A Letter from Ryan and Alethia White, serving in the Iranian Presbyterian Church in Berlin
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Greetings from Berlin!
Many here are eagerly yet cautiously awaiting Advent and the joy this season brings to an otherwise dark city in the throes of winter gloom. Friends from all backgrounds, not just Christian, have commented that they are excited for the lights and the air of anticipation that comes with the strong tradition of Advent here.
We are looking forward to all of that too! But there is also a mood of caution that persists because it has been that sort of year. Our church community had to move back online after a spike in COVID-19 cases in October. All of Germany went into “Lockdown Light” (a modified lockdown) for the month of November, and many are worried that it won’t be enough and that December will bring more restrictions just as many want to celebrate with loved ones. Many of the famous Christmas markets are already canceled for this year, and that announcement alone was enough to cause a degree of depression for lots of people. The markets are beloved because they represent time with friends and family, treats, lights, the anticipation of Christmas joy, and a reprieve from the darkness. Not having those things this year has been hard on everyone, no matter where you sit on the planet.
Like many of you and like those in our church community here, we have only been in contact with loved ones virtually this whole year. Many or all of the plans for visiting that we had, or you had, for this year were pushed off indefinitely. With the uncertainty around the pandemic and the overwhelming scenarios we have witnessed this year in our own countries and our global neighbors, it is utterly understandable that many of us are just tired. We are still waiting.
Advent is the season of waiting.
This year, we are all waiting for a return to “normalcy,” although perhaps we should give some careful thought to what sort of normalcy we wish to return. We are waiting for an effective vaccine. We are waiting to hug friends and family again. We are waiting for peace. We are waiting for people to be treated fairly and without prejudice. We are waiting for wars to cease. We are waiting for hope.
But there is cause for hope still. Advent is when we mark the waiting for Jesus’ coming. But let’s not forget, let’s remember that he has already arrived. We were not and are not abandoned, even in the darkness. Jesus was there and is there, and he is still the light. We should not fear waiting. The waiting is where we reckon with ourselves and with God. The waiting can be a holy space where God meets us in our fear.
Waiting does not mean a standstill. We, and our mission co-worker colleagues, have been hard at work this year. We have all adapted to the changing landscape, whether we have been able to remain in our country of service or have temporarily relocated to the U.S. We learned quickly about the technologies that would allow us to continue our work within the community that we serve. We shared our newfound knowledge with others so that our communities could stay in contact with each other.
For the Iranian Presbyterian Church, online platforms have allowed us to continue our activities together. This is true for many church groups around the world. We participated in conferences and forums this year on refugee rights, migration, human rights, racism, the effects of the pandemic on the church, and the church’s role in a changing world. Though we have moved beyond a radius of a few kilometers here in Berlin, we have been able to travel virtually for such discussions with colleagues across Europe and in the United States. We have been able to contribute to supporting churches in the U.S. and join your worship services from our time zone. Many possibilities for community have opened up, and we rejoice in all of them.
As we wait with anticipation in Advent, we wish to thank you for your words of encouragement, gifts of hope, and financial support. Physical distance may separate us, but we are not divided from each other, and that is a profound encouragement.
Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila
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