People who walked 50 to 100 kilometers or more to reach the conference pose for a photograph. More photographs

The Bangui Regional Conference

15–16 November 2008
Locator map

A whole week before the Baha’i regional conference in Bangui, people were literally on the move. Some were already traveling, coming from every corner of the Central African Republic to participate in the first event of its kind in the history of the Baha’i Faith in this country. Others were busy at the conference site, working to cook up enough food for the hundreds of people they were expecting.

The final count at the gathering showed 831 registered participants, some of whom had undertaken a tortuous journey over poor roads of distances up to 700 kilometers. A few had never before been to Bangui, a city of a half million people that is the capital and largest urban center in the country.

The conference itself, which took place on 15-16 November, was held in the parliament building of the national government. Organizers had originally thought they should plan for 200 or 300 people but realized early on that they might get double or triple that number. The revised estimates turned out to be correct – when the Baha’is arrived, the conference hall was overflowing.

“There is a tangible sense of awe amongst the friends at the significance of the occasion,” said one participant as the event began.

The conference opened with a soul-stirring devotional program, followed by a welcome from Mr. Leopold Wangao, chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the Central African Republic. Then came the opening address by Mrs. Joan Lincoln, who along with Mr. Stephen Hall represented the Universal House of Justice. Both are members of the International Teaching Center. Mrs. Lincoln spoke in French, with simultaneous translation to Sango.

Subsequent sessions focused on the institute process, and participants shared many exceptional, concrete examples that illustrated the various elements. One youth described his ventures as a homefront pioneer in a B cluster that in the space of four months progressed from having only six Book 7 graduates to launching an intensive program of growth.

Difficult conditions …

Despite oppressive heat, the friends remained focused and purposeful – itself impressive considering that the Baha’i community here had never organized anything of this type, and also taking into account the extremely difficult conditions prevailing in the counrty. (Some of the friends did not eat for several days while traveling to the conference and waiting for it to begin. Arrangements were made to ensure they had adequate provisions for their trip home.)

Mr. Kossi Jacques, who was a Christian pastor before becoming a Baha’i, brought great joy and vibrancy to the conference with his powerful description of the efforts of friends in the Mobaye cluster to emulate collective teaching initiatives in India – all of which came about after a visit by Kashala, a resource person from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A special dance, the lumba-lumba, which Mr. Jacques performed to the delight of the friends, was especially choreographed for the campaign.

“Everyone got to review what the Universal House of Justice is saying and to rethink their role in the Plan. The number of volunteers who offered to help was very encouraging. We start next Sunday!”

The Baha’is – mainly youth – who spoke were articulate, confident and bold and were able to describe their experiences in terms of learning in action, generating enthusiasm and interest amongst the other participants.

A rock band playing Baha’i-inspired songs performed during the breaks. (This band, by the way, is popular throughout the country; Christian churches and others use their music, which incorporates Baha’i concepts and quotes from the Writings.)

On the second day, Counselor Zowé Nganyadé set out the needs of the Five Year Plan in CAR and described the conference as a turning point in striving to raise the current number of eight intensive programs of growth to the ambitious but realistic goal of 28 within the next two and a half years. 

Before the group broke into workshops to focus on 13 priority clusters, a seeker who had traveled 175 kilometers to attend the conference and who declared his belief in Baha’u’llah after the first day was introduced to a rousing reception from the friends.

Planning the next steps …

During the workshops, a number of friends offered service as home-front pioneers, mobile tutors, or travel teachers. Some of the groups were so focused that they chose to work through till lunch without a break.

“The conference showed us the greatness of the Faith and that it is not just a small thing in our village. If we didn’t want to act before, we do now.”

In the end, plans were made to launch six or seven intensive programs of growth by Ridvan, and the other six or seven IPGs in goal clusters between April and July 2009. Some of the students committed to working during their December vacation, and a large number of teaching teams were formed to support the campaigns to be conducted in most of the clusters in the coming weeks.

The final presentations focused on the Five Year Plan as a spiritual enterprise, particularly the call of the Universal House of Justice for the friends in CAR to respond to the expectation and assurance that: “Your faith in the power of divine assistance, your love for one another, and your unity of purpose are spiritual resources that will guarantee your success.” (Letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Central African Republic, 15 November 2008)

Conference highlights …
  • The superb manner in which the friends organized this event, despite many challenges, displaying a capacity of which they themselves were perhaps unaware.
  • The focus and consecration which were evident amongst the vast majority of participants throughout the conference.
  • The outstanding examples from the field which clearly demonstrate the capacity of the community to achieve the goals of the Plan.
  • The example of  the youth who are spearheading the work of the Plan in a number of clusters, including their ability to articulate learning in light of the guidance of the Universal House of Justice.
  • The strategic planning ability exhibited by a number of believers.
  • The sense of purpose with which the friends left the conference after a very joyful and fruitful two days.
Worth noting …
  • More than 40 of the attendees walked between 50 and 100 kilometers – or more – to reach the conference site. There were the sad stories of those who walked these distances to a pick-up point only to find that there was not enough room on the buses that had been organized to bring them. They had no choice but to return home by foot.
  • Many of the people who traveled by bus had to endure military checkpoints approximately every 40 kilometers where, as a matter of procedure, a “toll” is demanded from each male aboard the vehicle. However, the friends found that by showing the 20 October letter of the Universal House of Justice the soldiers would let them pass without any demand for payment. This so impressed the bus drivers, who typically are required to pay an even higher fee, that they offered their services to return the friends back home following the conference.
  • About 80 participants from out of town were housed at the national and local center but more than 400 were accommodated in the classrooms of the various community schools that the Baha’is have established. Reports were rife of blissful evenings spent singing and talking all night about what people had learned that day and the plans to be implemented on return to their communities.

Comments from participants

“Everyone got to review what the Universal House of Justice is saying and to rethink their role in the Plan. The number of volunteers who offered to help was very encouraging.  We start next Sunday!”

“The conference showed us the greatness of the Faith and that it is not just a small thing in our village. If we didn’t want to act before, we do now.”

“Only two or three friends from our cluster have ever participated in (these types of experiences) in the past because we live 600 kilometers from Bangui. However 24 friends, nine of whom have never been to Bangui before, came to this conference and made their own personal plans. We need your prayers.”

“The conference showed the greatness of the Faith for Bahá’ís everywhere, and it was overwhelming to see over 700 in the hall. It made me feel that I’ve not done enough and that I have to liberate myself more from my job.”

“The conference was a miracle! Now the friends can see that there is an institution that guides us. It has provided momentum for us to do more. Last night the friends spoke about how surprised they were that the Universal House of Justice had organized this conference so that more intensive programs of growth can launch. We talked all night about the points from the talks. We now need a little conference for the friends in the region.”

“I am very happy with this pedagogical reflection and the massive participation. Those who were cold are now warm!”

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  • The conference in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, was held at the parliament building of the national government.

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  • People came from every corner of the country, and some had never before traveled to the capital city.

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  • Joyful celebrations followed the planning sessions.

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  • The institute process in general, and examples from specific clusters, were the focus of some of the presentations.

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  • Participants were treated to artistic performances between consultations.

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  • The gentleman on the right walked over 100 kilometers to attend the conference.

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  • After the workshops participants shared details of their planning.

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  • Conference organizers at first projected only 200 to 300 attendees but fortunately amended their planning to accommodate two to three times that number.

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