Saturday, March 7, 2009

REPORT from Auckland, NZ conference

This report is from Bahai News Samoa (Issue 5)

UHJ urged us to put aside all misgivings…

In a message to the regional conference held recently in Auckland, New Zealand the Universal House of Justice urged all the believers in our region to put aside all misgivings and undeflected distractions, and to offer our wholehearted support to the accomblishment of our goals during the remaining months of the Five Year Plan. “Sacrifice of time and resources is required for success to be achieved,” the House of Justice said.

Close to 1,700 Baha’is from 10 countries and island groups in the Pacific attended this historic event, one of the 41 regional conferences around the world called for by the Supreme Body in its message of October 20, 2008. Baha’is from New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Hawaii and French Polynesia and Vanuatu gathered at the Pacific Center in Manukau to celebrate their achievements so far and to plan and set goals for the accomplishment of 1,500 intensive programs of growth before the end of the Plan. There were also visitors from Australia, North America, the Phillipines, United Kingdom & Chile.

Representing the House of Justice were two members from the International Teaching Center Mr. Stephen Hall and Mrs. Zenaida Ramirez. Also present were six members of the Continental Board of Counselors of Australasia.

The scene was set on the eve of the official opening when representatives from the local Manurewa Marae offered, on behalf of the Tainui tribe, a formal Maori powhiri –a welcome-on the sacred grounds of their marae/meeting place. Prayers were said for the success of the conference. The reading of a special message from the House of Justice preceded the opening address by Mr. Hall, who stated that Baha’is were urged to intensify their efforts and planning is crucial if we are to achieve our goal of the Plan, set by the Universal House of Justice. “It is imperative to respond to the crying needs of humanity,” he said. “We must raise our efforts and respond to the needs of a desperate society. These are historic times, the circumstances pressing.” He remarked on the unparalleled response worldwide to the regional conferences and praised the outstanding attendance of the Baha’is of the Pacific. The institute process was emphasized as being the engine of growth. “Teaching the Baha’i Faith and multiplying core activities are imperative,” Mr. Hall said. “We must ask o urselves, “What is the purpose of life? What does humanity requires at this time? What are the needs of the Faith at this time? What is wanted of me? How will I respond?”

National and regional overviews of progress to date came from Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Hawaii and French Polynesia, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and New Zealand, with each country outlining its particular strengths, successes and challenges. Vanuatu, for example, reported a dramatic increase in the number of people joining the Baha’i community. Fiji’s strength lay in its devotional meetings. While the small atoll nation of Kiribati reported the progress of their junior youth program.

Participants then broke into workshops to study the 20 October 2008 message from the Universal House of Justice and the message to the Auckland conference.

In the afternoon, Mrs. Ramirez elucidated the central concepts of the Five Year Plan, clarifying some of the fundamental aspects and noting that the chief motivator for action is understanding. “The hope of the Universal House of Justice for the conference is that we, one and all, be enabled to translate what we deliberate and plan in the realm of action,” she said. Interspersed with her comments were stories shared from participants from various countries. One touching story was of a Tongan youth named Mercy (born 16 years ago in the Baha’i month of Rahmat, which means “mercy”) who has been active in the establishment of junior youth programs and study circles. Other highlights included an account of recent joyful productive reflection meetings in New Caledonia that led the Baha’is to schedule for 14 February the launch of an intensive program of growth; experiences, and lessons learned, from a recent teaching project in Auckland; and the story of a young person in Vanuatu who moved to a new era to assist with core activities and other work, helping to prepare the community for an intensive program of growth.

For the cultural program on Saturday evening, artists from throughout the Pacific region performed to a packed house of 2,000 people, including many guests. The exhilarating beat of Polynesian drums electrified the atmosphere and set the tone. The audience was treated to video and photographs of the artists’ home countries, as well as a slide presentation showing photographs of Baha’is around the world engaged in core activities.

Believers from New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands ended their performance by presenting a banner from their junior youth prepared specifically for the conference. The Samoan participants’ contribution was tribute to the late Malietoa Tanumafili II depicting the first meetings between His Highness and the late Hand of the Cause Dr. Ugo Giachery.

On Sunday morning, Counselor Soheyla Bolouri of Tonga spoke on the needs of the Pacific region, stating that the Baha’is should take stock of their strengths, have a clear vision and an ever-strong resolve. People were urged to return to their home countries and share the message of Baha’u’llah, strengthen the institute process and enlarge the pool of human resources.

The presentation of a magnificent bouquet of flowers was made as a token of respect for the Baha’is in Iran. Particular tribute was paid to those believers currently in prison because of their religious belief.

After breaking into workshops for action planning to establish intensive programs of growth, outcomes were shared later in the day, with the plenary session led by the children who had consulted during their own sessions and also made commitments. Participants made pledges to initiate or participate in one or more of the many activities of the Five Year Plan. Mr. Hall stressed the importance of acting immediately and encouraged people to return to the guidance of Universal House of Justice and re-study the messages in light of the learning from the conference. “Fire has been ignited in our hearts and we must ensure it’s not extinguished,” he said. He emphasized the need for unity in this spiritual enterprise.

In her final address Mrs. Ramirez affirmed that the conference had been characterized by an amazing and joyful spirit, boundless energy, enthusiasm and intense jubilation. “Our mission,” she said, “is to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization; to create a new race of men; to build a new world order.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Personalized AV presentation of conference

Click here to view an example of a finely crafted personalized rendition of the conference - many thanks to James for sharing!

First-hand Conference report

A spirited and faithful report from our Conference -

CommuNIqué - Newsletter of the Bahá'í Community in Northern Ireland
Issue 142 - 4 Ayyám-i-Há 165 BE - 1 March 2009 CE


London conference

Regional Conference London 3-4 January 2009.

Eight o'clock on the morning of Saturday 3 January saw 3,200 believers from Northern Europe pour through the doors of the Conference venue expecting to queue for registration. To their delight they were invited by smiling ushers to be seated in the hall. On their seats they found a pack containing copies of two messages from the Universal House of Justice, the 20 October 2008 message which had called us to this conference, and one dated 3 January 2009 addressed to the friends gathered at the Regional Conference in London, a conference badge to be filled in by each participant, and all the information needed to engage fully in the event. From the first "Dear friends. please be seated…" there was a pervading feeling of joyous expectation; no need to wait for the momentum to build in this Conference, perhaps the fact that attendance there was a response to the request of the Universal House of Justice created a unifying dynamic and imparted a sense of purpose. The opening element of the Conference was a devotional piece beautifully sung by the Bahá'í Choir from Northern Ireland.

With what joy the friends welcomed the representatives of the Universal House of Justice, members of the International Teaching Centre Counsellor Urnasaikhan Baatar and Counsellor Stephen Birkland. We were blessed also by the presence of six members of the European Board of Counsellors: Mrs Uta von Both, Mrs Vivien Craig, Dr Shirin Fozdar-Forudi, Mrs Saba Khabipour, Mrs Firouzeh Moghbel-Naderi and Mr Hannu Tapani Olkkonen. Members of the National Spiritual Assemblies and believers attended from the countries of the region: Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the host country the United Kingdom along with friends from other areas of the world.

At the beginning of the programme Counsellor Vivien Craig read the message of the Universal House of Justice dated that day. We were inspired by the words of the Supreme Body and began to relate to the focus of the Conference; to "deliberate on how to move at least 6 more clusters to the stage where the criteria for initiating intensive programmes of growth …. can be met by Ridvan 2009." We heard the call of the Universal House of Justice that "each individual - whatever his or her involvement with the Plan heretofore - shoulder a share of this vital undertaking." The opening address was by Counsellor Stephen Birkland of the International Teaching Centre, he told us wonderful stories from the history of the Faith, which he related in a very meaningful way to the situation in which we find ourselves today.

Counsellor Birkland conveyed the confidence of the Supreme Body in the ability of the Bahá'í community to respond to the needs of this time and inspired everyone to arise and make a contribution to the goals of the Plan. There was a wonderfully inclusive feeling that there is something that absolutely everyone can do and that each and every service offered is valued. He confirmed that our activities in this vast spiritual enterprise do not replace the activities of the past. Now, at the core of the Bahá'í community we have a group of activities essentially spiritual in nature, which connect the hearts and minds of the peoples of the earth with the Word of God. Our other activities support this.

Counsellor Urnasaikhan Baatar, also a representative of the Universal House of Justice, spoke so sweetly, clearly and fluently about the framework for action, in a manner which was explicit for every listener, even those who were new to the process for whatever reason. She explained everything from the core activities to the conditions necessary for sustained accelerated growth with absolute coherence, and shared with us the most recent learning in all areas of the Institute process. Counsellor Baatar stressed the urgency of our situation, and the need for every cluster to engage in a three-month cycle of action, reflection and consultation.

Every time the representatives of the Universal House of Justice spoke, we felt the power and love of the Supreme Body, and were drawn to the graceful, understanding and enthusiastic manner in which their representatives addressed us and shared with us their penetrating and insightful vision of how we should move forward.

Sprinkled across the pattern of the Conference were accounts by believers working within the most advanced of the clusters in our region. These touching, sincere accounts of sacrificial service, home-front pioneering, collective teaching work, work with children and junior youth and the effect that just one or two dedicated souls could have on sizeable numbers of individuals filled the hall with encouragement and the will to engage in this work. Hearts were moved by the evident success of the youth in particular, and their clear vision of the efficacy of service enhanced by training and taken forward through an intensive pattern of action and reflection.

In the course of her presentation of the needs of the Plan, Counsellor Shirin Fozdar-Foroudi referred to the wealth of experience we now have in the advanced clusters of the re gion. Our response to these critical times should be to look at our situation and plan change which will put the Faith central to our lives.

On the Sunday everyone attended cluster-based work-shops to consider in depth their own individual response to the needs of the Plan and to consult on the timing of the launching of intensive programmes of growth in the priority clusters throughout the region. It became crystal clear during this Conference that our first line of action now is to bring our priority clusters to the point of launching intensive programmes of growth as soon as possible, even if it means taking resources from our existing A clusters. As a result of cluster consultations, it was confirmed that 6 priority clusters will launch their intensive programmes of growth by Ridvan 2009, and a further 8 by the Birthday of Bahá'u'lláh in this year. Of these 10 will be in the UK, with one in Northern Ireland. The goal for Seven Valleys is now to launch an intensive programme of growth by 29 May 2009.

Many participants filled in forms making pledges of service bearing in mind the guidance of Counsellor Stephen Birkland that each individual should seek their own path of service, and decide in which specific area or areas they wish to make a contribution. There was a happy realization that there is a wealth of activities to choose from including prayer, home visits, starting one of the core activities, personal or collective teaching, firesides, pioneering and giving to the funds.

Every session of the Conference began with a devotional presented in a beautiful and artistic manner, and there was a cultural programme of music and dance on Saturday evening. As stated by the Universal House of Justice the Conference was "an opportunity for the friends to gather together, as much to celebrate the feats already achieved during the Plan as to deliberate on its current exigencies" both of these objectives were pursued with vigour in London, and were beautifully facilitated by the plans of the National Spiritual Assembly for every aspect of the precious hours we spent together. The bonds formed or strengthened between the believers from all participating communities have given us a new awareness of the relationships between the countries of our region.

There was a powerful sense of the hand of the Universal House of Justice in everything we did. The pervading feeling was one of being guided, supported and encouraged by them to move to intensified service to the needs of the Five Year Plan. Echoing in our hearts are the exhortations so lovingly expressed by the Supreme Body in their message to the Conference " not to be the least overawed by the challenge…… not to be deterred by the convulsions of a world order now in a state of inexorable decline, not to overlook the guarantee of divine assistance promised by Baha'u'llah to every believer who would champion His Cause."


(Photograph: Bahá’í World News Service)