I grew up hearing the story of “General Jack” – the name ‘Abdu’l-Bahá used to call Marion Jack — and how, at the end of her life and in spite of the danger of living in Bulgaria during the Second World War, she requested that the Guardian allow her to remain firm in her pioneer post.
During my time in the Holy Land, on a visit to the Mansion of Bahjí, I discovered that she was an amazing landscape painter. Her art touched me deeply. It was as if I was looking through a window, seeing how the same places I visited used to look so many years ago. I related to some of her feelings through her paint strokes; they conveyed the wonderful waterfall of emotions that flows trough you when you witness the beauty and spirituality of the Holy Land.
Marion Jack became a Bahá’í while she was studying art in Paris. During a social gathering she met Charles Mason Remey, who shared the Baha’i Faith with her. He described the encounter with the following words: “She was, as many were those early days, afire with the Faith then and there, all at once. Marion met the Baha’is, came to meetings in my studio and elsewhere, and that was the beginning of her belief.”
In 1908, Marion Jack traveled to the Holy Land and during her stay in ‘Akká she taught the Master’s grandchildren English and of course she continued painting.
She was blessed to be in the presence of Abdu’l-Bahá during His two sojourns in London. On 22 September 1911, the Master visited her home. On that occasion during His talk He mentioned His hope “that the people of the West may be illumined by the light of God; that the Kingdom may come to them, that they may find eternal Life, that the Spirit of God may spread like a fire among them, that they may be baptized with the Water of Life and may find a new birth.” We can only imagine the inspiration His words had on Marion Jack’s heart during the several occasions she was in His presence. She responded to the call of the Divine Plan of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá by taking the message of Bahá’u’lláh to Alaska in 1919-1920.
Sometimes actions are louder than words, and through her deeds we can glimpse the transformative effect the Faith had on her life. In 1931, at age 65, Marion Jack moved to Bulgaria following the Guardian’s request that she pioneer to that country. A few years later, when the imminence of the war was clear, she pleaded with the Guardian to let her stay at her pioneer post after he suggested that she move to a safer country. In spite of poverty and poor health, first during the world economic depression, then during the war, and finally through the difficulties of living behind the Iron curtain, she remained steadfast in her efforts to teach the Faith in her adoptive country until the end of her life.
The Guardian extolled the standard she set as a pioneer:
To remain at one’s post, to undergo sacrifice and hardship, loneliness and, if necessary, persecution, in order to hold aloft the torch of Baha’u’llah, is the true function of every pioneer… every Baha’i and most particularly those who have left their homes and gone to serve in foreign fields, should know of, and turn their gaze to, Marion Jack.