A Letter from Ryan and Alethia White, serving in Germany
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Advent Greetings from Berlin! It has indeed been a full fall season here, but we also enjoy the run up to Advent and Christmas even as the days are getting rapidly darker and colder. This is also the time of year when festive lights begin to pop up around the city, and we celebrated St. Martin’s Day on the 11th of November by joining Laila’s kindergarten on a neighborhood walk with homemade lanterns and singing. This year we also made lanterns with the kids at the Iranian Presbyterian Church and joined another church in the same neighborhood that was hosting a large St. Martin’s Day celebration on a Sunday. Every year on November 11, it is tradition to celebrate St. Martin of Tours, who was known for his good deeds to those in need. This was also a good way to introduce members of our church community to a fun German tradition, as well as to connect with another (primarily German) church nearby.
One of the Iranian church members took part in the host church’s skit, depicting the life of St. Martin, but with current applications (people begging in the public transit, refugees struggling to connect in a new culture). Here is an excerpt from the script:
S: I’m a foreigner here. I had to flee my homeland; we had to leave everything. Now we are here, but everything is very difficult. I don’t understand your language. I live in a shipping container. I don’t know if I will be able stay here.
Martin: Oh, that must be terrible, what you have gone through! I know a place nearby where you can meet people and talk with them. Here is the address. Tomorrow I will also be there. God protect you.
Then we all paraded through the nearby streets in the dark, only finding our way by the lantern lights and the voices singing around us. Back at the host church, there was a welcoming bonfire and a horn ensemble to end the celebration. Such traditions help bring both light and warmth to an otherwise gloomy time of year.
November was a month of elections both in the U.S. and here in Berlin, as we finally were able to hold an election within the church community to choose a session. This has been a process that has been long in development, for it’s not a familiar concept for this group. It is also culturally difficult to branch out beyond one head leader to include lay leadership. So after much discussion, explanation, and group exercises to build relationships, the election was recently held. We hope that the new session will be welcomed by the community and will be able to work well together. This has been a goal since the beginning of our work here in Berlin, so in some ways it is good to see it finally come to fruition. Now, the work to maintain it in a healthy dynamic begins!
The church also hosted a recent gathering of the International Convent, a group of the international churches in Berlin. Ryan has been involved with this group for a few years and has formed good relationships with them. It was a new experience to host them at the Iranian Presbyterian church, but there were about 15 helpers from the church community who volunteered to help cook food for the group, perform music, and clean the church afterwards. It was encouraging to have so many volunteers when the International Convent meetings usually happen quite separately, with just Ryan attending from our community. We are continually impressed by and thankful for the willingness of people to volunteer when the church is involved with something.
Music is being redeveloped in the church these days too. In the past, we always relied solely on recorded music to sing to, but a choir group formed and has been working hard to improve and expand their abilities. In the beginning, they just did one or two songs during the service, but they are now able to provide the music for the entire service. They are eager to perform, and the International Convent recently raised the idea that perhaps the choir group could take part in their annual concert in the future. It’s exciting to see people use their gifts and also make connections with others in doing so. Any connection helps combat feelings of isolation, which is a big issue in a new country, in a big city, in a different language, and when family and friends are far away.
In the spirit of connection, we want to wish each of you a peaceful Advent and Christmas! This time of year is always especially full for us, but we also look forward to it since the lights and festivities and special activities give the city an air of anticipation and joyfulness when otherwise the world is quite literally dark and grey as winter descends. It is also always a pleasure to spend Christmas with the church community since each of us has family in another country far away. Let us each think about how we can make a connection with others during this season and how we can let go of the frantic pace of preparation and enjoy reaching across divides instead.
With peace and hope,
Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila
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