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Montreal, September 10, 2020 - As the end of his stay in Montreal approached, 'Abdu'l-Bahá spent a quiet Sunday atthe Windsor Hotel. He gave speeches in the morning and afternoon. Speaking to his friends on the last day inMontreal, he said, "I have sowed the seeds. You have to water them. You must educate souls in divine morality, makethem spiritual and guide them towards the unity of humanity and universal peace. »

The next day was another rainy day, but the departure of 'Abdu'l-Bahá for Toronto (en route to Buffalo) had alreadybeen arranged. 'Abdu'l-Bahá’s chronicler, Mahmúd, was asked to take care of the Master's luggage, but it was thehotel staff who took care of it. 'Abdu'l-Bahá expressed his concern to Mahmúd because his luggage contained valuablewritings and documents that he intended to offer to "libraries in London and Paris." As everyone was to learn later, atthe Grand Trunk Railway station (now the Canadian Pacific Railway), the Customs Chief Inspector and his assistants letthe luggage pass without any inspection, stating that they had no reason to inspect the luggage of the Bahá’ís. At thisdeclaration, the Master's face blossomed like a rose, and he spoke of the value of sincerity and loyalty, which are thesource of the prosperity and tranquillity of the peoples of the world.

There is no doubt that the visit of 'Abdu'l-Bahá affected a much larger number of people than the mere 2,500 whocame to hear him or who came into contact with him. Some 440,000 readers of the dynamic Montreal press, inEnglish and French, were informed of his visit and his teachings. Leaving behind the emotion of the many people who came to bid him farewell, 'Abdu'l-Bahá embarked the train International Limited, which left Bonaventure Station at9:05 a.m. to Toronto and then Buffalo, New York.

It was in the afternoon of September 10, 1912, that Jim, a little boy of four years old, while sitting on a fence just outside the town of Oshawa, Ontario, alongside the railroad tracks, watched a train hurtle by. At about 3:30 p.m., he saw through one of its windows something that so overwhelmed him that he fell backwards off the fence and onto the grass below. He described what he saw as “a man wearing a long flowing white robe waving from the train.” Later in life he would explain that this was his earliest surviving memory. “Now I know who that old man was,” he said. “It was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when he was in this country.” It had taken Jim Loft decades to make the connection. On October 23, 1931, Jim married Melba Whetung, who was raised on the Curve Lake Ojibwa First Nation. Like Jim, she had a keen interest in spiritual topics. It was Melba’s friend Emma who first spoke to her about Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Jim Loft’s ancestral home was the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory but he grew up in Oshawa, Ontario. He was greatly affected by the prejudice he encountered growing up an aboriginal in rural Canada. Though submerged in a society that had little regard for him, Jim believed from childhood that racial equality was a just principle, and he later noted that he felt a strong pull to spiritual matters. During his difficult teen years, he would often ask God’s help to inspire him to help alleviate the poverty, oppression and alcoholism that plagued his people.

In 1949, Jim and Melba settled on the Tyendinaga Reserve and dedicated themselves to serving and supporting the First Nations community. For Jim, the memory of the man in a flowing white robe waving to him from the train inspired him to his final day.

It was Jim’s idea to return to Tyendinaga and teach the Faith. On September 2, 1948 Jim wrote Shoghi Effendi introducing himself and asking if he should return to Canada. They were living then in Marysville, Michigan. On October 2, 1948, Jim received an answer written by Shoghi Effendi’s wife, ‘Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, in which she stated that Shoghi Effendi would “greatly welcome your returning to your own tribe”. The letter had an addendum in the handwriting of Shoghi Effendi in which he stated:

“Your most welcome letter rejoiced my heart and I hasten to assure you of a most hearty welcome into the Bahá’í fold … May the Beloved bless, protect and sustain you always and aid you to realize your heart’s desire. Your true brother, Shoghi.”

Jim and Melba , the first believers of Canada’s First Nation population, were very active in the Bahá’í community in Ontario. They attended regional conferences as well as National Conventions. However, while enduring extreme poverty during this time, they relied upon their faith and reached out for advice again to Shoghi Effendi. His response was for them to seek the guidance of the National Spiritual Assembly and that they would hopefully find work to sustain the family that would allow them to stay in their community.

In 1971, Jim and Melba celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary. Two years later Jim died of a heart attack at the age of 65. It was Jim who brought the renewal of the Peacemaker’s teachings through Bahá’u’lláh to the birthplace of the Peacemaker, the community of Tyendinaga; this was an act of honour and sacrifice that only Jim could have accomplished.

In 1976, Melba went on Pilgrimage to the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. One of the highlights of her trip was the mansion at Bahji where Bahá’u’lláh lived during the last years of his life and in which she spied a picture of the first Native American Local Spiritual Assembly in the United States that had been formed in 1948 on the Omaha Indian Reservation near Macy, Nebraska. The picture had been placed there by Shoghi Effendi in the doorway to his room.

The beautiful focus of her mind led Melba to many accomplishments. Melba’s travels and teaching were not limited to North America. She also travelled in the summer of 1978 to Europe with a Bahá’í teaching team. She was honoured in many ways, one of which was the use of her Indian or spiritual name for the Gathering room in the Yukon Bahá’í Center. Her spiritual name was Kinaaj-Kwe which can be interpreted as good, kind and gracious lady.

On November 22, 1985 in the morning, Melba’s spirit took flight after a long illness. At her funeral, Chief Earl Hill, the Chief of the Tyendinaga First Nation, was a pall bearer.

In 1986, a Native Council was held in Iqaluit, Nunavut. A special ceremony honored Melba’s memory and life. ‘Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhiyyih Khánum attended and stated that she found the ceremony the most moving part of the occasion, which unified everyone present. At the gathering she urged Aboriginal people to stay in touch with culture and tradition as a foundation for faith as Melba had done.

Melba was buried next to Jim. The inscription on their grave stone reads: “Bahá’í Pioneers, Alfred “Jim” Loft 1908-1973, Melba Whetung Loft 1912-1985, The Guardian’s obedient servants.” Jeannie Seddon, a friend of the Lofts, wrote of Jim: “He is a Canadian hero whose life will be an inspiration to future generations as it has been to his family”.

Images:

Golgasht Mossafá’í,  -Melba Loft in London, UK – summer of 1978 with a friend from the Bahá’í teaching team.

© Bahá’í World, 1948 – Jim Loft

-The members of the all-indigenous Local Spiritual Assembly of Macy, Nebraska, on the Winnebago reservation proudly display the Greatest Name. Photo courtesy of Susan Bishop 

Source:


Mossafai , Golgasht :Personal notes, “Interview with Melba Loft”: London, UK: Harrow Times Newspaper, 1978.

Mossafai , Golgasht : film script «’Abdu’l-Bahá, the Montreal Sojourn»

Mossafai , Golgasht : Bahá’í Chronicles article on Alfred and Melba Loft

-Loft Watts, Evelyn and Verge, Patricia “Return to Tyendinaga: The Story of Jim and Melba Loft, Bahá’í Pioneers”, Essex, Maryland: One Voice Press, 2011

-The Bahá’í World, Kidlington, Oxford: George Ronald Publisher. Volume XVI and XIX

- Mahmúd Diary, volume 1 in persian, 1914

 

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