Vietnamese Baha'is reach milestone with election of National Spiritual Assembly
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — The Baha'is of Vietnam have reached a historic milestone with the election - for the first time in many years - of a national Baha'i administrative body in that nation.
The Baha'i Faith is established in virtually every country of the world, and in most nations the Baha'is each year elect a National Spiritual Assembly of nine individuals to administer their affairs and guide the community.
In Vietnam, the Baha'i national convention and election held 20-21 March were the first since the unification of North and South Vietnam in 1975.
"This is important because it was the first time in 33 years that the government had approved that such a gathering could take place," said Joan Lincoln, a special emissary of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith. Mrs. Lincoln traveled from the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa, Israel, to Ho Chi Minh City for the occasion.
"It was a deeply moving affair," she continued. "I was told that a number of the Baha'is hadn't seen one another in many years."
Preparations for the convention, including drafting the charter for the Baha'i governing body in Vietnam, were undertaken in consultation with the government, which sent three representatives to observe the election.
The voting took place at the small Baha'i Center in Ho Chi Minh City on the first day of the convention, followed the next day by a consultative session in a much larger hall that had been decorated with flowers of congratulation sent by various government and police agencies. More than 20 officials from the central, provincial and district governments attended the session, which was highlighted by the adoption by the Baha'is of the new charter.
Documents now will be submitted to the government for the next stage in the official recognition of the Baha'i Faith in Vietnam.
A number of people attending the activities had joined the Baha'i Faith in the 1950s and 1960s and had remained firm in the religion despite the years of restrictions on certain activities.
"The high point for me," Mrs. Lincoln said, "was seeing the Baha'is from all over Vietnam, the north, the central, and the south, who had been so steadfast for over three decades, remaining obedient to the government and to the Universal House of Justice and waiting patiently until they could re-establish their activities fully.
"It was thrilling to see the delegates greet one another, and that the older believers had been able to bring up their children as Baha'is, and to see so many young couples with their own children - the third generation of Baha'is - at the convention."
A particularly emotional moment, Mrs. Lincoln said, was the announcement of the results of the election of the National Spiritual Assembly. Among the nine members are Baha'is both young and old, from different areas of Vietnam.
Mrs. Lincoln expressed appreciation for government gestures toward the Baha'is.
"They had taken many measures to show their support," she said, noting that representatives from the government-run press and television attended some of the activities and reported on them.
"The warm relations between the new National Spiritual Assembly and the government were impressive to me," she said.
She also mentioned the Baha'i youth and "how present in the organization of the convention they were - saying the prayers, singing passages from the Baha'i writings, manning the computers, handling the logistics, the food, the microphones, raising the spirit ... doing all the things that youth do."
As part of the convention, Mrs. Lincoln presented to the government of Vietnam a gift from the Universal House of Justice consisting of a framed, color facsimile of two of the personal seals of Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith.
Nguyen Thanh Xuan, vice chairman of the Government Committee on Religion, accepted the gift, and also gave the Baha'is a framed portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Mrs. Lincoln earlier had paid a courtesy visit to a government office in Ho Chi Minh City where gifts also were exchanged.
During the convention, a special message from the Universal House of Justice to the Baha'is of Vietnam was read.
"The Baha'i Community of Vietnam is regaining ground on a trail that leads to a constructive future," the message said, in part. "In restoring your National Spiritual Assembly, with the gratefully acknowledged support of your national government, you now enter upon a period of dynamic development of far-reaching virtue and influence."
On the night of 20 March, more than 200 Baha'is and friends from around the country joined in a new year's celebration, followed the next morning by the convention session with some 300 people in attendance. They were the largest gatherings of Vietnamese Baha'is in three decades.
Special guests for the historic convention and the new year's celebration, included, in addition to Mrs. Lincoln, representatives of the Baha'i communities of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, and Thailand, and Mr. Jaya Gopan Ramasamy of Malaysia, representing the Baha'i Continental Board of Counsellors in Asia.
For the Baha'is of Vietnam, restoration of their National Spiritual Assembly represents a key achievement in the process to gain official recognition from the government. A major step was taken a year ago when authorities issued a certificate recognizing Baha'i activities.
The Baha'i Faith was established in Vietnam in 1954. In 1957 Baha'is there joined with a number of other countries in southeast Asia to form a Regional Spiritual Assembly, and in 1964 the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Vietnam was formed.
(Note: On 7 April 2008, additional attendance figures were added to the fourth paragraph from the end.)