parents hadn’t had enough money to pay his school fees, he was illiterate. He was a great teacher of the Faith. He taught new believers by the dozens. The sincerity of his speech, the illumination of his countenance, and the purity of his heart attracted souls. He consciously made many sacrifices for the advancement of the Cause. On all his teaching activities, he carried what he called his “Bahá’í Bible”. It was his copy of Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. He couldn’t read or write. But he knew the power of holy verses, and the importance of showing that the Faith has holy books. He also knew the importance of relying on divine assistance.
One day, he and I went to a nearby town to present the Faith to some friends of his. At the meeting there were five women. They had heard William had accepted a new religion. They wanted to hear about it. In his confident and moving style, he presented some principles of the Faith. It always excited me to hear him teach. His countenance shone. One could feel his soul was inflamed with the beauty and power of the Teachings. At the end of his presentations, he always invited individuals to embrace the Faith. He was confident that what he was offering – the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh – was best for the seekers. When he finished speaking, the ladies dropped their heads. They were shy. Finally, one of them said what he had told them was good. Now, they wanted the professor, meaning me, to speak. She was indicating that they doubted that an uneducated, simple man like William Atiyama could be expressing such beautiful thoughts correctly; that I should confirm what he had said.
William leaped up from his chair. He cried, “What do you mean, hear from professor? I have presented my Faith. I have studied my Faith, just like professor.” He explained, “Bahá’u’lláh says every believer must study the Writings. He has commanded that every believer should read, morning and evening, the holy verses. And this is what I do!”
I looked at him. He couldn’t read. The ladies knew he couldn’t read. I thought he hadn’t realized he was exaggerating. Pointing to Gleanings, he told those astonished ladies, “This is my Bahá’í Bible. I read it each morning and evening like Bahá’u’lláh said I must.” After some seconds of silence, he continued, “Yes, I read my Bahá’í Bible. Bahá’u’lláh said I must.” Then he explained: “When I go to sleep at night, I put my Bahá’í Bible under my pillow. This is how I read the Words of God.” Can you imagine? Such faith! He said, “The Bahá’í Faith makes me do the best I can.” He went on to say, “When I wake up in the morning, I place my Bahá’í Bible over my heart and my heart reads the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.”
This is a story of a believer’s new consciousness, his new way of thinking, a new way of coping and using creative powers. Those ladies became Bahá’ís. The experience moved me greatly. Still, it does. William’s story excites me to study more intensely. The account of an illiterate man propelled me forward on to a new way of learning, of thinking, of seeing, and loving the Faith.
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