The Baha'i Faith of Gresham, motivated by a hate crime, hosts interfaith prayers for harmony

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Sarah Eckstein reads the 23d Psalm from her mothers Bible at the monthly peace vigil held at the Gresham Library, as Jan Hall listens. The first Tuesday of every month, a small clutch of people gather in a meeting room at the Gresham Library, for an interfaith vigil for peace and tolerance, a vigil sparked by a hate crime a year ago in nearby Troutdale.

"This event came about because of the young man's home that was vandalized in Troutdale," said Jan Hall, a local member of the Baha'i community who regularly attends the library event.

The vigil, organized by the Baha'i Faith of Gresham, is truly interfaith. The most recent vigil opened with Sarah Eckstein, Fairview, reading the 23rd Psalm, probably the best-known chapter in the Christian bible.

"Anyone from any faith would be comfortable" at the monthly vigil, Eckstein said. She said attendance at the vigil goes up when there is a frightening event such as a school shooting or headlines about conflict with North Korea.

At the vigil, members of the small group read other texts from Buddhism, Hindu scripture and the Dalai Lama.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Brendon Bassett and his father Robert sing a song of Roberts composition based on Bahai teachings. Brendon Basset played guitar and sang a few upbeat songs with his father; songs his father had written based on Baha'i texts. Some of the group join in on the chorus of the songs.

The Baha'i faith holds there is one God, has a strong belief in the oneness of humankind and works toward peace. Baha'i followers believe in the equality of all people and the elimination of prejudice of all kinds. It was founded in Persia in 1863 and has currently has between five and seven million believers worldwide.

The local Baha'i faithful came to the religion in different ways. Brendon Bassett grew up in the faith. Eckstein and her husband became interested on a sailing trip around the world when some people in the Cook Islands talked to them about Baha'i.

"I declared on my 50th birthday," Eckstein said.

The local Baha'i community was shocked into the vigil action by the hate crime in March of 2017.

Last year, Hasel Afshar returned to his Troutdale home after a three-day vacation to find it ransacked, furniture and belongings destroyed and the walls spray painted with racist epithets.

The graffiti called Afshar a "terrorist" and ordered the "Muslim" to "get out." Afshar is not a Muslim, but Baha'i.

That event and "the general atmosphere in the world" prompted the group to begin the vigils, Eckstein said.

"We stay neutral politically," said Eckstein. "But one thing we could do, as people of faith, is to put our troubled world in the hands of God."

Brendon Bassett, was quick to point out "we don't believe prayer is the only thing. We also believe in service to others."

The Gresham Baha'i community participates in the popular Teddy Bear Parade in downtown Gresham every September.

"It's been a tradition for our local children and families to walk in the parade and carry banners and signs with messages of unity and peace from the Baha'i teachings during this important community event," said Brendon Bassett.

The group also produces a show on local public access television called "Baha'i Perspectives." They hold monthly devotional gatherings in their homes. There is a children's class on the second and fourth Sunday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon in Rockwood, which focuses on the teaching of the Baha'i faith such as love, truthfulness and justice and also features music and a craft project.

Eckstein said the library vigil is a simple way for the community to come together, with "people praying for peace together."

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