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A Source of Refuge, Light, and Hope

A letter from Ryan and Alethia White serving in Germany

November 2016

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“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings to all from Berlin,

Advent is nearly upon us and as the days shorten and darken dramatically here in northern Europe, we look forward with anticipation to the light and hope that Advent brings.

It has been a busy fall season here as we have embraced a few new opportunities for the church (not just our little community, but the church as a whole) to be a source of refuge and support. Allow us to share some of these stories with you.

Over the past couple of months we have been part of a bigger project that unites some of the churches in the same neighborhood where our church is located by offering a “Meeting Cafe” every other Tuesday. This provides people from the Iranian church and a nearby refugee camp a place of respite from the monotony and stress of the camps as well as the opportunity to have conversation and contact with Germans in the area. It’s been encouraging to see Germans from the churches come regularly and build relationships with those who have come from such a distance. Conversing across languages and cultures is not always easy or comfortable, and we give thanks for those who have been involved so far.

Another opportunity that came up recently and quite unexpectedly was that Ryan was asked to officiate two weddings for people who have been attending our church. After much thought, and consultation with others here, he agreed. In Germany a church wedding is completely separate from any official recognition by the government and is usually performed after a civil ceremony in the court. But in the situation of asylum seekers whose passports are held by the German government, until their case is resolved the ability to have an official ceremony is impossible.

However, both couples insisted they wanted to be married in the church even if it wasn’t considered official by the state. There is of course hope that any sort of marriage will help their respective situations, which are quite different. One couple is separated by location (one lives in the UK at the moment; as they want to be together, they hope that a marriage can help unite them). There are many laws that restrict movement of asylum seekers in Europe as to where they can travel and live while their applications are being considered. The other couple has been coming to the church since their arrival to Berlin earlier this year. They arrived as a couple, but unmarried. And since then the woman has become pregnant and is soon expecting a baby boy. They have also experienced a lot of stress with their living situation in the camps and have several times been separated because they are not married. They also hope that being married, even if not official in the eyes of the state, will help them when it’s time for the baby to be born to be together and he will have rights as the husband and father.

Both these situations present their own complications, but our main hope is that the church is a place of refuge and support, not judgement, so we celebrate with both of these couples. Please join us also in praying for their respective situations to be resolved and for the new baby that will soon arrive.

Since we have mentioned a bit about the stress involved with life in the camps, we ask also for prayer for those who are seeking housing outside of the camps. This is a very difficult situation here in Berlin where housing is scarce to begin with and favors those with money. Many of the temporary camps that were hastily set up to deal with the unprecedented numbers of new arrivals last fall were only intended to serve their purpose for a maximum of six months. Now it is over a year and many are still living in the camps because they are unable to find housing. These temporary camps are in vacant department stores, schools, or gymnasiums where thin cubicle partitions are set up to form “rooms” that often house multiple families. There is really no privacy or quiet available and this alone builds stress for those living there. As well, there is often tension and conflict across culture and religion, and Ryan has been called to the assistance of a few people from our church who have been caught up in such disagreements. It is not an easy situation, and we are trying to provide assistance where possible, but the housing situation feels like a huge challenge for all.

We are mindful that like the “Meeting Cafe” initiative functioning well because of the support of many, the ministry of the Iranian Presbyterian Church is supported by many of you, and for this we are grateful and extend our thanks! You each are a reminder that we are not alone in the face of what can at times be overwhelming as the need here is great.

Often we are asked what people in the U.S. can do to help with the situation here, and this is difficult to answer for various reasons. Our position is still in need of much funding in order to maintain this ministry, so we are continually seeking people to partner with financial commitments. With challenging situations that need discernment, we are grateful for those who pray and intercede for this ministry. Lastly, it is our hope that we would see that we are joined together in God’s mission, wherever that may be. And that through the stories we share, and those we hear from you, we would be mutually encouraged to engage in our own context.

As it is Advent we also reflect on what is often portrayed as a romanticized situation—Jesus, Son of God, was born to Mary and Joseph (also unwed) in a stable among the animals. Depictions often seem cozy and even comfortable, but it was likely cold, smelly, loud, dirty, and prickly—completely uncomfortable. Mary, as an unwed mother, would also have had few rights and faced huge social stigmatism. We think of all the babies born in the camps, or even en route, as their parents flee homelands or find themselves living where they also have few rights. Please pray with us in this season that the church will be a source of refuge, light, and hope.

Blessings to you this Advent,

Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila


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