By Lynn Starr
One of my team goals has been to teach my biological family about the Bahá’í Faith. After having been estranged from my biological family for over 20 years, this was a daunting prospect. The estrangement was related to differences in opinion regarding how to deal with a mentally ill father and how to address a problem of child sexual abuse in my family. It was, to say the least, a crushing blow to lose all my family, all nieces, nephews, cousins, sisters, aunts. My middle sister’s husband, JN (real names have been eliminated for the sake of privacy), kept in contact with me via e-mail. He had been trying for several years to get my sisters and me together. At one point, he helped me set up a correspondence relationship with my eldest sister which ended up falling apart through a misunderstanding. I had also prayed for everyone daily for several years.
One example of the nature of the estrangement from my family is that I was not told of my eldest sister’s death by a family member, and I was never informed of her funeral until after it occurred, again not by a family member.
In recent years, my middle sister, NN, became seriously ill (JN is her husband). By this time, I was on the teaching team, and consulting with my partner about finding ways to teach people in my life. At one point, when NN understandably tried to commit suicide (she knew she would eventually become totally paralyzed), JN reached out to me via e-mail and asked for my prayers (astonishing given that NN was prominent in the atheist/secular humanist community). After that, JN and I corresponded more regularly and NN even tried to make some amends, through JN. I did some research on her illness, and e-mailed my findings to JN. When NN lost the power of speech, JN invited us to his home town to have brunch with him. He was afraid it would be too upsetting for NN and me to see one another. And out of respect and because he was such a good husband to my sister, I abided by his wishes. Because NN was a writer, editer, blogger, I knew that not being able to use a computer or speak must have been particularly horrible for her. The day before our brunch, I made a “talking board” for NN, based on some TV shows I had seen about communications devices used for paralyzed people who were unable to speak. I also gave her a beautiful crocheted shawl which I had made, and baked her some banana bread. JN was visibly moved by the effort I had made to give NN some gifts that she would like.
Several months later, JN reported that he decided to try the talking board out and it worked! NN was able to give encouragement to a dear friend of hers. JN would point to letters on the board, and NN would blink yes or no for the letter he named. In this way, they could spell words that NN wanted to say and they could communicate with one another for the first time in months!
At one point, I asked the Universal House of Justice for prayers and when the response came, passed it on to JN and NN. It was received with warm appreciation (an important area of progress because several years prior to that, a similar letter from a Bahá’í Institution had been rejected).
When JN passed away, through a strange set of circumstances, I was reunited with a cousin in-law who I had been very close to at one time. When this cousin-in-law, KS (real name not used) learned that I had been ostracized by my biological family members, he put an end to this isolation and let me know that he would make sure I was informed about all family happenings in the future.
At this point, I learned that JN and NN’s daughter FN, had a baby and a toddler and I received e-mail pictures of the children. I also offered to do flower arrangements for my sister’s memorial service, and later a guest book. JN and FN were amazed that I would do this, given that NN and I had been somewhat reconciled, but not fully so. This led to my e-mailing FN on a regular basis as we coordinated our efforts for the memorial service. We also became Facebook friends. We got to know each other on Facebook and learned that we had a lot in common, with both of us being dedicated to taking social action to improve society. At the memorial service, JN made a point of introducing us to a contractor he regularly used who was a Bahá’í. I thanked this dear man from the bottom of my heart for making JN and NN more receptive to the fact that I was a Bahá’í. Dwight and I even went on a picnic with JN and FN a few months ago.
Such progress is truly astonishing, and being on a teaching team helped me to become spiritually prepared for dealing with this delicate situation. My cousin-in-law and his daughter are also now Facebook friends! I can honestly say that e-mail and Facebook have allowed me to reunite with members of my biological family. What an amazing result of my efforts to teach the Faith through social action on Facebook! This teaching team project was and still is moving forward.