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  http://news.bahai.org/community-news/regional-conferences/johannesburg.html

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)

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