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.”

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