A. Manisegaran – United States of America
This is my personal impression of the Frankfurt Regional Conference that was held in February 2008.
On Wednesday, 6 February 2008, hundreds of cars, buses, and planes carrying Bahá’ís from several parts of Europe were heading towards Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt was to turn out to be a beehive of movement of Bahá’ís over that weekend. By the evening the bus carrying the Bahá’ís from Switzerland reached the Bahá’í House of Worship in the village of Langenhain, outside Frankfurt. The Bahá’í House of Worship became a venue for simultaneous and supplementary activities. A wonderful devotional program was prepared. As we entered the Mother Temple of Europe, many of us were transported into a new realm. It was the first time that many of the participants went to this House of Worship. The Bahá’í choir of Germany chanted prayers in several languages. The spiritual atmosphere inside the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, or “The Dawning Place of the Mention of God” was again most moving.
Following the devotional program at the House of Worship, the Bahá’ís moved on to the registration venue in the city. There were already more than 2,000 Bahá’ís who had converged for registration. The spirit was simply electrifying! We were moved to see Bahá’ís from various colors and races coming together, all smiling away. The warmth of love demonstrated by Bahá’ís was indeed beyond description. Those who had known each other and lost contacts for decades were seen hugging and weeping with joy at the hall entrance. The security guards on duty were simply dumbfounded, unable to believe how total strangers coming from diverse background could simply melt into one big and happy family. It became clear that they were witnessing such a unique and unparalleled atmosphere for the first time. After registering ourselves, we headed for the hotel to rest and to be fully prepared for the spiritual banquet in store for us the following day.
My three daughters Aarthi, Archana and Aruna from Malaysia joined us in Geneva for a holiday. At the conference, we were able to meet some of the Malaysian friends who had moved to Europe. Fifi Hang from Malacca settled in Switzerland was traveling with us. Zarrine Pierre (late Munusamy’s daughter), Sharmala (cousin sister of the late Balasingam), Koh Ai Leen (of Malacca), Prem Kumar (of Seremban) and Sothee (of Penang) were among the Malaysians we met in the conference.
L-R: Manisegaran, Mrs. Nirmala Devi, Fifi Hang and Koh Ai Leen.
We arrived early hoping to be housed in one single large hall. But even the largest hall of Frankfurt could not accommodate the close to 4,900 Bahá’ís, coming from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, and Switzerland. Live events took place in the main Harmonie Auditorium accommodating some 2,500 people, while others watched via video link from two auxiliary rooms — the Panorama and Illusion Halls. Although we were separated into three halls, the same spirit flowed into all the three halls. The main proceedings were in English, with simultaneous translation offered in German, French, Czech, Polish, and Hungarian. We were all seated, and waiting eagerly for the conference to start. Some announcements were made. Then the conference started with some prayers offered in various European languages. Immediately after that, slides of the conferences held thus far in other parts of the world were shown on the big screen. As pictures of the conferences were flashed, there was thunderous applause from the audience. This short slide presentation, done with technological precision and coupled with moving music only added to the already surging spirit in the hall.
Dr. Hans-Martin Noltenius, Chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Germany welcomed all of us. He started off by first thanking the Universal House of Justice for bestowing the great honor by giving this task of organizing the Bahá’í Regional Conference to Germany. He immediately took our attention to the Bahá’ís who had been imprisoned in Iran. He pointed to the bouquet of red roses placed on the stage, as a sign of honor to those incarcerated in the prisons of Iran. He said the best way to honor the Bahá’ís suffering in the Iranian prison was to increase our teaching activities. In thanking the Supreme Body, he also mentioned that right from the beginning it was an amazing experience for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Germany in organizing this conference. The organizers expected only some 2000 Bahá’ís, but a total of 4,600 came up, with another 300 children, totaling 4,900. That was the biggest Bahá’í conference Germany had witnessed. As the size swelled, the Congress Hall of the Messe Frankfurt complex, the world’s third largest trade fair venue was booked for this conference. Knowing the magnitude of the conference, spontaneously 200 Bahá’ís volunteered to help out in the smooth functioning of the conference. The Chairman concluded by saying that the purpose of the conference was to celebrate the success of past conferences and to develop new plans. A total of eleven National Spiritual Assemblies were represented in this conference. Mr. Stephen Birkland and Mrs. Joan Lincoln, both members of the International Teaching Center then, represented the Universal House of Justice. Also present was the former Universal House of Justice Member Mr. Ian Sample.
A section of the main gathering
Counselor Stephen Birkland
A hush settled over us as Counselor Stephen Birkland took the stage. In his speech, he mentioned that all Bahá’í conferences are to be regarded as instruments to advance the Cause of God. The very participation in this conference, he said was service itself. Mr. Stephen related a strong message through a story. He sent home the message that while the Bahá’ís had the bounty of rejoicing in the conferences, such a blessing must be followed by a commitment to serve the Cause upon returning home.
Power of Divine Assistance
He also urged the believers to meditate on the Tablet of Phoenix, in which Bahá’u’lláh promises that our strength would be tenfold when we call upon His Mercy. What was important, he said was to forget our own selves and draw the strength from the power of divine assistance. Bahá’u’lláh has also promised about sincere souls arising in the future to serve His cause. At this juncture, I recalled what the Master had said. “When you call on the Mercy of God waiting to reinforce you, your strength will be tenfold. Look at me: I am so feeble, yet I have had the strength given me to come amongst you: a poor servant of God, who has been enabled to give you this message! I shall not be with you long! One must never consider one’s own feebleness, it is the strength of the Holy Spirit of Love, which gives the power to teach. The thought of our own weakness could only bring despair. We must look higher than all earthly thoughts; detach ourselves from every material idea, crave for the things of the spirit; fix our eyes on the everlasting bountiful Mercy of the Almighty, who will fill our souls with the gladness of joyful service to His command ‘Love One Another’.”
Tablet of the Divine Plan
Mr. Stephen then mentioned how the Tablets of the Divine Plan was implemented in stages. During the time of the Master, the Tablet was released as a charter for the teaching of the Cause. However, not many Bahá’ís prepared at that time. When the Guardian took over the reigns of the Faith, for 16 years he started to train the believers, educated them and built up the human resources and capacity needed for the spiritual plans of God. He then gave teaching plans to different parts of the world suiting their capacity. Then in 1953, he launched the World Crusade or the Ten Year Plan which became the basis for the spiritual conquest of the planet. When the Ten Year Plan Crusade ended in 1963, the Universal House of Justice came into existence. From 1963, the Supreme Body, as head of the Faith started to give its plans, as a continuation of the Tablet of Divine Plan. He said that such plans would continue until the ushering in of the golden age. He said that we are witnessing the latest in the series of those plans.
He reminded believers not to question whenever the head of the Faith gives instruction. When the head of the Faith gives guidance and instructions, ours is the duty to obey without questioning. Many stories were told on how the heads of the Faith- Baha’u’llah, Abdul Baha and Shoghi Effendi all gave orders and when the believers followed them, marvelous indeed had been the results. Today the Supreme Body is the head of the Faith and should all the believers follow the guidelines, the Bahá’í world would achieve unimaginable victories.
Mr. Stephen urged the Bahá’ís to establish core activities. He drew attention to the fact that we have more non-Bahá’ís attending the core activities as a clear indication that humanity is crying for spiritual food. Mr. Stephen drove home an important point when he said that each one of us Bahá’ís gathered in the hall was chosen by God to become Bahá’ís and we all have a role. He further stressed that some of us would have been born into Bahá’í families and enrolled ourselves as Bahá’ís. That too should not be viewed as an accident. He said each has been chosen by God for a specific reason, and that reason is action.
Mr. Stephen then asked all the Bahá’ís why was it necessary for the Bahá’ís to act now and not before or later. He said this was the time to act as now is the time when the world has become so chaotic. He drove home a cardinal point when he said that as the world degenerates into its lowest ebb, Bahá’ís must rise up to reach the peak. The Supreme Body had called for these conferences to release special powers through fresh activities of the Bahá’í community to salvage to some extent the fast degenerating world. At the Bahá’í conferences, attended by ordinary people, the Universal House of Justice was able to win victories and commitments. We could visibly see the processes of integration and disintegration.
The path of service need not be a bed of roses in all cases. Sometimes we may have to clear so many obstacles. Bahá’u’lláh has said that sometimes affairs may be difficult in the path of God. In such situations Baha’u’llah expects us to focus on the Supreme Horizon which is far glorious. He says, “If however, for a few days, in compliance with God’s all-encompassing wisdom, outward affairs should run their course contrary to one’s cherished desire, this is of no consequence and should not matter. Our intent is that all the friends should fix their gaze on the Supreme Horizon, and cling to that which hath been revealed in the Tablets.”
There is another promise of Bahá’u’lláh to which Mr. Stephen drew the attention of the believers. Bahá’u’lláh says, “The friends of God shall win and profit under all conditions, and shall attain true wealth. In fire, they remain cold, and from water, they emerge dry. Their affairs are at variance with the affairs of men. Gain is their lot, whatever the deal. To this testifieth every wise one with a discerning eye, and every fair-minded one with a hearing ear.”
Shoghi Effendi often cites feelings of inadequacy on the part of the believers in executing the plans of God. He says there is a wisdom in our feeling inadequate, but reminds us of the approach to be undertaken. He says, “Each one of us, if we look into our failures, is sure to feel unworthy and despondent, and this feeling only frustrates our constructive efforts and wastes time. The thing for us to focus on is the glory of the Cause and the Power of Bahá’u’lláh which can make of a mere drop a surging sea!” Mr. Stephen also requested the believers to reflect on the advice of the Master for the Bahá’ís to learn to forget the past. The Master said “Let not your heart be offended with anyone. If someone commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him.”
Status of The Five Year Plan
Representatives of the 11 countries provided moving accounts of the progress made in the Five Year Plan. Some highlights were:
- In Belgium, Door to door teaching was scary in the past, but becoming a reality these days.
- In the Czech Republic, one lady accepted the Faith by reading just one verse of the Hidden Words, and declarations were pouring in through intensive study circles.
- In France, religion was seen as a taboo in the past but now, direct teaching is taking place.
- In Hungary, TV stations were providing special programs.
- In Switzerland, conventional thought that religion was something very personal-being abandoned and direct teaching was starting to pay off.
The Institute Process as the Engine of Growth
Counselor Joany Lincoln spoke on the subject of the Institute Process as the Engine of Growth. She set a positive mood by drawing our attention to the transformation taking place on our planet. For the past 4 months, the entire planet had been undergoing spiritual activities, the like of which the planet had never witnessed. Bahá’ís had been either preparing to go for the 41 conferences or going for the conferences, participating in these conferences, or fulfilling their pledges after these conferences. After the Ten-Year Crusade, this is the first time there had been so much spiritual power released. The Supreme Body had called for such conference only in 1992 for the Second World Congress. After that, these 41 regional conferences have been called for. With the Frankfurt conference, some 70,000 Bahá’ís around the globe had participated in the conferences.
She talked of the immense power released and the power of God in surmounting all forms of difficulties in the path of God. Quoting the first conference held in Zambia, she said they were given only two weeks and they organized the biggest gathering in their country. Mongolia witnessed one of the worst snow storms and the government prohibited all travels. The Bahá’ís appealed to be allowed to travel, and the government gave permission warning that they traveled at the risk of their lives. The Bahá’ís had full trust in Bahá’u’lláh and came safely to the coldest place on earth, generating so much warmth. In the Central African Republic where tribal warfare made it impossible to travel, the guards manning the roadblocks allowed the Bahá’ís to travel when they were shown invitation letter from the Supreme Body, which turned out to be a kind of passport. These are some of the miracles.
She mentioned that in the past expansion and consolidation could not be carried out in the same way in which we are carrying out so successfully in these days. Today, the Universal House of Justice is doing it in the form of a process of growth through three stages:
i) Training Institute;
ii) Clusters and core activities; and
iii) Direct teaching.
As at the moment, there are some 700 Intensive Programs of Growth which would have to be pushed up to more than 1000. The 41 conferences are intended partly to bring out this result.
The excitement of the Universal House of Justice
It was reported that the Supreme Body was most happy and deeply satisfied to see the success of the conferences and the achievements they produce. Prayers are still being continually recited at the Holy Shrines, by special groups of Bahá’í friends at the Holy Land. Members of the International Teaching Center and the Universal House of Justice are still saying regular prayers for the success of the conferences.
The Counselors representing the Supreme Body in these conferences expected to give comprehensive reports upon the completion of the conferences and return to the Holy Land. But the Supreme Body wanted daily reports. As the daily reports were so inspiring, the Supreme Body started asking for reports by the hour. The conferences’ participants joined the Supreme Body in sharing the joy of success. The participants were most happy to learn that the Supreme Body was pleased with the commitment of the Bahá’ís across the globe.
Teaching, Deepening, and Growth
In the last 18 months, awareness of the Faith has increased tremendously in the world. This is the result of the suffering of mankind which makes them turn to the Faith for consolation. It is at such instances that the Bahá’ís have to become aware and respond to the crying needs of humanity. We have to respond to their cry through teaching activities.
Teaching has to be direct, no more indirect teaching. All along the Bahá’ís were in the learning mode. Now we are in the teaching mode. In the past, the Bahá’ís involved in proclamation activities or in giving the social teachings of the Faith. But over the last ten years and especially the past one year the global society has changed tremendously. Now is the time for direct teaching. Europe is generally regarded as a country where religion is a taboo and personal matter, and so teaching, even if indirect seldom took place. But now Europe has agreed for direct teaching, as called for by the Supreme Body.
As early as 1933, the Guardian had visualized the needs of the growing Bahá’í community. Writing in 1933, the Guardian said that the problems confronting the Bahá’ís would be overcome as the Bahá’í population grows. The Master has also said that the time would come when the teachers would be scare against the seekers who would be abundant.
In 1995, it was mentioned that deepening courses are not sufficient for human resource development. Deepening classes had their places in the Summer Schools. But the current focus is in increasing the human resource development of the Faith through the institute process. Mr. Stephen again addressed the Bahá’ís on the topic of “Elements of a Healthy Pattern of Growth.” He stressed that all Bahá’ís should teach in a way that is more inviting and forthcoming. Anna’s presentation has set the standard. Some dialogues from Anna’s presentation are already being used for teaching and it was found to be highly successful. Anna’s presentation has been found to be so successful that the Universal House of Justice has referred to it as “a milestone in the growth of the Faith.”
Understanding the Heart of the letters from the Supreme Body
Mr. Stephen added that all letters issued by the Universal House of Justice are indeed well balanced. A mere reading of the letters may not convey the essence of what the Supreme Body intends to say. It is only through consultation and reflection that the believers would and could absorb what the Supreme Body wants to say. It is for that purpose that the believers are encouraged to consult on the letters from the Supreme Body.
On Entry by Troops
Entry by Troops is already happening in Europe and is already a reality. Mr. Stephen also highlighted what the Supreme Body mentioned about entry by troops in its 1993 message. The message said that Bahá’ís have to:
i) Understand entry by troops;
ii) Welcome entry by troops;
iii) Initiate entry by troops; and
iv) Sustain entry by troops.
In its Ridvan 1996 message the Supreme Body had stressed that achieving a significant advance in the process of entry by troops held special importance for Europe. Entry by troops is not an utopia. It is sure to happen, especially when the world loses faith in its leaders. They would turn to the Bahá’ís and the Bahá’ís must have the right resources. The Intensive Program of Growth, (IPG) is aimed at enhancing the human resources in anticipation of entry by troops. (Five observers at the conference accepted the Faith spontaneously, and on their own accord.) We should look out for the receptive segments in society.
He did not fail to mention that service draws confirmations upon the believers. At the same time, he also stressed the need for believers to act collectively. Bahá’ís should move with focused thoughts. The Master has said, “So long as the thoughts of an individual are scattered he will achieve no results, but if his thinking be concentrated on a single point wonderful will be the fruits thereof. One cannot obtain the full force of the sunlight when it is cast on a flat mirror, but once the sun shineth upon a concave mirror, or on a lens that is convex, all its heat will be concentrated on a single point, and that one point will burn the hottest. Thus is it necessary to focus one’s thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force.”
Clustering, when introduced in 2001 was seen in the non-Bahá’í perspective. Today there are Intensive Programs of Growth to support the clusters.
Choose Your Place
There may still be some Bahá’ís who may want to say that “Ruhi is not for me.” The Supreme Body has made it clear that Ruhi may not be for these people, but for the multitudes who are destined to come into the Faith. Anyone who does not support Ruhi would have no place in the Bahá’í community.
The Supreme Body says that the reflection meetings should always be joyful. It should be a joyful occasion to gather and reflect on the achievements of the Faith in the respective clusters. Bahá’u’lláh had said, “The sea of joy yearneth to attain your presence….”
Home Front Pioneering
During the time of the Guardian, there was a need for international pioneers. Today’s needs are quite different. Today, home front pioneers are needed and they are accorded the same importance as the international pioneers.
While the eleven National Spiritual Assemblies met, the participants were divided into 56 workshops to study and reflect on the messages from the Universal House of Justice. On the second day, there were workshops for the various national communities to devise Intensive Programs of Growth. The workshops were well organized. Each and every participant had some workshop to attend. Their workshop venues were already assigned in the folders they received at the time of registration. Therefore no one was left out. Each had something to contribute. We joined the Geneva cluster where there was active consultation.
Workshop for the Geneva Group
Following the workshops, the representatives of the National Spiritual Assemblies came up the stage to report on the resolutions made. They were requested to report the number of IPG’s they decided to launch before and after Ridvan. The Supreme Body had wanted an additional 9 Intensive Program of Growth clusters, but the pledge was made for 15. This was the gift of the Conference to the Supreme Body.
Again, about 300 Bahá’ís came forward to be of service for the Faith outside their area of residence.
No words could describe the fellowship that was prevalent. Free flow of coffee, tea, and soft drinks were made available in many corners of the conference venue. These also became the meeting point of the Bahá’ís during the break sessions and after the conference sessions were over. The crowd was so large that they could not mix freely. The Malaysian group that met up on the first day never met up again. Even the Geneva group that came to the conference dispersed and got together on the day of the return journey. Despite such obstacles to freely move and mix around, the spirit was simply high. For two full days, there were smiling and radiant faces all around. One is moved to remember the words of Bahá’u’lláh, “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”
A Sweet Ending
On Sunday morning, as the conference was in session in Frankfurt, some close to 300 Bahá’í children were transported from the conference venue to the Bahá’í House of Worship for their own devotional program. They said prayers for the Bahá’í children of Iran who had been expelled from school or faced untold trials. The children also released some 250 helium-filled balloons from the Bahá’í House of Worship grounds before returning to the conference to perform a song on the main stage at 4:30 pm, bringing the conference to a positive ending. As the children walked down the aisle of the hall, many adults stood up to welcome the next generation of our heroes. It was such a moving sight to see the children singing a song dedicating their lives to Bahá’u’lláh.
Bahá’í Children on stage
The Way Forward
As the conference was drawing to a close, the Counselors from the Bahá’í World Centre guided the believers who had gathered in looking beyond the horizon. The path to success was clearly laid out. This is the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. He would do whatever He willeth. The goals set would be achieved at any cost. The Bahá’ís have to have full confidence in the unfailing power of Divine Assistance. Mr. Stephen gave a subtle word of caution. He said, Bahá’ís must be wary of enemies within the Faith and quoted what Bahá’u’lláh had testified to the sad behavior of some of the believers. He said, “My captivity can bring on Me no shame. Nay, by My life, it conferreth on Me glory. That which can make Me ashamed is the conduct of such of My followers as profess to love Me, yet in fact follow the Evil One. They, indeed, are of the lost.”
In any army, it is the front line officers who are sure to be hit by the bullets, not those in the backstage. So anyone who arises to march in the front line is sure to become the target of the bullets. Analogous to that, anyone who arises to serve the Faith would surely be hit by criticism, jealousy, and attack. Mírzá Mihdí had to suffer martyrdom in order to allow the prison gates to be opened for the Bahá’ís to visit Bahá’u’lláh. He offered His life as a ransom. So someone has to offer some suffering as a ransom. In like manner, should we be criticized for intensifying our activities, we can always offer our pain as a ransom to Bahá’u’lláh.
Transformation A Key To Success
Mr. Stephen mentioned the requirements to become transformed Bahá’ís. He said, for the collective efforts to produce results, Bahá’ís must:
i) Not be hurt;
i) Stop backbiting;
iii) Stop listening to backbiting;
iv) Avoid personality differences; and
v) Forgive and forget the past.
Tapping the Power of Divine Assistance
Mr. Stephen stressed that Bahá’ís have to learn to tap on the power of Divine Assistance. Our thoughts immediately recalled the promises that Bahá’u’lláh has given us. He says: “By the righteousness of God, should a man, all alone, arise in the name of Bahá and put on the armor of His love, him will the Almighty cause to be victorious, though the forces of earth and heaven be arrayed against him.” Bahá’u’lláh has further promised, “By God besides Whom is none other God! Should anyone arise for the triumph of our Cause, him will God render victorious though tens of thousands of enemies be leagued against him. And if his love for Me wax stronger, God will establish his ascendancy over all the powers of earth and heaven. Thus have We breathed the spirit of power into all regions.”
Path of action based on the Message from the Supreme Body to the Conference
- Our Task: Yours is now the task to forge ahead, confident that with the experience you have gained, the maturity of your institutions, your spirit of sacrifice, and above all, the guiding hand of the Ancient Beauty you are well prepared to accomplish your goals.
- Every Cluster: Every cluster, no matter what its level of development, should draw upon its resources to advance from cycle to cycle and maintain a rhythm of expansion and consolidation.
- Every Believer: Every believer, new or veteran, adult, youth, or child, has the duty to determine what part to play.
- Press On then: Press on then with unflinching resolve and a joyful spirit, undeterred by the restrictive conventions of the society that surrounds you, to diffuse the divine fragrances through word and deed.
- Have No Doubt: Have no doubt that on the success of your efforts depends on the regeneration of your continent.
- Assured of Prayers: You are assured of our fervent prayers at the Sacred Threshold that your devoted efforts will be reinforced through the power of divine assistance.
An Unexpected Supreme Gift
The conference participants were suddenly promised an unexpected gift. The international counselors promised to place the list of names of all the conference participants at the Holy Threshold and offer special prayers.
Take Home Message
Counselor Stephen Birkland drove home a strong message:
“EACH OF US HAS ONLY ONE LIFE ON THIS EARTHLY LIFE. LET US GIVE OUR BEST TO THE BLESSED BEAUTY AND THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE.”
(This is a personal impression by the author, and need not reflect the official report of the conference proceedings)
11 October 2016