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Accompanying the Stranger

A Letter from Ryan and Alethia White, serving in Germany

March 2018

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Salaam and Guten Tag from Berlin.

The Afghan man from our church community was obviously nervous and unsettled, but he agreed to begin. The hearing focused on his familial relations and where they are. He told of his family being located in different countries; how he doesn’t know about his father because he disappeared; and that the assumption is the Taliban took him. After one of his brothers was killed by the Taliban, his mother died from a heart issue.

At this point, the man began to cry. The judge was very sensitive to this and paused the hearing. Ryan went up to him, asked if he needed anything, and simply walked with him to the restroom.

The hearing resumed, but the judge soon decided that a judgment was possible. He explained that under EU law, since Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries worldwide, people can only be sent back if they have familial relations who can support them. Since this is not the case for this Afghan refugee, a decision was possible that he would not be deported and he could continue his life in Germany.

Ryan and a German couple who had met the Afghan refugee at Begegnungscafe (“Encounter Café,” organized by a few local churches to bring Germans and refugees together) accompanied him to the courtroom to support him at this appeal hearing. When we first arrived, the Afghan man expressed concern that his translator spoke Farsi and not specifically Dari, which is his native language. Though Farsi and Dari are close languages, there are dialectical differences. During his first interview, there were words and sentences that he did not fully understand, and he felt this impacted the negative decision he received. Because there not many native Dari-speaking translators, the request for a Dari translator could not be fulfilled. This time, however, the language difference did not negatively affect the judge’s decision.

A German couple accompanying an Afghan man from our community to his appeal hearing in the court.

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It seems there are new requests every week for help. For apartments, for recommendations, for jobs, for purpose, and for presence. We offer what we can and are very aware of all the things we cannot solve. The church community has also become a resource to itself as people turn to each other for help. We talked about the issue of accompaniment last summer with some of you when we visited the US, and we are thinking about it again. Sometimes Ryan goes to asylum case interviews and hearings and says nothing. It is his presence that counts because it makes the person feel they are not alone. Sometimes it is just some extra patience with someone when language is difficult. We still experience that ourselves! Sometimes it is having the courage to step into a situation to ask if you can help. There is power in being the holder of language, of resources, of social networks, and of familiarity with the culture. How can each of us use those tools in our own neighborhoods to help others?

The International Organization for Migration (now part of the UN Migration Agency) has issued its 2018 World Migration Report and states that global displacement (displacement, for example, due to violent conflict or natural disasters) is at a record high. Global migration overall has continued to rise along with population statistics. In other words, there are plenty of people in the world who have left their homes in search of peace, safety, work, religious freedom, and stability. While some make the choice to leave home and move to a new country, many others feel they have absolutely no choice but to take the chance and leave what was home because home is no longer safe or sustainable. For those of you who have changed jobs or changed schools, moved to another city, another state, or another country, can you remember the list of things you needed to know to feel at peace in your new situation? Who did you turn to for help with your questions? You probably had an idea of where to find help or who to ask, and you could probably articulate your needs in ways that were immediately understood. What if you didn’t know anyone and you didn’t know the language well or at all? As you consider all those things, keep your eyes and ears and heart open to your community as you move about each day. Where might you extend an offer to help, to listen, to use your resources for someone else’s benefit?

We are thankful to you all as you accompany us in this ministry. We are always mindful that we are not alone in this work, but that there are many supporting us in prayer and financial resources. Many of you become interpreters of this ministry to those in your communities and share these stories with many others. And it is through you that we are invited into your communities to share about the church here in Berlin.

This summer we are planning to be on the West Coast spending time visiting and sharing about this ministry with people we have met along the way and hopefully others who are new. Our plan is still flexible, but for now we intend to be based out of the following locations:

May 29-June 27 — Pasadena, CA
June 27-July 10 — Seattle, WA
July 10-August 2 — Anchorage, AK

We look forward to meeting with many of you during this visit. For those we cannot meet, we hope to see you in the future. We anticipate shorter, annual visits to the US as our oldest daughter begins school this upcoming fall and our availability will be limited to her summer vacation schedule.

As we all navigate the beginning of 2018, may we have our eyes and hearts open to those around us, and may we each have courage to respond when we notice someone in need of accompaniment.

With peace,

Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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