Bahá'í Faith in Chad
Though the Bahá'í Faith in Chad began after its independence in 1960 members of the religion were present in associated territories since 1953. The Bahá'ís of Chad elected their first National Spiritual Assembly in 1971. Through succeeding decades Bahá'ís have been active in a number of ways and by some counts have become the third largest international religion in Chad with over 80,300 members by 2000 and 96,800 in 2005.
Before independence the region of Chad was part of the French Equatorial Africa (as well as modern day Congo, Central Africa, and Gabon.) The first pioneers in the region were Max Kinyerezi who settled in what was then French Equatorial Africa (specifically in the area later part of Republic of the Congo), and Samson Mungono in the Belgian Congo (some other parts of which later became part of Chad); both arrived in 1953 from expansion of the Bahá'í Faith in Uganda in the same trip that delivered Enoch Olinga to British Cameroon. The Bahá'ís organized these and neighboring areas into the regional National Spiritual Assembly of central and eastern Africa in 1956 - including Uganda, Tanganyika, Kenya, Belgian Congo, Ruanda-Urundi, French Equatorial Africa, Zanzibar, Comoro Is, Seychelles and Chagos Archipelago. However once Chad was politically independent none of the territory specific to Chad had a Baha'i in it until 1961. The first Bahá'í in Chad was Cleophas K. Vava in what was then called Fort Lamy, the capital. About November 1962 the national spiritual assembly of Central and West Africa was claiming over 14,000 people almost all of whom were not in Chad. The situation changed little when the regional assembly associations were changed in 1963 to align Chad with Uganda and other central African countries. Early pioneers were Dempsey and Adrienne Morgan arrived in December 1967. The first native Chadian Bahá'í, Ernest Nbouba, converted early in 1968. By Ridván 1968 there were 7 Chadian Bahá'ís and two pioneers so a local assembly was elected. By 1969 the community had jumped to almost 1200 Bahá'ís and thirteen assemblies among 63 localities Bahá'ís were to be found in. There are anecdotes of a student returning home from Cameroon where he had heard of the religion and converted in Chad at the beginning of summer 1970. When he moved to Bongor in October to continue his studies he successfully spread his new religion among his fellow students and the growth extended into the city to become an area of six assemblies and over 125 Bahá'ís by April 1971.
Following the death of Shoghi Effendi, the elected Universal House of Justice was head of the religion and began to re-organized the Bahá'í communities of Africa by splitting off regional national communities to form their own National Assemblies from 1967 though the 1990s. The Bahá'í community was much stimulated by the arrival of the first Hand of the Cause to visit Chad, Rúhíyyih Khanum who had been crossing Africa from east to west visiting many country's communities including Chad. She arrived by way of Bangui in February 1970, on the tenth anniversary of Chad's independence, to Fort Lamy and visited there and in the villages of Gassi and Djari. During the two weeks visit she met with mostly individuals and institutions of the religion. In Gassi she helped dedicate the Bahá'í center being built. From Chad Khanum traveled into Cameroon. Two developments following her trip were the participation of Chad Bahá'ís in the first regional national convention of central Africa held in Bangui (Uganda splitting off its own national assembly in 1970) and second, the Bahá'ís of Chad attempted to be registered with the federal government but it turned out the government had no procedure to register a new religion organizing in the country. Chad delegates to the regional convention arrived in time for pre-convention classes and saw Hand of the Cause Abu'l-Qásim Faizi who represented the Universal House of Justice. Consultation at the convention noted the fast growth of the religion in Chad and Faizi appointed Adrienne Morgan as an Auxiliary Board Member. Back in Chad and the pursuit of official recognition from the government, Dr. Aziz Navidi, a lawyer and pioneer, representing the Universal House of Justice, assisted by sharing information about the world wide character of the religion to the authorities while appeals were processed by the community and government which was finally brought to the attention of then President, François Tombalbaye. Following this success in February the community gather in convention for the election of its first National Spiritual Assembly in April 1971 which was attended by Enoch Olinga who was himself then appointed as a Hand of the Cause. The convention was held in Gassi outside of Fort Lamy in part because a village chief had joined the religion and provided a large meeting space for the convention. An anecdote told by Olinga at the convention captured the need for the fast-growing community's need to study their new religion and understand it personally. He compared the need for daily prayer with the need for daily food. We don't wait for someone else to eat for us, nor should be wait for someone else to pray for us. The community of the religion in Fort Lamy was then counted at over one thousand while the community across Chad was characterized as being ninety-six local spiritual assemblies among the 300 localities with Bahá'ís who had swollen to more than 8000. The second national convention held two days of classes for the delegates to understand the process and purpose of convention, of the national assembly, and their role as delegates and those of officers of the convention (which they too elect.) The Bahá'ís of Gassi had already formed a children's Bahá'í school while land for nine Bahá'í centers was donated at the convention and the consultation of the delegates focused on the need to French-speaking pioneers who understood the religion especially in outlying areas. In December 1971 bus loads and cars of youth came from Chad and the Central African Republic to Cameroon who hosted the first regional African youth conference.
In 1972 (and again in 1974) the Bahá'ís of Chad celebrated the first United Nations Day of Chad. The public meeting held at the national Bahá'í center with the cooperation of United Nations Development Program Resident Representative featured an assistant of the UN Representative who spoke and offered literature while a Bahá'í spoke of the Bahá'í teachings - the event was covered by print and radio media in Chad and 50 people attended the meeting. The third national convention was held in Sarh in southern Chad where the mayor had donate use of the city's municipal center. In 1974 prayers were published translated into Massa, Ngambay and Kanuri languages. In October 1976 the Bahá'ís held a national conference on the progress of the religion as part of a wave of such conferences across the world. Following the conference waves of traveling Bahá'ís, some from Iran, brought the religion to villages as well as offering institutes to promote understanding of the religion and classes for children. In January 1977 the Bahá'ís in Sahr held a conference for women at which only 12 of the 40 participants were Bahá'ís following which a wave of conversions included half women. Other conferences continued through summer 1977. The community of Chad avoided being banned as part of a sweep across several Sub-Saharan countries. Chad was one of the countries Bahá'í organized a series of events in honor of the International Year of the Child, 1979. A Bahá'í consultant traveled western Africa including Chad assisting communities in their efforts. Though the consultant took ill in Chad, the program developed was the most successful in the region. A children's committee organized institutes for 125 villages and themselves conducted the meetings and produced a set of lesson plans in both French and English that was distributed to other West African communities. In 1981 the national convention was held in Moïssala In 1982 sixty of the local assemblies of Chad were designated as leaders in their regions to help nearby communities organize their religious meetings while at the same time a regional permanent institute was finished in Manda. In 1983 crowd surpassing the seats allotted turns out for a film describing Bahá'í pilgrimage in Moïssala.
Activities of a growing community
Since its inception the religion has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women, promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern, and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural coops, and clinics. The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Bahá'ís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Bahá'í teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. World-wide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Bahá'í socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482. There is evidence of activities of the Bahá'í community through from the '80s through 2008 and some by invitation with third parties. Bahá'í youth have mobilized for a number of purposes over the years. Bahá'ís have also been cooperative agents with various agencies and the Bahá'ís started a non-governmental organization devoted to solving local ecological and developmental challenges. See details below. The overall process of advancing development projects gained the a diploma of Participation from the Trade Chamber at the fourth International Fair of Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa (later renamed the Economic Community of Central African States).
- Since the United Nations established the International Youth Year (IYY) in 1979 and in successive years plans have evolved for promoting the constructive action of youth. In 1985 Bahá'í youth in Chad mobilized to alleviate the suffering of thousands afflicted by famine by visiting the sick and elderly, preparing food and collected and distributed clothing. A regional youth conference was organized in Sarh with attendance of 200 youth from surrounding localities and planted three hectares of trees in Makiling in support of IYY. To encourage all youth clubs in Chad and their sponsoring local assemblies to undertake activities for IYY, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Chad printed and distributed in large quantities of the official Youth Year emblem for all local communities. And Bahá´ís have continued to host United Nations Day as well as adding World Religion Day observances.
- In conjunction with the Chadian Ministry of Education, the Bahá'í community sponsored a program with a guest speaker for the International Literacy Year (see International Literacy Day) which was televised on 24 October 1989. After that the Bahá'í Faith was mentioned on local television in Mongo in 1996.
- Begun in Bongor and then moved to Sarh, the APRODEPIT, an acronym for Action pour la Promotion des Ressources des Organisations de Défense de l'Environnement et de la Pisciculture integrée au Tchad (Action for the Promotion of Resources for Organizations Defending the Environment and Integrated Pisciculture in Chad) is a Bahá'í-inspired non-governmental organization, stressing participation and consultation in an effort to promote conservation and community development along the Chari River since 1992.
- The US Embassy in Chad reported in 2008 that it had hosted an iftar dinner inviting representatives of the Muslim, Christian, and Bahá'í communities.
Long term pioneers are in Chad - some of many years stay and others of a short stay. There are Ruhi Institute Study Circles. There are weekly prayer meetings in French held on Saturday afternoons at the Bahá'í Center in N’Djamena. The religion continues to grow through the 1980s establishing schools, libraries, a pharmacy and exhibits on Bahá'í marriage in the name of the religion. Sometimes more people came than could take classes while some of these institutions became self-sustaining.
The World Christian Encyclopedia estimates the Bahá'í population in 2000 to be over 80300, 96845 in 2005 and is the third largest internationally organized religion after Islam and Christianity in the country.
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