Community Blog

Memorials For Friends

October 14, 2014

O Son of Man, thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not; wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished; why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory.      Baha’u’llah

The recent passing of two dear friends, both of whom were very well known in the wider Bahá’í communities, has brought to my mind questions about religious belief regarding death and an afterlife. Whether one believes in such a thing or not can slip almost into insignificance for us when it comes to honoring our departed brothers and sisters. One of the basic foundations of our learning and knowledge is life and cognizance. These things are obvious to us. Of course there is a life of the soul because we can see it every day. If there is no afterlife, how can there be a fore life? These are indeed very deep questions, but let me tell you a little of these two friends who passed from this earthly veil within the last two months.

Dr. Nosratollah (Nas) Rassekh was born in Teheran, Iran on Nov, 11, 1924. In 1944, he joined eight other young Iranian boys his age to come to America aboard a US Navy vessel (these boys were considered quite exceptional and got some VIP treatment. One of them went on to become a history professor at Yale University.)

Nas was readily accepted as a student of history and international studies at Stanford University. He went on to win two scholarships and a fellowship from Stanford.

In 1960 he began teaching history and international affairs at Lewis and Clark College here in Portland. He went on to become the Chairman of the department, a post he held for many years. He became a well regarded author on subjects related to the history of religion. He was well traveled, visiting many countries, as well as fielding semesters abroad on three different occasions. He served as the Chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Bahá’ís here in Portland for many years.

Yet even if you knew nothing of his erudite professorship, you would never forget him once you’d met him. His stunning, yet always polite sense of humor won friends instantly. His ability to elucidate points of interest always left a captive audience. Far from a mere intellectual, he was a complete human being; always warm, earning, rather than commanding a sense of respect, always mindful of his audience, yet always spontaneous in his speech. He was dearly loved by many people. He passed from this world on September 7, 2014.

His memorial service, held a week later at Lewis and Clark College, was a true celebration of his life. We told and listened to stories from his life, listened to friends narrate their experiences with him. Many, many friends were gathered at this memorial. We left that event feeling the specialness of life. He is a person I shall never forget.

Diana Tufts was born April 27, 1937. Following her passing on September 22, 2014, her family received letters of condolence from two National Spiritual Assemblies. Mother of five children, she was a guide post and friend to everyone who knew her. She helped open Bahá’í communities in Alaska and Hawaii. She helped spearhead youth groups in Oregon and Washington. You could never forget her laugh, even if you heard it but once. Full of true joy, intelligence and spiritual energy, her laugh could pervade an entire gathering. It pulled you in. It made your heart catch on fire. It seemed to come from an angel of happiness from far away, yet dramatically close. She was one of those people who could see right into your soul without effort. She was one of those people who always gave you a boost, no matter what. Her spirit pervaded her entire family, and still does. And so at her memorial service, held at the Portland Bahá’í Center a week after her passing, over 300 people gathered. Here was a person who will live joyously in eternity, because that’s what she did in this earthly life. She was a mentor to hundreds of young people. Her light influenced my life.

To both Nas and Diana, I can only express my profound gratitude for having known you.

“O My friend, listen with the heart and soul to the songs of the spirit, and treasure them as thine own eyes.” – Baha’u’llah, from The Seven Valleys pg. 37

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A Discussion of Race and Poverty

August 18, 2014

The last week has been one of tragedy, if one counts life in tragedies. Four celebrities died, filling the newspapers and internet posts with a myriad outpourings of sorrow, dedications of tribute.

A young man died last week also, shot to death by a police officer as they wrestled in the street of a mid-West suburb over an apparent jay-walking violation. Yet even before this ridiculously unnecessary death, a talk had been planned, a gathering here in Portland, Oregon. Two members of our Bahá’í community had heard a report and interview on NPR with the author of a long study of racial and economic disparity in the United States. The report can be heard here- http://www.facebook.com/l/BAQFoXdw7/www.npr.org/2014/07/17/332283230/in-climb-up-the-economic-ladder-african-americans-getting-left-behind

In response to hearing this story, these two members of our community organized a gathering. It was a very special thing. They sent out notice and invitations three weeks in advance. You had to RSVP, as lunch was to be served as well. Twenty five people turned up at the Portland Bahá’í Center. Lunch was served at 11:30. Ebonee, one of the presenters, started promptly at 12 PM, thanking everyone for finishing lunch and being ready to roll. Although the talk and discussion (we listened to a recording of the NPR report first) was scheduled to run from 12 to 1 PM, we didn’t really break up until 2:30. We took a break at 1PM, as some people had other obligations, but only three people left. As we moved around the circle, allowing each person to speak, there were many testimonies. There were many heart-felt responses. There was a galvanizing force moving among us, a real one. There was a result to go along with it. We decided a number of things as a group.

First, we knew that we had touched the surface of something very deep. Everyone in the room agreed that they wanted to meet together again soon, and to invite others. Second, everyone in the room wanted to help be a mentor. Some of the people in the room are that already. The unanimous agreement among us all was to be more so. Thirdly, we knew from our conversation that one of the primary failures of entrenched institutions, both in our culture and abroad, is an inability to instill love. How do we show young people struggling and losing against inequality that we love them?

We had many answers. We must be willing to be vulnerable and uncomfortable. We must create a plan of action and a contract with ourselves if we are to create change. We must come together voluntarily and consistently. We must see youths as assets.

I am waiting, somewhat impatiently, for the scheduling of our next meeting. Perhaps it was a week of tragedy, but it’s been a week of awakening power as well.

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How To Celebrate the 9th Day Of Ridván

June 5, 2014

9th Day Ridván

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And on the 9th Day……….

There are very few traditions in the Bahá’í’ Faith, at least of those traditions that can be traced to purely human invention. Those that do exist are not followed as some sort of rule, seem to arise spontaneously, and are never considered in the same league as principles we follow. Nonetheless, Portland community seems to have developed a habit regarding the 9th Day of Ridván, that is that it’s become one of the biggest turn-outs with the number of people that show up at a centralized location to join in the festivities. It also seems to be one of the two Holy Days with the largest number of children participating. This year was no exception. On a balmy spring evening, the Center filled with people of many different ages and backgrounds. The observance was short and simple, yet loaded with beautiful prayers and a brief history lesson. It seems that back in the day, 1863, when Bahá’u’lláh established the first Ridván Festival, there was some high water. After reaching the island garden on the Tigres river, the water level rose dramatically. Bahá’u’lláh’s family remained in Bagdad to prepare for the long exile. Few boatmen would traverse the river as the water was rife with dangerous currents. But by the 9th day the waters had receded, leaving the river once again safe for passage. Bahá’u’lláh’s family joined Him then on the island, as did the extended family of many of His followers. Because of this the 9th Day of the Ridván Festival has increasingly come to be thought of as a family day, a reunion day. Such was the setting then at the Portland Bahá’í’ Center. Many small children are dressed in finery, little sport coats and ties on the boys, lace frocks, ribbons and shiny shoes on the girls. As prayers were said, and as some brief histories narrated, I found myself looking around at all the people gathered, all the families and friends of families, and I realized that this reunion is a very real thing. It is beautiful, almost overwhelming.

The formal readings end. Bountiful tables of refreshments and tea await all. But right before we break, an inspired parent stands up and asks if there are any children who would like to offer a prayer. It doesn’t take much coaxing, and a precocious child is given a wireless microphone with which to recite. She does so to perfection. A second child steps up and completes the task with glee. Suddenly there is a small, controlled scramble among the children to be next, and clearly heard among the crowd is a little boy politely stating “It’s my turn now!” The adults can barely contain their joy as child after child, in orderly fashion, recites a prayer they have learned.

Even more magic awaits as we calmly move to the foyer to partake of snacks. I take a while to get there myself, stopping to admire a new baby and talk to a few friends. I begin to notice a few people holding small, colorful cookies and talking about how amazing these cookies are. Winding my way to the refreshment tables, there among a plethora of fresh sliced fruit, chips and dips and the like, are two distinct plates laden with the cookies in question, Persian macaroons. They are small, round, delicately made by hand, and in three different flavors. Even looking at them, they seem to radiate a light that says “Someone made me with love!” They are the best macaroons I’ve ever tasted. Each variety, pistachio, almond, and rose, seems to have a gift of its own. Asking around a bit, I find out that they were made by a young doctor of Persian and American background.

This is the type of community we have. As I leave the Bahá’í’ Center that evening I feel refreshed, renewed, and maybe even a little reborn.

 

 

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How To Celebrate The 1st Day of Ridván

May 15, 2014

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It was the day just after a gentle light had shown upon us. The evening before, in this same gallery-like room, we had elected a Local Spiritual Assembly. The afternoon before, we had placed many fragrant plants and flowers in the room, installed as a temporary reminder, centered around a camping tent disguised as a gathering place for pilgrims and well wishers. The symbolic meaning of the tent we have discussed already in a previous entry (How To Elect A Local Spiritual Assembly.) Today we are here for an observance, for a celebration. It is the First Day of Ridván, the cycle of 12 days in which we truly begin to see the rise of Bahá’u’lláh. From this point on in history, His true fame and reputation begin to grow. Resistance to His cause increases from this point as well, although over the next 50 years both the Ottoman Empire and the Qajar Dynsasty would be powerless to stop the steady stream of pioneers, pilgrims, followers, curiosity seekers and scholars who would travel, sometimes for months, just to see Him. As described by the Cambridge scholar Edward Granville Browne, who met Bahá’u’lláh in 1890,

“The face of Him on Whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow.… No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain.”

Perhaps it was in part a jealousy toward the personage of Bahá’u’lláh that led two empires on a protracted yet ultimately fruitless quest to crush both Him and the growing number of His followers.

And so here we are. The observance takes place on a placid, sunny Monday afternoon. We are encouraged as followers of this Faith to suspend work on a number of our Holy Days. The First, Ninth and Twelfth days of Ridván count among these, and some of us have indeed been able to take the day off. Faint smells of lavender and rose water cling to the air. The room is full of light. A few people have set up tables, flowers and refreshments in the lobby area, to be enjoyed by guests after the observance. The observance itself leaves me in such a placid state that I’m almost embarrassed. There is some simple music, a scattering of short, calming prayers, and a few readings from moments in the history of our Faith. Instead of the rushing emotion I sometimes feel when I think about the start of this Faith and how it has grown, what I feel today is a tranquility, a contentment. It’s so overwhelming that I must admit, I nearly fell asleep during the observance. It is much to my relief while enjoying cookies and tea later that Bryan confesses to me the same effect, that he, too, was quite nearly lulled to sleep, so peaceful was the ceremony.

So perhaps it is then that on the first Ridván in 1863, the dawn of an era began not with a cathartic jolt, but with a surrounding glow of peace. Such is my imagining, and such is my hope for a contemporary human society gripped in meltdown and destruction. A joy comes to me, and I wish it to come to everyone, everywhere.

 

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5th Annual Young, Gifted and Black Photo Gallery Event

May 3, 2014

Come celebrate the achievements of PPS Black students at our Fifth Annual Young, Gifted and Black Photo Gallery event.

Wednesday, May 14th from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. at the Blanchard Education Service Center, 501 North Dixon Street.

The ceremony will include a full program with keynote speaker, music, presentation of certificates, photo gallery, beverages and hors d’oeuvres.

This year we are proud to announce that we will be honoring Kumasi Luckett.

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How To Elect A Local Spiritual Assembly

May 2, 2014

The twelve day Festival of Ridván, celebrated April 21 to May 2, is considered the holiest for members of the Bahá’í Faith. During those dates in 1863, Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, left Baghdad and entered gardens now known as the Garden of Ridván, (paradise.)

I’ve found this brief description, and many similar ones, on many sites on the internet. It is true that Bahá’u’lláh called these twelve days the King of Festivals, as this time in His life marked the real beginning of His numerous proclamations and addresses to world leaders, as well as the most fertile time of His Writings. But it is also true that Bahá’í’s consider every day holy in a way, as we are always given the opportunity to see the signs of God in our most everyday activities.

Bahá’í’s always elect their Local Spiritual Assemblies, either on the first day of Ridván or the evening before. So on this evening of April 20th we had a great opportunity. First, we had to get ready. The Portland Bahá’í’ Center needed to be decorated and prepared for this 12-day festival.

I arrived at 3:30 in the company of one of the Holy Days organizers. We set to work. We had to move and arrange many chairs, we had to move the huge rug, we had to make way for and set up the tent. A tent, you ask? Some Bahá’í’ communities will indeed set up a tent of some kind to help mark the festival of Ridván. This is because the first Ridván, held on an island garden just outside Baghdad, was arranged largely by Bahá’u’lláh Himself. He had a tent set up for Himself and used it as a base of operations at the time. Tents were set up for Bahá’u’lláh’s family as well, and many of His followers and friends followed suit.

We’ve done this year after year, setting up a tent of some kind, draping it with Persian fabrics to make it look more “authentic” (we don’t know what the original one looked like) and setting up comfy simulations of artifacts inside- an oil lamp, ornate rugs, hard Persian-style cushions covered with small tapestries, prayer pillows, what have you.

So we get the tent set up, and there we are standing in a gallery-like room, watched over by arched windows, surrounded by stackable plastic and metal-framed chairs. We could be on a movie set. As if on cue more helpers start arriving. A lot of people like being involved with this festival. The Iranians in our community, having come from families with the tradition of observing Ridván, making it truly a time of devotion and the dawning point of their Faith, have been instrumental in helping us “newbie” Americans make it a festival as well. They arrive in several numbers to ‘make sure we do it right.’ Ha ha, it’s a joke about our culture here, and about the antiquated idea of “only one way to do it right.” About 15 people arrive, kind of an even sample of our diverse backgrounds. Everyone is chipping in to help. I adopt a spur of the moment job, that is, keeping an active 5-year old busy while the crew fusses endlessly with rugs, benches, and everything else associated with the tent and its surroundings. It’s like seeing a beautiful calm swarm of bees create something out of nothing, or something out of bits of flower petals and leaves that they each has carefully chosen. Trays of flowers are being shifted about, potted plants and vases and a seemingly art nouveau bench do a dance of juxtapositions and structure, looking for the ideal placement. And within a period of 45 minutes, what looked like a factory mall outlet camping tent has been transformed into a living memorial to serve during these 12 days. It’s very cool. It’s ours.

Everyone scatters for dinner. It’s about 5:45. I myself scoot down the street a few blocks, admiring this tiny stretch of 2-story old brick storefront that lines Lombard here in the St Johns neighborhood.

Everyone mingles back. By 7:00 a lot of people have shown up, yet the building is hushed with a kind of happy, low key buzz of knowledge and reverence. We’re about to elect a Local Spiritual Assembly. It’s different than any election you could imagine, as there’s never discussion of who you will vote for among any of the Bahá’í’s anywhere. Some people do send in absentee ballots if they can’t make it, but a lot of people like participating first hand in the process. It’s very quiet. People talk in whispers as printed lists of all eligible adults are posted around the room. Some flock around the lists. Some sit quietly and think, or meditate, or pray, or reflect. A few tellers stand quietly by, ready to pick up your ballot when you raise your hand with a sealed envelope. The tellers disappear to the top floor when all the votes are in. We mill about sipping tea and having soft conversations. Politics is a thing that has never existed here.

After about an hour the tellers descend the staircase to make the announcement. The lead teller calls out the names of nine community members who have been chosen to serve for this year as our administrative arm. A glow seems to fill the room, like the announcement of the arrival of a new and healthy child. This is how we begin the festival of the announcement of Bahá’u’lláh.

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Baha’i Youth Member of Jefferson Dancers

April 22, 2014

Layli Baghdadi, a Baha’i youth from Portland, will be performing with the worldly reknowned Jefferson Dancers from April 30 through May 3 at the Newmark Theater.

If you’d like to support this talented Baha’i youth in her final performances before her graduation. Tickets are at the Big Five box office formally known as PCPA.

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Marriage Workshop

April 7, 2014

The Equality of Men and Women:  The Dance of Divine Duality

Sunday, April 6, 2014
1:00-4:00 PM
Portland Baha’i Center
8720 N. Ivanhoe Street, Portland, OR
 

  In this workshop, we will have the opportunity to unveil liberating change in our relationships.  We will examine outdated perspectives and practices that continue to govern the relationship of men and women throughout the world.  As members of a new civilization, we will explore the writings of the Bahá’i Faith regarding the spiritual equality of men and women and begin to identify new ways to interact in our daily lives.

Equality is the hallmark of this age.  We are excited to gather together in this most vital consultation.  Please join us on Sunday, April 6th.

 “In this century, which is the century of light and the revelation of mysteries… it is well established that mankind and womankind as parts of composite humanity are coequal and that no difference in estimate is allowable, for all are human.” 

 “In proclaiming the oneness of mankind He (Bahá’u’llah) taught that men and women are equal in the sight of God and that there is no distinction to be made between them…. When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed.” 

 “Divine Justice demands that the rights of both sexes should be equally respected since neither is superior to the other in the eyes of Heaven. Dignity before God depends… on purity and luminosity of heart.   Human virtues belong equally to all!” 

“The new age… will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”                                        –‘Abdu’l-Bahá

 *The workshop is a free public service of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Baha’is of Portland.

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The Nice Patrol

March 13, 2014

They are out there, this Nice Patrol. They may be people that you know. They may be people that you will never see but once, anonymous strangers pursuing a path of devotion, selflessness and service. What is this I’m talking about?

I began to call them The Nice Patrol several months ago, though not to their faces. They are two people in my community. One is retired, though very active every day. The other is semi-retired, working part time and also very busy with activities, hobbies, pursuits and family. I see them frequently at neighborhood gatherings and potlucks, where everyone attending can catch up with each other, have some fun and sharing, and learn some new things. At a number of these meetings, they talk briefly about this thing they do together regularly, going to visit members of the community who don’t have the mobility of some. They talk of this because the philosophy sharing our experiences helps us develop in a spiritually evolving process we’re all involved in. Thus a lot of their activity involves going to a retirement home, or an individual residence to visit people. They usually work in cahoots together, planning visits, maybe thinking up something simple or nice to bring a person. They ask for nothing in return. They like what they do.

Now of course ours is not the only community with people on the Nice Patrol. This could be anywhere, at any time past or present.  The point is a progressive one, not only to go out and do nice things for other people, but to increasingly refine patterns of service, social contact, and community structure. It’s a philosophy and a way of living that we’re refining in our own communities around the world, based on local need and opportunity.

But I never expected, it never dawned on me, that I would be the recipient of a visit from the Nice Patrol. I had seen one of these two women at a neighborhood recent gathering. We talked some among the group about continuing activities here in SE Portland on a purely neighborhood level. It was great! And I praised her commitment. The next day the phone rang. It was her. She explained that she and her husband had just made a gigantic pot of white bean chili with sirloin. It was way more than they could eat and they had planned on giving some of it away. Would I like some? Could they swing by and drop some off?

Sure! Great, they could be there in half an hour. I met them in the drive way as they pulled in. Rain and cold wind prevailed but couldn’t stop the smiles of these two. They quickly opened the trunk of their car and gave to me a quart and a half of home-made chili, some tomato sauce and some canned tuna. They didn’t linger long as they had other stops to make, and so disappeared down the street as rapidly as they had come, off to their next drop.

I sat inside and ate chili, shared a bowl with one of my roommates. The spices and white bean were in perfect combination with each other, making my belly feel warm and my heart feel loved. I’d been hit by the Nice Patrol! I think it changed my life a little as I realized that these patterns of sharing and building community are very real. There’s no going back once you’ve been the target of a drive-by nicing. I’ve done things like that in the past, volunteer duty for a children’s hospital, volunteer duty for some small neighborhood outreach center.

The opportunities are there. You could form one up yourself, and become a member of- The Nice Patrol!

 

 

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2013 Bahá’í Youth Conferences-A World Tour! Pt 3

June 23, 2013

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Man, I am glad I’m just typing this. I began to imagine what it would take to visit every one of these locations. One would have to be a millionaire just to afford it. Thank God for computers. Anyway, we’re getting there. Here’s a bunch more locations and a few fun facts, so climb back on board for more exotic locations, starting in-

Istanbul, Turkey; the megalopolis if the Turks, it’s one of the largest cities in the world by population density. There will be two (2) Youth conferences here instead of one. Bahá’ís  have been in the country since the days of Baha’u’llah’s exiles in Constantinople and Adrianople. The Faith is actually still restricted in the country, although Turkey hovers on full entry to the European Union. Attendants to these two conferences will include people from Cyprus and several North African countries.

Jakarta, Indonesia; the most populous city in southeast Asia, the metro area clocks in with a whopping 28 million people. Although the county’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, religious minorities continue to suffer persecution and outright attack in various provinces.  So like in many countries, there is a struggle between the perceptions of maintaining the traditions of the past, while moving into a multi-cultural future. This is one of the focuses of all the conferences, the growing vision of unity in diversity on a planetary scale.

Johannesburg, South Africa; with a metro area of 4.5 million, it is the largest city in the world not situated on a river, lake or coastline. The Bahá’í community here is vibrant, active and growing. Several documentary films about the Faith have been made in the area in recent years. One was made at the request of the South African Broadcast Corporation. These have become popular television fare in South Africa and neighboring countries. Youth in the country started the “Beyond Words,” a service and arts project that began in 2000 and continues to grow in popularity. I wish I could see this conference.

Kadugannawa, Sri Lanka; a provincial town, population 1214. Kadugannawa is so small that the only people outside the area that even know about it are eco-tourists. So why is there a youth conference here? What’s that population again? Many small villages and towns inI the area have populations of  Bahá’ís, and like Bahá’ís in many other places, they have taken up socio-economic development projects suited to their local area. What happens? Communities start growing, and they get their own youth conference.

Kampala, Uganda; the nation’s capital and home to 1.6 million people. The country is a place of contrasts, like many countries that are still moving through polarizations. On one end of the scale is small village and town life, on the other the sophistications of the big city. Kampala hosts a Bahá’í House of Worship, or Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, (Dawning Place of the Rememberances of God.) This one is particularly special because it was literally blessed by the blood of martyrs. Young people have been particularly active in this community since its real inception in 1950. They are always busy with traveling performance groups, water and agricultural projects, and great levels of building spiritual education programs.

Kananga, Democratic Republic of Congo; a provincial capital, with a population of 464,000. The name of the city is derived from a word in Tshiluba word meaning ‘place of peace and love.” Tribal leaders used to gather in the area to discuss treaties, trade, and to settle disputes. Bahá’ís in the region have seen success and motivation from the 2008 conference in a neighboring state, having been attended by more than 1000 people. Many traveled for days to attend that conference, which was open to all ages. So the report from an email of a believer in Kananga states that enthusiasm for this conference among local youth is extremely high.

Karachi, Pakistan; 23.5 million people live there (that is, the population of the entire metro area.) It is known as the ‘city of lights’ and as the ‘bride of cities.’ Formerly a part of India, the country has been part of Bahá’í history since the beginning. One of 18 Letters of the Living was from the region. Bahá’ís have been granted nearly full rights in this predominantly Muslim country, although the government prohibits them from pilgrimage to Israel. Many distinguished Bahá’í families in the country have lineage back to the earliest pioneers sent by Baha’u’llah Himself, so this is quite a community.

Khujand, Tajikistan; population 165,000, it’s the second-largest city in the country. Historically, it dates back to 540 BC, the site being founded by Cyrus the Great. Bahá’ís struggle in the country. Like all former Soviet block countries, the Faith was outlawed during the time of the Soviets. Small pockets of believers began to appear after the Soviets left. Several members of the community have been murdered, presumably by religious fanatics. Despite such tragedies, this tiny community is having a youth conference.

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; with 9 million people in the metro area, it’s the capital of the country. Another city of contrasts, there are periodic reports of street children being shot by police, yet the city hosts the only all-black symphony orchestra in the world. Kinshasa has become famous for its music scene, including a Bahá’í choir that now performs internationally. Perhaps in part because of the strife that the country has suffered, the country now has the largest population of  Bahá’ís in Africa.

Kolkata, India, known outside the country as Calcutta; the capital of the state of West Bengal, a place where 4.5 million people live. Kolkata is widely known for its diversity and its strong arts community. The 2008 regional Bahá’í conference in the city had a large attendance, some Bahá’ís from Bangladesh risking much just to try getting across the border to attend. As part of service projects and socio-economic development, an orphanage in the city run by the All Bengal Women’s Union now has a close relationship with Bahá’ís, who have sponsored a number of “thrown away” girls so that they may attend school. This will be a big, lively conference.

Kuching, Malaysia; capital of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, population 618,000. There are numerous National Parks and wildlife areas surrounding the city. The Bahá’í community began in 1951. There are now over 100 Local Spiritual Assemblies in the state of Sarawak, and hundreds more tiny villages and locations with Bahá’ís. A website run by Bahá’ís in Kuching reports that the enthusiasm among youth for this conference is so high, it’s the only thing they ever talk about.

Lae, Papua New Guinea; capital of the Morobe Province and the country’s 2nd-largest city with a population of 79,000. The locals have nicknamed it ‘pothole city’ because the amount of rain the area receives makes maintenance of roads close to impossible. The town is a major seaport for the country. In 2009 the Regional Bahá’í conference drew 1500 participants. Some walked for nearly a week to reach the city. Some had to find transportation around an active volcano. Some were nearly stranded while onboard a ferry that suffered engine failure. Despite enormous difficulties, there was no holding back the community of this densely forested tropical place. So the anticipation that the youth of this country will participate in a huge way is correctly placed.

Lima, Peru; capital of the country, with a metro population of 8.6 million. The oldest institute of higher learning in the New World is located here. The buzz for this conference sounds much like the story you just read of the 2008 conference in Papua New Guinea. The 2008 Quito conference held in Ecuador hosted people from four countries, including Peru. Many people endured great hardships to attend this conference, having a relatively short time to gain passports and secure travel arrangements. By working together and helping each other the conference was an enormous success. Bahá’ís in Peru are famous for approaching and working with their government to develop inter-faith groups in many parts of the country. So again, the understanding is that the youth of this country are rapidly moving forward and are eagerly awaiting participation in this conference.

London, England; the capital (of course!) and a major population center for Europe, with a metro population of over 15 million. Though obviously the city is a major cultural and finance capital, the thing that catches my attention is the cultural diversity and the continuing evolution of language brought about by such a concentration of many cultures and peoples in one place. London has 32 boroughs, and in researching youth activities in the area I found that the level and diversity of their activities is so great, I’d have to write a small book just to introduce them. If the 2009 regional conference in London can give us any indication, it’s that there were 3200 people were in attendance.

Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo; a city and region in the SE corner of the country, home to 1.5 million people. Several blogs I read referred to the city as ‘vibrant.’ Small churches have appeared everywhere in the city, sprouting out from storefronts, garages and utility sheds. Perhaps it’s a sign of change in a country weary of strife and civil war. The Bahá’ís in the area have a small center that is much like other buildings in the city; small, one-storied and painted in bright colors. Many youth are expected to come from rural and remote areas to attend this conference.

Lucknow, India; capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh. 4.8 million people reside in the metro area. Known as the ‘Golden City of India,’ the architecture of the old city shows the tastes of Empirical dynasties of the past. The tastes of Bahá’ís in the area show in a different way, though they, too, are building. Eight small schools are run by Bahá’ís in villages near Lucknow. They’re frequently run on shoestring budgets and donations, they’re employing the young underemployed as teachers, they struggle almost every day with shortages of operating funds, and they provide education to many students that would have none otherwise. Read the full story here-    http://news.bahai.org/story/269              It’s a great example of socio-economic development, and very eye-opening if we think only in terms of schools and education here in the US.

Macau, Peoples Republic of China; one of China’s special zones, Macau is its own province, yet under the protection of PRC. The small peninsula, once a Portuguese colony, is now an area of international commerce. The Bahá’í school, School of Nations is located here and has been a progressive success since it first opened with 5 students in 1988. The school met with rapid success, continually moving to larger facilities. It is now an International Baccalaureate school, has won numerous awards for both academic and service oriented achievements and is quite well thought of by the local government. Many former students of the school will attend this conference, as well as many young people from the area who have become interested in the greater aspect of service the school has become famous for.

Madrid, Spain; the capital, located in the center of the country, with a population of 3.3 million. Though Madrid has certainly modernized, with a metro area of over 6.5 million, yet the center of the city maintains much of its historic look and architecture. To get an idea of the youth conference here, we can again look at what happened with Madrid’s 2009 regional conference. It was attended by 1400 people, more than twice what the original estimate of attendance had been. People came from the Canary Islands, Portugal, North Africa and the Pyrenees to attend the conference. So of course there are some high expectations for attendance at this conference.

Manila, Philippines; the capital, and second largest city in the country with a population of 1.7 million. A city with a history of many conquests by foreign interests, including the US, Manila is slowly pushing toward a post-industrialist conquest of its own. Many of its rivers are badly polluted, but there is now a growing interest in restoration and reclamation of natural resources. The country’s Bahá’í community, though comparatively small, is highly active. “Values Education” was initially developed by Bahá’ís in the country for use in secondary schools. It has since been adopted and applied by the government on a national level. So look for a lot of young people who have had the benefit of this program to be attending the conference here.

Matunda Soy, Kenya; actually part of the Lugari district in the western part of the country. I’m piecing together little bits of information, which was sparse. This is an agricultural district, located in the mountainous western part of the country. The link provided here will give you some general information. There are plans for a House of Worship to be built in the area. Perhaps because the area is so rural, I could find little information about Bahá’ís in Matunda Soy, but plans for a House of Worship indicate a growing, advancing community. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bah%C3%A1%27%C3%AD_Faith_in_Kenya

Moscow, Russia; the capital, the world’s northernmost megacity with a population around 11.5 million. Of course it’s a huge culture, industrial and business hub. There’s so much culture here, you should just go read a book if you want to know more. The regional conferences of 2009 stayed out of Moscow, probably because it was winter. Kiev was the nearest conference, and Mongolia on the far side of Siberia drew a ton of people even though it was -30 C (that’s really cold.) So a youth conference has been a long time coming. Many of the 1st-generation post-Soviet Bahá’ís came into the Faith in the early 1990’s, and were known as “real troopers” for joining such an obscure religion. So their second-generation kids, now in their teens, should make quite a crowd for this conference.

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