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Fear and Hope

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

April 2020

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wenn die welt um dich herum zusammenbricht
ist es okay anderen zu erlauben
dir zu helfen die scherben aufzusammeln
wenn wir da sind um an deinem glück teilzuhaben
wenn alles großartig für dich läuft
dann sind wir mehr als imstande
deinen schmerz zu teilen
– gemeinschaft

when the world comes crashing at your feet
it’s okay to let others
help pick up the pieces
if we’re present to take part in your happiness
when your circumstances are great
we are more than capable
of sharing your pain
– community (Rupi Kaur)

es gibt
keinen grund
zur sorge mehr
die blüten der sonne sind hier.

there is
nothing left
to worry about
the sun and her flowers are here
(Rupi Kaur)

Like most of the rest of the world, we are operating on one hand as if our “normal” life is on hold. On the other hand, even though we are spending the whole day at home like so much of the planet, we are still working with the church community and other organizations in Berlin. This means meetings or worship service or Bible study nearly every day along with helping our oldest daughter keep up with her studies online through her school, and helping our youngest daughter keep up with her kindergarten group through online storytime and otherwise lots of playing. We are struck by the idea that this time means so many different things for different people, even though we are all experiencing the same global pandemic. For us, life is strangely very busy, even as the afternoon hours can drag by in a haze. For others we know, life is at a standstill because of job loss or being separated from family members to care for. It is indeed a time like no other in recent history.

We are also struck that the circumstances we are experiencing due to a global health crisis may not be so dissimilar to those experienced in places of ongoing violent conflict. While a toilet paper/flour/planting soil (this is a hot item in Berlin these days) shortage can be annoying, and perhaps disturbing for those of us accustomed to having constant access to any number of “necessary” items, we must also recognize that such shortages are certainly temporary and not a life or death situation. For those caught in violent conflict, shortages mean something much more extreme and can indeed be life-threatening. We are currently experiencing a taste of what our global neighbors live with or have been living already for some time. Perhaps their experience is brought just a nudge closer to us, making it not so easy to turn away in the future.

Berlin started shutting down public life quite rapidly in mid- March, just before our planned Nowruz fest, in celebration of the Iranian new year. It was clear that this year one of our favorite celebrations was not going to happen as in the past. Rather than jumping over fires to welcome the new year with hope and good health, the church community sent many text messages wishing each other “Nowruz Mubarak” (happy new year)! This year it wasn’t just our church community, or the larger Iranian/Afghan community here in Berlin, that couldn’t celebrate, but also all of Iran and neighboring countries who also join in recognizing Nowruz. It was very unsettling for families not to be able to gather together this year in firelight and hope for the new year.

Our church community is just as concerned about the experience of their friends and families in Iran as we are about our loved ones in the United States. It is a disturbing time for most of us, but we are choosing to look into the future with hope and patience, even when that feels particularly challenging. We pray that you are also able to find little signs of hope in these days. Hope is what will drive us forward while sustaining us in the midst of profound uncertainty.

As most of the Christian community is celebrating Easter in isolation this year, we reflect about that first Easter, when one could say that the disciples were similarly in shock at the events unfolding around them. While not a virus, there was misuse and abuse of political power, social inequality, and death. The disciples were sheltering in place in a locked room when Jesus appeared to them, saying, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). Our question is this: when the church as a whole is able to gather together again, what will this look like? What should it look like? What should be the role of the church carrying forward in hope from these devastating events?

And lastly, a word about our planned summer itineration on the west coast. At this point those plans are indefinitely on hold. We hope to be able to make a decision by early June as to whether it is wise to travel. Our expectation at this point, is that the current measures will need to be in place for a while and that we will have to miss our time in the U.S. this year. We are always available for an online meeting or event and are happy to help organize that with you or your church community.

Please feel free to contact us if that is of interest.

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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