Big turnout for regional Baha’i conferences

November 11, 2008

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — More than a thousand Baha’is from nearly a dozen countries came together for a regional conference that turned out to be the largest Baha’i gathering ever held in South Africa.

A simultaneous conference this past weekend in Nakuru, Kenya, also drew more than a thousand participants.

After only the second weekend of a four-month series of 41 conferences to be held around the world, organizers are finding that interest in the gatherings is so high that they are having to regroup and adjust plans to accommodate larger numbers of people.

In Johannesburg, planners originally estimated that about 500 people would come, according to a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of South Africa. They revised expectations to 800, but when more than 1,000 people appeared, preparations fell short.

“We have run out of everything – except spirit and commitment,” one of the organizers reported within hours of the start of the conference.

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Some 1,200 people came to Nakuru, Kenya, during the second of 18 consecutive weekends of Baha’i regional conferences around the world. Nakuru is one of 41 cities and towns that will host a gathering.

The convening of 41 two-day conferences was announced on 20 October in a letter to the Baha’is of the world from the Universal House of Justice, the elected body that is the head of the Baha’i Faith.

The purpose of the gatherings, the letter said, is for Baha’is to celebrate recent achievements in grassroots community-building and to plan their next steps in organizing core activities in their home areas.

The first of the 41 conferences was convened on 1 November in Lusaka, Zambia, and coming this week are gatherings in Bangalore, India; Uvira, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Bangui, Central African Republic.

In Johannesburg, a mere two weeks ago the National Baha’i Assembly announced details of that conference and urged Baha’is from all around southern Africa to come, calling it a “thrilling opportunity to gather together to consult. ...”

People from Angola, Botswana, La Reunion, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, and Swaziland responded.

“The conference is stunning,” one of the organizers reported by noon the first day. “Some of the very veteran Baha’is were tearfully jubilant at the sight of so many friends from so many places. It was encouraging and inspiring from the moment the conference registration opened.”

Well over half the participants at Nakuru were from Kenya, but there also were 200 people from Uganda, 100 from Tanzania, 42 from Ethiopia, four from Mozambique, and three from southern Sudan.

“The spirit of the conference was very high as most participants had never attended any international conference,” said the initial report from the gathering.