September 12, 2018

Amelia E. Collins (1873-1962) – Hand of the Cause; “lady of the Kingdom”; “indomitable spirit of faith and love"; "single-minded and wholehearted devotion"; “profound sense of devotion”; "passionate fervor”; “calm sanity”; “very generous offerings”; “prized co-worker”; her “inner deep spiritual relationship and devotion” to the Guardian; “The high rank” she occupied “which no Baha'i has ever held in his own lifetime”; “so distinguished a handmaid of Baha'u'llah and Hand of His Cause”

"O thou lady of the Kingdom!" With these words 'Abdu'l-Baha addressed Amelia Engelder Collins in His Tablet to her, dated December 6, 1919. It was an answer to the longing of this newly awakened heart to serve the Kingdom of God. The "hope" of 'Abdu'l-Baha as expressed in the Tablet became fulfilled in fullest measure in the life of this devoted Baha'i:

"In brief, from the bounties of His Holiness Baha’u’llah, My hope is that thou mayest daily advance in the Kingdom, that thou mayest become a heavenly soul, confirmed by the breaths of the Holy Spirit, and may erect a structure that shall eternally remain firm and unshakable."

'Abdu'l-Baha passed away in 1921. Amelia used to say that, "After the provisions of His Will became known, my whole heart and soul turned to that youthful Branch, appointed by Him to watch over and guide the Faith of Baha'u'llah. How I prayed that God would help me to make him happy!"

This became her guiding light, to serve the beloved Guardian and make him happy. She often said that to see the Guardian smile just once was worth a lifetime of suffering. To this end, then, she poured forth unstintingly her love, her strength, her means, throughout the remaining years of her life, often and increasingly, at the cost of great physical sacrifice. Her personal possessions, art treasures, life itself, had meaning only as they could be used to serve the Cause of Baha'u'llah and the one on whom had fallen the responsibility of carrying forward "the great work entrusted to his care."

As the years passed, in numerous letters and messages to her, the Guardian referred to her "indomitable spirit of faith and love", her "indefatigable services'', her "single-minded and wholehearted devotion" to the Cause of God, her "self-sacrificing efforts" - examples which "will live and influence many a soul." These services were crowned by Shoghi Effendi in January 1951 with her appointment as member and vice-president of the newly-appointed International Baha'i Council, "forerunner" of the Universal House of Justice, and in December 1951, with her appointment as one of the first contingent of living Hands of the Cause.

At the time of her passing in Haifa, the Hands of the Cause cabled: "With deepest regret share news Baha'i world passing dearly loved Hand Cause outstanding benefactress Faith Amelia Collins. Unfailing support, love, devotion beloved Guardian darkest period his life brought her unique bounty his deep affection, esteem, confidence and honor direct association work World Center. Signal services every field Baha'i activity unforgettable. Purchase site Mashriqu'l-Adhkar Mount Carmel, generous gifts hastening construction Mother Temples four continents and acquisition national Haziratu'l-Quds endowments, constant support home front world-wide teaching enterprises among her magnificent donations. Urge national assemblies hold memorial gatherings, particularly Temples commemorate her shining example ceaseless services maintained until last breath."

Amelia Engelder Collins was born on June 7, 1873 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Catherine Groff, was born in the United States; her father, Conrad Engelder, emigrated from Germany at an early age and became a Lutheran clergyman. Amelia was brought up in a strict Lutheran atmosphere. She was the seventh child in a family of nine sons and five daughters. Her early married life was spent in Calumet, Michigan, and Bisbee, Arizona, in mining areas where her husband, Thomas H. Collins, had interests. After her husband's death she sold their home in California, and devoted all her time and means to the Faith.

During the last twelve years of her life the effects of arthritis became increasingly painful and crippling, but she did not allow them to interfere with her services; her life became completely dedicated and the qualities of spirit with which she was endowed blossomed and bore fruit. Depth and clarity of spiritual insight, wise and loving counsel, childlike faith in prayer and in the working out of God's Will, wholehearted sacrifice of earthly comforts, a real love for her fellow human beings, integrity in holding herself, and others, to the highest standards, were qualities which reached the heart and illumined the way for many.

Early in 1923 Milly, as she was affectionately known, made her first pilgrimage to Haifa, accompanied by her husband, who was not a Baha'i. She often spoke of the great kindness shown by Shoghi Effendi to Mr. Collins. At the time of her husband's death in 1937 Shoghi Effendi comforted her:

"Greatly distressed sudden passing beloved husband. Heart overflowing tenderest sympathy. Offering special prayers. Advising Geyserville summer school hold befitting memorial gathering recognition generous support their institution. May Beloved aid him attain goal he was steadily approaching closing years of his life."

That same year she made her second pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A closer tie was forged with the beloved Guardian and the beginning of a deep and significant relationship to his wife, Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, a relationship which drew her closer to the Guardian himself. After this pilgrimage he wrote to her:

"The days you spent under the shadow of the Holy Shrines will long be remembered with joy and gratitude. I have during these days increasingly appreciated and admired the profound sense of devotion, the passionate fervor, the intense love and attachment that animates you in the service of this Holy Cause. For such noble qualities l feel thankful, and I am certain that the fruits they will yield will be equally outstanding and memorable. Rest assured and be happy."

Three years later he wrote:

"How pleased the Beloved must be! How proud He must feel of your truly great achievements! The soul of dear Mr. Collins must exult and rejoice in the Abha Kingdom. Persevere and be happy."

And again that same year:

"Dearly beloved co-worker: I am deeply touched by your repeated and most generous contributions to the institutions of our beloved Faith established both in the United States and the Holy Land ... l shall gladly and gratefully expend your two most recent donations for the alleviation of distress as well as for the initiation of fresh activities, institutions and enterprises in the Holy Land as well as in the adjoining countries. May the Beloved bless you a thousandfold for the powerful assistance you are extending the Faith in so many fields of Baha'i activity and aid you to fulfill your highest hopes in its service."

Only brief mention can be made here of Milly's many services. In 1924, while on a cruise to Iceland with her husband, she met Holmfridur Arnadottir, who became a good friend and made the first translation of Baha'i literature into Icelandic. Publication of Miss Arnadottir's translation of ‘Esslemont's Baha'u'llah and the New Era’ in Icelandic, in Reykjavik in 1939, was made possible through Milly's generosity.

NSA of USA and Canada, early 1940s
Milly was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States and Canada in 1924. Except for the years 1933 -1938 she was a member of this body until she was called by Shoghi Effendi to serve at the World Center of the Faith. She was also an active member of the National Teaching, Assembly Development, and Inter-America Committees. She visited most of the Baha'i centers in the United States and Canada to assist their consolidation, and most of those in Central and South America to promote the teaching work, during the First and Second Seven-Year Plans, 1937- 1953.

The Guardian's appreciation of this work was expressed through his secretary:

"It comforts him greatly to know that you are in a position to help watch over and safeguard the interests of the Cause and the believers. Your calm sanity, your great faith and devotion are assets of outstanding value to the Faith, especially at present."

The Guardian in 1937 sent through Milly a sacred gift to the American Baha'i Community. The cablegram announcing this gift to the Annual Convention of 1938 said:

"As token my gratitude to such a community entrusted beloved co-worker Mrs. Collins locks Baha'u'llah's most precious hair arranged preserved by loving hands Greatest Holy Leaf to rest beneath dome of Temple nobly raised by dearly beloved believers in American continent."

She presented to the Convention the Guardian's gift, which she had had beautifully framed and placed in a special silver case. This was the first sacred relic sent by the beloved Guardian to be retained in the American National Baha'i Archives.

After the second World War Milly was invited by Miss Arnadottir to come to Iceland. Milly asked the Guardian's advice and received this reply, through his secretary:

"As he cabled you, he feels your presence in America more important than Iceland at this time ... The small assemblies in America are badly in need of Baha'i education. People like you, who are loving, tactful and wise, to help them see their problems and the solution for them, should be in continual circulation, so to speak. Again he would remind you not to overtax your strength or wear yourself out in your desire to do all you can for the work. Your services are too much needed for you to jeopardize your health... "

Milly was one of the first to do something about teaching the Indians in America, as urged by 'Abdu'I-Baha in His Divine Plan Tablets. Over a period of many years she deputized Baha'is to teach the Omaha Indians in Macy, Nebraska, often visiting the group herself. In 1948 the first Indian Baha'i Assembly on the American continent was formed there.

Milly lived simply, allowing herself no luxuries, denying herself what many would consider necessities. She rarely spoke of the many generous contributions she made: the Guardian himself learned of some of them only through the National Spiritual Assembly minutes or reports of the National Treasurer. Many of her donations were in response to the Guardian's mere mention of a needed development in the Faith. Frequently Milly's was the first response to reach him. Of one of these he wrote in 1944, through his secretary:

"I am enclosing a receipt, at the instruction of our beloved Guardian, for the sum you so spontaneously and generously sent to him to be used for the construction of the Superstructure of the Bab's Holy Tomb on Mt. Carmel.

"He wants you to know that this is the first contribution he has received for this glorious undertaking, and he is not surprised that it should come from you! You lead the way, in devotion, loyalty and self-sacrifice, in many fields of Baha'i service, and your spirit of dedication to our beloved Faith and its interests greatly endears you to him."

On one occasion when the Guardian's and Milly's contributions coincided in being first, he cabled her:

"Our recent contributions teaching campaign synchronized evidence our hearts attuned noble Cause."

In 1939 he wrote:

"Your very generous offerings enable me, in these days of stress and trial, to extend the range of the work of the Cause at its World Center, to reinforce the activities initiated at the various national centers ... "

Also about this time, he wrote:

NSA of USA and Canada, 1946
"Though you yourself are in America, yet the range of the services which your contributions render possible is far -reaching. You should feel greatly encouraged, thankful and happy for being able to lend such an impetus, in these days of stress and peril, to the worldwide activities of so precious a Faith."

Many, many of Milly's services are known only to God, the beloved Guardian and herself. Indeed, she herself could not remember them all. In most instances her outstanding gifts were acknowledged by Shoghi Effendi in his general letters or cablegrams. Among those were: Purchase of property on Mt. Carmel (1926); development and extension of summer school properties at Geyserville, California (1936) and at Davison, Michigan; publication of Baha'i literature for the first time in Amharic (1934); first contribution to the Bahiyyih Khanum Fund toward the erection of the Mother Temple of America (1939); contribution to the Temple Fund in Persia (1939); defraying cost of publication of four recent volumes of The Baha’i World; repeated contributions to teaching work and to the Mother Temple of America; gifts of properties near this Temple, as well as donations to the first Temple Dependency; donations toward purchase of nineteen supplementary Temple sites in Latin America, Europe and Asia; contributions to aid embellishment of the area surrounding the Tomb of Baha'u'llah at Bahji and erection and furnishing of the International Archives building on Mt. Carmel.

In 1956 Shoghi Effendi wrote to Milly:

"Dear and prized co-worker: I will devote a part of your very generous contribution to the purchase of a few Chinese and Japanese cabinets, panels and ornaments for the International Archives now nearing completion, the exterior and interior of which will, to a very marked extent, be associated, for all time, with your munificent support of the rising institutions of the Faith at its World Center. I am sure you will be highly pleased, and the spirit of dear Mr. Collins will rejoice in the Abha Kingdom."

Pre-eminent among the gifts of one called by Shoghi Effendi "outstanding benefactress of the Faith" was the donation of the entire sum for the purchase of the Temple site on Mt. Carmel, acknowledged by Shoghi Effendi in his October 1953 cable and in his message to the twelve Annual Conventions in 1955. In the latter he also acknowledged Milly's assistance in the purchase of many national Haziratu'l-Quds and endowments on five continents. Shoghi Effendi's last Convention message of 1957 referred to this devoted believer's "munificent donation" toward the building of the Mother Temples on three continents (Europe, Australia and Africa).

The beautiful "Collins Gate", the main gate leading to the Shrine of Baha'u'llah, was named in her honor by Shoghi Effendi himself.

Milly's travels for the Faith were far more extensive than can be recorded here; many were undertaken at the request of the Guardian. To her he entrusted delicate tasks which he knew would be carried out with the greatest discretion and devotion.

In 1942 she represented the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States and Canada in connection with the erection of the memorial to May Maxwell, Ruhiyyih Khanum's mother, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The monument, designed by Sutherland Maxwell, was erected by Shoghi Effendi. It was Milly's first trip to South America; it was war time, and she was alone, embarking on a mission for which she felt unfitted. When at last she arrived at her hotel she was handed a telegram which read:

"Prayers accompany you always, everywhere. Deepest loving appreciation. Shoghi."

Milly remained in Buenos Aires until the model was made and approved and arrangements completed for its execution and erection in Quilmes Cemetery. She had selected the sculptor and located a block of Carrara marble of sufficient purity and size. She then flew to Rio de Janeiro, her mission accomplished. In Rio, faced again with war-time difficulties of civilian travel and inability to obtain plane reservations, while praying she saw "blazoned in light" before her eyes the words: "Put your whole trust and confidence in God." In two days she was flying to Miami.

Of this mission the beloved Guardian wrote to her:

"Dear and prized co-worker: Your voyage to South America at this critical hour, the efforts you have exerted for the initiation of the construction of May's memorial are indeed outstanding and never-to- be-forgotten achievements that enrich still further the magnificent record of your services, local, national, as well as international, so nobly rendered to the Cause of Baha'u'llah and its rising institutions. The Baha'is, East and West, North and South, admire and are thankful for such signal services . . . Be happy, and persevere in your exemplary and historic services. Affectionately, Shoghi."

Milly made two subsequent trips to Latin America. In January 1946 she attended the first Latin American Baha'i Teaching Conference in Panama City, as representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States and Canada and of the Inter-America Teaching Committee. In January 1949 she attended the third South American Teaching Congress in which seven South American countries participated. This was held in Sao Paulo and resulted in the first Baha'i summer school in Brazil.

1943: with Baha'is of Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Guardian's letters expressed continually his deep appreciation and gratitude to this devoted "co-worker".

Such an outpouring of love, of self-sacrifice and heroic effort as was Milly's stemmed from her great love for the Cause of God and an inner deep spiritual relationship and devotion to the one on whose shoulders rested the burdens and responsibilities of the Faith. In January 1947, Milly received a letter from the beloved Guardian, the contents of which were cherished for many years, unspoken of, in the secret recesses of her heart. The first part, through his secretary, read:

"He wants to make clear to you that when he said, in his recent cable, that your example might well be emulated by the nine Hands of the Cause, who will in the future be especially chosen to serve the Guardian, he meant that the very services you have been recently rendering the Cause, because of their nature and their intimate association with him, are of the kind which one of these nine might well be called upon to render. So you see you are not only worthy to be a Hand of the Cause, but have rendered a service which ordinarily would be performed by this select body of nine. You must realize that his conferring this rank upon you is not as an inducement to you to perform future tasks, but as a well-deserved recognition of those already performed!"

The Guardian's postscript:

"Dear and prized co-worker: With a heart overflowing with profound gratitude, I am now writing you these few lines to reaffirm the sentiments, expressed lately on several occasions and in a number of telegrams, of heartfelt and unqualified admiration for your magnificent services, rendered in circumstances so exceptional and difficult as to make them doubly meritorious in the sight of God. You have acquitted yourself of the task I felt prompted to impose upon you in a manner that deserves the praise of the Concourse on high. The high rank you now occupy and which no Baha'i has ever held in his own lifetime has been conferred solely in recognition of the manifold services you have already rendered, and is, by no means, intended to be a stimulus or encouragement in the path of service. Indeed the character of this latest and highly significant service you have rendered places you in the category of the Chosen Nine who, unlike the other Hands of the Cause, are to be associated directly and intimately with the cares and responsibilities of the Guardian of the Faith. I feel truly proud of you, am drawn closer to you, and admire more deeply than ever before the spirit that animates you. May the Beloved reward you, both in this world and the next for your truly exemplary achievements. Gratefully and affectionately, Shoghi."

In 1947 Milly Collins was made a Hand of the Cause; this, he wrote to her, he would himself announce at the right time in the future. This distinction alone singles her out as one uniquely loved and privileged. This explains the allusions in the above letter.

Later that year he wrote:

"Dear and prized co-worker: The memory of the services, assistance and support you extended to me in my hour of anxiety and stress a year ago at this time, is still vivid, and evokes my deepest admiration and gratitude. Your services in other fields, and in the course of many years have, moreover, served to deepen my feelings of affection and gratitude for so distinguished a handmaid of Baha'u'llah and Hand of His Cause ... Gratefully and affectionately, Shoghi."

After the second World War Milly's travels took her several times to Europe. In October 1949 Shoghi Effendi wrote to her:

"I greatly welcome the splendid opportunity you now have of contributing your share - substantial and abiding I am confident it will be - to the progress of the Faith and the edification of the believers in Great Britain, Poland, Switzerland and Germany. I have already informed the German and British National Assemblies, and I am sure the friends will be delighted to meet you, and will be greatly stimulated by the news you will impart to them, as a result of your wide experience, and particularly by the spirit which so powerfully animates you in the service of our beloved Faith. This latest journey you undertake for the spread and consolidation of the Faith at such important European centers constitutes another chapter of the truly remarkable and outstanding record of your eminent international services to the Cause of God ... Your true and grateful brother, Shoghi."

Milly was invited to Turkey and Egypt in December, 1951, to carry out special requests of the beloved Guardian. When it was time for her to leave for Turkey she was ill, but this did not keep her from setting out on the long and arduous journey in mid-winter. In Cairo when she could hardly stand, she addressed a large public meeting in the Haziratu'I-Quds. It seemed as if this was to be Milly's role from this time on - to ignore illness and her increasingly crippling arthritis, and to go forward, usually in pain, putting her whole trust in God.

With her appointment by Shoghi Effendi in January 1951, as vice-president of the International Baha'i Council Milly was called to Haifa to live. Haifa was now her "home", the Guardian told her. She received his permission, however, to return to the United States in summer for treatment of her arthritis, and for attending to her business affairs.

When Shoghi Effendi launched the Ten-Year World Crusade, with four Intercontinental Conferences, in 1953, he appointed a Hand of the Cause as his representative to each Conference. For the All-America Conference in Chicago he chose Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, accompanied by Milly Collins.

For the midway point of the Crusade, Shoghi Effendi again called for Intercontinental Conferences, this time five in number. To the European Conference, in Frankfurt, Germany, he appointed Amelia Collins as his representative. When the time came for holding the Conference, in July 1958, the beloved Guardian had ascended to the Abha Kingdom.

At the close of Milly's tribute to Shoghi Effendi, given at this Conference, she said: "We are all, in a way, Shoghi Effendi's heirs. We have inherited his work. His plan is completely laid out. Ours is the task to fulfill it. We must, each of us, complete our share of the World Crusade. This is the memorial we must build to our beloved Shoghi Effendi.

"Let us love him more now than ever before, and through the power of our love attract his love to us, and bring his blessing on our labors.

"Let us not fail him, for he never failed us. Let us never forget him, for he never forgot us."

On November 20, 1960, at the laying of the cornerstone of the European Temple, this heroic representative of the Guardian was able to complete the sacred task entrusted by him to her of placing some earth from Baha'u'llah's Holy Shrine in the foundations of the Mother Temple of Europe. In rain and sleet, Milly stood throughout the ceremony, completing her mission for the beloved Guardian.

Throughout the sad and overpowering days following the passing of Shoghi Effendi from this world, Milly was sustained by words he had spoken to her when he left Haifa in June, 1957. He had taken her hand and looking deep into her eyes had said: "Don't be sad, Milly." His ringing words and his radiant smile would be with her and sustain her always. However much she had been enabled to do, she felt it was never enough; nothing could ever be enough to do for one who himself had sacrificed his life in loving service.

It was in November, 1957, that heroic Milly, determined to be in her "true home" when the Guardian returned to Haifa later in the month, had hastened to the Holy Land. Instead of standing at the door of his home to receive him, she heard the calamitous news of his sudden passing which shocked the entire Baha’i world. Milly, who had arrived the night before in Haifa, left at once for London to join Ruhiyyih Khanum in her hour of greatest need. This was perhaps one of the greatest acts of her life, that ill, old, prostrated herself with grief, she should think only of the woman who had become like a daughter to her and rush to her comfort and support. Through the dark hours of London, at Bahji where the Hands of the Cause gathered immediately after the Guardian's passing, for the four years following his death, Milly was Ruhiyyih Khanum's greatest comfort, - and indeed, the greatest comfort to all her fellow Hands.

Increasingly in constant pain, her love of the Faith and her inflexible determination to serve it, kept her going; she attended the meetings of the Hands in the Holy Land, met with and in spired the pilgrims, forced her failing body to keep going when every movement hurt.

How well she had lived up to the words written to her in 1924 by Shoghi Effendi:

"... It is our duty and privilege to translate the love and devotion we have for our beloved Cause into deeds and actions that will be conducive to the highest good of mankind..."

In October, 1961, Milly returned to Haifa for the last time. Her sense of duty was so strong that in spite of the fact that she had recently fractured her arm in a serious fall and been in hospital, she managed to get home, accompanied by a close friend. Her intention was to attend the meeting of the Hands in Bahji, where important decisions were to be made regarding the election of the Universal House of Justice. Illness kept her from all but one of the sessions - the most important. It was pitiful to see indomitable Milly carried on a chair to the meeting and then back to her car. On her last full day in this world she had a cable sent to her old, and always dear, National Assembly of the United States concerning assistance she wished to give to a pioneer.

Hands of the Cause of God, circa 1960
On the afternoon of January 1, 1962, Milly passed away, held in the arms of Ruhiyyih Khanum. She is buried in the Baha'i cemetery at the foot of Mt. Carmel. She outlived her beloved Guardian, who had written to her many years before:

"Your constancy in service and your single-minded and wholehearted devotion to the manifold interests of our beloved Cause are truly an example and an inspiration that will live and influence many a soul. Your endeavors will eventually be crowned with success and I trust you will live to witness the fruit of your indefatigable services to the Sacred Threshold."

Surely she had fulfilled the hope of 'Abdu'l-Baha,

"that thou mayest daily advance in the Kingdom, that thou mayest become a heavenly angel, confirmed by the breaths of the Holy Spirit, and may erect a structure that shall eternally remain firm and unshakeable."

- Beatrice Ashton (The Baha’i World 1954-1963)