Baha'is are talking more and more about accompanying each other – accompanying each other as they pursue various paths of service. The theme was a constant at the regional conference in Dallas on 13-14 December, and even long-standing Baha'is found it making a difference in how they felt.
“So many people are saying that we don't feel so alone anymore,” noted one participant, referring to the work of organizing Baha'i core activities in their home communities.
“It felt good to be asked what we needed, what help we needed” was the way another veteran Baha'i put it, showing that accompaniment is a concept that helps everyone, not just newcomers.
More than 2,200 people had preregistered for the Dallas conference, one of 41 such gatherings being held in cities around the world in a four-month span. Six of the 41 have been in the United States.
The people gathered in a downtown hotel in the heart of Dallas on a winter weekend, responding to the invitation of the Universal House of Justice to come together to celebrate achievements and consult about the next steps for their work.
“I’m always afraid because of my limitations. But I’m not going to be afraid now.”
Afsaneh Salehian - Texas
The conference served the South Central Region of the United States, comprising the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. Some people recounted how they had made an extra effort to attend the gathering after hearing of sacrifices made by Baha'is in Africa to attend the conferences there. In Dallas – in addition to the stories of financial challenges and travel mishaps – were several cases of individuals who skipped their own university graduation ceremonies in order to heed the call of the House of Justice.
Representing the Universal House of Justice at the conference were Ms. Uransaikhan Baatar and Mrs. Joan Lincoln, members of the International Teaching Center. Also on hand were two members of the Continental Board of Counselors; a number of Auxiliary Board members; several members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, and the entire membership of the South Central Regional Council of Baha’is.
Plenary sessions included many stories of individuals’ experiences with the Baha'i core activities of devotional programs, study circles, children's classes, and activities for young adolescents. Listeners got into the Texas spirit, sometimes shouting out loud in excitement or approval.
A woman from Oklahoma City related how Baha’i activities there accelerated when people took ownership of the work – “they went from being to doing,” she said.
“The more we do, the more we learn,” added a member of the Regional Council.
It was reported that recent activity in the South Central region had resulted in noticeable increases in the number of people engaging in the core activities and joining the Baha’i community. This was particularly true in the cities of Richmond, Virginia; Knoxville, Tennessee; and El Paso, Texas.
“This conference is inspiring. So much love is shown. I notice the Baha’is have a quality of humbleness and love for each other.”
Lighting technician working at the venue
As at the other conferences, Dallas participants had the opportunity to study the 20 October letter from the Universal House of Justice as well as a message dated 6 December addressed to all six of the conferences in the United States.
Attendees also divided into workshop groups to make specific plans for their home areas. There are 13 clusters of communities that are goal areas for intensive programs of growth by Ridvan 2009, and these received particular attention.
“Two themes I noticed – a sense of urgency and a renewed commitment,” said one of the workshop facilitators.
Participants also spent some time discussing how they could assist each other with their work in their home areas. Some 70 or 80 people even made a commitment to move to a new area to assist with the activities.
Artistic presentations were prominent during the weekend, both to enhance the devotional segments and during a special program on Saturday evening. Santour, drums, piano, voice, guitar – performed in various traditions by individuals, choirs, duets – were part of the program.
Some highlights of the conference:
Afsaneh Salehian Texas: “Before, I thought my responsibility was just to encourage my children to go to Baha’i school. But now I have learned differently…. I’m always afraid because of my limitations. But I’m not going to be afraid now.”
Tulsa Johnson, Texas: “The October 20th letter … says we must emphasize the relationship between the spiritual and the material. Thinking only about the material aspects of life is making people sick. Our society is basically only concerned with the material aspects of life.”
Bernadette Rohani, Oklahoma: “It’s only in the Baha’i community that you have Oklahoma Sooners and University of Texas Longhorns in the same room, and they’re all working together for the same goals.”
Leslie Wilder, Texas: “Counselor Baatar spoke so softly and gently, but her message was full of fire with a call for sacrifice and consecration.”
Janna Smith, Oklahoma: “It’s gotta start with me.”
Firouz Mollaian, Oklahoma: “It charges me up to realize what the plans are telling me. It keeps me going.”
The Texas spirit was often on display.
Participants listen to the welcome as the conference opens.
Ruth Martin, a Baha’i since 1964, shows some emotion as she talks about the conference.
With 2,200 people in attendance, dividing into workshop sessions took a bit of organization.
Young musicians perform during the Saturday evening session.
A participant contemplates the 20 October message from the Universal House of Justice.
Musical performances have been popular at all the conferences.
Children take time out for a game during a lunch break.
Breakout sessions give everyone a chance to participate in the consultation.
People came mainly from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
Uransaikhan Baatar (in black) and Joan Lincoln (to her left) were the representatives of the Universal House of Justice.
People get up to dance during a musical performance on Saturday night.
Mrs. Joan Lincoln sings “Will You Give Your Heart to Baha’u’llah?” She wrote the song for a conference in 1970.