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I just returned to Africa from six days of joy, reverence, prayer and celebration!
Every five years, the Baha’is who serve as elected members of their country’s National Spiritual Assemblies have the responsibility and the bounty of voting for the nine members of the Universal House of Justice. That global body administers the worldwide Baha’i community and shepherds its growth, so those who elect the Universal House of Justice have a humbling and important job to do when they cast their votes. This was my first time, so I didn’t know what to expect.
When you’re a Baha’i, you take part in a worldwide community of friends. Meeting those friends from all over the world, some known from days past, others made during that time together, always stirs the soul. It’s the power of unity that makes the bond so great, all of us united in our love for Baha’u’llah and His blessed Cause.
I hugged old friends and new friends — my dear sweet Amy Marks witnessed my wedding nearly 40 years ago! Needless to say, we have gone through many things together. And I made an enduring friendship with Terry Madison, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Bulgaria, and had the pure joy of sharing the Convention experience with her, learning of mutual friends, getting a copy of her book and being encouraged by her to publish mine!
The Convention opened with the casting of ballots for the 11th Universal House of Justice. All the names of the members of the world’s National Spiritual Assemblies were called one by one, whether they were present or absent. This roll call thrilled me, just hearing such a powerful reflection of world unity in action. I was most moved to see all the absentee ballots cast from the Arab world who were not able to come because of the political situation between their governments and the state of Israel. Also missing — the ballots from the Cradle of the Faith, Iran, where Baha’is still suffer imprisonment and persecution for their beliefs. I found myself crying often, with the poignancy of their absence moving me to tears.
The second day of the Convention saw the announcement of the newly-elected Universal House of Justice. How exciting for the African friends to find Chuungu Malitonga from Zambia, was elected, the first African believer elected to the Universal House of Justice! Our hearts were filled with such pride!
The second day also began the consultation among the delegates on the progress of the growth of the Baha’i Faith around the world. It inspired me to hear the good news, especially the response of youth and their parents to Junior Youth Programs. Young people are spiritualizing their lives all around the world and committing themselves to a path of service to their home communities. It was also sobering when one delegate arose to say that things were moving slowly in his country, but they have not given up hope. Then one of the high points of the Convention occurred – we all viewed, for the first time, a film called Frontiers of Learning, which showed remarkable Baha’i projects dedicated to the spiritual and material revival of society in four different parts of the world. It truly moved us and inspired our consultation.
For us Africans, one of the outstanding parts of the Convention involved the organization and hospitality we encountered at the Baha’i World Center. From our warm reception in the airport to the shuttle buses that took us from our hotels to the Convention Center and the beautiful Baha’i Shrines and other places of Pilgrimage to the delicious and healthy lunches prepared for us each day as well as the nutritious snacks that were available throughout our stay in Haifa, I sum it all up by saying there was a touch of understated elegance and spiritual grace in the entire experience. I have attended many national and international events, but none even came close to matching the spirit of love, kindness, consideration and unity I felt at this wonderful gathering. Our young Faith, only a hundred and fifty years old, is clearly maturing.
When I returned from the Baha’i International Convention to my home in the city of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, I felt a tremendous desire to transmit the feeling of joy and unity I experienced in Haifa to others.
So I’ll tell our next women’s gathering about the Convention. Every month we bring together about 20 to 30 women, Baha’is and friends alike, to discuss social and spiritual issues. We’ve covered topics such as the Purpose of Life, Moral Education, The Nature of the Soul, Science and Religion, just to name a few. We have presenters who have researched the topic, then the meeting opens up for general reflections from the women present. These discussions are serious, and at least an hour if not two is spent in this consultation and reflection process. I hope I can inspire everyone there with the magnificent glimpse of world unity I had the privilege of experiencing at the International Convention.