Over 3,300 people – a third of them young people and children – gathered in Kuala Lumpur for the 23rd regional conference of the series convened by the Universal House of Justice. Held at a newly developed agricultural park situated amid rolling hills and farmland in the outskirts of the city, it was the country’s largest-ever gathering of Baha’is.
The conference began with the indigenous Baha’is of Peninsular Malaysia giving a traditional welcome to the representatives of the Universal House of Justice, Mrs. Zenaida Ramirez and Dr. Ayman Rouhani.
Invited participants came from Myanmar, Singapore, South Korea, and Malaysia, including 330 indigenous Malaysian Baha’is.
Mrs. Ramirez, in delivering the opening address, noted that “now more than ever, we should know who we are as Baha’is, why we do what we do, and how it is contributing to the building of an ever-advancing civilization.”
“In understanding the letters by the House of Justice at the workshop, I realized they know that the challenges we face are not easy and pray we may not be daunted as we strive to serve the community.”
Ashwin Kalai Chelvan, a youth from Malaysia
A breakout session had participants dividing into about 70 workshops to reflect on two messages from the Universal House of Justice, one written to the Baha’is of the world and the other to the friends gathered at the Kuala Lumpur conference. Ashwin Kalai Chelvan, a teenager from Malaysia, said afterwards, “In understanding the letters by the House of Justice at the workshop, I realized they know that the challenges we face are not easy and pray we may not be daunted as we strive to serve the community.”
Later Dr. Rouhani discussed the core activities that Baha’is are engaged in – devotional meetings, children’s classes, groups for the spiritual empowerment of young teenagers, and study circles. He spoke of the need to integrate them into a cohesive whole in order to better advance the work at the local level. People with interesting experiences showing how this works were invited to share their stories.
Participants share their experiences
One youth went onstage to talk about his personal transformation as a result of the neighborhood activities. “I was once a painfully shy boy, unable to make friends, and would never dream of speaking up,” he said. “Yet here I am, standing here in front of thousands and sharing my experiences.” He said he had completed the seven books of the Ruhi Institute curriculum and would love to become more involved with the junior youth groups.
Yin Marlwin, 25, of Myanmar, talked about how she had always wanted to teach children.
The village where she lived, however, didn’t have a tutor for the study circle she
needed to help her develop the capacity to conduct children’s classes. Undeterred,
she moved to a neighboring village where there was a tutor, and she eventually was
able to establish her children’s class. Later, when
the National Spiritual Assembly of Myanmar called for volunteers to move to new areas to help establish core activities, she didn’t hesitate. Today, her new home is in a village where there are children’s classes, junior youth groups, and ongoing study circles.
A night to remember
In a region of much cultural diversity, Saturday’s Cultural Night was an impressive event, packed with inspiring performances from many countries. A well-choreographed Chinese fan dance performed by children in red samfu, the spirited Malay poetic incantation called the dikir barat, the Koreans clad in traditional finery singing old Korean songs – all made for a resplendent event. Participants from Myanmar presented a traditional folk tune with both singing and dancing. Indigenous believers of Malaysia, 50 strong, came onstage dressed in headgear and grass skirts to sing a series of songs about service and the Faith, all the while dancing to the beat of the bamboo. Singaporean participants performed a skit based on their understanding of the role of the individual, community and institutions in promoting growth, while another sketch, performed by four youth from Malaysia, described current conditions of the world and how they have found courage, confidence and determination to work toward the world order envisioned by Baha’u’llah.
“I was once a painfully shy boy, unable to make friends, and would never dream of speaking up. Yet here I am, standing here in front of thousands and sharing my experiences.”
A youth at the conference
Two multimedia presentations focused on the development of the four core activities. One video highlighted how people in the Kajang cluster in Malaysia worked together and developed a junior youth program for youngsters aged 11 to 14. The area now has 240 active people in this age group. The other presentation focused on a project called “Heroes Are They” with pictures of youth participating in study circles and in other core activities, bringing home the message that more youth can arise as part of the vanguard of the Baha’i work.
For many in the audience, it was a night to revel in coming together as one Baha’i family, enjoying the diversity and the colors, and being inspired by the energy of the young.
The second day
Heart-warming devotionals opened the second day of the conference. The hall was filled with friends ready to hear information about intensive programs of growth and the challenge to build the necessary human resources for expanding and consolidating the work.
On the stage was a bouquet of roses, 200 in all, which had been presented as a reminder of the martyrs and the long-suffering Baha’is in Iran.
After an inspiring workshop session to plan for upcoming activities at the local level, some of the participants volunteered to move around the region to help with the work. Again, the youth were a significant portion of those who pledged their services. The participating nations announced that they are committed to establishing intensive programs of growth in 13 areas by April 2009.
As the conference came to a close, the two representatives of the Universal House of Justice were presented with gifts of handmade ceremonial crafts from the indigenous village leaders.
Roy Payamal – Singapore: “We should not underestimate the receptivity of the people to the Faith. People are ready to hear about it and we should be ready to share.”
Dr. Nathesan, Johor, Malaysia: “I became a Baha’i in the 1960s. Today there is a new dimension to the Faith.”
Prema Kandiah, Singapore: “What came across consistently to me is the message of the House of Justice to remain focused on the current plan. I learned much from the sharing of the experiences of others. The time to act is now.”
Shan, Malaysia: “I started attending the junior youth program when I was 13 years old.... One thing I’ve learned from this conference – youth need to move and take the lead. Much depends on us and there is no time to lose.”
Youngmin Ji, Seoul, Korea: “The conference is an eye opener. I have a clearer vision and understanding of the Five Year Plan now.”
Ma Mi Mi Khine, Dai Danaw, Myanmar: “It was such an amazing experience to be in Malaysia, to see over 3,000 Baha’is coming together as one. I am very happy and confident in serving the Faith.”
Roky Bah Nyak, Malaysia: “Reflecting on the progress we have made so far in the Five Year Plan, I rejoice at our achievements but am also aware of what is left to do. I’m excited by the possibility of what we will achieve by the end of this plan.”
Naing Thazin Soe, youth, Myanmar: “Whatever I went through to get here was well worth it. The sessions have made me want to go home and urge my community to act, and not sit around and wait.”
About a third of the 3,300 people at the conference were young people or children.
The Kuala Lumpur regional conference was the 23rd in the current series of 41, and was the third largest in number of participants. Only Los Angeles and Atlanta had greater attendance.
Workshop sessions focused on making plans for specific communities in the various countries.
Planning workshops were conducted in six languages – English, Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil, Chinese, Korean, and Burmese.
Breakout sessions provided opportunity for consultation on messages from the Universal House of Justice and also for making future plans.
The event in Kuala Lumpur was the largest Baha’i gathering ever held in the region and followed by one week a separate conference in Kuching, also in Malaysia, which drew 1,320 participants.
The young people were full participants in the conference.
Registered participants included 2,200 adults, 546 youth, 205 junior youth and 350 children.
Singing and music has been part of all the conferences. A 50-member youth choir added to the spirit in Kuala Lumpur.
The conference was held at an agricultural park on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
Logistics for the large gathering were handled by a team of some 170 volunteers.
A special program was planned for older children attending the conference.
The main hall accommodated about 2,800 people, while others watched via video link from two auxiliary rooms, where translation was provided into Tamil and other languages.