Glory Rognstad wasn’t too sure what she had got herself into her first day in Ethiopia.
“When I first got here,” Glory said in a Skype interview late last year, “I remember walking into this apartment and thought, ‘I can’t live here.’ It was a huge shock.”
The apartment considered nice in Ethiopia would have been condemned in the United States, she said.
The poverty in that country was difficult to come to terms with, but by the end of her over year-long mission as a young member of the Baha’i faith, Glory was a changed person.
“My time in Ethiopia changed me completely,” Glory said recently as she reflected on her mission. “It changed me emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. Before, I was a lost teenage girl, caught up in the world of makeup, boys and high heels. Now, I am a motivated young woman, ready to take on the world, accepting new experiences, people, and culture, for their priceless value to society. Ready to be a binding molecule in the unification of my community. Most of all, Ethiopia taught me how to love, freely, unconditionally and completely.”
Such a transformation is, perhaps, the reason behind a tenet of the Baha’i faith encouraging young people to go out into the world for a year and help others. They can choose where to go, and while Glory’s parents wanted her to be closer to home, she chose the poverty striken African nation.
Her brothers have experienced missions as well. Mercy Rognstad has been living in Kingston, Jamaica for the past two years working with the Baha’is of Jamaica doing neighborhood virtue classes for kids and spiritual empowerment for middle school aged youth, said Glory.
Glory left Ashe County in December 2010 at 19 years old to travel to the African continent to work with a Baha’i inspired company developing programs on education for Ethiopian youngsters. She worked each day with an educational media team producing a television show with puppets teaching children about character education and healthy living. She was also involved in a program to help educate the people about personal safety and taught children in first, second and third grades.
Since returning home this past spring, Glory said she has kept in touch with the people she worked with as much as possible through Skype and Facebook. She has a blog, gloryrain.wordpress.com, to help keep people informed about her work and would like to share more of her experience in the future.
Right now, she planning to pursue a degree in special education.
“I really loved teaching,” Glory said. “I had a few kids with special needs and I really connected well with them.”
As she continues to adjust back to life in the United States, Glory said she carries her experiences with her, and those experiences had a profound effect on her daily life.
“It consumes my everyday life,” she said, “by what I eat, what I wear, where I shop, how I interact with people, the experiences I have…everything.”
Upon first arriving back in the United States, Glory said her emotions were in turmoil.
“I cried,” she said of the first thing she did arriving home. “I sat in the floor of JFK and bawled like a baby. I did not want to be back in the United States. I thought I should have been at school with all 167 of my students surrounding me, with the noise of Addis Ababa playing like music over my ear drums. I wanted so badly to be anywhere else but the loud shiny airport full of people running this way and that, not looking each other in the eyes, trying hard to pass by their neighbor unnoticed.”
Glory hopes her experiences will help her encourage other people to be more aware of each other.
“The goal of the Baha’i faith is essentially to unite mankind into one human family,” she said of her beliefs. “We believe this is possible by starting at the grassroots. Unity must first come within the family, then the neighborhood, the town, the city, the country, the continent, then the world. The worldwide Baha’i community has a systematic and sustainable method of doing this, through these neighborhood classes and other activities.
“These are a few things that Baha’is believe in, the equality of women and men, the elimination of poverty, racial equality, the existence of science and religion, that all the main religions of the world are one and were sent down from the same God and we are all one human family.”
“My year of service in Ethiopia couldn’t have made these beliefs more concrete in my life,” Glory said. “I have family all over the world now, in Germany, Yemen, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, France, China, Australia, New Zealand, and, of course, my home, Ethiopia. I said in one of my blogs that I ‘left home to come home,’ and I believe that through and through.”
Editor’s Note: This was the last story former Assistant Editor Linda Burchette produced for the Post.