40 Years in America
Rebecca (Boyd) Salonen
I always wanted to "get to the bottom of things"; more to the point, I have always thought it was possible to do so. When I was around five or six, I remember wondering how it felt to be a horse or a cow, so I spent a few minutes one afternoon crawling around on my hands and knees sampling the grass.
During my last year in college I became involved in African studies. This (1961) was the heyday of American interest in Africa, as many countries there were becoming independent of colonial rule. My university in California was initiating an exchange with several African universities, and I was especially interested in attending one of them, Makerere University, in Kampala, Uganda. The opportunity never materialized, and I forgot about it. Later on, I was destined to connect with Uganda again.
Also during this time, I reached a point of desperation about my personal goals. One night as I was writing in my journal, in a moment when my whole mind was concentrated in the question, I asked if I would ever find the answers I was seeking. Abruptly, I spiritually saw the whole globe. Everything was in darkness, except for a few lights scattered here and there around the world. I saw a big beacon meant for me near San Francisco. A voice said, "You must go to San Francisco. There you will begin your work." I wrote this in my journal and determined to move from my home in Washington state to San Francisco.
I lived across the Bay, in Berkeley, though at first I had a job in San Francisco. I waited expectantly every day for a revelation about my "work," but nothing came. Searching for the spiritual information I needed, I visited many different religious and other groups. These were days of great turmoil in Berkeley when the student Left was just beginning. People were questioning everything. I became intensely aware of human pain. Sometimes when I walked down the street I felt I could "read" the hearts of the people walking beside me. So many of them were desperately unhappy. I used to beg God to help me find a way to heal all this suffering. In the fall of 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated. For me, this event intensified my feeling of urgency. To me, the assassination was evidence that no matter how civilized we became, human beings could destroy everything in a moment. I resolved again to find what was true and to base my life upon it.
That week I saw an advertisement in the student newspaper saying, "Christ has returned and is now on earth." I was electrified, but when I showed the ad to my friends, surprisingly they expressed indifference. "Uh huh," they said. Lectures were being given every night (I couldnít imagine that Christ was giving lectures), but none of my friends wanted to attend. I went alone and heard a synopsis of the Divine Principle presented by Edwin Ang. Since I had never intended to join a group in search of the truth, I had a lot of difficulty "accepting the Principle," though I could find nothing wrong with the system of thought. However, in February of 1964 I signed a membership form. I studied a lot and learned to give the lectures. Miss Young Oon Kim, who had established her headquarters in San Francisco, was during that time visiting her home in Korea. She consulted one of the mediumistic "grandmothers," who said that I should find my own mission field in America, but first I should study for 40 days with Pauline (Phillips) Verheyen, then pioneer in Cleveland.
In 1965, True Father made his first world tour. (Since he was still in the first seven-year course, we called him "Master" or "our Leader." He was not yet Father or True Parent.) The Unified Family, as we were known, bought a station wagon for his United States tour. The driver was George Norton, and Father was accompanied by Miss Kim, Mrs. Won Pok Choi, Doris (Walder) Orme, and Ernie Stewart (who was traveling with him on his way to establish a center in Miami) and a few others. During this tour, Father traveled to every U.S. state to make holy grounds.
He explained to us that he was connecting the foundation of the chosen country to the world. Since America represented the world of Christianity, by placing "holy soil" in each state, he was connecting Korea with the world. At that time we had perhaps ten study centers around the country with a few members living in each one, and Fatherís tour stopped in each place. Members from the local centers would then accompany the group for a few more stops before returning home.
Several hours before Father arrived in Tampa, Col. Bo Hi Pak arrived at our door to help us get ready. Although we had been asked to prepare funds so that the group could stay in a good hotel, Father wanted to stay with the members, in the center, as had been his practice on his itinerary tours in Korea. If we had known, we might have improved our living situation. In those days, we tended to think we should live in the humblest way, and our Tampa center was a decrepit two-room apartment. To accommodate the ten or twelve of us, for the night, we borrowed mattresses from our landlord (who asked us to move a week later, because of all these unusual activities and the "Red Chinese" we had brought in) and everyone slept on the floor -- women in the kitchen and men in the other room. We made a bed for Father in our hide-a-bed couch.
1971 -- Neil and Rebecca Salonen (center) with, from left: Catherine Erickson, Carl Rapkins, Farley and Betsy Jones, George and Hillie Edwards, Jackie Stock, Jon Schuhart and Judith Lejune.
In the evening after dinner, we all sat together like a family, and Father inquired about us and talked with us. Father created Tampaís holy ground in Lowry Park. He was very particular about the site, and we drove to several parks before he selected the right location. He strode like a warrior as he marked off the four-position foundation. As he reached each of the four points he shouted out the name of the person who was to stand in that place. Walking around the diamond with salt and then with soil from Korea ("the leaven"), Father then buried a stone from Korea in the center. After making the holy ground, we all drove to Miami, our next stop, where another holy ground was made. (Several states have more than one holy ground because there were church centers in more than one place.) The saga of the establishing of holy grounds on that first world tour is dramatic. As the group moved from Florida up to New England, they sometimes blessed ground while standing knee-deep in snow.
We left Ernie to set up his center in Miami and drove up the east coast of Florida to Fort Pierce, where we spent the night in a motel. The next morning, we said goodbye to Father and his party as they continued to travel up the east coast and we went back to our centers. I remember that we all cried so hard that no one could drive. We had to wait by the turn-off for some time before we could get back on the road to Tampa and to the other centers to the west. For a long time afterwards, we felt a deep loneliness, missing Father. For years, I saw him in dreams sitting on our hide-a-bed couch, watching our activities, waiting for our success or standing in the apartmentís doorway as he had done, waiting for us as we packed our bags for the trip to Miami.
I can never forget my first meeting with Father. I felt that he was indeed the person I had been waiting for -- the father, brother, husband, teacher, guide and friend I needed. That was why we cried when we parted; we had lost the one we had been looking for. I had not really "joined a group," but I was walking the same lonely path that Father was breaking ahead of me. Joining the Unified Family was not the goal, only the beginning of our common struggle. Probably because I was sensitized by my own years of painful searching, I could feel Fatherís loneliness and sorrow, though that was never expressed. I remember especially his understanding of each of us and the blazing intensity in his eyes. As we did not want to be separated from him, he felt the same about us. Looking back, I feel that I was too young (22) to really understand the immense task I had signed on to do.
It was very difficult to witness to people in a pioneering situation. I had nothing to show what this "worldwide philosophical movement" was doing. Only certain people would be interested in hearing a "new revelation." I invited people to my apartment every evening to hear lectures, and one of the few things I bought besides food was a blackboard. After a year or so, I found my first spiritual child in Tampa, Albert Meighan, who eventually came with me to Washington when I was asked to move there to help in the headquarters being set up in 1966-67. In the first few years in Washington, most of us worked in regular jobs and did our witnessing and other spiritual activities in the evenings and on weekends. We supported our work with the money we earned on our jobs, and everyone who lived in the center was required to either have a job or go to school. Whenever we met people interested in hearing the Divine Principle, we would invite them to dinner at the center and give them a presentation. It was an embracing atmosphere in which for the most part we members also thrived. At work I met (and in the evenings I taught Divine Principle to) Anne Edwards, Travis Jones and Louise Strait. (A few years later, also at work, I met Sally and Michael Brownlee.) One day, Neil Salonen came to our door in regard to our business projects. I was lecturing the Principle that evening, and I invited him to stay and hear it. Eventually, he also joined the Unified Family. About the same time, I lectured to Linna (Miller) Rapkins and Marie Ang, who were cousins; to Linda (Marchant) Perry and Nanette (Semha) Doroski, who were friends; and to many others, some of whom worked with us for short or long periods of time.
In 1969 Father came again to America, this time with True Mother since it was now the second seven-year course and the True Parents had been established. This time they blessed 13 couples in Washington, a great surprise to everyone, since in those days we thought the blessing was far in the future. In 1970 Miss Kim again visited Korea. As Father was preparing for the 777 Couples blessing that year, she suggested several American couples send their pictures to Father for matching. She wrote back that he had approved Anne and George Edwards, Farley and Betsy Jones, and Neil and me, from among the Washington members. Accordingly, in October of 1970, we were blessed in Korea.
Almost thirty years have passed since that time, and two children have been born and grown up in the Salonen family. We have lived more than a lifetime in a few years, and many stories of course, could be told. I know, however, that we have been traveling until this time the same difficult and sometimes puzzling path that True Parents are walking ahead of us. I have learned a few important personal truths, two of which I would like to pass on. Some years ago Father emphasized remembering our "first love." At the time I was, of course, at least a few paces behind him on the way, and I did not really understand the value of what he was saying. Since then I have recognized its importance. Our first love -- with God, our True Parents, or our spouses -- is a precious gift, which we must treasure and respect in our hearts. It is our original connection, our spiritual root. Later on in our relationships, confusion and difficulties always come and threaten to corrupt our original feeling. Sometimes we feel embarrassed and foolish that we ever had such a pure and naïve "first love" at all, and we bury it away inside and try to move beyond it by becoming more "realistic." But this original feeling is the true one, and it is our most direct connection to those we love.
I have "grown up" a lot over the years since my first experiences with God as a teenager. Though they are the basis of my whole internal being, for many years I thought these memories and all the rest of the past were irrelevant. I tried to think only of the present and future. Struggling along the road of restoration, which has been full of self-doubt, sometimes guilt, anguish and discouragement, I forgot my first knowledge of Godís love and continued only to seek a new and confirming experience in the present. One day a few years ago, as I was driving, a romantic song was playing on the radio. When it came to the words, "When I grow too old to dream, your love will live in my heart," I heard Godís voice: "I remember you," He said. I recognized His voice because of the love that came with it. It was the same I had known so many years ago. God was reminding me of our experiences all those years ago, and that He still knew and remembered me -- and had done so throughout the years. Those words touched that deep part of my heart where that pure love was planted and still lives, unchanged by all the experiences that followed -- because God never changes. I had been looking for a new experience of first love with God, not realizing that I could return to that root any time by remembering my "first love." That is an eternal, unchanging and unique point, to which we can always return. Most of us have had moments of eternal love also with True Parents and our husbands or wives. We should remember and treasure them.
On our first visit to Uganda after we became National Messiahs, as I stood in the heart of Africa and began to greet the members, I thought how extraordinary it was for me to be there. Having just returned from a visit to the Rift Valley, supposed to be the site where human life began, we were conscious of being in a place beyond time, having come full circle back to the beginning. As I opened my mouth, before I could say anything, I felt God say to me, "Here I am. I have been waiting for you. Finally, youíve come." In retrospect, it is meaningful that I had intended to come to Kampala forty years ago and had finally arrived. But at the time I only thought, with gratitude: Wherever we go in the world, whatever difficult thing we must do, no matter how alone or afraid we may be, God has come before us and is waiting for us there with love.
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