A letter from Ryan and Alethia White, serving in Germany
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Greetings from Berlin.
Many of you know about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year. October 31, 2017, Reformation Day, commemorates when Martin Luther kicked off what is known as the Reformation by posting his protests regarding the sale of indulgences. In some states in Germany, Reformation Day is an official annual holiday, but this year all states will mark it as a holiday. We leave you to do your own research on this era of church history, but want to pose a broader question on the theme of reformation.
Reformation means to bring improvement or change. By some definitions, it was originally intended to mean “to restore.” What if we viewed that as to restore peace, for example? Or to restore the human community? What sort of effort and action would that take, and how can you contribute?
Since it is Reformation month here, we would like to share some reformation stories with you. We spend a lot of our time here on the topic of language. What language is our next meeting going to take place in? How are we doing with German and Farsi? How are the girls doing in their German development? What things do we like or not like about how a language is used? And sometimes we just ask ourselves, “did we understand that conversation correctly?” Martin Luther was also concerned about language: it was important to him that people be able to read the Bible in their own language. We have found it to be true that worship and prayer is easiest, and perhaps best, when it happens in one’s mother tongue. The worship services at the Iranian Presbyterian Church take place in Farsi, which is rare in Berlin. We do have occasional joint services and events with the German host church, and while many people in the Iranian church community can also speak German comfortably, it is important to hold worship in their own language. Have you ever had to pray in another language? Or have you sat in a worship service in another language? What was that experience like?
Languages are beautiful in their differences and similarities. As our oldest daughter is now more aware of languages, we have been playing a game most evenings at home where we count in as many languages as we all know. Most recently, she made up a game where we took turns whispering a phrase in another language and the other had to guess the phrase and the language—not easy rules! But it was lovely to see her interested and aware of other languages. May we celebrate other languages and more importantly recognize their legitimacy and necessity in worship around the globe.
The Iranian Presbyterian Church recently hosted a conversation between the Neukölln Bürger-platform (local citizens group that interfaces with government policy) and people from the Iranian church community. The point of the gathering was to give the Bürger-platform a chance to hear from people about how the asylum system and policies are affecting them. What is going well? What is hindering people from settling into their lives here? Where are the frustrations? There are many. No system is perfect, and Germany’s system was overwhelmed a couple of years ago by so many newcomers. While some expressed disbelief that such a conversation would help because bureaucracy moves slowly, others were pleased that there was a group willing to hear their experiences and ask for their opinions. Sometimes seemingly small steps lead to bigger movements.
On the subject of politics, there have been changes within the leadership in Germany after the recent election. Over the past two years, far-right groups have been making their voices heard in many countries, and much to the shock of many here, the far-right party won enough seats to be included in parliament. Although Angela Merkel is once again Chancellor, she is operating in a much more divided political arena. The Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party won about 13% of the vote, which may not seem significant, but it places them as the third largest party in parliament. Following the results, there were mass protests throughout Germany and more protests in October in Berlin as the newly elected parliament was due to open proceedings. At least one person in our church community reported that they felt more open discrimination after the vote. This reminds us of similar reports in the U.S. following last year’s election.
In the face of such politics, what can individuals do to counteract dangerously polarizing and racist ideas? Even being aware of day-to-day conduct within one’s personal life can make a difference in honoring the value and humanity of each other. Perhaps there are bigger challenges one can pose to the political and social systems. Reformation is not sitting on the sidelines believing you can’t make a difference.
In this season of political and social and perhaps personal upheaval, where do we find the call to reformation or restoration? One idea is that we are reformed and always reforming. Perhaps reformation starts from within and then spreads outward. With God’s grace and guidance, we, too, continue to seek restoration in God’s Creation.
Thank you as always for your generous support through prayer and financial giving as well as taking the time to read our letters. We appreciate hearing from you and are also happy to stay in contact with groups and congregations via Skype. We also would like to invite you or your church to write a note or letter to the Iranian Presbyterian Church that could possibly be shared during our prayer and sharing time each week. Such notes can be sent via email if that is preferred.
Peace be with you,
Ryan and Alethia White
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