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The Pace of Time

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

July 2019

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Time is ticking by. For us, as we prepare for our summer itineration travels in the U.S., time is flying. Summer also means the end of the first year of school for Ariella while Laila wraps up her time at the kinderladen (kindergarten) before their summer break. Both the school and the kinderladen will have a summer fest in the few days before we fly out, which is a fun way to mark the end of a season for both girls and for all the families and teachers involved. Ariella has mixed feelings about her first year ending, but since the summer break here is so short (just six weeks), there is a more seamless transition between grades, and she is starting to accept that her next step is coming. Laila just participated in her kinderladen trip for a whole week to a bauernhof (farm) outside of Berlin. A whole week away! For us, this was a significant cultural difference, since as far as we know kids going away on a trip without parents for a whole week when they are between the ages of three and five would never happen in the States. Here this is completely acceptable and even seen as a special and important experience in a child’s early years before going to school. Both girls have summer birthdays, and Laila celebrated turning four while with her kinderladen group on the trip, while Ariella is looking forward to her seventh birthday with her Grammy in the U.S. soon.

And that is just a bit about our family life in these early summer weeks. As we said, time is flying for us. But we are always mindful of those we work with who are waiting for decisions from the German government or for a new apartment to be approved or a job to be found or for family members to be able to join them here. There is a lot of waiting and uncertainty and navigating to be done, and in such cases, doesn’t it often seem that time just slows to a miserable pace? Before we leave for the States, Ryan is working with the leadership team at church to help leave them in a comfortable place so that they can attend to the church activities while we are away. This means many extra conversations, study, and sometimes relational and cultural dynamics to navigate. Ryan has been preparing with this group for months already, since after Christmas, and it is an opportunity not only for leadership development, but also for empowerment. That said, it is not easy to take on a leadership role when maybe one hasn’t had good examples of leadership in their own life, or suddenly has to deal with their own personal issues as they try to be present for others. There is a lot of reflection and untangling to be done. We are working to help support these leaders as they adapt to their new roles.

On a recent Sunday, there was a service commissioning and ordaining two members of the leadership team to their positions as church elders. This is a significant step for the church community and for the personal development of these two members. Please join us in praying for their responsibilities and presence with the community, especially this summer.

Other factors contributing to our skewed sense of time at the moment are the holidays in Berlin between Easter and summer, including Ascension Day and Pentecost. These are not just church holidays here, but all the shops and schools are also closed, which naturally disrupts the usual rhythm of each week. On one of these holidays, we hosted a picnic in a nearby park for the church community, which provided a space for people to enjoy being outside together, eating, dancing (there is often impromptu dancing with this group!), playing games and sharing stories. Ryan was able to go to the Greek Orthodox church for their Ascension service and lunch (delicious Greek food!). This was also an opportunity to support Father Emmanuel who leads the Greek Orthodox Church in Berlin since he and Ryan have become friends as they serve together on the International Konvent (representatives of migrant churches in Berlin). Groups like the International Konvent and the Neukölln Bürgerplattform (community organizing group composed of church and mosque groups in the neighborhood where the Iranian church is located) are important for helping to advocate for the needs of migrants and refugees in Berlin. Ryan and members of the Iranian church participate in both of these groups, and this month (June) the Neukölln Bürgerplattform is preparing for a larger rally with all the Bürgerplattform groups in Berlin to take place on the site of a contested building project. These groups want this site to be re-zoned for affordable housing, which as we’ve said previously, is an urgent issue in the city. It is currently zoned for an industrial site. The different groups will meet together as one to hear each other’s plans to address pertinent issues this year and to decide how best to help support one another’s efforts. There will also be Berlin politicians present to hear these discussions and hopefully also offer their support as these groups work to make Berlin a place for all people, not just high-paying tech groups and government. Advocacy is so necessary for any number of issues we all encounter.

With summer finally here, maybe we are all looking forward to a change in our own weekly rhythms, maybe some time away from work, or travels, or time for our own hobbies and interests. Our family is also looking forward to a change in rhythm for a bit, to visiting with old and new friends as we travel to different supporting church communities in July, to time with family and birthday celebrations. These are all nice things to anticipate, and we do so gladly. But let us not forget entirely those who are still working hard even in the dragging, waiting period for what they hope will come to pass. Let us keep our prayers, our voices, our time, our resources, our connections, our hope and our friendships open for those who lack what is most needed, whether that’s a place to sleep, a place to eat, a country in which to be accepted, safety, family reunification, meaningful friendships, a job to engage in, and sometimes just someone who is willing to have a conversation when language is not yet perfect. After all, we are not simply separate entities going along our own path, although it may often seem that way and we may often be told that it is so. We are looking forward to some time at the beach this summer, while also fighting for our friends who are fighting for a place to call home. Our neighbors are not just our immediate neighbors wherever we may live, but also our global neighbors. Let us not forget each other.

We thank you as some of you prepare to receive our family as guests soon. We thank you as you continue to support us and the church community here in Berlin. We thank you for your own voice and efforts to welcome neighbors near and far. May we all use our time as a gift, whether it is flying or dragging, too full or allowing space for our own desires, or even when time is simply marching on.

With hope,

Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila

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