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Bahá'í Administration in the Field
As there are no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith, community business is handled by elective bodies on the local, national and international levels. Bahá'í elections are run without electioneering, nominations or campaigning. After prayerful, private consideration, voters simply choose from among all adult believers resident in their voting unit those whom they believe most qualified for the job. Voting is by secret ballot.
Bahá'ís know it is incumbent upon them "to consider without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience…" Bahá'í Administration, p. 88
Those of us in the United States and other industrialized countries think nothing of planning and arranging large gatherings for the purpose of local, regional and national consultation and elections. We have wonderful tools which we take for granted: newspapers, mail, radio, television, telephones, email.
My first experience of what Bahá'í elections are like outside the urban United States was in Honduras. My son and I were visiting with friends living in San Pedro Sula. They had been asked to organize a district convention for Travesia, a small community about 40 miles away. Delegates elected at these local conventions would in turn, elect the National Spiritual Assembly of Honduras the following spring.
Not a trivial task, I learned. There was no mail service there, and most of the Bahá'ís did not read English or Spanish, anyway. Some did not even speak either of these languages, being descendents of escaped Caribbean slaves. Further, there were no addresses, telephones or street maps. One asked passersby where so and so lived, and was directed down the road, or path, to someone who might know.
So, to arrange for this meeting, we went out two weeks in advance of the date and rented the cement floored dance hall attached to a cafe/bar on the beach. It had lattice walls and was completely bare of furniture, but it did have a functioning restroom, and a good roof to protect attendees from both tropical sun and rains.
Lunch had to be negotiated and paid for in advance, so that the cafe owner had time to arrange a ride the fifteen miles into Puerto Cortez for supplies, not to mention have the money to buy food for 100. Chickens wandered about under the tables in the beachside cafe as we discussed the menu, (fruit juice, thick soup and bread) and there was a pig pen complete with large pig right next to the bathroom wall.
If there was time left after those negotiations, we walked around from house to house looking for the Baha'is to invite them. This was repeated the following week, and again the morning of convention, because finding everyone on just one pass wasn't likely.
There were many Bahá'ís living in the area, but I should explain that Travesia is a loose collection of tiny, semi-isolated, buildings, mostly built up on stilts above marsh grass, shaded by palm trees, and stretching ten or fifteen miles along behind the dunes of empty tropical beaches. No electricity or running water, unless you count the tides.
When the tide is out, this looks like paradise. But many of these houses are islands twice a day when the tide comes in, and all day if rains flood the paths that meander through the low spots. And there are poisonous snakes and other less attractive reasons for not wading in the water!
On the day of convention, it will take most of the morning for everyone to arrive. This will be pretty much in time for lunch, which is served with music and all the latest news, especially of their Bahá'í family around the country and the world. Only then can the business of convention begin -- provided the kids haven't let the pig out so that all the adults must join the chase to return it.
There will usually be only a couple hours for voting and consultation before people must begin leaving for home, depending upon the tides, and because finding one's way in the dark is difficult. Besides which, the cafe/bar owner wants to be able to serve beer and crank up the music for his customers just after sunset. Part of the rental agreement is that he not have the bar open while the Bahá'ís are there.
For most of the Bahá'ís in Travesia, this convention is one of the very few times of the year when they can gather together in a group larger than a dozen people and really feel a part of their Baha'i family world wide. Like rural Baha'is across the planet, they relish the chance to share the news of their far-flung brethren and participate in building a better world.
Needless to say, for some years after this experience, I didn't complain about how much trouble it was to arrange for meetings in Southern California!
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