A letter from Burkhard Paetzold in Germany
Leviticus 19:34: The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
Thank you very much for all your prayers and support. Besides all your support for my own ministry.
In September I was particularly grateful for the Presbyterian support for a recent conference for Christian Iranians in Berlin. I felt welcomed when I visited the conference and still remember how fast we entered into a lively conversation during a tea break, where I finally got taught some phrases in Farsi. Later I expressed my "welcome to Berlin" in a brief speech to the Iranian participants who had come not only from different German cities and towns but also from North America.
Most Iranians I talked to were praising the natural beauty and cultural richness of their homeland and are praying for peace and reconciliation in Iran and in the Middle East. Can we trust the recent signs of hope? Isn't it our task as Christians to witness to Christ's peace and serve as peacemakers in cultures of violence? To advocate for the oppressed and persecuted and to give shelter to the refugees?
Right now refugees in several German cities, including Berlin, are protesting against harsh conditions for asylum seekers at the same time when numbers of incoming war refugees are increasing.
Generally asylum seekers in Germany are not allowed to work. They live in refugee camps (former barracks or apartment buildings at the edge of towns). The average time to wait for recognition is now increasing to almost eight months.
An estimation says that 100,000 asylum seekers in Germany are expected for all of 2013. This is almost double the number in 2012 but still only one-fifth that of 1995. Most refugees in 2013 came from the Russian Federation, Syria, Serbia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It's a different story that besides asylum seekers there are also migrants from the EU countries Romania and Bulgaria, among them many Roma. They come to Germany and other neighboring countries to try to improve their living conditions. There will be complete freedom of movement when both countries enter the so-called Schengen Zone in 2014.
A recent news report of Spiegel online says around 8,000 Romanians and 14,000 Bulgarians are currently living in the city of Berlin, of which some 1,800 and 3,000 respectively came last year alone. "Most have apartments," the report says, "but many end up living in cars, camping in parks or finding alternative accommodation—with relatives or friends, or in emergency shelters. There are believed to be dozens of families in cellars and attics."
Tabloids are talking about "alarming" numbers and in some German towns right wing parties take their chance to manipulate public opinion and talk about überfremdung (literally: "over-foreignization," meaning an excess of immigration). These voices stir bad feelings and protests in front of asylum seeker camps, which triggers solidarity with the asylum seekers in the German civil society, including churches.
Solidarity has become the theme of the Ecumenical Peace Decade 2013.
For war refugees from Syria the German government has special conditions now. Different from other asylum seekers, for instance, they are allowed to work. But it’s only a very small contingent of 5,000 for all of Germany compared with the total of almost 2 million living in neighboring countries of Lebanon and Turkey.
PC(USA) World Mission co-workers Aziz Sadaghiani and Sadegh Sepehri realize that it takes a lot of empathy and cultural sensitivity to accompany the often traumatized refugees. The special advantage of these two mission workers is that they know the culture and language of the refugees and that their offered support addresses different needs in a holistic ministry.
The Iranian Presbyterian Church they founded several years ago is hosted by the Reformed Bethlehem Church in Berlin Rixdorf, whose great-great-grandparents themselves had come 200+ years ago as Bohemian refugees from the Czech lands.
Rev. Krebs of the Bethlehem Church has recently invited refugee workers of other Berlin churches for a sharing meeting, and we decided that we will continue to cooperate more closely.
I'm grateful for the PC(USA) decision to invite and support new mission workers Alethia and Ryan White.
- Please pray for Alethia and Ryan, for Aziz, Sadegh and their families, and pray for the many advocates, social workers, community workers and spiritual leaders
- Please pray for peacemakers in cultures of violence, including our own
- Please pray that Western governments work to re-establish peace and to reduce the conditions that force people to leave their homelands
- Please pray for those who have to leave their homelands, for those who welcome them, and for those who do not welcome them.
Once again thank you for your prayers, for encouraging communication, and for financial contributions for World Mission and my ministry support in particular. Let me ask those who are new readers and may not have joined yet in supporting World Mission to consider joining us. Your prayers and financial gifts are much needed and very much appreciated.
“All people are foreigners—almost everywhere” (Graffiti sprayed on the Berlin Wall).
Blessings to you as you pray to become a peacemaker yourself.
P.S. A few days after I wrote this letter a boat carrying migrants from Libya to Italy sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa. It was reported that the boat had sailed from Misrata, Libya, but that many of the migrants were originally from Eritrea, Somalia and Ghana. The final reported death toll was 309.
Pope Francis stated: "Pray God for the victims of the shipwreck off Lampedusa." Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs in the European Union, said: "Let's make sure that what happened in Lampedusa will be a wakeup call to increase solidarity and mutual support and to prevent similar tragedies in the future."
This event caused a debate about refugee policy all over Europe. There are estimations that since 1992 more than 10,000 of such boat people have drowned in similar smaller or bigger accidents in the Mediterranean.
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 283
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 312
Read more about Burkhard Paetzold's ministry