Baha’is gather in DRC despite war, other challenges

18 November 2008

UVIRA, Democratic Republic Of The Congo — A war close at hand and myriad financial and security challenges did not stop nearly 800 people from reaching a historic Baha’i conference in Uvira.

Most of the participants came from the DRC, but 13 were from Burundi and four from Rwanda.

“Although all our belongings were taken from us on the way here, we made it to the conference,” said Francois Njiangani, who lives in the province west of Uvira.

Twenty-one people arrived from North Kivu province – a site of the current unrest. Uvira, in South Kivu province, is roughly 200 kilometers from Goma, the capital of North Kivu.

Mr. Njiangani indicated that the current insecurity did not deter him from his Baha’i activities, saying he would return home and rededicate himself to community-building efforts, which he termed “a way out, a help for the whole of humanity.”

Ngoy Kalonda of North Kivu said being at the conference created hope and motivated her to continue Baha’i activities in her community, too.

A security officer from the Uvira area – previously unfamiliar with Baha’i teachings – appeared at some of the sessions and afterward stated that he thought the conference came exactly “at the right time, in the right place.”

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Uvira is only about 200 kilometers south of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province where much of the current unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is centered.

He said if Baha’is are able to put into practice their teachings of peace and unity – and spread their message on all continents – the world will be transformed.

The conference was one of three held on 15-16 November – the others were in Bangalore, India, and Bangui, Central African Republic – that are part of a series of 41 Baha’i gatherings being held around the world in a four-month span.

The purpose of the conferences is for Baha’is to discuss developments in their core activities at the neighborhood level, and also to make plans for the coming months.

“It almost felt like the heat of the joy and enthusiasm of the participants was competing with the burning heat of the African sun,” said one participant at Uvira, attempting to explain the mood.

The conference was such a beacon of hope that one man walked 300 kilometers from his home in Lulenge province.

Similar stories were reported at the conference in the Central African Republic, where more than 40 people walked between 50 and 100 kilometers – or farther – to reach the gathering, the first Baha’i event of its type ever held in the country. Some 800 people came for the conference, a number which stretched the capacity of the venue. The conference was held in the Parliament building in the capital city – the largest hall that organizers could find to accommodate the expected crowd.

Nearly twice that number – some 1,500 people – attended the conference in Bangalore, which included participants from India as well as Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands.

Many were excited that the Universal House of Justice, the elected body that is the head of the Baha’i Faith, had convened the conferences and was sending an individual message to each gathering.

The unprecedented conferences come half-way through a five-year effort by Baha’is to decentralize their activities and organize devotional meetings, study circles, and classes for children and youth at the neighborhood level.

Reports on individual conferences: http://news.bahai.org/community-news/regional-conferences/