The Power of Candles and Peace Prayers

A Letter from Burkhard Paetzold, serving as regional liaison for Central and Western Europe and Facilitator of work with the Roma people, based in Germany

October 2020

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Dear friends,

Warm greetings from a sunny early fall season in Germany. I am writing to let you know that I will retire on September 30 after accepting a Voluntary Separation Package offered to PMA employees 63 years and over.

Looking back at my time with PC(USA), I’m extremely grateful that your accompaniment has given me the opportunity to have served with the Jinishian Memorial Program from 1998 to 2001 and with the Middle East and Europe Office of World Mission from 2001 to 2020. What a privilege it has been to work with a church committed to accompanying global partners in solidarity.

I’m grateful to have been enabled to continually learn from a wide diversity of global partners, wise and engaged colleagues, and so many faithful and committed U.S. Presbyterians.

When I was in the U.S., many of you welcomed me into your homes and your fellowship. I remember the beautiful countryside and the diversity of cities and towns. Riding in a car, being on a hike or a bike ride with someone I had not known before and talking about everything under the sun was always very meaningful.

Quite a few of you have traveled with me in Europe. Some congregations like Winnetka Presbyterian Church returned to the Roma settlements in Ukraine again and again, sharing last year’s pictures, playing with kids in summer camps, and showing their faithful long-term commitment.

I’m grateful to the members of Presbyterian Women who visited the Roma settlements on one of their global exchange trips. Creative projects like the Roma basket weaver project inspired them to tell the story of the Roma by selling these baskets in U.S. churches. They, in turn, inspired others like Living Waters for the World to start a water filter project and invited Roma women to the U.S. to meet Lakota activists.

I’m grateful for the youth groups and YAVs who spent time in dialogue with Roma and Non-Roma youth.

It also greatly appreciated the visitors who traveled to Budapest in 2015 and talked with the refugees stranded at the Keleti train station. Those who traveled to Italy to visit the welcoming Italian people of Mediterranean Hope or to the Greek Islands to bear witness to the boat people’s plight stuck in overcrowded camps, and the courage of their Greek supporters, were an inspiration to me and many.

Whatever prejudice you might find in Europe about U.S. citizens or in the U.S. about Europeans, talking with each other, and learning from activists for reconciliation, justice, and peace makes all the difference.

The U.S. has an important election coming up very soon. We live in an interdependent multilateral world. I pray that everyone will vote with a compassionate heart so that our world will be one where a caring world community is valued above self-interest.

We have to learn from our history. When I was in the U.S., you reflected with me about slavery, the evil of racism, and the genocide against the First Nations people. When you came to visit me, I took you to see the memorials of the Nazi Holocaust and the terrible war and invited you to witness the results of our colonial past the current inhumane European xenophobia and prejudice against the Roma people.

Together we learned that our declarations of “nevermore!” must be accompanied by sharing all the little initiatives that have given us hope in hopeless times with each other.

As a young man in the 1960s, I was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and my hopes were pinned on the seemingly powerless. In Europe of the 1980s, this hope was actualized by the peace rallies against new missiles in East and West, the Solidarnocs trade unionists in Poland, and the students who initiated the Velvet Revolution in Prague. In Europe today, I believe the initiatives welcoming refugees, the “Fridays for Future” global climate movement activists, the women in Minsk, Belarus advocating for democratic ideals, and many others have a lot to tell us. At the end of the East German dictatorship in 1989 one of the former government leaders said, “We had expected anything but candles and peace prayers.” It is astounding how powerful candles and peace prayers can be.

Being a hope-seeker and a bridge-builder was my dream profession. In working with all of you, I have been enabled to see the world from different angles and to grasp God’s one world in all its diversity. I have seen much despair, but also many strands of hope that are knit together. You have influenced my thinking and my faithful understanding of the fullness of the Good News in ways that I will continue to reflect on.

We live in fast-changing times. There are enormous challenges and opportunities ahead of us. The way we have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic is only the latest challenge that has shown us our human limitations and failures. We see again that it disproportionately impacts the poor and divides us from each other. It has revealed that there are other viruses, like racism and poverty, that affect us greatly, and that we can confront these societal viruses if we are in solidarity.

The Good News of Jesus Christ teaches us about welcoming the stranger, promoting actions and policies of justice, making peace, and saving nature’s diversity. The world is not without alternatives, and if we look carefully enough, we already see glimpses of hope.

It definitely has not been an easy decision to leave. At the same time, I’m aware that I’m beyond retirement age (turning 69 in October), and the time is right for my family and me and for other learning opportunities and potential adventures in my immediate geographical region – whatever God will provide.

And, of course, I’m eager to see younger generations continue my work.

I’m well aware that my involvement was only possible through all your support and your numerous financial donations. While I’m ending my service at the end of September, PC(USA) is providing me continued support to help me with the transition to retirement through June 2021. Your support for that will be much appreciated.

The work in Europe will continue, and it would be a joy for me if you would stay committed to supporting the PC(USA) engagement with refugees and marginalized people in Europe by shifting your generous support of my ministry to the critical ministries of Alethia and Ryan White, and Nadia Ayoub.

Grace and peace,


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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