Completing the circle of service

February 8, 2005

PRAIA, Cape Verde — A recent visit by three Baha'is to these islands in the north Atlantic Ocean had its origins in a decision taken some 50 years earlier.

In January 1954 Howard and JoAnne Menking decided to leave their comfortable home in the United States to introduce the Baha'i Faith to Cape Verde, then a poverty-stricken Portuguese colony.

They were among volunteers participating in a decade-long (1953-63) initiative to establish the Faith in countries where there were no Baha'is. By the end of the decade the number of national communities had more than doubled.

The Menkings left Cape Verde in 1959 after the local Baha'i community was established.

A half-century later, in November 2004, Mr. Menking returned for the jubilee celebrations of that community, accompanied by his daughter, Cristina Menking-Hoggatt, and her son, Cheyenne, 13.

Mr. Menking stayed three weeks, during which time he met Baha'is in various parts of the island of Santiago and spoke about the Faith to inquirers, some of whom decided to join the Baha'i community.

That warm reception to the teachings of Baha'u'llah was quite different from the response in the first testing year that Mr. and Mrs. Menking lived in Cape Verde.

Howard Menking (left) with a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa, Kobina Fynn, at the jubilee celebrations of the Cape Verde Baha'i community. Slideshow
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Howard Menking (left) with a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa, Kobina Fynn, at the jubilee celebrations of the Cape Verde Baha'i community.

Mr. Menking, now 79, told participants in the jubilee festivities held on 18 November 2004 about the challenging conditions and slow progress of the Faith in the islands in 1954.

In fact, so barren were the results of the Menkings' initial efforts to interest local people in the Baha'i Faith that Mr. Menking wrote to the head of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi, and asked about the wisdom of staying there when the needs of the Baha'is were so urgent on the mainland of Africa.

Shoghi Effendi replied that victories in a difficult post were more meritorious than those easily won.

From that time on, the fortunes of the Faith in Cape Verde improved. The Menking family was also blessed with their first child. Their daughter Cristina was born on Christmas Day, 1955.

The first local person to become a Baha'i was a good friend of Howard Menking. His name Frutuoso (meaning "fruitful") seemed appropriate because others were soon to follow him into the Faith. They included Claremundo (meaning "the light of the world"), Inacio Barbosa Amado, Avalino Barros, Octavio Brito, and Entonio Leon.

By April 1956 there were enough Baha'is in Praia to form the first Local Spiritual Assembly. Three years later the Menkings returned to the United States where they continued as active participants in the Baha'i community. Mrs. Menking passed away in 1988.

For their settling in Cape Verde Mr. and Mrs. Menking received the accolade of Knight of Baha'u'llah from Shoghi Effendi.

At the jubilee festivities, a spokesman for the Baha'is of Cape Verde, Poh Chean Chong, delivered a welcoming address, and the chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Praia, Manuel Jesus Moreno, spoke about the history of the Faith in Cape Verde.

The secretary of the Cape Verde Baha'i community, Tony Parker Danso, read congratulatory messages from other Baha'i communities on the occasion.

Cristina Menking addressed the participants on her Baha'i experiences in Cape Verde and on the role of women and the importance of family life.

Two members of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa addressed the gathering. Beatrice Asare, delivered a congratulatory message from the Board and Kobina Fynn spoke to the gathering about the future direction of the community, and invited guests to join with the Baha'is in study circles, devotional meetings, and children's classes.

Also present were representatives of the Baha'i community of Portugal, Aminullah Shahidian and Varqa Carlos Jalali. Dr. Jalali addressed the gathering about the aims and purposes of the Baha'i Faith.

A photographic exhibition included photographs of the first Baha'i institutions in Cape Verde, the early Baha'is, distinguished Baha'i visitors to the country, and current activities of the Baha'i community.

Participants enjoyed musical interludes by local Baha'i artists, and heard songs they had composed.

The National Radio of Cape Verde and Croule FM, a private radio station, broadcast coverage of the jubilee. Three newspapers of Cape Verde, "Expresso das Ilhas," "Horizonte," and "A Semana" published articles about the celebrations.