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He Gave Them Food

Although He might not have any earthly means, He cut off what most of us would consider to be necessities (food, clothes, possessions):

How could this Prisoner give to the needy of ‘Akká every Friday morning?  Had not His exiled family’s wealth and property been almost totally confiscated?  One pilgrim found that, ‘All that the Master gives is a real sacrifice, and is saved by the cutting off of what most people would consider necessities.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 82)

If He knew of someone who had had no meal during a day, the family supper was gladly packed up and sent to the needy:

Mary Lucas, a pilgrim to Akká in 1905, found that the Master usually ate but one simple meal a day. In eight days He was present at most meals, often coming just to add joy to the occasion, though He was not hungry. If He knew of someone who had had no meal during a day, the family supper was gladly packed up and sent to the needy. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

He sent bread secretly to those who are too proud to beg and suffer in silence:

Nor is it the beggars only that he remembers. Those respectable poor who cannot beg, but must suffer in silence — those whose daily labour will not support their families — to these he sends bread secretly. (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He didn’t’ just give food, though.  He taught them how to be self-sufficient:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá had taught the friends to grow nourishing vegetables, which, with the corn from His village of `Adasiyyih where there were marvellous crops – kept many from perishing of hunger.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

He also made it possible for them to enjoy a banquet from time to time:

At the close of his talk, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made a practical demonstration of his tactful love for the poor. In generous conformity with Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings that “our words should not exceed our deeds,” he left twenty golden sovereigns and many handfuls of silver with Colonel Spencer of the Army, so that the poor might enjoy a similar dinner New Year’s night. Colonel Spencer told the men that they were to have this New Year’s dinner in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s honour. The Master was just leaving the hall when this announcement was made. With one accord the men jumped up and waving their knives and forks gave a rousing farewell cheer.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, v2, p. 8)

He Gave Them His Clothes

Every winter, he would give warm cloaks to 500-600 people.  He put the cloak on many of them Himself, adjusting it with His own hands:

Before a winter’s cold took hold of ‘Akká, the Master would go to a clothing shop where He would arrange that a number of the poor should come to receive their annual cloaks.  He would adjust the garments over some of those poor shoulders.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)

This scene you may see almost any day of the year in the streets of ‘Akká. There are other scenes like it, which come only at the beginning of the winter season. In the cold weather which is approaching, the poor will suffer, for, as in all cities, they are thinly clad. Some day at this season, if you are advised of the place and time, you may see the poor of ‘Akká gathered at one of the shops where clothes are sold, receiving cloaks from the Master. Upon many, especially the most infirm or crippled, he himself places the garment, adjusts it with his own hands, and strokes it approvingly, as if to say, ‘There! Now you will do well.’ There are five or six hundred poor in ‘Akká, to all of whom he gives a warm garment each year.  (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He had clothes made for others:

A friend had sent some fur so that the Master could have a good warm coat; He had it cut up and made into twenty caps for the elderly men of the town.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of “Abdu’l-Bahá)

For ‘Abdu’l-Bahá inexpensive clothes were sufficient.  One day He was to entertain the Governor of ‘Akká.  His wife felt that His coat was hardly worthy of the occasion.  Well ahead of time she went to the tailor where she ordered a fine coat, thinking that, with His lack of self-consciousness, He would surely not notice that His old coat was missing.  He desired, after all, only to be scrupulously clean.  The new garment was laid out at the proper time, but the Master went searching for His own coat.  He asked for it, insisting that the one laid out was not His.  His wife attempted to explain the new coat, but He would have none of it, and He told her why:  ‘But think of this!…For the price of this coat you can buy five such as I ordinarily use, and do you think I would spend so much money upon a coat which only I shall wear?  If you think I need a new one, very well, but send this back and have the tailor make Me for this price five such as I usually have.  Then you see, I shall not only have a new one, but I shall have four to give to others!’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 74)

He gave coats to those who were more concerned with their inner virtues too:

While ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was walking in the rose-garden he passed by Hájí Mullah Abou Taleb, the very old man with stooped shoulders and long beard. He looked at him, then at others, and smiled. “Hájí Mullah Abou Taleb is my friend,” [he said]. “He looked just as old forty years ago when he came to this blessed spot for the first time. Now he has come never to leave. Are you well and happy? How can you descend and ascend the mountain every day?” Then he came very near to him and looked at his thin and probably soiled overcoat. “Hast thou not received thy new overcoat? I have brought one for thee. I will send it up for thee. Man must keep his clothes always clean and spotless.”  He answered: “I am not particular about my outward clothes, but the robe of the virtue of God is necessary for us.” Immediately ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s face lighted up: “Thou art right, the believers of God must ever strive to clothe their spiritual bodies with the garment of the virtue of God, the robe of the fear of God, and the vesture of the love of God. These robes will never become threadbare. They will never be out of fashion. Their market values do not fluctuate. They are always negotiable and ever on demand. They are the means of the adornment of the temple of man and woman. But the outward raiment must be also clean and immaculate, so that the outer may be a fair expression of the inner. Cleanliness is one of the fundamental laws of this religion.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. VII, No. 17, pp. 168-169)

He gave away His pants:

Very early one morning when the main street of Dublin was almost devoid of people, one of the guests at the hotel glanced out her window and saw Abdul-Bahá walking and dictating to His secretary.  As they walked, an old man dressed in ragged and very dirty clothes passed by.  Abdul-Bahá sent his secretary to fetch the poor fellow . . . The old man’s trousers were particularly holey.  Abruptly, Abdul-Bahá laughed and said the man’s trousers were not very serviceable.  Abdul-Bahá quickly stepped into the shadow of the porch and fumbled under His clothes.  Moments later, He emerged carrying His trousers which He handed to the unfortunate fellow, saying, “God go with you”.  Then, as though nothing unusual had occurred, He turned to His secretary and continued His morning’s work.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 164)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was out with His secretary.  A poor, old man passed the inn and the Master asked the secretary to call him back.  The man was not only ragged but filthy, but the Master took his hand and smiled at him.  They talked together a moment, the Master taking in the whole figure — the man’s trousers hardly served their purpose. The Master laughed gently and stepped into a shadow.  The street was quite deserted.  He fumbled with the clothes at His waist.  When He stopped, His trousers slid down, but He drew His robe around His body and handed His trousers to the poor man with a ‘May God go with you.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 83)

With all of His spiritual knowledge and vision Abdu’l-Bahá was extremely practical. On His third visit to New York He stayed with the Kinneys at their home on West End Avenue. This was only one block from Riverside Drive, where, often, He would walk. One late afternoon He came back with his snowy ‘aba’ wrapped close around Him and He was laughing. It seemed that on the Drive, he had come across a poor man whose trousers were literally in rags. So Abdu’l-Bahá had taken him behind some thick shrubbery where quickly He had taken off his own trousers, stripped the rags from the man, and got him decently clothed. How amazed that poor man must have been. And how amused Abdu’l-Bahá, who, with his aba wrapped tight around him to hide his trouser less condition came home laughing. (Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories:  Stories of Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 40)

He gave away His cloak:

Once, before the Master’s wife went on a journey, she left a second cloak for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with one of their daughters, for she feared He would give His away and be caught without one in her absence.  The daughter was not to tell her Father about the second cloak, but amazingly, the Master soon asked His daughter if He had another cloak, so the truth had to be told.  As was to be expected, He replied, ‘How could I be happy having two cloaks, knowing that there are those that have none?’  He gave the second one away.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 75)

A few months ago this happened. The wife of the Master was about to depart on a journey. Fearing that her husband would give away his cloak and so be left without one for himself, she left a second cloak with her daughter, charging her not to inform her father of it. Not long after her departure, the Master, suspecting, it would seem, what had been done, said to his daughter, “Have I another cloak?” The daughter could not deny it, but told her father of her mother’s charge. The Master replied, “How could I be happy having two cloaks, knowing that there are those that have none?” Nor would he be content until he had given the second cloak away.  (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

He did it so often, even at His own expense, that people noticed and worried about Him!

Major Wellesley Tudor-Pole wrote in his diary in 1918, at the time of his visit to the Master, ‘I gave him the Persian camel-hair cloak, and it greatly pleased him, for the winter is here, and he had given away the only cloak he possessed.  I made him promise to keep this one through the winter anyway, and I trust he does.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)

Even at the hour of His death, when His night-robe needed changing, none could be found, as He had given them away:

During His last earthly hours ‘Abdu’l-Bahá lay in bed with a fever and His night-robe needed changing.  However, none could be found, as He had given them away.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 66)

He Gave Them His Possessions

Even as a young boy, ‘Abdu’l-Baha found ways to give things away:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s generosity was natural to Him already in childhood.  A story is recorded of the time when young ‘Abbas Effendi went to the mountains to see the thousands of sheep which His Father then owned.  The shepherds, wishing to honour their young Guest, gave Him a feast.  Before ‘Abbas was taken home at the close of the day, the head shepherd advised Him that it was customary under the circumstances to leave a present for the shepherds.  ‘Abbas told the man that He had nothing to give.  Yet the shepherd persisted that He must give something.  Whereupon the Master gave them all the sheep.  We are told that when Baha’u’llah heard about this incident, He laughted and commented, ‘We will have to protect ‘Abdu’l-Baha from Himself — some day he will give himself away.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 69)

Sometimes He couldn’t bear to have a nice bed, knowing that the poor didn’t have one, so He slept on the floor:

His habit is to sleep upon this floor. Not long ago a friend, thinking that this must be hard for a man of advancing years, presented him with a bed fitted with springs and mattress. So these stand in his room also, but are rarely used. “For how,” he says, “can I bear to sleep in luxury when so many of the poor have not even shelter?” So he lies upon the floor and covers himself only with his cloak.  (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

He even gave away His bed!

In ‘Akká the Master’s room often contained not even a bed as He was continually giving His own to those more needy than He.  Wrapped in a blanket, He would lie on the floor or even on the roof of His home.  It was not possible to buy a bed in the town of ‘Akká; a bed ordered from Haifa took at least thirty-six hours to arrive.  Inevitably, when the Master went on His morning round of visitations and found a feverish individual tossing on bare ground, He sent him His bed.  Only after His own situation was inadvertently discovered did He receive another bed, thanks to some kind friend.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 66)

He would only accept small tokens of love:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá would refuse generous sums of money meant for Himself but would accept a small token of love, such as a handkerchief.   (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 72)

When people gave him clothes, he would wear them once out of respect for the sender, then give them away:

His garments are usually of cotton, and the cheapest that can be bought. Often his friends in Persia – for this man is indeed rich in friends, thousands and tens of thousands who would eagerly lay down their lives at his word – send him costly garments. These he wears once, out of respect for the sender; then he gives them away. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)

He liked to give gifts to people, even when they weren’t appropriate:

Just before or after lunch (I cannot recall the exact time) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá handed me a pair of glasses, asking me to try them on, which I did but was obliged to tell him they did not suit me, so I gave them back to Him, but He put them in the case and handed them to me. Of course, I shall keep them and try them again.  (Agnes Parsons’ Diary, April 22, 1912)

When others gave Him gifts, He often gave them to others:

Mary Lucas, a pilgrim to ‘Akká in 1905, found that the Master gave away all the many gifts which were sent to Him.  ‘A story is told of a beautiful silver service which was presented to Him, and He did not even look at it.  One and another received portions of it until piece by piece it disappeared.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 77)

Rene and her mother had a private interview with the Master.  Rene made a special basket filled with flowers to give to Abdul-Bahá.  When He appeared at the door for their interview, Rene ran down the hall and into His outstretched arms.  Rene learned a lesson about true giving that day when she saw another young girl leaving Abdul-Bahá’s room with her special basket.  At first, Rene was upset because of all the love she had put into making the basket, but when she thought about it, she realized what the true meaning of giving was.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 99)

He would never accept gifts for Himself, and when people tried, He asked them to give it to charity to benefit the poor:

In London a lady said to the Master, ‘I have here a cheque from a friend, who begs its acceptance to buy a good motor-car for your work in England and Europe.’  To this ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied, ‘I accept with grateful thanks the gift of your friend.’  He took the cheque into both His hands, as though blessing it, and said, ‘I return it to be used for gifts to the poor.’   (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 72)

‘The Baha’is in America desired to contribute $18,000 for the Master’s projected trip to their shores.  When the funds began to reach the Master, He returned them, asking that they donate the money instead to charity.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 72)

He Looked After Their Medical Needs

He opened a dispensary and hired a doctor to perform operations and give instruction in hygiene:

He also instituted a dispensary at Ab’u-Sin’an, and engaged a doctor, Hab’ib’u’ll’ah Khud’abkhsh. This doctor was qualified to perform operations and to give instruction in hygiene.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

If a doctor was needed in other places, he would provide one and the necessary medicine:

If a physician is needed, and the patient poor, he brings or sends one, and also the necessary medicine.  (HM Balyuzi, ‘Abdul-Bahá: the Centre of the Covenant, p. 100)

He asked the doctor not to tell who paid for the service:

‘Abdu’l-Baha believed in using medicine as well as spiritual healing. As there was no hospital in Akka, He hired a doctor by the name of Nikolaki Bey. He gave the doctor a regular salary to look after the very poor, and He asked the doctor not to tell who paid for the service.  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

He Gave Them Money

In New York, He converted a thousand-franc note into quarters:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá is staying at the Ansonia hotel in New York City. He agreed to speak at the Bowery Mission and asked Juliet Thompson to take a 1000 franc note (about $250) and have it changed to quarters and put in a bag. He handed another 1000 franc note to Edward Getsinger with the same instructions.   (The Diary of Juliet Thompson, p. 251)

He met people at the Bowery Mission and gave a piece of silver to 400-500 men:

At the end of this meeting, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood at the Bowery entrance to the Mission hall, shaking hands with four or five hundred men and placing within each palm a piece of silver.   (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 34)

When giving out the money, He would offer some word of praise or kindness to encourage each one:

‘Two or three of the men believers were with the Master.  The people were required to arrange themselves in order about two sides of the court and the Master began near the gate giving into the hand of each some piece of money and then each was required to move out.  It was a sight never to be forgotten to see the Master going from one to another, saying some word of praise or kindness to encourage each.  With some He would stop to inquire into their health and He would pat them on the back, these poor, dirty-looking creatures . . . How clear and musical His voice sounded as He went from one to another, giving and praising!  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)

Frequently He would send a share to an absent family member:

‘Roy’, another early pilgrim, described what he saw:  ‘Friday mornings at seven there is another picture.  Near the tent in the garden one may see an assemblage of the abject poor — the lame, the halt and the blind — seldom less than a hundred.  As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá passes among them He will be seen to give to each a small coin, and to add a word of sympathy or cheer; often an inquiry about those at home; frequently He sends a share to an absent one.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 81)

Somehow He knew to meet the needs of those who passed Him on the street too:

One day the Master, with one of His daughters, approached a native woman, dirty and almost savage-looking.  Hers had been a hard life as the daughter of a desert chief.  Though she was not a Baha’i, she quite naturally loved the Master, who was so genuinely kind.  Lingering a moment, she bowed and greeted the Master.  Kindly He made reply and, somehow knowing her need, ‘pressed a coin into her hand’ as He passed by.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 91)

There was always enough money to give something to everyone:

When `Abdu’l-Bahá finished His talk, He said He wished to serve the poor. The chairman announced that `Abdu’l-Bahá would stand near the door so that they could come to Him from one side and then leave from the other. It was an impressive sight. The Master showered His kindness on each one and gave each of them some coins. Because there were about four hundred people, some said that the Master’s money would not suffice; there would not be enough for all of them. Instead, some money was left over, which was given to other destitute people and children outside the Bowery.  (Mahmud’s Diary, April 18, 1912)

Though sometimes He joked that the people had made them penniless that day:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá went out for a walk. As it happened, a collection was being made for charity. Whenever ‘Abdu’l-Bahá met the collectors He gave them money . . . Whatever He and His attendants had in their pockets was given away, and He said, laughing, that the people had made them penniless that day.  (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 387)

Everyone looked forward to His visit – it was the chief means of sustenance for some of them:

It is a sorry procession as they file slowly away, but they all look forward to this weekly visit, and indeed it is said that this is the chief means of sustenance for some of them.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 81)

He was a generous tipper:

He did not need, or want, luxury.  This became obvious on His trip to America.  Once, after a few days in beautiful rooms reserved for Him by the friends in one city, He moved to a simple apartment.  However, in hotels He tipped so generously as to cause astonishment.  In homes where He was entertained, He left thoughtful gifts for both hosts and servants.  It should be emphasized that He went from coast to coast to speak without pay or benefit of contract.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)

Abdul-Bahá visited Henry Birks’ jewelry shop, where He bought small gifts to give to people as He traveled.  He always gave small gifts to porters, waiters, chambermaids, and others.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 182)

Abdul-Bahá was up and packed before dawn and calling for the rest of his party to get up.  As he left, he gave the hotel manager a one dollar tip for the chambermaid since she was not there at that time.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 190)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá knew how to give — not just what He no longer wanted or needed.  Once in Montreal when ‘He prepared to return to the Maxwells’ home for a meeting, the friends asked if they could call a carriage for Him.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took the streetcar, saying, “Oh, it matters little.  It saves expenses.  There is a difference of one dollar in the fare.”  When He arrived at the Maxwells’, He gave one pound to each of the servants.’  After spending two nights at the estate of Phoebe Hearst, He gathered the servants together and thanked them — each received ten dollars.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 82)

Sometimes those who recognized ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s station, would keep the money “for luck”:

After the talk, He stood at the Mission Hall entrance.  He took each hand and placed in each a number of coins — the price of a bed for the night.  However, at least one man kept his money, explaining, ‘That was a heavenly man, and his quarter was not like other quarters, it will bring me luck!’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 78)

What mattered most was the love He gave with the money:

Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá walked to the entrance and, standing there, shook hands with every one of those four hundred: the flotsam and jetsam of humanity. At the same time He put a coin or two in each palm. He had done the same for years, on Fridays, outside His own house in ‘Akká — meeting the poor, dispensing aid, imparting to stunted lives the balm of care and affection and love . . . But what mattered most was not the price of a bed He was giving them, but that balm of love and care which healed the wounds of the spirit.  (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 177)

 Have you got any more stories of His practical assistance?  Post your comments below!