Archive for November, 2008

The limitless potential of the human spirit, or, Thank You, ‘Alí!

Limitless potential to serve the Cause of God dwells within each of us. Here is part of a letter that Bahá’u’lláh wrote to a believer in Him whose name was ‘Alí. Toward the end of the letter, ‘Alí is assured that the bounty of God is guaranteed to him – guaranteed! – because of the services that he has rendered:

“O ‘Alí! The bounty of Him Who is the Lord of all worlds hath been, and is still being, vouchsafed unto thee.”

Bahá’u’lláh reminds ‘Alí what he needs to do to continue to be the recipient of this priceless bounty:

“Arm thyself with His strength and power, and arise to serve His Cause and to magnify His holy name.”

Our limitations are not obstacles to bringing the Word of Bahá’u’lláh  to others. ‘Alí was uneducated:

“Let not thine ignorance in human learning and thy inability to read or write grieve thine heart.”

The grace of God is the source of ‘Alí’s power and ability to serve:

“The doors of His manifold grace are within the mighty grasp of the power of the one true God. He hath opened, and will continue to open, them in the face of all them that serve Him.”

And here is, perhaps, the most remarkable part of these concluding words of Bahá’u’lláh’s letter. ‘Ali was apparently worried about his inability to serve Him because, although he was devoted and he tried, he was but a simple, uneducated man. Bahá’u’lláh wrote to him:

“I fain would hope that the breeze of Divine sweetness will, at all times,continue to be wafted from the meadow of thine heart upon the whole world, in such wise that its effects may be manifested in every land.”

Now that’s potential! ‘Ali’s services to God, continuing to do what he had been doing, can have beneficial effects that are spread throughout the world. And who is to say that they haven’t? ‘Alí brought Bahá’u’lláh’s Message to many people. Many of those people in their turn taught many others. Someone has told you about  Bahá’u’lláh. Maybe you should be saying, “Thank you, ‘Alí, for helping to bring me this glorious Message!”

And Bahá’u’lláh concludes His letter with this reminder:

“He it is that hath power over all things. He, verily, is the Most Powerful, the All-Glorious, the Almighty.”

Bahá’u’lláh shares many other thoughtful and inspiring ideas in this letter, or epistle. You may read the entire letter in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pages 308 – 312.

The Day of the Covenant

“My Name is Abdu’l-Bahá. My Reality is Abdu’l-Bahá: and Service to all the human race is my perpetual Religion…. Abdu’l-Bahá is the Banner of the Most Great Peace …The Herald of the Kingdom is he, so that he may awaken the people of the East and the West. The Voice of Friendship, of Truth, and of Reconciliation is he, quickening all regions. No name, no title will he ever have, except Abdu’l-Bahá. This is my longing. This is my Supreme height. O ye friends of God! Abdu’l-Bahá is the manifestation of Service, and not Christ. The Servant of humanity is he, and not a chief. Summon ye the people to the station of Service of Abdu’l-Bahá and not his Christhood.”  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (From ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 109)  

‘Abdu’l-Bahá often reminded his audience and followers of Bahá’u’lláh that His life was wholly devoted to the service of Bahá’u’lláh, and that their attention and service should directed toward Bahá’u’lláh and not Himself. He identified Himself exclusively as the Servant of Bahá. When Bahá’ís, during His ministry (1892 – 1921) continued to ask Him to create a Holy Day so that they might honor Him, he refused. Instead, He established the Day of the Covenant and set it on November 26th. Here is a comment about this from the historian and Hand of the Cause, H.M. Balyuzi:  

” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told the Bahá’ís that this day [the Declaration of the Báb, also ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s birthday] was not, under any circumstances, to be celebrated as His day of birth. It was the day of the Declaration of the Báb, exclusively associated with Him. But as the Bahá’ís begged for a day to be celebrated as His, He gave them November 26th, to be observed as the day of the appointment of the Centre of the Covenant. It was known as Jashn-i-A’zam (The Greatest Festival), because He was Ghusn-i-A’zam — the Greatest Branch. In the West it is known as the Day of the Covenant.”  (From H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 523)

The Covenant, and faithfulness to it, are of course essential for the mission of Bahá’u’lláh to succeed. The Faith must remain unified in order for its followers to accomplish their work. Following the passing of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as Bahá’u’lláh’s appointed successor, became the Center of that Covenant, the source of that essential unity.

Remarkably (and was it more than a coincidence?) the date of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s own ascension is two days later, at 1:00 a.m. on November 28th.


Photos by the Webmaster

Here’s looking at you

“Look not upon the creatures of God except with the eye of kindliness and of mercy, for Our loving providence hath pervaded all created things, and Our grace encompassed the earth and the heavens. This is the Day whereon the true servants of God partake of the life-giving waters of reunion, the Day whereon those that are nigh unto Him are able to drink of the soft-flowing river of immortality, and they who believe in His unity, the wine of His Presence, through their recognition of Him Who is the Highest and Last End of all, in Whom the Tongue of Majesty and Glory voiceth the call: ‘The Kingdom is Mine. I, Myself, am, of Mine own right, its Ruler.'”



“The most vital duty, in this day, is to purify your characters, to correct your manners, and improve your conduct. The beloved of the Merciful must show forth such character and conduct among His creatures, that the fragrance of their holiness may be shed upon the whole world, and may quicken the dead, inasmuch as the purpose of the Manifestation of God and the dawning of the limitless lights of the Invisible is to educate the souls of men, and refine the character of every living man — so that blessed individuals, who have freed themselves from the murk of the animal world, shall rise up with those qualities which are the adornings of the reality of man. The purpose is that earthlings should turn into the people of Heaven, and those who walk in darkness should come into the light, and those who are excluded should join the inner circle of the Kingdom, and those who are as nothing should become intimates of the everlasting Glory. It is that the portionless should gain their share of the boundless sea, and the ignorant drink their fill from the living fount of knowledge; that those who thirst for blood should forsake their savagery, and those who are barbed of claw should turn gentle and forbearing, and those who love war should seek instead for true conciliation; it is that the brutal, their talons razor-sharp, should enjoy the benefits of lasting peace; that the foul should learn that there is a realm of purity, and the tainted find their way to the rivers of holiness.”


41 Regional Conferences – Portland, Oregon

The Universal House of Justice, in a letter dated 20 October 2008, announced the convocation of a series of 41 regional conferences over a four-month period. The letter – which marked the midway point of a five-year effort to expand activities at the grassroots level – indicated that the purpose of the conferences is to celebrate achievements during the first half of the Five Year Plan and to deliberate on the next phase.

Six of the forty-one conferences being held around the world will be in the United States. The one in our region will be:

December 6 and 7, 2008

Oregon Convention Center

777 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

Portland, Oregon 98332

Will you be there?

41 Regional Conferences – Johannesburg, South Africa

The Johannesburg conference, with 1,150 participants, was the largest Bahá’í gathering ever held in that country.
The Johannesburg conference, with 1,150 participants, was the largest Bahá’í gathering ever held in that country.

Photo and text from the Bahá’í World News Service

The conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, was exceptional. Organizers started out expecting a maximum of 850 people, but more than 1,000 came the first day and about 1,150 the second day – a good 300 over what they expected. In spite of running out of registration materials, the logistics committee persevered and managed to welcome, feed, and house everyone.

The spirit was extremely high, close to electrifying at times, with spontaneous singing and dancing breaking out in the large hall, particularly among the youth but also among the older believers. All were thrilled to be part of such a large gathering of Bahá’ís, apparently the largest ever to be held in the region. 

The participation of young people was most heartening. The number of junior youth who were present, engaged, and taking part in workshops along with the older youth and adults was especially inspiring.

Mr. Stephen Birkland and Mrs. Joan Lincoln, members of the International Teaching Centre, represented the Universal House of Justice at the conference, and both addressed the gathering.

“I don’t think I’ve had an experience like this before. Over a thousand people, and I don’t know how many different languages. We’ve had big Baha’i conferences before, but never one where everybody has come for the same thing, everyone thinking of the same thing, everyone knowing what needs to be done.”

Naisan Samadi, age 28, South Africa

Mr. Birkland started with a delightful story about Ali Quli Khan as a young man falling into the service of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as a translator and learning to do it through experience, much like the friends in their efforts to advance the work in their clusters. (See video clip on this page.)

Passages from the writings of the Guardian were then read, reminding the participants of the great heights of service to which we are all called in these critical times, no matter what our circumstances: 

“The champion builders of Bahá’u’lláh’s rising World Order must scale nobler heights of heroism as humanity plunges into greater depths of despair, degradation, dissension and distress. Let them forge ahead into the future serenely confident that the hour of their mightiest exertions and the supreme opportunity for their greatest exploits must coincide with the apocalyptic upheaval marking the lowest ebb in mankind’s fast-declining fortunes.”

“Regarding your own condition: He strongly urges you not to dwell on yourself. Each one of us, if we look into our failures, is sure to feel unworthy and despondent, and this feeling only frustrates our constructive efforts and wastes time. The thing for us to focus on is the glory of the Cause and the Power of Bahá’u’lláh which can make of a mere drop a surging sea!”

The session ended with the following words of the Universal House of Justice: “…each individual, too, must make a conscious decision as to what he or she will do to serve the Plan, and as to how, where and when to do it. This determination enables the individual to check the progress of his actions and, if necessary, to modify the steps being taken. Becoming accustomed to such a procedure of systematic striving lends meaning and fulfillment to the life of any Bahá’í.”

Mrs. Lincoln’s presentation included a recap of the past 12 years and the development of institutes, clusters, core activities, and intensive programs of growth. She spoke about the rise in receptivity to the Faith that has accompanied the failure of the world’s systems and about the urgency and the responsibility for each of us to teach. We need, she said, a self-sustaining system to incorporate the numbers of new believers, and the training institute provides this.

“The conference played a big role in recharging my batteries and saying to me, ‘there’s work that needs to be done.’ And I’ll do it happily.”

Tsepo Ngobeni, age 13, South Africa

The discipline and focused attention of the large gathering throughout all the talks and workshops were impressive indeed. Seeing over 1,100 people divided into 26 workshops on the second day, all in one enormous hall, was in itself exhilarating. In a disciplined manner, in less than 20 to 30 minutes, they were spread all over in groups of 30 to 50, hard at work, divided according to clusters that are to launch intensive programs of growth (IPGs) between now and July 2009. Although only 16 cluster workshop groups had originally been planned, after consultation with the Counsellors, they ended up with 26 that have a potential to launch IPGs. Pledges of all sorts, from prayer to funds, to home-front pioneers to travel teaching teams, accumulated as a result of the workshops.

Countries and territories included in the Johannesburg regional conference were Botswana, La Reunion, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, and Swaziland.

Many younger Baha’is and new believers had never seen such a gathering, and they considered it an opportunity of a lifetime. Even older Baha’is walked into the immense hall and were overwhelmed. People were deeply moved, and the serious challenges ahead were clear to all. It was truly a conference of celebration and deliberation. Some said it reminded them of what they had heard about the spirit of the Ten Year Crusade, or the World Congress. And this was now their turn to respond similarly to the Universal House of Justice.

The vision of multiplying times 41 the spirit and dedication present in Johannesburg is a breathtaking one. Having their very own message from the Universal House of Justice to their regional conference thrilled the friends, and they are inspired to arise, to consecrate themselves, and to press forward. 

(Based on reports from Counsellors and others at the conference)

41 Regional Conferences – Lusaka, Zambia

Some 750 Baha’is from Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe gathered in Lusaka, Zambia, for the first of 41 regional Baha’i conferences to be held over the next four months.

Some 750 Baha’is from Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe gathered in Lusaka, Zambia, for the first of 41 regional Baha’i conferences to be held over the next four months.

Photo and Text from the Bahá’í World News Service

The Bahá’ís of Zambia learned in mid-October that they were to host a regional conference that would draw together believers from across the country with those from Zimbabwe and Malawi.  Just three weeks later, 750 Bahá’ís gathered at the Banani School in Lusaka for two days of celebration and serious consultation on the goals set for the Five Year Plan, including the launch of 13 intensive programs of growth by Ridván 2009.  The conference was the first in the series of 41 conferences called for by the Universal House of Justice in its message of 20 October 2008 to the Bahá’ís of the world.

Echoing the sentiments of many of the participants, Mr. Adam Mwandira from the Central Province of Zambia, said at the conclusion of the conference, “It was such an amazing experience to see [hundreds of] Baha’is joyfully gathering together. How I wish that could be how cluster meetings should be. I am very tired, but very happy.”

“I feel that the Conference was exactly what we needed to inspire, encourage and boost our spirit in the Five Year Plan. Having studied the message from the House of Justice, I have no doubt that we will all arise and contribute towards the launch of the Intensive Programmes of Growth in the next six months. I am very excited.”

Ms.Musonda Kapusa – Lusaka

Among the 750 participants, 550 were from Zambia, 80 from Zimbabwe and 120 from Malawi. Five of the participants were traditional rulers, all Baha’is actively supporting the endeavors of the Faith in their areas. Participants came from all 46 of the priority clusters of the three countries.  Held outdoors under a large tent at the Banani School, the conference was characterized by a spirit of joy and movement, giving rise to spontaneous outbursts of song and energizing the friends in their deliberations and reflection on the work of the Plan.

The chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of Zambia opened the meeting with the reading of a message of greetings from the Universal House of Justice in English and a number of local languages.  Two members of the International Teaching Center, representing the Universal House of Justice, Mr. Stephen Birkland and Ms. Uransaikhan Baatar, were on hand, as were two Continental Counselors, Mr. Garth Pollock and Mrs. Maina Mkandawire.  In the keynote address, Mr. Birkland reviewed the progress that has so far been attained in the region and encouraged the friends to focus their sights on the aim of the Five Year Plan and to work with concentration, drive, and energy.

“I feel that the conference was exactly what we needed to inspire, encourage and boost our spirit in the Five Year Plan,” said Ms. Musonda Kapusa of Lusaka.  “Having studied the message from the House of Justice, I have no doubt that we will all arise and contribute towards the launch of the intensive programs of growth in the next six months.”

Through presentations by secretaries of the three National Spiritual Assemblies, the participants reflected on the progress thus far achieved in the most advanced clusters of the three countries.  A study of the 20 October message of the Universal House of Justice, which had been translated into Tonga, Lunda, Bemba, Chewa and Shona, focused on the urgent need to arise and serve the Plan in the context of the current framework of action.  As part of Ms. Baatar’s presentation on key concepts of the Five Year Plan, friends from Malawi and Zambia shared inspiring stories of the lessons they have learned through their efforts to teach children, sustain direct teaching activities, support junior youth groups, and participate in an intensive program of growth.

“It was such an amazing experience to see about 900 Baha’is joyfully gathering together. How I wish that could be how cluster meeting should be. I am very tired, but very happy.”

Mr. Adam Mwandira – Central Province of Zambia

Mr. Kawawa Chitiya, a youth from Zambia, reflected on how the conference opened up possibilities for positive change, against the backdrop of growing distress in the world.  “Yes, we have financial crises, yes our societies are morally degrading by the day, and yes, we are constantly in search of answers to so many questions,” he said.  “Yet, by being a part of this event, I realized that, all the planning we ever do, for children’s classes, for teaching campaigns, and for any other Bahá’í activities, is merely a guide to the real thing—the action.  And even when our communities here in Zambia are witnessing constant growth, it has become evident that there still is a lot more we can do.”

On the second day, the participants broke up into groups to elaborate action plans for launching intensive programs of growth in 13 clusters—five in Malawi, six in Zambia and two in Zimbabwe—by Ridván 2009.  The friends looked at how they can make the most effective use of their time to support the goals by contributing to the strengthening of the training institute, multiplication of core activities, intensification of teaching, and serving as home front pioneers in the 13 target clusters. All of the friends at the conference pledged to intensify their efforts to increase the level of activity and to ensure that a wave of intensive programs of growth characterizes the period between now and Ridván 2009. Almost every month, starting December 2008 until April 2009, will witness the launching of an intensive program of growth in the three countries.

The gathering provided an opportunity for celebrating current achievements and planning the attainment of goals.  The happiness and dedication of the friends were manifest in the heartwarming songs and dance that were a feature of the conference; over 10 choirs from Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe were present at the conference and contributed to heightening the spirit of oneness and strengthening a sense of mission.

“Reflecting on the speeches given and stories told by our Malawian and Zimbabwean friends, and especially those from Zimbabwe,” explained Mr. Chitiya, “it is inspiring to know that there are friends out there, who, irrespective of conditions are willing to sacrifice in order to advance the Faith.  And I truly agree that genuine and lasting comfort and joy are latent within us, and if arising to serve is the one act that achieves that, I, like the hundreds of other friends,  am willing to reach out and share the life-changing message of Bahá’u’lláh.”