A Letter from Ryan and Alethia White, serving in the Iranian Presbyterian Church in Berlin
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These days, there is so much to be said for all that is going on in the world, for what we all as a global family are experiencing. It is clearly too much to fit in one short letter, but we firmly believe one should try to give voice to events rather than turn away. In that spirit, there are many things on our (collective) minds.
Of course, it is impossible to ignore the fact that we live in a pandemic world for the time being. The current situation here in Berlin is much more relaxed than a few months ago as systems are now in place to allow more freedom of movement and socializing to an extent. These systems are more or less respected, which seems to have helped keep infections relatively low for the time being. Our church gatherings are still being conducted online for now, and we continue to be thankful that this medium allows us all to come together to share prayers and be creative in our sense of community together. Churches are allowed to meet in person again, but only with partial capacity indoors and with everyone following current regulations (masks, distancing, no singing, or fellowship afterward). This may be an option for us in the coming months, but we are mindful of trying to include as many from the community as possible, and at the moment, online worship and meetings are functioning well. The congregation itself has also expressed the wish to remain online for everyone’s protection.
Freedom of movement, safety, and expectation of fair treatment? These are all things many have the luxury of taking for granted, while others have to make impossible choices in the hope of attaining such securities. The energetic Black Lives Matter demonstrations that are occurring worldwide, and in Berlin, are responding to this need. In light of the horrendous reception of refugees at various borders across the globe, it is clear that we all need to be engaged in building economic and social systems that support one another. We are listening to the voices of the U.S. demonstrations and more locally here in Berlin and mindful that we need to be more aware of how we promote or demote racial equality in our own family and work life.
In October 2019, we had the opportunity to visit the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos and witnessed how horribly overcrowded and inhumane the conditions there were. Since that time, it has only become more so since people continue to arrive seeking shelter and a chance to live life fairly. We have to ask ourselves, what if it were our family in that situation? That simple question helps to do away with the violence of the notion of “us and them.” There is no “them.” There is only “all of us.”
Around Berlin, homemade signs hang from balconies and windows and messages are spray-painted on any available surface. “Free the Camps Now!” and “Leave No One Behind!” many proclaim. Others declare, “We Have Enough Space!” and advocate that Germany can take in more people.
Alethia participated in two online conferences this past month on human rights and the role of the church. The discussions were about refugee protection and how political and religious institutions can help. It was a strong reminder that human rights are being swept aside everywhere and need much greater protection. It was also a reminder that there are similarities between what is happening on the European borders and the U.S. border, and there is great concern that there is not enough regard for the people being mistreated at those borders. As parents, we cannot even imagine being separated from our children and then turned back from the border while they are detained. Or being on an inflatable boat in the waters between
Turkey and Greece and then being forcibly pushed back by “border guards.” That is all terror in our minds. We know people who have experienced those boats and those camps and those borders. So how can we each help in some way to heal the rifts in our global human family? One way is to actively support organizations working to protect refugees. Others are speaking out against racism or offering a smile to a stranger passing on the street. Let’s please work together, each in our own corner of the world to knit each other together rather than tear each other apart.
As always, we are continually touched by the communication and prayers from our family of supporters in the United States. We are thankful for your support via prayers, notes, financial contributions, especially in these uncertain times, and all that you are doing in your own neighborhoods to pass the peace to each other.
Wishing you a summer of speaking out and staying healthy,
Ryan and Alethia
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