Filming the Opening of the Baha’i Temple in Colombia: An Interview with Laura and Kyle

The film team for the dedication of the Baha'i House of Worship in Norte del Cauca, Colombia. From left to right are Kyle Schmalenberg, Nabil Sami Silva, Laura Friedmann, Raul Cavalcanti Spinassé, and Naim Sadeghian.

Like all Baha’i Blog team members, Laura Friedmann and Kyle Schmalenberg wear many hats and serve their communities in a variety of capacities. Owing to their wealth of media experience, they were invited, along with a few others, to document the opening of the House of Worship in Norte del Cauca, Colombia. You may remember this short film about the preparations that were made, this video of the opening ceremony, or this aerial footage of the gorgeous Temple.

Kyle and Laura shared some of their experiences and impressions about working on this project and we thought you’d be as uplifted by the conversation as we were! 

Baha’i Blog: Why was participating in this project special to you personally?

Being able to participate in this project was extremely special for me. I was born and grew up in Colombia but had to leave because of difficult circumstances. I was searching spiritually when I lived there but I didn’t come across the Baha’i Faith until I was in Canada. And then I learned that not only is there a vibrant Baha’i community in Colombia but it’s where the Ruhi Institute comes from — its community has created educational materials that Baha’is all over the world hold so dear. 

Norte del Cauca, where the Temple is situated, is one of the areas that was greatly afflicted by the Colombian conflict since the 1960’s — a war whose violence was part of why I had to leave the country. I had only ever experienced the Faith in Canada so to be able to go back, without fear, and to see the beauty and what the community has to offer was both a gift and a confirmation. I felt immediately very close to the community. I felt like being there was something I missed without knowing it; it felt like being home. It was also special to me to be able to serve in the capacity of the work that I love doing. Whenever one is given the opportunity to use one’s talents and skills in a way that contributes to the Faith, it’s light upon light. You’ll serve however you can and in whatever way you can, but when you can do it with skills you’ve developed, it’s absolute magic.

For one, as a junior youth animator, going to the community where the institute process originated was tremendously humbling, but besides that, as a filmmaker I’m in awe and full of gratitude every time I have the opportunity to use my passion to serve the Faith. It was yet another time, on a quickly lengthening list, when the Faith and film connected coherently in my life.

Baha’i Blog: What was different about this project compared to other media projects related to the Faith that you have participated in?

As a filmmaker, I had never experienced being part of a whole community in action for a momentous event in the life of the region, as well as history of the Faith. I had never been part of something that was so fully engaged and supported by everyone in a community. Of course, our role was mainly just to document, but even when we needed to consult about edits of the film, or shots we should get, and other technical things like that, we had quick and total support from community members, Counselors, the National Spiritual Assembly, the Local Spiritual Assembly, and even former House members.

Baha’i Blog: What did the inauguration of the House of Worship illustrate for you about the direction the Faith is taking and the progress that’s been made?

In my mind, the dedication of this House of Worship consisted of three phases – at least this is how I saw things. The first phase consisted of everything that came before the dedication: whether it’s community building efforts that were made decades before by people who may not have known they were planting the seeds that would later bear fruits – one of them being this Temple – or the hard work and sacrifices that were made in the days before the inauguration. The community laboured to bring together its resources, it reached out to members of the wider society and as it prepared for this momentous occasion, new connections were made and networks of people emerged. Just like when a baby is born, everyone rallied together to offer support with complete dedication and devotion to ensure the needs of that special moment were met. There was a sense of joy, anticipation and excitement. The seeds of all the efforts to get to that moment germinated, were nourished, grew, and then blossomed.

This blossoming was the dedication of the House of Worship, what I saw as a second stage. It was a time of pure joy as the fruits of everyone’s efforts unfolded. Friends gathered from afar, journalists recorded this historic occasion and the whole Baha’i world rejoiced. The Temple is a gift to all, and its doors were opened.

What followed, in my mind, is the third stage where the community is readjusting to its new reality that there’s a Temple. Once these flowers have bloomed, it’s time to nurture and maintain them.

What the inauguration of the House of Worship illustrated to me about the direction of the Faith was that we are only just beginning, but the ball is rolling fast. As is always the case when something starts, it starts slowly, gains momentum and then strides linking major events become closer and closer.

Baha’i Blog: What was unique about the people you met there?

The people I met were full of life. Their faces were luminous and honestly, there was no change in their attitudes of joy, humility, gratitude, and service from the day before the inauguration when everyone was digging in the dirt, to the day itself when everyone was dressed in their best clothes. I felt that they must have been proud to be blessed with a House of Worship but rather than displaying it, they remained humble and dignified — incredibly joyfully dignified.

I was inspired by the coherence I sensed in people’s lives. Service and worship seemed to come together in a very coherent way. I couldn’t help but think that the many decades of working towards unity, promoting love, fostering justice and equity allowed for this approach in life. It’s not that the people in Norte del Cauca are not tested but it seemed that through their experiences they had gained wisdom which probably helped in finding this coherence, and that was very unique to me. I also sensed a lot of humility and an all-embracing collective will. When it came to the needs of the Temple, everyone contributed. In the two weeks leading up to dedication, there was still work to be done. It was beautiful to see how children, community members, volunteers, people serving on institutions, no matter what role they had — all were willing to dig a hole and plant a tree.

Baha’i Blog: What else really stood out to you?

The Native Forest, an extension of the Temple, lies on 11 acres of land and its significance is also really memorable to me. This area of Norte del Cauca is one of the most fertile in the country and traditional farms which were once incredibly diverse were completely changed when sugar plantations razed the land and monoculture farming began. A lot of the local flora and fauna disappeared. This project aims to restore and protect these regional ecological treasures. In the process of building the Temple sugar cane was cleared away, and the land started to return to its native state. People have been bringing seeds to plant trees and there are now birds and animals around that people haven’t seen in decades. It’s a powerful example to me of how the Temple is inspiring the people in the area to connect with the sacred and reach for greater heights of service to their communities.

Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Kyle and Laura! We loved hearing all about the opening of the House of Worship in Norte del Cauca from your unique perspective and experience!

Read more about the Baha’i Temple in Norte del Cauca, Colombia by checking out this Baha’i Blog round-up of resources dedicated to it: The Baha’i Temple in Norte del Cauca, Colombia: A Roundup of Resources

And learn more about Baha’i Temples in general from this article: Baha’i Temples: A Brief Introduction

About the Author

Sonjel Vreeland

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a mother, a wife and a bookworm but professionally she is a museologist and a library technician. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.

Share This Post With the World

Discussion 2 Comments

  1. I liked especially Laura’s comment about the rethinking of agriculture and bringing back bio-diversity being initiated by the construction of the House of Worship.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *