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The Bright Orange Life Vest

A Letter from Ryan and Alethia White, serving in the Iranian Presbyterian Church in Berlin

October 2020

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Dear friends,

As the year is moving into the last quarter, you might join me in feeling a bit exhausted. The pandemic aside, there is plenty in the world to pay attention to. But in choosing to give an issue our attention, we also give it our energy, and this can be draining. For many of us, including those U.S. citizens living outside of the borders, the fact that the November election is looming is simply the next stage in what has become an election marathon with all the preparation and stumbling blocks that lead up to the actual event. We are holding the U.S. in our prayers as we watch the upheaval in other European countries following their own contested elections. It is also important to remind ourselves that the U.S. election doesn’t just affect the direction of the country itself, but also has a profound effect on other societies around the world. We are not the only ones watching and waiting to see what happens. This is a reminder that we are a collective, rather than simply individuals. While some may vote on their personal beliefs (and of course, this plays a role), let’s try to think beyond ourselves to the effect our election will have on our global siblings. Like a stone heaved into the water, the resulting ripples have a far greater reach.

Another issue that has captured our hearts is the recent fire in the Moria camp in Lesvos, Greece. We visited this camp last October with others from PC(USA), and we have carried the faces we saw with us ever since. When we were there, looking across the water to Turkey on the other shore, we received messages that a family was waiting to cross. This was the family of one of the church members here in Berlin. The crossing was ultimately unsuccessful, and they were turned back but intended to try again. Hearing this story from someone we know as we stood on the Greek border looking across the waters that so many have tried to cross was profound. It tied together people and places and made it impossible for us to remove ourselves from the equation, the equation of our fellow human beings. Let us imagine that we are in one of those boats. Let us dare to think for some time about what it would mean to reach a place we wanted to reach, only to be rejected.

And then the camp burned in September. Now Germany is debating, along with the European Union, what the policy should be in the short term concerning the 13,000 people who were suddenly homeless and hopeless on Lesvos. They are also grappling with the long-term implications. What should the European approach to migration be? Germany cannot carry the responsibility alone. In Berlin, there are signs everywhere that advocate for evacuating the camp and bringing the refugees to Germany. In our neighborhood, there is a bright orange life jacket hanging silently from a second-floor balcony, like a beacon or a condemnation.

Those of us who are privileged enough to have a voice, let us use it. Whether it is for Black Lives Matter, Fridays for Future, migrants, or refugees who are stranded or mistreated along the route to a new land. We must, quite simply, stand up for one another and demand that people be treated with dignity and respect. If anything has been highlighted this year, it the glaring lack of respect for one another as well as a bitter lack of kindness. How can we act now to promote justice and consideration for one another? We would love to hear your ideas, as well!

Besides the much bigger picture, we have been focused on the community here in Berlin and have also started to cautiously meet again in person as a church. This has meant many changes in how we can use and who can come into the church building. There is no safe space for everyone to join in person at one time, so we have experimented with a hybrid method where a certain number register ahead of time that they will come in person, and the rest join simultaneously with Zoom. We have been doing this for a couple of weeks and, so far, it seems to be well received. However, the recent news in Berlin is that COVID-19 cases are increasing, and people just seem too worn out to react. The city streets look more or less normal (with some masks, but otherwise full). We are personally preparing that the church will have to go online again at some point in the next weeks. In the meantime, we are thankful for the time together face to face.

Through all of this, one can feel quite useless. We are reminded over and over again how critical prayer is as a way to support one another, especially now that hugging is not recommended, and as a balm to one’s own fearful soul. Let’s lift our voices to God even as we speak out, write for, and champion those whose voices have become lost and trampled on in the name of power. Prayer has always been central in our church community here and continues to be so as many face distance from family, the uncertainty of how their country will react, and the daily challenges of being a stranger in a strange land. Through prayer, we remind each other to hold onto our voices, hold onto each other, and hold onto God.

Your prayers and support are fundamental, especially during this year and the coming months, when many things remain uncertain and unstable. We are so thankful for your continued support. We also love to hear your updates and responses to our letters, so thank you for taking the time to write back or contact us. Communities are stretched for now, but not lost. You remain in our prayers.

With love from Berlin,

Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila

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