Staying on the Right Track
by Barbara L. Simmons
"I want to be one of the ones to further construct our organization — so when the temple members return they will be comfortable in the SGI. So no one falls between the cracks. So we can reach out to them, hold them, so they can get back on the right track as soon as possible."
Valarie Wafer received her Gohonzon on New Year's Day, January 1, 1983. She was introduced by Margo Brooks. Roosevelt Mathes and Helen Rathel became great sources of guidance and encouragement during the early years of her practice.
In 1990 however, after many obstacles in her business, financial and personal life, she slowly drifted away from SGI. In 1996, her husband passed away after a brief illness. In 1997, when Valarie went on a group tour of Italy, she stated, "There were so many glorious works of art. We visited all of the well-known sites including the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. It turned out to be a religious tour. All of this only inspired me to want to return to my own religion and learn more about Buddhism."
"When I returned from Italy, all the members were talking about the temple issue. I called the temple and talked with the priest. He suggested that I call one of the members in my area so I could come out to the temple with her. I knew her as a member of the district where I had practiced. Yes, I went to the temple with her, one time. It was missing the spirit and brightness of SGI."
Valarie then returned to Thornton District. She felt relieved and happy to be back "home." There was much talk about the temple issue. She was encouraged, along with other members, to exchange her Gohonzon for the SGI Nichikan Gohonzon. Later, there was news that Mrs. Sasaki would be in our area to visit members who had not exchanged their Gohonzon. While Mrs. Sasaki was in town, she visited Valarie in her home and exchanged and enshrined her Gohonzon. Very mystically, Roosevelt and Helen were also present. Then she started hearing about SGI's Florida Nature and Cultural Center and how members go there to refresh their faith and study to learn more about practicing Buddhism. Valarie said, "In January 2000, Barbara Simmons suggested that I attend the FNCC Soka Spirit Conference. I finally agreed to go. When we arrived, I was truly amazed first at the beauty of FNCC, and then, at all of the members I met from all across the U.S. This was truly rejuvenating. My life did a 360 degree turn. I was truly inspired!"
During the FNCC Soka Spirit Conference, members shared experiences of being involved with the temple or encouraging temple members to return to SGI. Valarie commented, "I know that we all need encouragement, because when you are alone you are not moving. With other members, you have the power of all the members and the spirit of the SGI organization with you. You are not overwhelmed by your problems."
After the FNCC Conference, Valarie immediately became a district representative for the Soka Spirit Campaign. "I feel really fortunate to be a part of Soka Spirit. This is making me more aware that the SGI is a precious organization. It is as though it has the mandate to save the world through our own efforts within the SGI. Soka Spirit is like a baby, slowly evolving. It will have a far reaching impact."
She further determined, "I enjoy being a member and being with the members as we all fight together. Yes, I want to participate in activities and deepen my faith so I can show more actual proof in my life and be part of the construction the SGI for the 21st Century. It will be a comfortable 'home' for those returning to SGI, as well as the new members!"
"I recall that one of the Japanese
members at FNCC said that he just made the determination to — just take
a stand. That is what I have done. I have taken a stand to work for kosen-rufu