A letter from Ryan and Alethia White in Germany
We are a family of immigrants. We left our home and our families and our friends and find ourselves in a new country with new rules, new languages, and new expectations that are sometimes tricky to navigate. Happily, after months of temporary housing and living out of suitcases, we were able to find a permanent apartment in a neighborhood we enjoy. This was fortunate as we learned housing is quite scarce in Berlin, especially for the growing number emigrating to the country.
Our brains have been overloaded with new names, new customs, new languages, and new sights, but each day we become more comfortable in our new context. We have experienced extreme frustration and claustrophobia as we spent a couple months living in close quarters sometimes without Internet (oh, the things we come to expect) and with a toddler who demands space to move and quiet to sleep. While this transition has been difficult at times, we recognize that it was much shorter than what many of our new acquaintances in the church experience as they wait, hoping for their immigration situation to be positively resolved.
Life in Berlin demands that we approach each day ready to learn. We have lots to absorb and when we’re comfortable with the current list, there will be more that follows. We study German and Farsi and go to classes most days of the week, we participate in church services and gatherings with the Iranian Presbyterian Church community and are slowly getting to know them better, we learn from those who are experienced in working with refugee issues in Berlin, we learn which parks and play spaces Ariella prefers, and we learn that when the sun is shining we should make all efforts to join the rest of the city outside.
For the most part we enjoy our life as immigrants and see the required learning as a privilege rather than another hurdle. In our short time at the Iranian Presbyterian Church we have heard plenty of stories about navigating the immigration process here.
Recently a man and his family had a stressful court hearing regarding his visa extension because he had been too fearful to use his true name on earlier documents after leaving Iran. The German authorities were suspicious about his name changes, but after much support from Aziz [Sadaghiani] and Sadegh [Sepehri], the social worker and pastor at the church, he was granted permission to stay, to the relief of his family. When he shared the news at church the following Sunday the atmosphere was celebratory.
We were also able to celebratewith a family whose son had been kicked out of school in Iran because the administration discovered he is a Christian. His family arrived in Berlin and it was difficult for him to find a school here as he is still learning German. Thankfully, he was accepted to a school and the thrill he and his parents felt was apparent.
The Iranian new year, Nowruz, occurred on March 20 and we celebrated throughout the week with the church community and also with the larger Iranian community in Berlin. One evening a few days before Nowruz we joined a large, celebratory group of Iranians from all over the city for a pre–new year festival, Chaharshanbe Suri, or Wednesday Light. As darkness fell, a row of small bonfires were lit and people took turns jumping over each one to symbolize leaving behind the less desirable aspects of the past year and welcoming the new year with hope. Ariella especially enjoyed the traditional music, sweets, and mingling after the fires were extinguished. A few days later we gathered with the church community for a special dinner and service to welcome the new year together.
During this season of Lent and Easter, we remember that Jesus was also a sort of immigrant/refugee on earth. He was both of this world and of the Kingdom and navigated differences in culture, language, rules, and social norms. As immigrants it is easy to find yourself excluded from many aspects of daily life, but we remember that Jesus included those the world excludes. In a large city filled with people from all backgrounds and cultures, this is a reminder to not simply look through people, but to acknowledge them and their experiences.
Thank you for all of your support during our transition to Berlin. It has been quite a journey and we could not have been sustained in the process on our own. Your emails, thoughts, prayers, and offers to make connections on our behalf have given us strength and hope.
We welcome your prayers for continued language learning in both Farsi and German—our brains are more than full trying to use two new languages, sometimes in the same conversation! We are also trying to figure out the educational/child care system here so that Ariella can join a kindergarten later this year. Please also pray as we slowly build a community and new relationships and as we miss friends and family in the States. Let us know how we can be praying for you!
We pray that you will continue to join us in this ongoing journey as we encounter stories from those who need prayer and resolution and stories for which we give thanks and celebrate. We hope you will continue to learn with us and to join us in prayer for the Iranian Presbyterian Church community. You can also continue to support us financially and through communication as we all participate in this missional work together.
Ryan, Alethia, and Ariella
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 312
Read more about Ryan and Alethia White's ministry
Hi, Peter Brubacher sent me your article. My name is Fariborz Khandani. I am an Iranian pastor working in Toronto. Your dad should remember me from his OBC years; after all how many Iranian students he might have had in a Bible College. Anyhow, if you need help with your work among the Iranians let me know I may be able to help. Blessings, Fariborz
So great to hear from you all! What a marvelous and challenging mission opportunity you have. Cheri, Anjali and my prayers go with you all. Let's keep in touch!
Happy Easter Season! It is great to hear from you all, and we are praying that God will continue to work through you! Thank goodness the Holy Spirit has no problem with language barriers, and I pray that you all will come to see even more fully how the Spirit is touching their hearts through you and vice versa! Glad you all found an apartment! May God grant you patience, good cheer, courage, and love as you seek to minister to the people there and make your home there among them! Much love and peace in Christ Jesus!