Zambia gathering is first in series of 41 conferences

4 November 2008

LUSAKA, Zambia — Some 750 Baha’is from Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe gathered in Lusaka last weekend for the first of 41 regional Baha’i conferences scheduled over the next four months in cities around the globe.

The unprecedented series of gatherings comes at the midway point of a five-year effort by Baha’is to decentralize many of their activities and organize study circles, devotional meetings, and classes for children and young people at the neighborhood level.

“I feel that the conference was exactly what we needed to inspire, encourage and boost our spirit…,” said Musonda Kapusa of Lusaka.

Participants came from all nine provinces of Zambia and from neighboring Malawi and Zimbabwe. Five traditional African chiefs, all Baha’is and supporters of the Baha’i work in their areas, were among those who attended.

The 41 conferences – in cities from Abidjan to Yaounde, reaching geographically from Vancouver to Sao Paulo to London to Johannesburg to Ulaanbaatar to Auckland – are being held in response to a call by the Universal House of Justice, the elected body that heads the Baha’i Faith.

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Sehla Masunda, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Zimbabwe, was one of 80 Baha’is from her country to attend the conference in Lusaka.

In a letter to the Baha’is of the world announcing the conferences, the House of Justice indicated that the purpose of the gatherings was to celebrate achievements in grassroots community-building, and to discuss the lessons learned and deliberate on how to involve more people in a particular approach to improving the societies they live in – an approach that combines spiritual development with community service.

Efforts by Baha’is at the neighborhood level should continue, “no matter how severe the crises engulfing the world around them,” the House of Justice said in its letter.

“Financial structures once thought to be impregnable have tottered and world leaders have shown their inability to devise more than temporary solutions, a failing to which they increasingly confess,” the letter said. “Whatever expedient measures are adopted, confidence has been shaken and a sense of security lost.”

The long-held Baha’i belief that material and spiritual civilization must advance together, undoubtedly has been reinforced by the world situation, the letter said.

People at the conference in Lusaka – 550 from Zambia, 80 from Zimbabwe, and 120 from Malawi – heard a special message addressed to them from the Universal House of Justice and also consulted on the earlier letter, dated 20 October and already translated into some of the languages of the attendees – Tonga, Lunda, Bemba, Chewa, and Shona.

The focus of the gathering then shifted to planning for upcoming activities, as “men, women and even the children pondered and made heartfelt pledges to serve their neighbors and friends, and work together to improve their communities purely for the love of God,” said a news release from the Baha’is of Zambia.

“Everyone is worried about what to do because the world is changing for the worse, but the answer is in the teachings of God if only we can apply them to our daily lives,” one participant said.

Among those attending the Lusaka conference were four counselors, individuals with special responsibilities in the Baha’i community: two from southern Africa, Maina Mkandawire of Malawi and Garth Pollock of Zambia, and two who attended as representatives of the Universal House of Justice, Uransaikhan Baatar of Mongolia and Stephen Birkland of the United States, both of whom currently serve at the Baha’i World Center.

Nearly a dozen choirs from Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe were on hand to provide music and add to the spirit of the gathering.

“It was such a big and wonderful gathering,” said Heighten Ngangula of Zambia. "I never attended (anything like this) since I became a Baha’i.”