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Waiting in Light

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

Advent 2019

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Dear friends,

Advent is officially here, and we are always excited to welcome this time of year, especially as it is so well marked here in Germany. During the darkest time of year when the dimly daylit hours are few, all the extra festive lights and candles are very welcome. So is the anticipation that goes along with Advent. We are waiting for Christmas, to celebrate the one who we consider the eternal light of the world.

It has been a busy few months here with many different events, so that each month has felt like its own period of time, not just a month in a series of months, but its own time disconnected from the rest, as we focused on what was at hand. In October we spent ten days with other colleagues and staff members from PC(USA) as we met together for the Europe and Middle East Regional Gathering. This was a helpful time of meeting face to face, sharing ideas and experiences, and discussing together how we can continue to build our individual and collective work in a way that strengthens rather than separates. For us, the time together was ultimately encouraging.

November was a time for redeveloping some of the classes at the church, for supporting a family during their court appointment, and for experiencing a very special culinary excursion at the invitation of friends. Weekly classes are being held using the book, What is Christianity: Beliefs and Practices of Christians by William Miller. Led by a very active member of the church who is also pursuing theological studies, this group is digging deeper into a discussion of beliefs and practices within Christianity. Ryan is there to support the group facilitator, but it is encouraging to see how the group is developing their own rhythm and cultivating discussion.

A family at church, who we have gotten to know over the last couple of years, had their court appointment. We both went to sit with them while they waited and took turns speaking to the judge. We were not the only ones with them; another friend from church came to support them too. Our presence was perhaps more important in the waiting room rather than in the courtroom. Waiting while someone else is tasked with deciding the direction your life will take is nothing less than agonizing, and perhaps terrifying. This couple was able to appear in court without their children so at least their daughters could go about their normal school day, but the parents were required to sit with the judge, lawyer, and immigration authority representative one at a time for about two hours each. There are no windows in the waiting room or courtroom, so one is under the impression that time is standing still, and the rest of the world is shut out. Upon emerging from the building, it seemed strange that the rest of the city had carried on with the day, and that the winter sun was already setting. This family and others are still waiting for an answer and a decision to be made on their behalf, to know whether here is where they will call home, or if they must continue their search. Please pray for all people who are still waiting for official immigration status, or who are held in limbo, or who are still searching for where they can build their life again, or for those who are forced to contemplate the need to leave their home in search of another. For all these people we pray for peace and protection.

Ryan was invited to join some others from the church for a very special traditional meal not easily obtained here in Berlin. As the three sheep heads were cooking, Ryan prepared himself to enjoy what was being offered to him: a chance to experience something new among friends. Such a meal was far outside the usual experience for a typical American diet. Ryan felt honored to be included, and at the end of the meal his hosts declared that he is now officially part Iranian, because he joined them in eating such a special feast.

We were also excited to welcome visitors from Alaska and were happy to spend a day with Chottie and Woody Angst from First Presbyterian Church Anchorage. While enjoying their own travels, they passed through Berlin and were able to spend some hours speaking with and hearing from a few members of the congregation who shared about their specific experiences and journeys to Berlin. It was fun for us to welcome guests from the U.S. Those hours of listening to each other’s stories is one way in which we can reach across divides and share our common humanity. Chottie and Woody, thank you for your time and your words of reflection to our church members!

In case you have not heard much in the news, or maybe have heard only very little, there has been quite a bit of unrest going on in Iran in the last few weeks. Since the internet was shut down during the protests, which began over fuel and spread to general unhappiness with the government, the church community here in Berlin has expressed great worry for their relatives and friends. It is hard to get information in or out, and also very hard to contact anyone. There is a lot of fear for loved ones. One man in the church recently found out that his cousin was killed during one of the demonstrations. We invite you to take a moment learn more about what is going on there, perhaps through a search of international news sources, and to pray for those involved.

During Advent we are reminded in this period of waiting to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ and how his birth changed the world. We hear others often reflect and often think ourselves how many difficult and terrible things are happening in our world currently. Please join us in reaching across divisions, whatever they might look like, and in sharing in the stories of others. Please join us in praying for peace in the world, in the many places where it is needed, both far and, very near. We wait in hope, we wait in light, despite the darkness, both literal and systemic, all around. Join us in that light.

With hope,

Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila

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