A Letter from Ryan and Alethia White, serving in the Iranian Presbyterian Church in Berlin
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It is hard to believe sometimes that we are approaching mid-year, and while signs of spring are slow to arrive this year, we are thankful for a little more light and a little more hope. True, it is sometimes hard to remain hopeful when the temporary becomes permanent. Most of the world has had a taste of that instability translating into a steady thrum in what has been termed “the new normal.” The reality is that many in our global family have already had such experiences due to violent conflicts, mass migration, and environmental shifts. Much was made a few years ago in 2015 and 2016 of migration and the large numbers of people attempting to reach Europe. But the stories behind each person’s decision to leave home and travel with no guarantee of being received have not changed. There are still the same sorts of wars, the same sorts of conflicts, and the same sorts of stories. Only the faces are different.
We have asked ourselves a million times about hope. What does it mean to be hopeful in the face of such disaster? Hope is what drives us forward. Hope is what causes people to search out a different living situation for themselves and their families. Hope is what causes us to step into the boat and attempt to cross the border. Hope is what causes us to not give up. One could just as easily insert the word “desperation” instead of “hope.” Hope is a kind voice and a hand reaching out to help us. Hope is ultimately faith leading us not into despair. For some, including us, religious faith plays the ultimate role of hope. For us, hope via faith lends us energy to listen to the stories behind some of the world’s greatest tragedies. We hope you will listen, too.
One such story I (Alethia) had the privilege to listen to lately is that of the many people, including a large number of families, who are currently stuck in between borders in Bosnia. Bosnia and Croatia are on the dividing lines between the European Union (Croatia) and Europe (Bosnia). Because of the reputation for adherence to human rights laws and the promise of better chances, people leaving or fleeing their homeland wish to cross the border into the European Union – in this case, Croatia. However, there are many documented cases where human rights laws are absolutely violated, and people are being forced violently back across the border into Bosnia in an effort to keep “those” people out of “our” European societies.
The Evangelical Academy of Berlin recently arranged a virtual visit to some of the areas in Bosnia where people are massing, hoping to reach the “safety” of Europe. However, there are many reports where atrocious behavior on the part of the authorities has led to human rights violations, violent attacks against migrants (people), burning of possessions, separation of families, and the effective theft of hope. One could trade the situation described here for the one playing out along the southern border of the United States. We all can do better as human beings. We must do better as human beings, as people of faith, of hope.
We also participated in a PC(USA) organized webinar on the situation in Palestine, appropriately titled “A Cry for Hope Amidst Despair.” For any who wish to still listen to this, please contact Christina.Cosby@pcusa.org for a link to the recording. Several ideas emerged from this particular webinar discussion in the search for the meaning of hope. Hope is being willing to describe the ugliness of a situation and move forward from there. Hope is in action and reaction to these circumstances that harm our human family.
I (Alethia) recalled my own experience of living and studying in Palestine and Israel, facing an almost total loss of hope in any redemption of the situation I was confronted with and then slowly resurrecting hope out of that despair. Hope is the faith that any redemptive action, no matter how seemingly small, matters. It matters in the eyes of God; it matters in the eyes of one’s neighbor; it matters within ourselves. Our hope is that we would take such actions that show our neighbors, despite the borders, that they are seen; that they matter. Our hope is that we would confront the despair in the world, that our faith would strengthen us to move forward together in hope. Our hope is that, perhaps, we can slowly dismantle structures that have become permanent, that should never have been allowed to exist in the first place.
Switching tracks, but still considering things that we thought temporary that have moved toward permanence, we are not planning to return to the U.S. to visit this summer because of continuing pandemic conditions. We would like to offer the possibility of arranging virtual visits with churches, supporters, and friends. We are all ZOOM experts these days, and we are happy to join individuals and groups for conversation together in this way. We very much enjoyed such opportunities to “visit” churches and groups this way over the past year. Thank you to those who were willing to try it out! As always, we remain especially thankful for your continued support and communication. Let us hear the cry for hope!
Ryan and Alethia
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