A letter from Ryan and Alethia White serving in Germany
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It has been an interesting few months watching many global political changes, often wondering what will happen next, and what the future will bring. While not many of the people we are in contact with have been directly affected by changes in American politics, there has been a simultaneous growing tension in Europe between populist and progressive views, often with a focus on who has a right to be here. In the midst of this dynamic, it feels even more important to be in a context trying to build bridges between groups who are sometimes portrayed as enemies. We are thankful to be a part of a small group of Iranians, Afghanis and Americans together here in Berlin. And we also invite anyone who would like to visit and learn more to please do so! We would be happy to have you.
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever.
Beyond the political scene, we continue to try to support those in this community, most of whom have had their asylum interview and are beginning to receive initial decisions of acceptance or rejection. The German government continues to struggle with how to deal with the influx of asylum petitions. Meanwhile, there have been new babies born to those in the church, new baptisms to celebrate, housing to search for, complicated questions as people learn more about what it means to follow Jesus, and celebration of the Iranian New Year (Nowrooz). For Easter, we will have a combined worship service with the host German congregation and celebrate the baptisms of people who have recently completed the Baptism and New Members course—more on that in our next letter.
Alethia was part of a small group of PC(USA) World Mission colleagues who spent a day visiting Berlin partner organizations that serve refugees and churches. This group visited the Traglufthalle (Airdome), which was originally intended to be only a temporary shelter at the height of the refugee influx in the fall of 2015. It is still functioning and housing people and is not considered temporary at this point, as there is a serious housing shortage in the city. It is located in a field sandwiched between a grocery store and other apartment buildings near Berlin’s main train station. The entrance is accessed by following a dirt path from the parking lot of the grocery store, which is often muddy from Berlin rains. But the Traglufthalle is home to around 300 people and the programs in place there seem quite good when compared to some shelters.The living spaces are very small, but there is space for groups to meet for activities (sewing, German courses, etc.), a meeting room doubling as an examination room for an OBGYN to attend to pregnant women, and a well-equipped kitchen with notices in about 12 languages regarding vaccinations. Alethia saw guards welcoming people who were returning to the shelter, and the staff was friendly and seemed to have built a good rapport with those living here. The group of World Mission colleagues included a man from the church who previously went through the camp system with his family, and, after carefully observing translations and the overall setup, he offered his services to the staff.
At the time the group visited the camp, it was rather quiet, but on a previous visit Ryan saw a different scene. There were so many children playing in one part of the common room that it was difficult to hear conversation within his group. During each of our respective visits, we witnessed adults milling around, many using their smartphones. With little to no access to computers, smartphones become essential tools for staying connected with family, finding resources in Berlin, and searching for an apartment. Many adults are eager for something to do, but if they are not registered for a German class, there is not much with which to stay occupied. As Alethia and her group moved to the sleeping quarters, they saw people resting in their rooms. Sometimes sleep is difficult to come by at night because of noise or stress and anxiety that keeps people awake. It is not uncommon for many migrants to be suffering from sleep deprivation on top of all the other emotions they carry due to the lengthy asylum process or previous traumatic experiences.
In other news, we are excited to share that we have been reappointed by World Mission for the ministry in Berlin and will be returning to the U.S. this summer for interpretation. We will be based on the East Coast this time, and at the moment we plan to be in the U.S. from the beginning of June through August. We look forward to reconnecting with those of you we met with the last time we were on the East Coast, before we moved to Berlin—so much has happened! And we are excited to meet others for the first time. Our schedule is still forming, and if you or your congregation would like to arrange a visit, please contact us so that we can arrange our time and travel. For those of you on the West Coast, as we will have only a 3-hour time difference during these summer months, we would be happy to arrange Skype sessions with you or your congregation. Es freuen uns auf euer einladen. We look forward to your invitation.
We will also be leading a workshop at the Big Tent conference in St. Louis (July 6-8) and would like to see any of you attending.
Finally, we want to thank you for your continued support for our work in Berlin, both in prayer and financially. Last year we indicated that our position was underfunded, and while it still is, we are happy to say that your response and generosity have reduced the deficit and will allow our important work to proceed. We continue to seek people and congregations to support our ministry through prayer and gifts. We thank each of you for your interest in this ministry!
Peace and warm wishes from Berlin,
Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila
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