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Working, Hoping, Waiting, and Seeing

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

March 2019

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Something unbelievable has happened recently in Berlin … spring has come early to the city and there is a collective holding of breath, a hope it will not turn once more to cold and grey and that we will not lose the flowers that have just recently bloomed. Like any new endeavor, one must wait and hope and see what will happen.

In our last letter, we talked about the choir group that was just forming and also the new election of church leaders. It has been encouraging to see both of these groups bloom a bit in the last couple of months. The choir was meeting together only for practices, but that has turned into gathering for meals together beforehand. As a group, they have gotten to know each other better and turn to one another for help, advice, support, and friendship. Through members’ participation in the choir and their time together, we have seen a deeper and lived-out faith that has included more people sharing and praying in the worship services. Community is even more precious and important when one still feels they are a stranger in a strange land.

Ryan has been giving time and support to the newly elected elders, but he is pleased to feel there is now a team involved in making decisions for the church and organizing events. Because of continued challenges communicating fully in Farsi, German has become the middle language used in the Session meetings. This group and its operation are continuing to develop and learn together, so please keep us in your prayers as we embark on this new endeavor.

Recently there was a meeting of the Bürgerplattform, a local citizens group focused on community development in the neighborhood where the church is located. Over the past few years it has advocated for issues that help the general society as well as immigrants. A group from the church community also gathered together to share some of the issues they are currently facing. These issues will be collected and added to the issues of other groups as the Bürgerplattform discerns what issues to focus on in the coming year.

A critical issue throughout Berlin is the shortage of housing, especially affordable housing that fits in the parameters of what refugees and others living on social assistance are allocated for housing. We have often thought ourselves that we wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment in Berlin now if we were to move again. Prices have risen incredibly since we moved here five years ago, and there is not only a shortage of housing, but also of daycare/kindergarten places, and waiting lists for schools are growing. It is a city that is growing exponentially, and one wonders how the growth rate will be maintained, or if it can be.

An example that was given to the Bürgerplattform regarding the desperation for housing is that it has become common practice for those looking to rent an apartment to pay someone with “inside knowledge” regarding an available apartment. Rates used to be a few hundred Euros, but now people pay upwards of 4,000-5,000 Euros. This is not a legal practice, but migrants feel desperate to leave the communal camp environments that have such limited privacy, and they are not aware of how, or equipped, to lodge a legal challenge with the courts. We believe an essential part of our role is advocating for those who need a voice, but we are even happier to help give them a platform where they can voice such concerns for themselves. We continue to work and hope that there will be some helpful changes made.

Another recent development is the addition of a children’s program during the worship services. As we continue to work on it, we are waiting and seeing how it will grow. The program is facilitated by a German woman who has past experience working within Iranian culture. It is led in German, which nearly all the children are fluent in already. Our girls are also enjoying Evelyn’s presence, creative ideas, and storytelling. She helped to organize a nativity play during Advent that was fun for all and a new concept for many. We are not sure how long Evelyn will be able to keep working with us, but we are thankful for her contributions thus far and hope that we can continue to work out how to make Sunday worship time available for families. We are happy to have had more children in the church in the last year.

Evelyn has also responded to the request for Bible study in the German language and has been helping to lead a group during the week that addresses the desire for increased learning in both faith and language. We are thankful for her presence with us and her willingness to give so much of her time and energy to our community! Just as spring flowers only bloom with the help of rain, sun, warmth, and soil, so must we work together and invite others in order for anything to bloom. So we wait and hope and see how these efforts will unfold.

We are also excited to announce that we will again be in the U.S. this summer for itineration meeting and speaking with churches and supporters along the East Coast. Our time will be compressed since we are traveling during the summer school break, which is shorter here than in the United States. We will be in the U.S. from June 22 to July 29 and look forward to seeing some of you then. For those who are perhaps too far away this time, or can’t be fit into the travel schedule, we are also always happy to chat by Skype. In the past, we have been able to share during worship services or for other meetings in this way. Please feel free to contact us as soon as possible to begin setting up any plans.

Thank you as always for all the ways you support us and our work with the Iranian Presbyterian Church in Berlin. Your emails, letters, financial gifts, and prayers are essential and give us hope. We hope that spring is now showing itself wherever you may be, in small signs, a shifting of light, changes in color and the sound of birds returning, the little things that bring hope that winter is coming to an end and the world is renewing itself. Will you join us as we wait in hope?

With light,

Ryan, Alethia, Ariella, and Laila

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