They started in 1999, the year in which Lamewona, an immigrant from Togo in Africa, asked his father for advice after several disasters prompted him to take stock. Dad told him to learn how to create peace and harmony, so Lamewona and his wife Blandine enrolled in school.
But the school wasn't conventional, with subjects such as science, math and English. It was a centuries-old self-improvement correspondence school that counts Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine among its former students.
'Unfolding of the soul'
Booklets of study materials arrive regularly in the mail at the Lamewonas' home, each comprising several weeks' lessons. Some contain deceptively simple experiments: remembering the contents of a photo in detail, observing carefully every part of the body or listening to a single instrument right through a piece of music.
Such tasks have helped improve the Lamewonas' concentration and visualization, but honing these also develops the ability to access higher mental faculties, such as intuition and telepathy. This encourages an attitude that fosters the peace and harmony his father told him to learn about seven years ago.
The school the Lamewonas joined in 1999 is the Ancient Mystical Order of the Rose Cross (AMORC), also called the Rosicrucians, an international organization with North American headquarters in San Jose, Calif.
AMORC teaches gradually, by correspondence, practical knowledge about all human faculties: the obvious ones educators recognize and the psychic or spiritual ones scientists dismiss. The lessons, published worldwide in 18 languages, also tackle science, philosophy, comparative religions, health, healing and creativity.
In spite of 7,000 members in North America and 80,000 worldwide, "Rosicrucian" is no household name. If individuals ever recall the order's existence, it's usually to stumble over the strange word.
"It comes from the order's symbol, a cross with a rose at its center," says Susan Bertke, master of the Elbert Hubbard Chapter of AMORC in Fairborn, outside Dayton. "It's not a religious symbol. It predates Christianity's use of the cross by thousands of years. The cross represents the human body, the rose the unfolding of the soul through life experiences."
With a shadowy presence, AMORC often stands accused of being a secret society, with attendant negativity, according to Lamewona. He and his wife, having completed the Ninth Temple Degree of the Order, are now immersed in materials for degrees beyond that stage of study. Lamewona is also deputy master of the Fairborn chapter, one of the oldest in the United States and the closest available to Cincinnatians since the city's own closed in 1987 because of high operating costs.
But, explains Bertke, "Our order isn't secret. It's just our members are often very private about their studies."
AMORC is open to anyone -- male, female, any creed or race -- interested in pursuing a unique system of self-development, which they can do either privately or with support of local chapters.
To dispel misconceptions about secrecy is one reason the Fairborn chapter is hosting the first of a series of open meetings, to take place, beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Fairborn Community Library at 1 E. Main Street.
But the more important reason is to inform the interested about the knowledge AMORC has to offer for the 21st century, which traces right back to the ancient mystery schools of Egypt. Those who attend will try out some of the techniques for self-development taught in the weekly lessons.
'The same cosmic power'
With only 11 members in Greater Cincinnati and 126 in the state of Ohio, could this meeting in Fairborn be just a membership drive?
"Yes, we'd like more members," Bertke says. "But there is also the desire to be of service. Many people are searching for something in their lives but don't know exactly what they're searching for. We want to be more visible so they can discover what the order can do for them."
A member since 1981, she knows the value of the teachings.
"So often when people find the Rosicrucians, they say it's like coming home," Bertke says.
Alice Boronkay of Clifton felt exactly that in 1971 when she became a student after a considerable amount of encouragement from her husband.
Boronkay was born to an Armenian family in Istanbul, Turkey, and exposure during her youth to a variety of religions also taught her about their mutual exclusiveness. While respecting them all, it was the open-minded tolerance of the Rosicrucians that gave her peace and focus in life.
Boronkay has just completed a year as master of the Fairborn chapter and is still learning from the order and her fellow students.
Lamewona, Boronkay and Bertke all see unique value in the Rosicrucians' ancient teachings in 2006.
His studies with the order "turned my life around" after those disasters led him to enroll, Lamewona says.
"I applied the lessons, and it gave me a new understanding and philosophy about how we can change a few things and put ourselves into a harmonious environment," he says.
"The order has a religious feeling, but it's not anything to do with 'my God' or 'your God,' " Boronkay says. "It's a reverence for what has put us into this earth. It helps if the individual is a little open-minded already. Then they can begin to see we are all children of the same cosmic power, except that some are beginning and some are further along."
"In our world today, there are many forces trying to divide human beings, and the Rosicrucian philosophy of universal tolerance is the kind of thinking that the world needs right now," Bertke says.
For more information about the Rosicrucians, visit www.rosicrucian.org. For information about open meetings, contact Susan Bertke at 937-429-5653 or Koffi Lamewona at 513-522-0495.