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Celebrating Kirchentag

A letter from Ryan and Alethia White serving in Germany

May 2017

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It has been a busy spring in Berlin. Not only has our family been preparing to spend the summer in the U.S. for our interpretation assignment, but we have also celebrated Easter and Nowruz (Iranian New Year), and we have most recently played a small part in the massive Kirchentag celebration here that took place May 24-28 in Berlin and Wittenberg.

Kirchentag occurs every two years and is hosted by different cities around the country. It was founded by Reinhold von Thadden, an East Prussian politician and member of the Confessing Church, which acted in opposition to the Nazis. Von Thadden was himself active in the resistance movement during the Nazi period and later acted as president for Kirchentag until the 1960s. Kirchentag has been described as “a Protestant form of Woodstock” and consists of thousands of programs, from presentations and discussions to music, arts, theater, and worship services all over the city. This year, Berlin welcomed more than 136,000 participants for the festival.

This Kirchentag was especially significant, as the celebration marked the 500th anniversary of the local Reformation hero Martin Luther and his famous 95 theses. Berlin hosted the main events, for it is in close proximity to Luther’s hometown, Wittenberg, where Kirchentag concluded on Sunday, May 28 with a huge ecumenical worship service held in a field. We visited Wittenberg two years ago, and preparations and renovations were already under way to prepare the famous church where Luther was pastor for the large number of visitors expected this year. Wittenberg is a small town, but it is receiving plenty of attention this year. An estimated 100,000 people visited during Kirchentag alone, and many other tourists have visited and will visit throughout the year.

The Iranian Presbyterian Church hosted a “Mittagstisch der Migrationskirchen” (lunch hosted by migrant churches) along with eight other primarily migrant churches around Berlin. The church served a homemade traditional Iranian meal, after which Ryan facilitated an interview with two church members, one from Iran and the other from Afghanistan. They talked about their experience in their home country, their journey to Berlin, and their current situation here. As the people giving their stories wanted to do it without translation, they took the initiative to write out what they wanted to say in German so that everyone could understand. The pastor of the German congregation offered prayers, and there were worship songs in Farsi. The church is small, with a capacity of 70, but it received and fed 190 people for this event. It was standing room only, and there were other groups of Iranians and pastors from around the country who came to meet those at the Iranian church and hear about what is happening here in Berlin.

Ryan also participated in a prayer evening that same day in another part of the city with an organization we have partnered with in the past. The focus of the service was praying for refugees, specifically those from Iran and Afghanistan, and it was organized by people from those countries.

Besides these events, we were invited to participate in a “refugee dinner” hosted by friends. Three Syrian women from Aleppo and Damascus cooked a delicious traditional meal. The group consisted of the women from Syria and 10 other guests from Germany, the U.S., and Canada. We ate together, and the women told us about their decision to leave Syria, being separated from their families, and their journey to Europe.

At least one was rescued with her young children after her boat capsized. She said that she is an experienced swimmer, so even though she was alone with her children, she managed to get them all to safety, much to the surprise of the rescue workers. However, she had tears in her eyes as she remembered a woman who lost her small baby in the process. Another woman had lost her father in a bombing. All of them talked about the fear and difficulty as they arrived without knowing the language and had young children to care for, doctors to visit, and bureaucracy to navigate. Our group was quiet for some time as the women thought about their homes, now destroyed by war, and we reflected on their experiences. How can one reply to such stories? There is not much to say, nothing that will fix the situation, but we can share such experiences as best we can. We can take those stories with us and be mindful of working for change in the world where it is desperately needed.

Thank you for your sustained support of our family. We continue to seek people and congregations to support our ministry through prayer and financial gifts. This summer, we look forward to seeing some of you in person as we spend time in the States. If we cannot meet in person, we can always connect by Skype. We wish each of you a lovely summer. May you be mindful of the ways you can act to bring about hope and peace in our world.


Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila

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