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Bridging Communities

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

May 2019

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Write to Alethia White

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sie haben keine ahnung wie es ist
deine heimat zu verlieren und zu riskieren
nie wieder eine heimat zu finden
dein ganzes leben
zwischen zwei ländern aufzuspalten und
die brücke zwischen zwei nationen zu werden
~ “immigranten” by Rupi Kaur


English version:
They have no idea what it is like
to lose home at the risk of
never finding home again
have your entire life
split between two lands and
become the bridge between two countries
~ “First-Generation Immigrant” by Rupi Kaur

To dive right in, spring has been busy in Berlin. One of the main events of spring for the church community, Nowruz (the new year in Iran), took place on the spring equinox in March. We organized our annual Nowruz celebration with dinner (cooked by church members rather than ordered in, delicious!), music, and the obligatory jumping over a series of small fires to welcome in the new year with hope and light. This part is a favorite of many, especially the kids, including our two daughters. This year, we had a few German guests, including a man who has befriended one of the men in the church and has worked to help support him here in Berlin. Also, the couple who rent an apartment over the church came downstairs to join in the party and chat with people. They were very gracious about the noise and happy to be part of the festivities. It is always hopeful to see these two communities, German and immigrant, coming together.

Thirteen days after Nowruz is another important time for the church community because in Iran this is traditionally a time when people visit with friends and family and enjoy picnics out in the parks. A man who was recently elected as elder took it upon himself to organize a picnic in a park for all those who wanted to come. He made sure there was food for all, and people played games together and sang and ate and laughed a lot. We were able to join them later in the day. Ariella was especially excited to join them in playing a traditional game from Ahvaz that involves two teams playing against each other to guess who is hiding a ring in their hands. It was a joy to see her brought into the game by the group and to just sit and observe all the good-natured teasing and laughter from both teams as they played.

I (Alethia) took Laila to the nearby playground for a bit and was struck once again by the feeling of going between worlds as we were surrounded by Germans, friendly but more reserved. Just yards away, there was a very different sort of energy with our group. To bridge these two communities and help bring them together where possible is such an important part of our role here. It’s a challenge we constantly issue to those of you who are in contact with us — where can you become a bridge for others in your own community? More and more, such bridges are needed in the world as a way to bring down the walls of misunderstanding and fear between people.

Speaking of bridges as a form of support, the church was able to offer support to a man whose father in Iran died suddenly this spring. Because of his circumstances here, this man was not able to return to Iran to be with his family in the wake of his father’s death. He is a member of the choir group, and rather than the usual weekly choir practice, the choir helped to organize an impromptu memorial gathering with food and prayer and space to come together in comfort. This is church at its best, being family to one another in rejoicing and in sadness. We are thankful for such acts, even as we mourn with those who are unable to reach their families when most needed.

In early April, the church sent two representatives to a regional trauma training that was organized by the Iranian Bible Society in Diaspora. This was held in a different region of Germany last year, and we also sent two others to this event in the past. Those who attended in the past found it helpful as different situations arose within the community. Trauma is perhaps usually thought of as a result of extreme circumstances, but in a community where many have left their homelands and families under varying circumstances, it is more commonplace. And these types of trainings help model how safe spaces can be created for listening to one another.

One of the significant aspects of our faith is that we believe in a God who is not only with us, but understands our suffering. On Good Friday, the community gathered to hear the passion story read from the gospels and to reflect. We used music and artistic images to contemplate each stage of the passion story, and Ryan discussed some of the metaphors used in the Bible to describe the meaning of the crucifixion. What do we see when we look at the cross, and what does this mean in our lives?

In addition to the passion story, the text from Philippians 2:5-8 was used on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter to illuminate the faithfulness Christ showed to God. Faithfulness that involved a change in position, from “equality with God” to the “form of a servant.” Faithfulness that showed God’s love through humility and sacrifice.

All of the people in the community have experiences of a change in position, from citizens of their homeland to asylum applicants. Regardless of their reasons, all have sacrificed and experienced the challenge of transition from one location to another. Their lives are marked by risk and uncertainty, but also by hope for something better. In this context, the story of one who showed faithfulness to God through a humble change of position can illuminate what faithfulness means for those split between two lands.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

As always, your prayers, monetary support, and communication sustain us and the community here in Berlin. The word “thankful” is not enough, but we are thankful.

With hope,

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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