A letter from Burkhard Paetzold in Germany
As I'm writing this, I am in a hotel room. My suitcase lies open beside me. In it are my favorite shirts and running shoes. My computer is playing my favorite songs. Right now I'm listening to Joan Baez singing "Kinder" (children), a song that was originally written by an East German singer Bettina Wegner. And before this I was listening to "Gracias a la Vida" by the wonderful Mercedes Sosa from Argentina …
But, as I enjoy listening, the fighting goes on in Aleppo, which was once the most beautiful city in Syria and probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I am praying continually for my Syrian and Armenian Christian friends, who, I know, do not believe that violence will solve any of their problems. Just now, as I begin to type out this letter, I am praying for all those in Syria who are dying and who are hurting in body and soul. Lord, have mercy on them! Lord, help us overcome violence and show us where our lifestyle is creating violence in our world!
This late summer and early fall has been a busy travel season for me.
In August I was in Hungary and Ukraine. I visited Roma ministries in Carpath Ukraine, including Nadia Ayoub's preschool groups, about which I told you in earlier letters. More and more preschool-age children are coming to her preschool with the result that there are now too many children to keep meeting in the modest homes of some of the parents. Nadia is trying to find a place downtown, a good place, that can be turned into a "real" kindergarten, where the kids can be proud of their surroundings and where they can learn without the distractions that they face at home. But finding a place is not easy because many people in town don't want Roma children as neighbors.
The basket project of Presbyterian Women is ready to become a locally sustainable project. The project needs only a local coach and local marketing. Kathy Angi and I are searching for both. I hope I can soon report that we have found what is needed.
Together with friends from the RCA (Reformed Church in America) and officials of the Reformed Church in Hungary, we discussed the possible re-engagement of American young adult volunteers in Roma placements. Now that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is focusing again on Young Adult Volunteer work, I hope that this part of the world will be re-prioritized.
Now I'm traveling in the U.S.A. for a month, visiting congregations and attending conferences, network meetings, lectures and training sessions.
Coming from Europe, it's always a culture shock to see the gap between rich and poor in U.S. society. It’s astonishing to see so much money spent on large cars and on the current election campaign and then, a minute later, to hear from Presbyterian friends about the growing need for soup kitchens and food pantries. Perhaps the churches in Europe and in the U.S.A. should attempt to speak with one voice and spark a public discussion on poverty in the midst of affluence.
Right now I'm at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary attending lectures by Prof. Anne-Marie Kool from Hungary about the role of the European churches in work with Roma. Anne-Marie has a lot of academic expertise in this area. Given the relative ignorance among Europeans about Roma, I am not surprised that this topic is not very much known among the participants here.
Anne-Marie is asking what specific role Christians and churches might have in helping the broader society to overcome its racism against Roma. She points out that there is still substantial prejudice against Roma in the churches themselves.
Anne-Marie thinks that eliminating prejudice needs to be part of a holistic ministry (human development, anti-racism and Christian education) as well as of a genuine Christian transformation process.
Hearing her lecture, I remember that some of my Roma friends have told me that they experienced a kind of liberation when they learned that the bad image that non-Roma have of them is not objectively true. (Many Roma still have an internalized slave mentality left over, in many cases, from the days when their ancestors were slaves.) These Roma say they were given a new perspective on the value of their lives when they learned that, in his death and resurrection, Christ has overcome all the false ideologies and prejudices of the world.
At this point, more than anything else we need a change in attitude on the part of non-Roma Christians. So far there is very little awareness on the part of non-Roma Christians of what Christians and churches have done over the centuries to hurt the Roma. A colleague of mine, Carolyn Otterness (RCA), is considering writing a book about the burden of prejudice with which Roma must live.
Before my visit to Pittsburgh I attended a new start of the Czech Mission Network in Annapolis, Maryland. The Czech Mission Network is one of the oldest mission networks of PC(USA). Besides mission-minded PC(USA) congregation members, mission co-workers like Karen Moritz, and mission staff, seven people from the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren participated, making many important contributions.
In many churches in Europe, like the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, there is a hunger for sharing faith and perspectives with Christians from other countries.
It is with great joy that I visit old and new supporting congregations to talk about my work in Europe. I thank each of them for their sensitivity and passion and love for the “least of these.”
Grace and peace to you all,
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 275