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A letter from Burkhard Paetzold in Germany

December 2013

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 19-21).

Dear friends,

Kids in the Roma school in Szernye

The peace of Christ be with you all in this Advent and Christmas season and in the year to come.

Let me first and foremost thank you for all your prayers and support in 2013. It’s your faithfulness and hope that gave me encouragement. Many donated generously to my ministry. Now is the time for me to thank you very much.

When I came to visit the Swiss Reformed Aid organization HEKS recently (to talk about further collaboration) I noticed a poster at the train station saying, “Give to your father-in-law a goat (and give the gift of help to small farmers in Bangladesh).” HEKS has a catalog of gifts from chickens to outhouses, from heating material to land ownership, that help those in need.

Nadia in the back yard of the Roma kindergarten under construction

This opened my eyes: what has actually happened to our habit of giving Christmas gifts.  I don't know how it is in your family—in Germany most people are hunting for Christmas gifts.  Advent lost its innocence—preparation for Christmas once meant spiritual formation—it now means shopping.

Do we still celebrate His birth in a manger as a symbol of poverty and powerlessness?  Where do we find Him in his manger today? Where do we stand in solidarity with the poor and powerless?  There are nations or social groups that win and—be it caused by the winners or not—nations and social groups that lose.

We as international mission co-workers are blessed to meet people far from most of your homes, often in nations that seem to be on the losing end. And we are blessed to meet people with a different ethnic or cultural background.  What can such people teach us? What can the difference between them and us teach us? Or in my experience what can the situation of the Roma teach us?

“give to your father in law a goat (and give the gift of help to small farmers in Bangladesh)”. HEKS Poster in Zurich/Switzerland

When I travelled in PC(USA) churches I found that many people liked the “Mission to the USA” program. Do I recognize a growing feeling that “it’s not what they have to learn from us, but what we have to learn from them”? We look at societies in transition—do we realize that we are a society in transition ourselves?

We all seek a balance: To live a good life instead of having a lot.  It seems there is a natural limit to our greed beyond which wellbeing is diminishing.  What Christ tells us is to look for “the gift of time and care for our neighbor” instead of “more and more goods for ourselves” and in our “global village” there is a “global neighborhood” as well.

My fall season was filled with travel: I visited Liz Searles, Presbyterian mission co-worker, and her husband, Doug, in Tulcea/Romania. They showed me how hard it is for the Romanian society to change the old system that does not value and support children at risk. European Union regulations ask that the large orphanage institutions be stopped and there be foster parents and small group homes instead. If that cannot be achieved it seems to be easier for the authorities (but extremely risky!) to send these kids back to their family members. Liz and Doug together with committed local NOROC staff and supported by NOROC Texas advocate for the kids and give them a shelter and a room for sharing.

NOROC meets Tulcea Roma NGO

Later I stopped in Budapest, Hungary, and met mission co-worker Nadia Ayoub, who just returned from her Interpretation Assignment time in the U.S., and together we drove back to her ministry site, Carpath-Ukraine.  She is asking for prayers for her Roma kindergarten building reconstruction to be finished before the winter, so they can start teaching the kids. She was sad that one of her teachers left for a job with a state school, but she is blessed with another committed teacher and a young German volunteer.

In my spring letter I mentioned a conference in Smolensk/Russia and a presentation of Eamon Anderson that compared the causes, effects and healing efforts for traumatized children among Native Americans in Montana and children at risk in Russia. Together with mission co-workers Ellen Smith and Liz Searles and local partners we are starting to prepare another series of such conferences in different countries in Eastern Europe. We need your prayers for this.

Liz with her friends in a Tulcea orphanage

Karen Moritz, our mission co-worker in Prague, whom I visited next, supports the ECCB in the Czech Republic with their ecumenical activities. Prague is a center of Reformation history, and our partner church works hard to contextualize the vision of the Reformation for us today.  In a recent article of the ECCB website, Pavel Čáp writes about the great books on the Czech and Moravian emigrants and says, “… the experience of the harsh persecution of some Christians has reinforced in others the essential concept of tolerance, which, fortunately, our atheistic society also mimics” (http://www.e-cirkev.cz/en/clanek/3617-About-the-Association-Exulant/index.htm).

I met mission co-workers Jay and Nancy Adams in Kandern/Southern Germany at the Black Forrest Academy (BFA). Jay has organized a Habitat for Humanity project to help a Roma family in a village near Oradea/Romania. For this project he managed to open the BFA to the German community and together with a partnering German high school they were able to develop a fund-raising campaign of a size that probably has never happened before and a cooperation between the two schools in this Habitat for Humanity project.

Once again, thank you for supporting our different ministries in Europe. When you think of Christmas gifts—we don’t have a goat for you to purchase—but you may consider supporting our mission workers who work hard, side by side with our European partners, to mutually share, learn and cooperate.

Grace and peace,
Burkhard

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 283
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  • Greetings - I am co-chair of the Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. I heard of you through Karolina Kosa and Elizabeth Little. With our sister church, the Great Church in Debrecen, we are working with the Roma in Debrecen and Szurte, Ukraine. I would like to hear from you. Peace and Grace, Carol Spain by Carol Hegedus Spain on 12/19/2013 at 12:23 p.m.

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