In Vietnam, a milestone for Baha'is

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam - The Bahá'ís of Vietnam have reached a historic milestone with the election - for the first time in many years - of a national Bahá'í administrative body.

In Vietnam, the Bahá'í national convention and election held 20-21 March 2008 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 Bahá'í Faith, who traveled from the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, to Ho Chi Minh City for the occasion.

Preparations for the convention, including drafting the charter for the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í Center in Ho Chi Minh City on the first day of the convention, followed the next day by a consultative session in a large 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, which was highlighted by the adoption by the Bahá'ís of the new charter.

Documents now will be submitted to the government for the next stage in the official recognition of the Bahá'í Faith in Vietnam.

The Bahá'í Faith was established in Vietnam in 1954. In 1957, Bahá'ís 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 Bahá'ís of Vietnam was formed. The Bahá'í Faith is established in virtually every country of the world, and in most nations the Bahá'ís each year elect a National Spiritual Assembly of nine individuals to administer their affairs and guide the community.

A number of people attending the activities had joined the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'ís 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 Bahá'ís, and to see so many young couples with their own children - the third generation of Bahá'ís - at the convention."

Mrs. Lincoln expressed appreciation for government gestures toward the Bahá'ís. "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 Bahá'í youth and "how present in the organization of the convention they were - saying the prayers, singing passages from the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith.

Nguyen Thanh Xuan, vice chairman of the Government Committee on Religion, accepted the gift, and also gave the Bahá'ís 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 Bahá'ís of Vietnam was read.

"The Bahá'í 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 Bahá'ís and friends from around the country joined in a new year's celebration - one of the largest gatherings of Vietnamese Bahá'ís in three decades.

Special guests for the convention and the new year's celebration, included representatives of the Bahá'í communities of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, and Thailand, and Mr. Jaya Gopan Ramasamy of Malaysia, representing the Bahá'í Continental Board of Counsellors in Asia.

- Bahá'í World News Service